Monday, July 16, 2012

Cosmological argument roundup

A year ago today I put up a post with the title “So you think you understand the cosmological argument?”  It generated quite a bit of discussion, and has since gotten more page views than any other post in the history of this blog.  To celebrate its first anniversary -- and because the argument, rightly understood (as it usually isn’t), is the most important and compelling of arguments for classical theism -- I thought a roundup of various posts relevant to the subject might be in order.

The versions of the argument I regard as most significant are the ones developed within the Aristotelian-Thomistic (A-T) tradition.  This includes the first three of Aquinas’s famous Five Ways and the “existential proof” of Aquinas’s short treatise On Being and Essence (which is in my view related to the Second Way).  As I have emphasized many times, these arguments cannot properly be understood without some knowledge of the broader A-T metaphysical context in which they were originally embedded.  For that reason, I have stated and defended the arguments at length in two of my books, where there is space to set out the relevant background.  The blog posts I’ve written on this subject can to some extent be understood without having read the books, but they are only intended to supplement what I’ve said there.  They address specific questions of interpretation, answer various objections that have arisen, and so forth.  For the arguments themselves you need to look to the books.  

A detailed exposition and defense of all of the Five Ways can be found in Aquinas, in particular in chapter 3, with the relevant background metaphysical ideas set out in chapter 2.  That book is as reader-friendly as I could make it, but it is written in a more academic and dispassionate style.  More polemical and semi-popular is The Last Superstition, where two of Aquinas’s versions of the cosmological argument are defended in chapter 3, with the relevant background metaphysical ideas set out in chapter 2.  The metaphysical background is defended at much greater length in my book Scholastic Metaphysics: A Contemporary Introduction.  I examine a version of the cosmological argument put forward by the medieval Islamic philosopher Avicenna in a two-part post, here and here.

The “existential inertia” thesis holds that once in existence, the natural world tends to remain in existence on its own, without need for a divine sustaining cause.  I maintain that the traditional theistic arguments represented by the Five Ways, when rightly understood, show that this thesis is false, and that in fact the world could not continue in being even for an instant, even in principle, if God were not continuously sustaining it.  I defend this claim in my article “Existential Inertia and the Five Ways,” which appeared in the Spring 2011 issue of the American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly.  A shorter version of the paper appeared under the title “Existential Inertia” in the volume Metaphysics: Aristotelian, Scholastic, Analytic, edited by Lukas Novak, Daniel D. Novotny, Prokop Sousedik, and David Svoboda.  I've briefly addressed this issue in a blog post as well.

It is sometimes suggested that Aquinas’s First Way is undermined by Newton’s principle of inertia.  This is not the case, for reasons explained at length in my article “The Medieval Principle of Motion and the Modern Principle of Inertia,” which can be found in the Proceedings of the Society for Medieval Logic and Metaphysics.  I address the issue at greater length still in a longer version of the Proceedings paper, "Motion in Aristotle, Newton, and Einstein" in my edited volume Aristotle on Method and Metaphysics.  (I also discuss this issue briefly in The Last Superstition, at greater length in Aquinas, and in some of the posts linked to below.)

I discuss some of the metaphysical issues underling the argument in a lecture I presented at the Franciscan University of Steubenville in December 2011, which you can watch on YouTube:


Proper understanding of the cosmological argument among the general educated public (and even among some professional philosophers who have not made a special study of the subject) has been greatly hampered by a blizzard of caricatures, superficial objections, and urban legends that have come to surround it.  These are discussed in the post mentioned above:


Some common objections raised against various versions of the argument are addressed in:





The post on Edwards just linked to explains the notion of causation that underlies Aquinas’s versions of the cosmological argument.  Questions about causation are also addressed in:




It is sometimes claimed that modern science has somehow pulled out the rug from Aquinas’s arguments.  As I have said, Newton’s principle of inertia is sometimes claimed to have done so.  Quantum mechanics is sometimes thought to have undermined the principle of causality.  I respond to claims like these in the following posts, most of which were written as part of an exchange with physicist Robert Oerter:







Stephen Hawking, Lawrence Krauss, and some other scientists have claimed that physics can explain the existence of the world without recourse to God, contrary to the central theme of the cosmological argument.  I respond to these sorts of claims in the following posts:




Not Understanding Nothing [a review of Lawrence Krauss’s A Universe from Nothing]

Steng operation       

The cosmological argument raises questions about ultimate explanation.  But is the world ultimately explicable?  Or is it an unintelligible brute fact?  Questions about ultimate explanation are addressed in:




Fifty shades of nothing




As I have said, even some professional philosophers have attacked crude caricatures of the cosmological argument rather than the real McCoy.  I discuss some examples in:



An exchange with Keith Parsons, Part III

Naturally the same theme is addressed in the “So you think you understand the cosmological argument?” post linked to above.  That post gave rise to an exchange with Jason Rosenhouse, my side of which you can find here:


The cosmological argument is, I maintain, the most important argument for God’s existence, but it is not the only good argument for His existence.  I have defended the Fourth Way and the Fifth Way as well.  But there are other arguments for God’s existence that I do not think succeed.  I discuss some of these in:





Finally, there are, of course, many other important works defending Aquinas’s versions of the cosmological argument, which I cite in the books of mine referred to above.  Most such works are not available online, but there are a few online sources:

David Oderberg, “’Whatever is Changing is Being Changed by Something Else’: A Reappraisal of Premise One of the First Way.”  [Follow the relevant link from the “Articles” page on Oderberg’s website.]


37 comments:

Anonymous said...

Whoa, what's with all the round-ups Ed? You're not going to close your blog, are you!? I cannot imagine my life without your blog!

PatrickH said...

I think Dickel is that individual who posted all sorts of obscene exegeses of the story of the sacrifice of Jesus. I recommend the silent treatment.

Edward Feser said...

Anon,

Not at all, I just thought they would be useful for future reference, including another post I'm working on for this week.

Edward Feser said...

PatrickH,

Yes, exactly.

kuartus said...

Mr. Feser what do you think of the other cosmological arguments, mainly the liebnizian and kalam cosmological arguments?

Edward Feser said...

Hi kuartus, I address both of them in the YouTube lecture linked to above.

Touchstone said...

This kind of post, or more precisely, the argumentation offered in several of the posts linked to in this post which I happened to click through to, always reminds me of "The Courtier's Reply", a theme of retort which I think is overused in atheist polemics, but unfortunately does find a lot of purchase in the ideas, or at least the polemics of Dr. Feser.

As an example of this, I think this paragraph from Dr. Feser shows the problem (from his "So you think you understand the cosmological argument?"

And that, I submit, is the reason why the stupid “Everything has a cause” argument – a complete fabrication, an urban legend, something no philosopher has ever defended – perpetually haunts the debate over the cosmological argument. It gives atheists an easy target, and a way rhetorically to make even their most sophisticated opponents seem silly and not worth bothering with. It‘s a slimy debating trick, nothing more – a shameless exercise in what I have elsewhere called “meta-sophistry.” (I make no judgment about whether Le Poidevin’s or Dennett’s sleaziness was deliberate. But that they should know better is beyond question.)

In my experience, "Everything has a cause" *is* an oversimplification, but a natural, and a reasonable one. I don't disagree with the qualification offered -- everything that is contingent has a cause -- if only because that is a tautology, an exercise in argument by definition. "Has a cause" is implicit in the qualification "begins to exist" and "is contingent", to this is a trivial truth, an analytic qualification that does not venture a proposition about the state of reality.

When "casual" handling of the cosmological argument happens, notice that critics (and occasionally proponents) do NOT suppose there is some self-contradiction that inheres but has gone unnoticed in offering the conclusion: therefore God. Even at a very superficial level, the "therefore God" is understood to be an exception to the regression problem; God is that which anchors and transcends contingent causality, as a necessarily extant source of cause for anything and everything contingent.

People get that, in my experience. They really do. And that's why I always hear "The Courtier's Reply" popping into mind in reading defenses like this. This is indulging in a conceit on Dr. Feser's part in supposing this distinction/exception is not known and identified in much of the "vulgar" discussion on the matter.

I think that criticism sticks, because when you look at that distinction -- the appeal to a necessary First Cause, stumbles badly when it has to defend itself from the accusation of being a case of special pleading, or worse -- metaphysics by definition: we are stumped by the prospect of causal regression, so we conjure up definitions to "patch" the holes in our intuitions, knowledge and experiences that more adequately inform other issues we consider.

Which, as a matter of shorthand -- it's called "shorthand" for a reason -- reduces to "Everything but God has a cause, who is the First Cause". Or "Everything has a cause, therefore God". The gerrymandering is much more widely understood than Dr. Feser gives his critics credit for, I suggest, and the baroque machinery that often does get marshaled in defense of necessary being, avoidance of infinite chains, etc., really is not nearly as deep or sophisticated or compelling as its proponents, as its Courtiers demand that it is.

-TS

Anonymous said...

This is indulging in a conceit on Dr. Feser's part in supposing this distinction/exception is not known and identified in much of the "vulgar" discussion on the matter.

Except it's not just the "vulgar" discussion: as Feser has documented, it also takes place in what are supposed to be intellectually serious and experienced refutations of the argument.

And your would-be defense of the people who do this is no defense at all: you're basically saying, "I bet the people who state the argument like this know what they're doing. But they want desperately for people not to take the argument seriously, so they make sure to presented as sloppy and inaccurate a version as they can." Not exactly a compliment.

the appeal to a necessary First Cause, stumbles badly when it has to defend itself from the accusation of being a case of special pleading, or worse

No, it really doesn't. You hope beyond hope that it does. You desperately want others to think of it as doing so. As do others, hence their misrepresentations of the argument. After all, representing the argument as philosophers and theologians gave it immediately ends those charges.

Either way, TS, we get it: you don't really like these arguments. You're annoyed at the prospect of having to argue against them, so you'd really (if we'd be so kind) like to simply dismiss them and treat them as refuted by the dismissal alone. Alas, it won't happen.

So please, goodness, do us all a favor. If you're going to bore us with the linguistic gymnastics, at least try to make an argument or say something substantive. The market is already cornered on the whole "atheists who write a lot but say very little" blog-product.

Touchstone said...

I guess I should add, pre-emptively, that the question of causal regression I do not consider to be temporally bound; that is, if we stipulate that an infinite regression is infinite in a temporal, *eternal* sense, that does not satisfy (of necessity) the question of causal regression. If we had a time-ordered infinite set of effects-from-causes, there remains the question of the cause of the infinite chain *itself*. An infinite chain of contingent things demands an account of each and all, just by virtue of our classifying them as "contingent". Being an infinite chain temporally doesn't anchor anything (er, everything) causally, if we hold it contingent.

-TS

Moi said...

The cosmological argument is the favorite scapegoat of Youtube atheists who've taken Phil 101 and now think they are more intelligent than the likes of Aquinas or Maimonides with their putatively outmoded metaphysics. It always makes me laugh (and sometimes cry) to see these guys ripping into egregiously bad strawmen. It makes me wonder if they are purposely misunderstanding the argument or if they are just plain simple.

Moi said...

Here is an example of what I am talking about. The sad thing is, this is one of the top most rated videos regarding Aquinas on youtube:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U3yKxvW9yNA

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this Professor Feser.

I would challenge the internet New Atheist types to compare your journey with that of Hitchens, who became an atheist at age eight or so because he could just see that all religious beliefs are nonsensical (one wonders how well he could possibly have understood them at eight years of age, and of course it seems he never moved beyond the understanding of an eight year old with respect to these matters), or with that of Dawkins, who became an atheist after discovering evolution in his teens (as if all God is needed for is to explain speciation), or even with that of Loftus, who became an atheist after a moral failing on his part led to his being mistreated by his church, and which in turn led him to discover evolution and modern biblical scholarship. It seems obvious to me that the contrast between your story and theirs puts paid to the New Atheist lie about who's really committed to rationality as effectively as your arguments themselves do!

Monte said...

Dr Feser,

I have read your exposition of the first 3 ways in Aquinas. I agree that there can't be an infinite series of causes ordered per se, but could you not have a finite series of per se causes that is caused by a per accidens series?

Thanks

Ian said...

Prof. Feser,

I was wondering if besides Aquinas's Five Ways (and perhaps the Kalam argument), are there any other arguments that you think are successful in proving God's existence?

If not, do you think that it's possible that some future philosopher could come up with a novel argument that did succeed? Or do you think that the Scholastics exhausted the philosophical arguments for God's existence?

Thanks.

Johnny R. said...

Hello, Dr Feser.

I'm usually a "lurker" around these parts, often taking the wiser option of not opening my mouth and sounding a fool, which no doubt would be inevitable. But I wanted to ask you if you have read Jim Holt's "Why Does the World Exist"? I work at an indie bookstore and put the copy on hold. I'm looking forward to reading it, when I get the money. I've skimmed a bit and he seems to be very curious and open about the question "Why is there something rather than nothing." At least, his scope seems to be far-ranging. In any case, just wanted to know if you've read it, and if so, how did you find it?

-Johnny R.

Konstantin Oleksishin said...

@"is the most important and compelling of arguments for classical theism".
Some people find other arguments more compelling. i.e. Design, and Moral (myself including).
Ironically, Roman Catholic Church took a route along with Darwinism, thus rendering teleological argument practically non-existent. alas.

Konstantin Oleksishin said...

Ian,
survey the literature for arguments. Under umbrella of teleological argument, we have:
- fine tuning of the universe
- irreducible complexity
- specified complexity
then we have argument from mind:
- see JP Moreland
then there's pretty interesting anthropological argument from Pascal. i.e. argument from human condition, where human nature exhibits both greatness and vice... etc.

BUT, I don't think Roman Catholic Church is receptive of Intelligent Design arguments (Behe, and Dembski). as the matter of fact two biggest critics of ID are Ayala (a heretic in my opinion, who says that if ID is true then God is the greatest abortionist), and Ken Miller.
If you asked me about where to look for better arguments for God's existence, I would point you to Evangelical scholars and not Roman Catholic ones...

Eduardo said...

Was mainly due to metaphysical approach. Paley's teleological argument is fun becuase it has that IN YOUR FACE, kind of thing. Aquinas seem to take a different a different approach, one that involved the metaphysics he was used to work with. Unfortunately, we westerns are mostly some for of naturalist, so Aquinas approach seem too abstract, even though is the one that the Church endorses, I suppose. But it is compatible with any scientific finding, unless some magical shit happens that completely defy Aristotle metaphysical approach, although can't really know if any experiment would indeed hurt such metaphysics.

Ismael said...

"Some people find other arguments more compelling. i.e. Design, and Moral (myself including).

That might be so, but the Cosmological argument is certainly very interesting.


Ironically, Roman Catholic Church took a route along with Darwinism, thus rendering teleological argument practically non-existent. alas."


Not so.

Accepting the theory of evolution does not mean to refuse the teleological argument.

Aquinas 5th way is compatible with the theory of evolution, since the classical teleological argument does not need a 'designer' in the same sense Intelligent Design needs it.

I think that Intelligent Design is a bad distortion of the teleological argument. Worst of all even if ID was true, it would only prove a 'designer'.. not God...


The 'argument from design' as understood by the moderns (ie. Paley and following ID supporters) is foolish, always at odds with the scientific evidence, just like the young earth creation theory…

ID supporters create a needles dichotomy between faith and science that does not need to be there.

For a GOOD teleological argument you should check Aquinas fifth way and Prof. Feser has wrote a lot about it (so search his blog)

Ismael said...

" Under umbrella of teleological argument, we have:
- fine tuning of the universe
- irreducible complexity
- specified complexity"


As a Theist AND a Physicist I can say that these arguments are rather weak:

-fine tuning: well maybe there is no 'fine tuning' but simply life evolves to follow the laws of nature. So it appears that the universe is fine tuned, in reality it is we who are fine-tuned by the law of Nature.

On a more interesting note one might ask: WHAT are the laws of nature really? And WHY are they regular?

I think in these questions (and others) lies the core of true teleology, i.e. that the rules of nature are the visible expression of 'final causality'.

In this sense the problem is purely metaphysical, you do not need to be at odds with science to claim a God-of-the-gaps explanation for our observations.


-irreducible complexity:
Well is it really irreducible?!
That is questionable.

-specified complexity:
Can be explained by evolution and natural selection.


The beauty of Aquinas fifth way is that it is not something that appeals to a God-of-the-gaps arguments but appeals to logic alone.

ID is pure nonsense.


BUT, I don't think Roman Catholic Church is receptive of Intelligent Design arguments (Behe, and Dembski). as the matter of fact two biggest critics of ID are Ayala (a heretic in my opinion, who says that if ID is true then God is the greatest abortionist), and Ken Miller.
If you asked me about where to look for better arguments for God's existence, I would point you to Evangelical scholars and not Roman Catholic ones...



Intelligent Design is GARBAGE.

I am a Catholic, so a believer and a scientist.

Sincerely I find ID insulting to my intelligence because it's a theory that has to squeeze God in any unanswered gap that science leaves... and every time science answers such gap the ID theorists make huge fuss, crawl back and appeal to unscientific arguments.

I am sorry to say but ID is nonsense.

For example:
I respect apologists like WL Craig. His treatment of for example Hume's criticism in his books (like Reasonable Faith) is superb and punches a huge hole into many atheist arguments.

At the same time I think Craig has poor understanding of Aquinas' ways and I think that his attachment to ID is a flaw in his reasoning (well nobody is perfect).


The same goes for A. McGrath. In some of his books (like the Dawkins Delusion) his treatment of Aquinas' ways is very shabby.


Some Catholic Philosophers have similar flaw, like P. van Inwagen. Some of his treatment of Aquinas is really rushed and superficial (in his, otherwise very good book, 'Metaphysics - An Introduction')


I think that if evangelical apologists just threw into the garbage the ID argument it would do a lot of good to everybody!
First: There will be less alienation between science and faith and atheists could stop calling us (or rather THEM) uneducated fools who do not understand science.
Second: it would make way for more interesting teleological arguments that do not have to be at odds with science.
Third: it would prevent many believers who study science to become agnostics or atheists. Since they realize that creationism or ID is pure nonsense, they often throw away the baby with the bathwater, i.e. realizing that ID is garbage they associate it (unjustly) with Christianity.

I think ID is HURTING theism, rather than aiding it.

Eduardo said...

Errrr.... The fine tuning argument is not that at all.

The fine tuning of constants of nature is what allows any life to rise, hence fine tuning of the universe. It is not the fine tuning for humans to rise, is so any life could rise...

As for the ID, i won't discuss that in Feser blog, becuase really... He doesnt care about ID so no point in creating this connection "people in Feser blog wants to defend creationism!". It saves the doctor from the net bullshit.

George R. said...

Well, Ismael, I see you have your talking-points down (such a good little Darwinist zombie). I wonder, have you ever considered thinking for yourself?

Eduardo said...

Ismael is still light years better than most lighting critics XD... at least he tries.

JesseM said...

In your earlier post on the cosmological argument, you wrote:

"What defenders of the cosmological argument do say is that what comes into existence has a cause"

Does the argument then depend on assuming the philosophy of time known as "presentism", in which future and past events have a fundamentally different ontological status than past events? In the alternative view, known as "eternalism" or "four-dimensionalism", all events throughout spacetime have the same ontological status (the versions of me in 2010 and 2020 are just as real as the version writing this in 2012), and the word "now" only has meaning relative to the person using the word, much like "here". Physics can never settle philosophical questions, but the fact that relativity says different "frames of references" have different definitions of simultaneity, and that no possible physical experiment could pick out one frame as more "correct" than any other, tends to suggest by Occam's razor that we should favor the latter metaphysical view, and I think most modern analytic philosophers would indeed take such a view. If this view is correct, then can't we say that the entire 4-dimensional spacetime we live in is an example of a thing that never "came into existence", and thus the cosmological argument would not apply to it?

As an analogy, if one is a mathematical platonist then one presumably believes that mathematical forms exist in a sort of timeless way, and never came into existence. But thanks to Alan Turing we know that computing can be treated as a type of abstract mathematics, so that among the mathematical forms would exist every possible Turing machine program (along with the complete set of facts about what the input/output string looked like at each increment of the running of the program). Yet among these possible programs are ones like the physical simulations we run when modeling the weather and such, including vastly more complex types of physical simulations, perhaps as complex as the physical universe itself (assuming the universe follows fixed mathematical laws everywhere, which believers in libertarian free will may not agree with--but if the cosmological argument is valid, it should be valid even if the universe evolves in the same deterministic mathematical way as a computer program). And such simulations do contain a sort of internal causal structure and time dimension, even though we can also see all facts about their entire history existing timelessly in the realm of platonic mathematical truths. I see no reason to think our universe couldn't be like that, and most modern naturalists who are familiar with relativity's 4-dimensional view of spacetime would probably agree.

JesseM said...

whoops, I wrote "future and past events have a fundamentally different ontological status than past events" above, but of course I meant to write "future and past events have a fundamentally different ontological status than present events".

Eduardo said...

I think that is the B theory of time ... I think.

Even William Lane Craig, a comtemporary defender of the Kalam doesn't see how the Kalam works in a B theory of time.

But I think because things are not simultaneous in Time 1 and Time 2, therefore B theory must be correct. It just means that the reference in 1 will perceive things different than the reference in 2 but that is compatible with the A theory, I think.

JesseM said...

Eduardo, I think the A theory/B theory distinction and the presentist/eternalist distinction are closely related, but not quite identical. A presentist is committed to the view that only present things exist, while I think an advocate of the A-theory believes in some notion of an objective present, but they could imagine it like a sort of spotlight passing over the timeline and selecting certain objects as existing "in the present", with other objects not in the spotlight still existing in some different sense. And I think an A-theory advocate could also support the "growing block universe" theory where both the past and present exist, but the future does not. I'm not an expert on these things so I may be misunderstanding, but I did see a paper online called "Presentism and the Space-Time Manifold" by the philosopher Dean Zimmerman, which classifies the growing block theory as a type of A-theory.

I don't see how multiple equally valid definitions of simultaneity could be compatible with the A-theory (unless they are just equally valid in the measurable physical sense, but only one definition is metaphysically valid--this would be compatible with relativity which only deals with what can be measured experimentally, though as I said I think Occam's razor would tend to favor the idea that metaphysics would follow physics in this sense). If I say I am "now" 35 and that this is simultaneous with a distant observer in a relativistic spacecraft being 30 years old, but in his own frame the event of his being 30 years old is simultaneous with my being 25 years old, then doesn't that mean there's no objective truth about whether I am "now" 35 or 25? If "now" is an indexical term relative to the person saying it, then that's the B-theory.

Eduardo said...

Actually they are valid only to the reference, is the laws of physics that are suppose to be the same in ALL referentials.

So you see, the idea you are getting it seems to me something like a all encompassing mind that is the sum of every mind.

But of course the statement does seem to be incompatible with the A theory doesn't it.

Well, what I took from relativity classes ... it is just THAT you said in the end, is just depends on the referential or the person. Is that really B theory of time?

JesseM said...

Actually they are valid only to the reference, is the laws of physics that are suppose to be the same in ALL referentials.

The structure of this sentence is confusing to me, when you say "they are valid only to the reference", what does "they" refer to? I agree the laws of physics work the same in all inertial reference frames in relativity, but the point is that these different reference frames have different definitions of simultaneity. This is because relativity says that if you know the coordinates of some events in frame #1 and want to know the coordinates of those same physical events in frame #2, you must use a set of equations called the "Lorentz transformation", which has the property that two events with the same t-coordinate in frame #1 can end up with different t-coordinates from one another in frame #2. So, if the laws of physics work exactly the same in all these frames, then there is no basis for saying that one frame's definitions are more "correct" than any other's--no "preferred frame", to use the physicists' terminology--and thus there can't be a "preferred" definition of simultaneity either.

I don't know what you mean by "an all encompassing mind that is the sum of every mind". My point was just that the A theory implies a single unique present, and thus a single unique set of events that are happening in the present, and thus a single unique definition of simultaneity. Since the A theory is about metaphysics rather than physics, this isn't necessarily incompatible with relativity--you could imagine there is a "metaphysically preferred" definition of simultaneity even if there is no "physically preferred" definition (which would mean that no possible empirical evidence could tell you which frame's definition of simultaneity is the "true" one). But when you said "It just means that the reference in 1 will perceive things different than the reference in 2 but that is compatible with the A theory", I thought you were talking metaphysically, not just physically, and saying that the A theory could be compatible with there being different metaphysical truths about "the present" for different observers. I don't think that would make sense, but perhaps I misunderstood you.

Anyway, I'm interested in knowing if advocates of the cosmological argument need to include presentism as an assumption, or if they think the cosmological argument still works if eternalism is true and all times are equally real. I see that Willaim Rowe has a paper giving a different formulation of the cosmological argument at http://www.unc.edu/~megw/PR15_24.pdf which is just stated in terms of "dependent beings", and doesn't seem to say anything about beings that "come into existence". But I don't think it's too clear what "dependent" means in this context--continuing my thought about the universe being like an ideal computer program in the world of mathematical forms, would a classical theist say that mathematical forms are "dependent beings", even though they are supposed to be divine ideas which are in some sense "part of God" and not creations of God's free will? (the words "part of God" also suggest a possible conflict between this type of mathematical Platonism and the idea of "divine simplicity" discussed at http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2009/11/william-lane-craig-on-divine-simplicity.html --an advocate of divine simplicity might say that God is God's goodness, and God is God's power, but would they also say that God is God's divine idea of the number 26, for example?)

Eduardo said...

About the Cosmological Argument:

As far as I can understand, The Kalam Cosmological argument depends on the A theory, because the argument against the eternal past apparently used this idea. Now there might be some WAY to use it in B theory but as far as it goes no has tried I think. I think.

-----------------------------------

About God's Nature:

I am really the worst person to answer any of that. I grew with a personalist view of God XD! I am very sorry for being no help. HOWEVER, you should ask Rank Sophist; Sobieski; BenYachov... they are INDEED Thomists and might make a good argument.

-----------------------------------

About Simultaneity:

Okay Jesse, I see your point, and I will try to be more clear about what I am saying. Relativity is actually, broken when it come to description. Example: If I am standing still, outisde the train and you are riding the train, and we are seeing that beam of light going out of the light on the floor, hitting the mirror on the roof and going all the way down ( Einstein typical way of explaining relativity ).

You and I see completely different things, however the laws of physics are supposed to be described by a SINGLE frame of reference. So even though our definition of simultaneous events is different, that does not mean that Time has to be a B-theory type. Because in "reality", even though our descriptions of events are different they all can be happening in the PRESENT of a A-theory of time. That is right ... our descriptions are completely different but we are all living the same present. If you were to overlap our experiences * the all encompassing mind I was talking about *, the world would seem all wrong, giving double results everywhere, however, relativity is suppose to work only in mine or yours frame of reference, so no problem having different definitions of simultaneous events

JesseM said...

Now there might be some WAY to use it in B theory but as far as it goes no has tried I think. I think.

Well, did you look at the William Rowe paper I linked to? It doesn't seem on first glance that he's assuming the "A theory" of time must be true.

I am really the worst person to answer any of that. I grew with a personalist view of God XD! I am very sorry for being no help. HOWEVER, you should ask Rank Sophist; Sobieski; BenYachov... they are INDEED Thomists and might make a good argument.

No problem. If any of the people you mentioned are reading this, I would certainly be interested to hear their opinions about the question I raised about how the idea of mathematical forms as eternal divine ideas would square with God's simplicity, or whether such divine ideas would be "dependent beings" in the type of cosmological argument presented in William Rowe's paper (I would also be interested to know if they think any form of the cosmological argument still works if we assume the truth of the eternalist/B-theory philosophy of time).

You and I see completely different things,

You and I will have different accounts of coordinate-dependent aspects of the situation, like the position and time coordinate the light hits the top and the bottom, or the angle of the light beam relative to the ground, but we will both agree in our predictions about localized physical events, like what physical spot on the mirror is hit by the light beam, and what physical spot on the floor (marked by a bit of paint, say) it hits after bouncing down from the mirror.

however the laws of physics are supposed to be described by a SINGLE frame of reference.

What do you mean by that? The same physical scenario (like the one involving the train and light beams) can be described in terms of two different frames, and if you assume the same laws of physics in both frames, you get identical predictions about localized physical events like the ones I described above.

Because in "reality", even though our descriptions of events are different they all can be happening in the PRESENT of a A-theory of time.

Like I said, this only makes sense if you assume there is a "metaphysically preferred reference frame" in spite of the fact that there is no physically preferred frame. You are free to believe in such a thing, but again, you have to accept that we could never have any way of determining empirically which frame it is, so this might make fans of Occam's razor a bit uncomfortable.

however, relativity is suppose to work only in mine or yours frame of reference

Again I'm not sure what you mean by that, it's supposed to work in both frames--do you just mean that we can't mix and match results from different frames, so when calculating things from the perspective of my frame we have to use only my frame's coordinates, and when calculating things from your frame we have to use only your frame's coordinates?

Mr. Green said...

JesseM: In the alternative view, known as "eternalism" or "four-dimensionalism", all events throughout spacetime have the same ontological status […] Physics can never settle philosophical questions, but the fact that relativity says different "frames of references" have different definitions of simultaneity, and that no possible physical experiment could pick out one frame as more "correct" than any other, tends to suggest by Occam's razor that we should favor the latter metaphysical view

As mentioned, it's entirely possible that one timeline is the "real" one, or perhaps there are multiple real timelines. Occam isn't really much help here, as it isn't clear what counts as simpler, or in the right way. (Consider the question of other minds: is it "simpler" to have no other minds than yours, or to have a single principle that applies both to you and to other people? Positing real other people certainly multiplies entities, but it's still the rational conclusion.)

I think if we suppose 4-D, then that does technically get around the cosmological argument, because we're effectively denying that there is a cosmos. (There are only platonic mathematical forms, and either they all exist or only some possible forms do. If only some, then there must be a cause why some do and some don't, and we can apply a similar argument, e.g. the Second Way. If every possible abstract being simply exists, then that would include the Unmoved Mover anyway.) But even if the (non-)cosmos were a mathematical structure, that doesn't get rid of time; at most, it eliminates it from physics qua science. As far as the equations are concerned, time is just a funny-looking dimension of space, but like other eliminatory attempts, that just pushes the lump somewhere else.

Specifically, our conscious experience cannot be merely "4-D", because it changes [or, it experiences change]. Any attempt to treat our experience of time as "just space" pushes the problem up a level: if physical time is merely a fourth dimension, then there must be a "meta-time" in which our minds travel to perceive movement along this fourth dimension as "change". To follow this line of thought, we end up with our minds "moving along" the abstract structure, experiencing different slices of it at each moment. Perhaps each mind even has its own time-stream as we individually travel through this platonic form. (That fits in neatly with the different frames of reference from relativity.) But in the end that just leaves us with one or more "mini-cosmoses", and the argument is still applicable to any of them to demonstrate the existence of Pure Act.

JesseM said...

Mr. Green:
As mentioned, it's entirely possible that one timeline is the "real" one, or perhaps there are multiple real timelines. Occam isn't really much help here, as it isn't clear what counts as simpler, or in the right way. (Consider the question of other minds: is it "simpler" to have no other minds than yours, or to have a single principle that applies both to you and to other people? Positing real other people certainly multiplies entities, but it's still the rational conclusion.)

I agree that Occam should be understood in terms of simplicity of principles, not minimizing the number of entities. Postulating a metaphysically preferred frame, when all the physical evidence points to a perfect symmetry between frames, seems less "simple" on the level of principles, pretty closely analogous to postulating that there is a metaphysical truth about which direction in space is really "down", despite the fact that each person on Earth can define the direction parallel to a hanging pendulum as "down" and see that physical objects fall in the same way relative to the direction they have chosen, with there being no experiment that would indicate one definition of "down" is physically preferred.

I think if we suppose 4-D, then that does technically get around the cosmological argument, because we're effectively denying that there is a cosmos. (There are only platonic mathematical forms, and either they all exist or only some possible forms do. If only some, then there must be a cause why some do and some don't, and we can apply a similar argument, e.g. the Second Way.

Even though the Second Way doesn't require any ''temporal'' cause-and-effect, doesn't it require some such notion? It's not clear to me that any form of cause-and-effect exists in the mathematical realm, only relationships of logical implication between propositions--for example, you may be able to use propositions A,B,C to derive proposition D, but it might also be true that you can derive B,C,D to derive proposition A, in which case there isn't any clear direction of cause and effect. There is actually a similar problem with physics under the eternalist philosophy of time, since it is just as possible to determine earlier states from later states as vice versa, and the basic laws are symmetrical in time, so that a physicist shown a movie depicting a system evolving according to the fundamental laws would have no way of knowing if the movie were being played forward or backwards (the question of why we see an "arrow of time" at the macro level when there seems to be no basis for it in the fundamental micro laws is explored in Huw Price's "Time's Arrow and Archimedes' Point" and Sean Carroll's "From Eternity to Here", but it's thought to have something to do with the low entropy state the universe was in around the time of the Big Bang).

So if only one mathematical structure "exists" in some physical (or mental) sense, while others don't, I do see why we might want some kind of explanation for this seemingly arbitrary fact, but it's not clear that Aquinas' language of "efficient causes" has a sufficiently clear-cut application to this scenario to furnish a proof that there must be a cause of this fact.

JesseM said...

(continued)
If every possible abstract being simply exists, then that would include the Unmoved Mover anyway.)

I would define modern mathematical platonism in terms of the existence of truths about collections of mathematical propositions which can be expressed in symbolic form (like the truth or falsity of every possibly grammatically correct arithmetical proposition)--presumably the "simple" Unmoved Mover postulated by classical theism can't be defined in terms of the truth-value of a set of propositions. So, a mathematical platonist who believes that every mathematical structure "exists" is not required to believe that other possible abstract beings that can be defined only in imprecise ordinary-language terms must "exist" (and if you require that all abstract beings defined in ordinary language must exist, it seems like this would include descriptions like "an omnipotent being of total evil")

But even if the (non-)cosmos were a mathematical structure, that doesn't get rid of time; at most, it eliminates it from physics qua science. As far as the equations are concerned, time is just a funny-looking dimension of space, but like other eliminatory attempts, that just pushes the lump somewhere else.

Specifically, our conscious experience cannot be merely "4-D", because it changes [or, it experiences change].


Well, I think this is an issue where you'd see a lot of disagreement among philosophers. Suppose for a moment it's true that the physical universe evolves in a wholly mathematical way, according to reductionist rules where the behavior of any complex system is determined wholly by lawlike interactions between the basic parts that make it up. If this is true for all physical systems, it's true for humans as well. In this case all human behavior, including the tendency of philosophers to talk about subjective qualia or the subjective sense of time, would be wholly accounted for by these mathematical laws of physics. So certainly the tendency among some philosophers would be to say that if we can reach this point there are no additional "hard problems" associated with consciousness that need to be explained. Of course, there are also a decent number of philosophers (like David Chalmers, or Thomas Nagel) who think that such a reductionist account of the physical world may well be correct, but that even so there are additional truths about the inner world of consciousness that are not captured by any third-person mathematical description of the universe, even if such a description accounts for all our speech-acts about our inner states. Personally I tend to side with the latter group, but we're definitely outside the realm of simple self-evident assumptions that every intelligent person must agree on, so any valid proof of an Unmoved Mover that depends on this sort of assumption of the separate reality of consciousness needs to spell out this assumption at the start.

JesseM said...

(continued)
Any attempt to treat our experience of time as "just space" pushes the problem up a level: if physical time is merely a fourth dimension, then there must be a "meta-time" in which our minds travel to perceive movement along this fourth dimension as "change". To follow this line of thought, we end up with our minds "moving along" the abstract structure, experiencing different slices of it at each moment.

OK, for a visualization purposes we might imagine that God, looking at the relation between the 4D "block universe" and our individual streams of conscious experience, sees something like a little spotlight moving along each person's worldline, successively illuminating different brain states. But this need not be the only way of picturing it--why only picture one spotlight per worldline? One could imagine that God, in His timeless view of reality, simultaneously sees a spotlight on the part of my worldline at the time 12:01:05 moving to 12:01:06, and another spotlight on the part of my worldline at 12:01:06 moving to 12:01:07, and another one moving from 12:01:07 to 12:01:08, and so on. If this were the case, then although each individual spotlight would in some sense be moving forward, the whole picture is one where there is no change in the pattern of spotlights, there is always a spotlight for every brain state. The idea that time exists for individual finite minds, but that the mind of God sees the entire history of all these finite minds in a timeless way, is one that sometimes crops up in Absolute Idealism--see the discussion of Timothy Sprigge's philosophy at http://www.the-philosopher.co.uk/mchenry.htm for example, especially this part:

"For Sprigge, time is unreal. This means our ordinary common sense conception of time as perpetually perishing and divided up into a determinate, non-actual past, a determinate, actual present, and a non-determinate, non-actual future is seriously flawed. In other words, from our limited, finite perspective in time, sub specie temporis, the present is real, the past fixed but quite gone, and the future to be decided, but from the perspective of the final reality of the Absolute, sub specie aeternitatis, all of time happens at once. Sprigge thus argued for an eternalistic theory of time that combines the views of Spinoza, Bradley and McTaggart with Santayana.

"Each moment of time, each present conscious experience, is intrinsically present and only relatively past or future. In this regard, the moments of time are more akin to points in space. Sprigge fully accepted Santayana's argument on the reference of propositions. For what makes propositions about time true or false is a reality to which they correspond or fail to correspond. So, for example, if the proposition that "Timothy Sprigge died on 11 July 2007" is true, it is because the reality of Sprigge's death on that day makes the proposition true and this reality does not fade or perish as time passes. In fact, for Sprigge, his whole life from birth to death forms a space-time worm within the Absolute and is just "eternally there" as he liked to say. In this connection, he found Whitehead's notion of objectification in God to be wholly unsatisfactory since it amounted to claiming that our past lives, and indeed the whole past universe, become nothing but a kind of cosmic memory in the mind of God rather than the intrinsic presence of subjectivity eternally part of the Absolute."

So, it is possible for a philosopher to take first-person consciousness and qualia as a fundamental reality (as a philosophical idealist, Sprigge takes consciousness as the only reality), and yet still take an eternalist perspective on time.

Mr. Green said...

JesseM: a metaphysically preferred frame […]seems analogous to postulating that there is a metaphysical truth about which direction in space is really "down"

But only if there were some metaphysical point to picking out "real" downwardness. If having one timeline makes a difference on the metaphysical level, then it doesn't matter whether that difference percolates down to anything physically observable. (So if one particular frame represents the "God's-eye view", that's a good reason to grant it special consideration, even if there's no physical way to find out which frame it is.)

So if only one mathematical structure "exists" […] we might want some kind of explanation for this seemingly arbitrary fact, but it's not clear that Aquinas' language of "efficient causes" has a sufficiently clear-cut application

Well, if the mathematical structure for the cosmos exists in any way that other mathematical forms don't, then there was an efficient cause for that, something that effected it. Of course, everything must be either caused or uncaused. If something isn't caused, then we're at Pure Act already, and we don't need any further argument. If it is caused, then we work back to the ultimate cause as Aquinas does.

the "simple" Unmoved Mover […] can't be defined in terms of the truth-value of a set of propositions. So, a mathematical platonist […] is not required to believe that other possible abstract beings that can be defined only in imprecise ordinary-language terms must "exist"

But that still requires some ground for accepting "propositional truth-values" and not other entities; and of course a term like the "Unmoved Mover" is not simply "imprecise ordinary language" but has a specific meaning in Aristotelian metaphysics. An "omnipotent being of total evil" can of course also be given a careful Aristotelian definition, but then it turns out to be contradictory. (Look for Ed's previous articles here about the "evil God" argument.)

Well, I think this is an issue where you'd see a lot of disagreement among philosophers. […] If this is true for all physical systems, it's true for humans as well.

I'm sure some philosophers would disagree, but we can't simply assume that this description applies to humans — that's exactly what is being questioned. The point is that conscious experience cannot be reduced to a physical system like this, because the system is incapable of accounting for the experience of change. We can certainly posit that physics works this way, but then it would follow from that that human beings cannot be (merely) physical. This is not an assumption about the separate reality of consciousness, though (if our very experience is not self-evident, then what is?), rather it is the starting point. We go on to conclude that physical reality is "separate" (some sort of dualism), or what have you, but the experience of change is not a conclusion, it's initial data. (And yes, some philosophers might disagree even with that, but that's no excuse to encourage their bad behaviour!)

the whole picture is one where there is no change in the pattern of spotlights, there is always a spotlight for every brain state. […] God sees the entire history of all these finite minds in a timeless way, is one that sometimes crops up in Absolute Idealism

And in Thomism, where God "sees" all times from His extra-temporal perspective. That sort of eternalism thus naturally fits with Aquinas's cosmological argument. However, if the idea is to reduce time to a dimension of space, then we haven't actually explained how our consciousness — from our subjective view, not God's — actually changes. All we have is a bunch of "point consciousnesses", not a single consciousness that spans time.

Anonymous said...

For Feser: Got to start off as a young, foreign apologist, hungry for knowledge, by stating that I find your blog very inspiring and informative. I started off as a student of regular modern apologists, but have become intrigued by A-T method since reading TLS. I've become a regular reader during the last month, and recommend it to my like-minded friends.

For Feser or readers: Sorry if this a simple question, but I'm a newbie at Thomism and it's one I've been confronted with as a "refutation" of Aquinas' first mover:

For example, particles wouldn't gain mass without the Higgs boson. The consequence is that all particles is moving at the speed of light. Movement seem to be the fundamental condition.

But the most important argument is supposedly this: Human logic is provedly subjective, non-intutive and highly fallible. You can rarely conlude on reality, based on philosophy alone. You can be easily mistanken om premises.

Nothing in logical and physical state aren't neccesarily alike. Standstill isn't neccesarily a fundamental condition.

Time is likey to be an emergent property, which makes all arguments on events that led to the origin of the universe based on understanding something that's presently outside all human cognitive faculty to understand.


Thank you!