Assessing the Kalam Cosmological Argument, Part II: Aristotle vs. Philoponus on Eternity

*Introductory note: This is a series exploring and assessing the Kalam Cosmological Argument. I am a theist, but am currently unsure of where I stand in relation to this particular argument, i.e. I’m not yet sure whether I think it is successful or not. This provides me the opportunity to approach the argument from a somewhat neutral and distanced perspective. I’m not committed to defending or rejecting the argument. Here, all I want to do is think about and discuss it. 

In the first post of the series, we briefly explored what the Kalam Cosmological Argument is, as well as several reasons which help explain its contemporary prominence as one of, if not the, most popular arguments for the existence of God currently in use. We concluded by examining the roots of the argument’s premises in Plato’s Timaeus.

What we today know as the “Kalam” itself was developed by early medieval Islamic thinkers, but its foundations go back further, to Christian defenders of creatio ex nihilo (creation out of nothing). The roots of the argument were originally intended not as an instance of positive natural theology in its own right, aimed at establishing the existence of God; but rather as a response to the classical understanding of the world, and specifically Aristotle’s defense thereof, in which the universe was held to be eternal.

The doctrine of creatio ex nihilo was really quite unique and unprecedented when it arose within the framework of Christian theology. At this point, we take it almost for granted that theism and creation ex nihilo are interrelated, but that has not always been the case. Indeed, for the first great proponents of classical theism — the Greek philosophers — it was accepted pretty much without question that at least the underlying matter of the universe had always existed uncreated. This was because the metaphysical principle ex nihilo nihil fit was axiomatic in their thought, and as such it was inconceivable to them that matter could have been brought into existence from nothing. God was seen not so much as a “creator” in the sense of a source/originator of all being, but rather as more of a “designer” or craftsman, an agent that orders and directs all things within the universe. We saw this in the previous post when we examined sections of the origins account in Plato’s Timaeus. Even in earlier creation mythologies, the gods were usually depicted as applying order to a pre-existing disorder or “chaos”, not as bringing it all into existence themselves. So when the early Christians developed the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo, it introduced a novel and monumental shift into the western philosophical tradition [1].

Creatio ex nihilo seems to have been partly derived from certain scriptural passages (including a few key ones from the New Testament), but partly also from a process of thought and reflection upon the central belief of the whole Faith: the resurrection [*]. From the perspective of the Greek worldview, as well as that of pagan mythologies, a physical resurrection of the body was largely perceived as ridiculous and even abhorrent. The desire of an afterlife was for escape from the body and the physical world, not return to it, to be imprisoned in it forever! This is directly related to the prevalent conception of matter itself explored above. Matter was equated with disorder, chaos, passivity, and limitation; while spirit and divinity were equated with freedom, order, life, activity, etc. From this view, the resurrection might actually appear not as a triumph but as a cruel defeat! For the Christians proclaiming the victory of Christ’s bodily resurrection, then, the underlying metaphysical framework itself of their audience needed to be addressed. The Christians thus needed to show that matter itself was inherently good, not inherently discordant or inherently evil. And they did so by arguing that even matter, along with everything else, had been completely created by God, given its very being from absolute nothing, as opposed to eternally pre-existing and merely being “ordered” or “informed” by God.

This is seen, for instance, in a typical passage from St. Augustine:

“In the beginning . . . you [God] made something and made it out of nothing. For you made heaven and earth not out of your own self, or it would be equal to your only-begotten Son and therefore to yourself. It cannot possibly be right for anything which is not of you to be equal to you. Moreover, there was nothing apart from you out of which you could make them . . . That is why you made heaven and earth out of nothing . . . since you, both omnipotent and good, make all things good” [2].

God is Goodness Itself, and all things that God creates/gives being to are good by participation in and derivation from Him. Since God created all things other than Himself, even matter, then all things are intrinsically good, including the physical body.

Of course, St. Thomas Aquinas would centuries later argue that creation ex nihilo does not necessarily entail that the universe had a beginning. God could, he postulated, have been eternally creating and sustaining the universe from nothing. But the focus of the early Christians was mainly on just establishing the non self-existence of matter, i.e. in showing that matter could not have eternally existed on its own, without having been created by God. And while creation ex nihilo does not necessarily entail a temporally finite universe, it does seem to be the case that a temporally finite universe does entail creation ex nihilo, for if the entire universe came into existence, including all matter, then it could not have been eternally self-existent.

What was at stake was not just the question of whether or not the universe had a beginning, but the intrinsic nature of physical reality itself; and the early Christians took this issue very seriously.

The dominant competing models of the universe thus came to be the creatio ex nihilo model of the Christians, and the eternal world model of the pagans and Greek philosophers. Of the latter, it was Aristotle’s defense especially (although often given neoplatonist interpretations) which was heralded as the foremost, exemplar challenge to creation ex nihilo and a temporally finite universe. And so it was largely as a response to Aristotle that the foundations of the later Kalam were developed, principally by the sixth century Christian philosopher John Philoponus.

Aristotle’s belief in the eternality of the universe was the result of a thoroughly developed analysis of motion, which is the primary subject of his Physics. In this work, Aristotle spends eight books developing an argument from the reality of physical motion to the necessity of an ultimate prime mover, the first cause of all change in the world (this argument would later be used by St. Thomas Aquinas as his famous “First Way”). Based on his understanding of God (the prime mover), time, and motion, Aristotle concluded that the universe must have been eternally in motion.

He supports this conclusion with a number of different arguments throughout his works, but here we’ll examine just three, from Book VIII of the Physics.

Aristotle begins the book by asking:

“Was there ever a becoming of motion before which it had no being, and is it perishing again so as to leave nothing in motion? Or are we to say that it never had any becoming and is not perishing, but always was and always will be? Is it in fact an immortal never-failing property of things that are, a sort of life as it were to all naturally constituted things?” [3].

Notice that his question here is directed primarily to motion, and not existence per se. It seems to be taken for granted that the underlying “stuff” of the universe has always existed, but the object of inquiry is whether the universe itself, marked by its constant change, has always been in motion, or else began to be in motion.

He answers the question by considering the definition of motion he established earlier in the Physics: “Motion, we say, is the fulfillment of the movable in so far as it is movable” [4]. If something is “movable”, it has the potential for being moved in a certain way. Wood, we might say, is “burnable”, meaning that as it is it has the potential to be burned. The “motion” of the wood, then, would be the process of change from not burning to burning. During this process of change, its potential for burning is “fulfilled” or actualized. And so, says Aristotle, “Each kind of motion, therefore, necessarily involves the presence of the things that are capable of motion . . . In each kind of motion it is that which is capable of motion that is in motion . . . and so there must be something capable of being burned before there can be a process of being burned” [5]. In other words, change presupposes the existence of that which is changed. In order for wood to change from not burning to burning, the wood itself, and its potential for burning, must already exist.

From this fact, Aristotle argues, it becomes clear that the universe must always have been in motion, and hence always in existence, and could never have come into existence. Why so?

“These things [that change] also must either have a beginning before which they had no being, or they must be eternal. Now if there was a becoming of every movable thing, it follows that before the motion in question another change or motion must have taken place in which that which was capable of being moved or of causing motion had its becoming” [6].

Take our piece of wood. The log has either always existed, or it began to exist at some point of time, before which it did not exist. If the latter case is correct, then the log must have had a “becoming”, which is a kind of change (either a change from something into something else, such as from a tree to a log; or a change of something from a state of non-existence to existence). But, as we’ve already seen, all change presupposes the existence of that which has the potential for the change.

Suppose everything in the universe could trace its origin back to some first object. That object would either have existed eternally, or else would have come into existence. But if it came into existence, there must have been a process of change, and hence something that had the potential to be changed into that object. Pure “nothingness” has no such potentials at all, so the object could not have come into existence from nothing. As such, Aristotle would say, there could not have been some first object of the universe that came into existence or “began” to exist, and hence the universe must always have existed, eternally in motion.

Aristotle’s second argument for the eternality of the universe is based on the nature of time. For Aristotle, time and motion are inextricably connected; they cannot exist apart from each other. If there is time, there must be motion; and if there is motion, there must be time: “How can there be any time without the existence of motion? If then, time is the number of motion or itself a kind of motion, it follows that, if there is always time, motion must also be eternal” [7]. If motion takes place, there must be time, because motion is a process extended through a duration of moments. And if time is passing, there must be motion, because there must be something changing from past, to present, to future.

So if time is eternal, motion is eternal. And Aristotle argues that time must be eternal. Why so? Because time consists of “moments”, and moments are points passing from past to future: “The moment is a kind of middle-point, uniting as it does in itself both a beginning and an end, a beginning of future time and an end of past time” [8]. As such, “since the moment is both a beginning and an end, there must always be time on both sides of it” [9]. In other words, you could never have just one moment on its own, in isolation from past and future. Earlier in the Physics, Aristotle remarks that a moment without a “before” and “after” is just not a moment in time at all [10]. The present is the point of transition from past to future. Because of this fact, that “there must always be time on both sides of” a moment, it is impossible that there could be some first moment. A first moment, qua moment, would have to have a previous moment, in which case it could not actually be a first moment at all. So time could not have ever begun, and hence must be eternal; and motion as a result must also be eternal.

The third and final argument appeals to the nature of God. Aristotle has concluded that the reality of motion in the universe requires the existence of an ultimate, first mover, that is itself unmoved but causes all other motion. But if the first mover is unmoving, it must be eternal, since beginning to exist would be to undergo change. And if the first mover is eternal, so must be the motion that it causes:

“If there is always something of this nature, a movent that is itself unmoved and eternal, then that which is first moved by it must be eternal. Indeed this is clear from the consideration that there would otherwise be no becoming and perishing and no change of any kind in other things, which require something that is in motion to move them: for the motion imparted by the unmoved will always be imparted in the same way and be one and the same, since the unmoved does not itself change in relation to that which is moved by it” [11].

In other words, God, in order to be the cause of all change, must Himself be eternal and unchanging. But to “begin” to cause anything would be to undergo change, since it would be to go from a state of not causing to a state of causing. As such, whatever is caused by God must always have been being caused by God. The motion in the universe is caused by God, and so God must always have been eternally causing the motion in the universe.

And so, says Aristotle:

“Let this conclude what we have to say in support of our contention that there never was a time when there was not motion, and never will be a time when there will not be motion” [12].

Quite obviously, these arguments (and others throughout Aristotle’s works), and the model of the world they upheld, were significant challenges to the Christian doctrines of creatio ex nihilo and the temporal finitude of the universe (i.e. that the universe had a beginning). As a result, intellectually serious Christians attempting to engage the classical philosophical worldview needed to offer a response to the Aristotelian arguments. This is precisely what the sixth century Christian philosopher John Philoponus set out to do, whose refutation of the Aristotelian doctrine of the eternity of the world would become the foundation of the Kalam in later centuries.

We’ll explore Philoponus’s response to the first two of the above Aristotelian arguments briefly here.

Remember that Aristotle had defined motion as “the fulfillment [or actualization] of the movable in so far as it is movable”. Since the potential for change must exist prior to the change itself, Aristotle argued that the universe could not have come into existence, and must have been eternally in motion. But Philoponus uses Aristotle’s own definition to turn the argument around on him:

“The definition of motion applies equally to beginningless motion — if there is such a thing — and to <motion> which possesses a beginning. Then, if it follows from the definition that in the case of non-etemal <motion> the moved object must pre exist the motion in time, the same will follow in the case of eternal <motion> too” [13].

On Aristotle’s definition, he contends, for any motion, there must be a movable object that exists prior in time to that motion. E.g., if a log changes from not burning to burning, the log itself must preexist the change. But if the universe is eternally in motion, then there must be some time prior to the eternal motion of the universe, in which the universe existed not actually in motion, but only potentially in motion. In other words, if the universe is in motion, then at some point before that motion the potential for motion must have existed unfulfilled. But it is absurd that a time could exist before something eternal.

The options, then, are either that Aristotle’s definition of motion does not necessarily apply to all motion, since it obviously cannot apply to eternal motion; or that eternal motion is not actually eternal, because there is a time prior to the motion, in which case “the argument has turned the tables on itself” [14]; or that Aristotle’s definition does not actually require there to be a pre-existing movable object (or potential) prior in time to motion, in which case his argument for the eternality of motion doesn’t work in the first place. Philoponus himself thinks the third option is correct.

To see what he’s getting at, think back to our “first object” illustration above. Aristotle’s argument is that there could not be such a first object of the universe that comes into existence, because that would be a change, and so there must have been something pre-existing with the potential for that change. Philoponus counters that a potential does not have to pre-exist a change, but rather can exist simultaneously with the change. For example, think of fire. Fire, by its very nature, has the potential to give off smoke. Before a fire exists, nothing exists with the potential to give off smoke (since it is the fire itself that has that potential, and it is not yet in existence). But as soon as you light a fire, it will give off smoke instantaneously. Smoke has come into existence, but it does so simultaneously with that which has the potential for it. The fire with its potential to give off smoke does not temporally precede the smoke, but only causally. And so, Philoponus insists, it is possible that the motion of the universe could have begun simultaneously with the potential for that motion; and hence the motion of the universe is not necessarily eternal [15].

Aristotle’s second argument was that time cannot exist without motion; time consists of moments; moments necessarily have a “before” and “after” and so there could not be a first moment; and therefore time must be eternal, and with it motion. In response, Philoponus actually accuses Aristotle of begging the question in his definition of “moment”. For if you define “moment” as the midpoint between the before and after, then of course wherever you have a moment, you will necessarily have a before. He writes:

“Someone who wants to show that time is eternal and then assumes as an axiom and premise that time exists on either <side> of the ‘now’, has assumed the question itself, <i.e.> that time is without a beginning and without an end” [16].

Indeed, Philoponus suggests that in order to demonstrate that the present moment is always a mean between the past and future, you would first have to demonstrate that time is eternal and hence that there is always a past and a future. Since Aristotle, he maintains, has failed in his other arguments to demonstrate that time is eternal, he cannot demonstrate that a moment necessarily exists between a before and after [17].

Based on statements Philoponus makes elsewhere, we can draw out his responding argument a bit further: time is dependent upon the motion of bodies; the motion of bodies, and indeed the existence of the bodies themselves, had a beginning; therefore time had a beginning, and there can be at least one moment without a “before”, because there was one moment before which there was no motion. Of course, so far Philoponus has not established that motion had a beginning. The arguments he has given here have just been aimed at showing that Aristotle has not proved his own position. It is only after he has responded to Aristotle that Philoponus then turns and offers positive arguments for the temporal finitude of the universe. In particular, Philoponus will go on to argue from the nature of infinity that the past must be finite; which has been, as many readers are likely aware, the principal metaphysical defense of the Kalam even up until today.

In the next post, then, we will examine Philoponus’s argument from infinities, as well as how it and other arguments were adopted and expanded by early medieval Islamic thinkers in their formulation of the Kalam as an actual argument for the existence of God.

 

Notes

Much general background/historical knowledge comes from: Craig, William Lane. The Kalam Cosmological Argument. Eugene: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1979. ebook version accessed via Google Books. Pages 3-9.

[1]. For more on the history and background of these various philosophical world views, as well as a metaphysical defense of creatio ex nihilo, see  here.

[*]. This argumen: Hubler, James Noel. “Creatio ex Nihilo: Matter, Creation, and the Body in Classical and Christian Philosophy Through Aquinas.” 1995. Publicly Accessible Penn Dissertations, repository.upenn.edu/edissertations/980.  

[2]. Augustine. Confessions. Translated by Henry Chadwick. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991. 249.

[3]. McKeon, Richard, editor. The Basic Works of Aristotle. New York: Random House, Inc, 1941. Physics 8.1, 250b11-14.

[4]. Ibid. 251a9-10.

[5]. Ibid. 251a10-17.

[6]. Ibid. 251a17-19.

[7]. Ibid. 251b11-13.

[8]. Ibid. 251b20-22.

[9]. Ibid. 251b25-26.

[10]. See Ibid. 4.11.

[11]. Ibid. 8.6, 259b32-260a5.

[12]. Ibid. 8.1, 252b4-7.

[13]. Philoponus. Philoponus: Against Aristotle on the Eternity of the World. Translated by Christian Wildberg. New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 1987. ebook. Book VI, 1130, 17-20.

[14]. Ibid. VI, 1130, 26-27.

[15]. Ibid. VI, 1131, 1 – 1134,4 (see specifically his distinction between “motion” and “generation”).

[16]. Ibid. VI, 1167, 13-16.

[17]. Ibid. VI, 1168, 37-39.

Awareness of Aristotle’s three arguments comes from Bernard Boedder, S.J. Natural Theology. Second edition. Longmans, Green, and Co. 39 Paternoster Row, London, New York and Bombay, 1902.

Header image: By NASA/ESA [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

 

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A Thomistic Argument from Desire: Part II

In Part I, we established that:

  1. All humans have ends for the sake of which they act, and these ends are “goods” which we desire.
  2. Every object/end/good that we desire is desired either for its own sake, or for the sake of some further end.
  3.  There cannot be an essentially ordered infinite regress of desires that are for the sake of some further end; so, for any ordered series of desires, there must be some ultimate end, which is desired for its own sake, and towards which all the other desires are directed. This final end underlies all the other desires, and points them to itself. It is the “principle moving the appetite”.

The next question is whether there could be multiple “last ends” corresponding to various different series of desires. It seems clear that for any series of desires there must be a last end, but we often have different series of desires. For example, one morning I may desire to eat breakfast, and I desire that because I desire satisfaction for hunger, and I desire that because I desire health, and I desire health because I continue to desire living. At some point I will have reached the end of that particular chain of desires. But later that day I might desire to read a book, and I might desire that because I desire to gain knowledge, and I desire that because I desire to understand the nature of things, etc. This is a distinct chain of desires from the previous one, and so the question becomes whether these distinct chains can arrive at distinct ends, or whether all the chains will ultimately converge on one single, ultimate, last end. Continue reading

Beginning Metaphysics IV: Essentialism

Central to Aquinas’s whole metaphysical system, and even central to his whole project of metaphysics, is the belief that essences are real. This is known as essentialism. Modern science and philosophy, however, have come so far from the common sense position that things have essences that to even ask the question is seen as a waste of time. This post is meant as a brief introductory look at an overview of arguments that could be presented in favor of an essentialist position.

By far the greatest reason to affirm essentialism is that it is just our starting point for understanding, describing, and interacting with reality. Whether we realize it our not, we are all at least implicit essentialists: we all look at and talk about reality as if there really are things with intrinsic unity which are distinct from other things and other kinds of things. Continue reading

First Conference Paper Presentation: The Metaphysical Possibility of Creation Ex Nihilo

This past weekend I had the opportunity to present a paper at the undergraduate Mid-Atlantic Philosophy Conference, hosted by Prometheus Journal (an undergraduate philosophy journal) at Johns Hopkins University. It was an incredible experience, and I am extremely grateful to have been able to attend and present. In addition to getting the valuable experience of presenting a paper, I was also able to listen to some great and thought provoking papers from fellow students.

My paper should be published on Prometheus’ online journal at some point in the near future. When it is, I’ll provide a link. Until then, I’ll post the abstract of my paper below, as well as an (admittedly low quality) video of my presentation and the commentary and question and answer session afterwards. The title of my paper was “The Metaphysical Possibility of Creation Ex Nihilo.” Here’s the abstract:

This paper seeks to examine two seemingly contradictory concepts, one a metaphysical principle, the other a theological doctrine, as well as their historio-philosophical backgrounds and contexts, and attempts to discover whether or not they are reconcilable, i.e. whether they can be held together. The concepts in question are that of ex nihilo nihil fit, and that of creatio ex nihilo, respectively. The former was a principle deeply embedded in the process of Greek natural philosophy, and it led nearly all Greek philosophers to conclude that matter could never have come into being from nothing. On the basis of this Greek understanding of the principle, the first half of this paper will formulate an argument that summarizes the metaphysical problem of creatio ex nihilo. The paper will then argue that Aquinas’ analysis of creation, set within his metaphysical framework, offers one possible solution to that problem. In particular, this paper will emphasize that Aquinas’ distinction between the causal powers of finite beings as opposed to that of infinite being is the key to defending the metaphysical possibility of creatio ex nihilo.

As some readers may notice, the thrust of my paper was very much directed against certain arguments for naturalism which I’ve written about briefly before on this blog (see the Epicurean Cosmological Argument or the argument for naturalism from Material Causation and Creation Ex Nihilo), but treat in much more depth in the paper.

Here’s the video (Commentary/Q&A begins at around 39:41):

I was extremely grateful for the commentator from Prometheus who was exceptionally kind and engaging with my paper, as well as the others who asked questions afterwards. I’d like to provide a few more responses here, after having had some time to think about the questions more in depth:

The commentator’s first point was to bring up Heraclitus as a possible counter example to a pretty strong claim I make at the beginning of my paper: that until the birth of the modern period, the “ex nihilo nihil fit” principle was unchallenged and universally accepted. The commentator admitted that this was a relatively minor issue, but I think he was right to bring it up, since my claim was pretty strong, so strong, in fact, that even just one example would suffice to falsify it. The commentator referenced a discussion between Heraclitus and Cratylus in Book 4 of Aristotle’s Metaphysics. He says that this discussion seems to indicate a “tension” between their view and the view which I take as firmly established in the Greek tradition, namely that something cannot come from nothing. Here’s the full passage from Aristotle:

“Because they [earlier Greek philosophers} saw that all this world of nature is in movement, and that about that which changes no true statement can be made, they said that of course, regarding that which everywhere in every respect is changing, nothing could be truly affirmed. It was this belief that blossomed into the most extreme views above mentioned, that of the professed Heracliteans, such as was held by Cratylus, who finally did not think it right to say anything but only moved his finger, and criticized Heraclitus for saying that it is impossible to step twice into the same river; for he thought one could not do it even once” [1].

I do not take this as an explicit denial of the ex nihilo nihil fit principle, nor do any commentators that I can find; nor, indeed, does Aristotle himself seem to. The broad context of the passage is in Aristotle’s extended defense of the principle of non-contradiction, which he associates with a refutation of the belief that all things are perpetually in motion. He understands Heraclitus to hold this latter view, and says that such a position forces Heraclitus to hold that something both is and is not at the same time, which is a denial of the principle of non contradiction. One might argue that Heraclitus’ position implies or requires an ultimate denial of ex nihilo nihil fit, but Heraclitus himself never asserts this–indeed we have writings from him in which he claims that the universe is eternal and uncreated (which I quote in my paper). Here the issue is not ex nihilo nihil fit, but rather the principle of non contradiction.

Next is a question about the relation between essence and form in Aquinas. The commentator understood essence as being “strictly form” within the context of Aquinas’s hylomorphic (matter-form composition) view of reality. From this, I think he derives two distinct questions. The first question is about my use of the phrase “limited essence”, which he asks me to clarify. I could be mistaken, but from what I can tell, I think his question is directed towards why an essence would be “limited” if what is actually limiting is matter. In other words, if a thing is composed of matter and form, then matter is what limits the form, not the other way around. Since he understood essence and form to be identical, I think his question was why I would call the essence limited, rather than the matter. As I’ll explain below (and touched on a bit in the video), Aquinas does not take form and essence to be identical. But even if he did, I think the phrase “limited essence” would still be appropriate, in the sense that the essence would be limited by matter, not that the essence itself “limits”.

But Aquinas distinguishes form and essence, which was the point of the last question. In my paper, I explain that Aquinas has a sort of dichotomy between act potency relationships. On the one hand is the form/matter composition, and on the other is the essence/existence composition. In my paper, I state that in the latter composition, form is the actuality to the potency of matter; and in the latter composition, existence is the actuality to the potency of essence. Since the commentator took essence and form to be interchangeable terms for the same thing, he rightly saw a tension arise: if essence and form are the same, how could it be potency in one sense and actuality in another?

Now, for Aquinas, form and essence are certainly related, but not exactly identical. The essence of a thing includes both its form and matter–since to know what a man is (and hence know its essence) involves knowing that man is a material being, and hence knowing that man has a form instantiated in matter. Aristotle does not quite make this distinction, but Aquinas, drawing from some earlier Islamic thinkers, extrapolates it. This is seen especially in the question of angels. Aquinas held angels to be pure forms, not instantiated in any matter. Since he takes matter to be potency, the question is how angels can actually exist not instantiated in matter. If form is actuality, and angels are pure form, would this not imply that angels are pure act? But only God is pure act. So Aquinas posits that the potency of angels comes not from matter, but from their essence, which is actualized by an act of existing.

The first audience question was how God, being Pure Act, could possibly cause change in the world. This is a substantial objection to the First Way, and I’ve actually written a post devoted exclusively to it, so I’ll just link to that here.

The final question was about interpretation of substance in Aristotelian substantial change. In particular, the question was about an example I used to illustrate substantial change. I think this is a relatively minor issue, however, since the questioner acknowledged that another example I used for substantial change does work, and hence my point on substantial change in general stands.

In all, it was a fantastic experience. Thanks to Prometheus and the philosophy department at Johns Hopkins for making it possible!

Notes

[1]. McKeon, Richard, editor. The Basic Works of Aristotle. New York: Random House, Inc, 1941. Print. Metaphysics 4.5, 1010a6-14.

Aquinas’s Argument from Design Part 2: Final Causality

In the first post in this series on Aquinas’s Fifth Way, I introduced and explored several historical examples of different “teleological arguments,” of which the Fifth Way is one. In this post, I will make some final distinctions between the Fifth Way and other teleological arguments, and then begin laying out, explaining, and defending Aquinas’s argument.

For the most part, the majority of teleological arguments make use of what we might call “extrinsic” teleology, whereas the Fifth Way is based upon intrinsic teleology; it is largely for this reason that I think the latter is much stronger and more successful than the former. To grasp this, we might consider an example: Suppose you’re walking along a beach and come across some sticks arranged into a word. The word, qua word, is teleological; it conveys meaning, “points to” some meaning beyond itself. The sticks, on the other hand, in themselves are not teleological, at least in relation to the word. A stick, in itself, does not signify anything beyond itself (what it is), unless such further signification is imposed upon it externally, as in the case when the sticks are arranged to depict a word. So, when you walk on the beach and come across the sticks arranged into a specific word which conveys a meaning, you most likely conclude that some rational agent, some intelligence, some human person, was causally responsible for arranging the sticks. Because sticks in themselves do not convey a meaning beyond themselves, and yet because they have been externally arranged to convey a meaning beyond themselves, you conclude that some intentional and purposeful agent has imposed the meaning.

This is a simplistic example of what many teleological arguments are essentially. Continue reading

An Augustinian Argument from Desire

What follows is, I believe, a novel argument for the existence of God. It is drawn almost entirely from the writings of St. Augustine, but though the line of thought is his, he does not seem to use it as a positive instance of natural theology. It is in this sense that the argument, as I’m using it here, is somewhat new.

Naturally theology is often divided into distinctive branches or types of arguments. These include families such as cosmological arguments, moral arguments, or teleological arguments, along with some other, less common ones as well. Of this latter sort, I’d suggest, there is the branch of “arguments from desire”. I consider these as less common just in relation to professional philosophical work; but, among popular apologetics, they are seen more frequently. Furthermore, they are quite common just in terms of their natural appeal and emotional effectiveness. It seems plausible that a good number of people believe in God and subscribe to some religious tradition on the basis of a kind of implicit, perhaps even subconscious argument from desire within them. Continue reading

Aquinas’s Argument from Design for the Existence of God: Introduction

At long last, we begin the first post on the fifth and final of Aquinas’s Five Ways, or arguments for the existence of God. Outlines of the previous four Ways can be found here, here, here, and here, respectively. The first three, as I’ve explained multiple times previously, are considered Thomistic cosmological arguments. The Fourth Way is really a unique type of argument in its own right, although it certainly has precedent in earlier arguments, including one from Augustine. It also has certain features in common with axiological (moral) arguments, although contains very important differences.

The Fifth Way is commonly categorized as a “Teleological Argument”, or an Argument from Design. Design Arguments have quite a long and impressive history going all the way back to Ancient Greece, to Socrates and perhaps even earlier. The general concept received treatment, at least implicitly, from Plato, Aristotle, some Stoics, and medieval Islamic, Jewish, and Christian philosophers. Modern philosophers such as Newton and Leibniz likewise proposed design arguments. But modern forms of the argument, while perhaps maintaining the same spirit as the classical and medieval versions, underwent somewhat drastic development, particularly in relation to the natural sciences. In fact, contemporary incarnations of the argument are, for the most part, almost entirely dependent upon, and hence most susceptible of criticism by way of, certain interpretations of findings from biology or cosmology. Unfortunately, many who are only familiar with these contemporary design arguments unjustifiably assume that all design arguments are essentially the same and hence guilty of the same or at least similar faults. In this post we will give a brief overview of some different design arguments before introducing Aquinas’s version, which, I think, is not only significantly unique, but also the best of all design arguments, precisely because, in its uniqueness, it does not commit some of the same mistakes as others. Continue reading