September 28, 2009
One reason I haven't posted anything new in over two weeks is because we had a really good thread going off the last post. However, that's not the only reason.
Over the past two weeks I've been rethinking positions I'd previously been more or less 100% committed to. At least provisionally, although I am a believer, I still hold that no successful ontological argument for God's existence exists, meaning I do not believe there is an argument that logically requires a skeptic to accept God's existence as the only response. Nonetheless, I agree that at least philosophically, life requires an explanation — and I agree that depending on how they're delineated, First-Cause arguments can certainly be cogent — but I've just never felt they logically required the skeptic to accept God's existence. Today I'm not so sure.
Previously, I had accepted Bertrand Russell's response to them in Why I Am Not A Christian, which echoes John Stuart Mill's before him: if everything that exists needs a cause, and God exists, then what caused God? Who designed the Designer?
From the outset, these objections seem fair, but unfortunately, theists usually reply with the emendation that everything which begins to exist requires a cause. The 'begins to exist' clause effectively absolves God from needing to be supported with reasoning: God is eternal, hence never began to exist, hence needs no explanation. Understandably, skeptics tend to dislike this approach, and typically counter with charges of special pleading: if believers can say God always existed, why can't skeptics say that matter or the universe — or whatever gave rise to matter and the universe — always existed? After all, we know from the laws of thermodynamics that matter cannot be created or destroyed, so why can't matter and energy have existed prior to the singularity in some other form?
If you are at all like I am, you're not enthused with intellectual stalemates. Although the example we just ran represents your average First-Cause discussion, the particular questions and responses suggest misunderstanding on both sides. Let's back up to the part where the believer has asserted a First-Cause argument, and the skeptic has replied with, "What caused God? Who designed the designer?"
These questions suggest hidden premises. To draw them out, believers need to know two things: whether the skeptic accepts the possibility of eternal objects, and whether the skeptic accepts the possibility of infinite regress.
Asking "what caused God" suggests the skeptic possibly accepts the premise that all objects require causes. Yet, if we accept that all objects require causes, it seems we must deny the possibility of eternal objects. This means nothing is allowed to exist uncaused, which establishes an infinite regress, because if everything needs a cause, nothing could ever get started. Further, if we deny the possibility of eternal objects, we must also swallow the seemingly logically impossible premise that something came from nothing, because unless something always existed, then everything came from nothing.
Granted, if we accept the possibility of eternal objects, we also run into serious comprehensive difficulties, but is there any undeniable reason to categorize them as logically impossible? Besides the fact that I can't get my head around the concept, I say no. I shouldn't deny the possibility of something simply on account of my own inability to conceptualize it; that would be an argument from personal incredulity, of little worth to cogency, so it follows that I accept the possibility of eternal objects.
In both Physics and Book Lambda of the Metaphysics, Aristotle delineates his Argument for the Unmoved Mover based on the empirically observable phenomenon of kinesis: the transition of substance from one state into another. Aristotle's argument is based on the premise that all change involves transition from potency to actuality for a given attribute. That is, when a substance changes, it comes to express one or more attributes it previously lacked. Thus, we can say that a seed is in potency for a tree, or potentially a tree: under the correct conditions, it moves from a state of potency to a state of actuality for the attribute of tree. It becomes a tree.
This relationship between potency and actuality is necessarily Boolean; that is, it is logically impossible for a substance to be simultaneously in potency and actuality for the same attribute. A seed cannot simultaneously be in potency and actuality for the attribute of tree, because when it is in one state, by necessity it cannot be in the other. Once a seed moves into actuality for the attribute of tree, it abandons its previous state of potency by expressing that which it previously lacked.
Though it might seem we're belaboring the obvious, this straight-forward observation is what led Thomas Aquinas to his famous dictum: that which moves must be moved by another.
If we say matter and energy were put into motion by an Unmoved Mover of immense magnitude, we conserve the principles of logic as we experience them in the present moment, and we enjoy the security of a real-world analogy…
Observation reveals two fundamental types of object: those that require movers to change, and those that do not. Aristotle refers to the former as intermediate movers and the latter as unmoved movers (Lambda 7, p. 258). Intermediate movers can change, but lack the internal power to do so, thus to change they require an intermediate mover in motion or an unmoved mover. There is a popular saying that in regards to some missing object, "It didn't just grow legs and walk away." This universal axiom illustrates that most if not all people intuitively understand the difference between intermediate movers and unmoved movers.
Rocks, trees and buildings would be examples of intermediate movers, while human beings and animals would be examples of unmoved movers. On their own, rocks, trees and buildings cannot change: they must be moved either by an unmoved mover such as a human or animal, or another intermediate mover already in motion, such as a bulldozer or lightning. Note that lightning and all natural processes are intermediate movers, themselves being objects or phenomena already in motion: lightning can strike rocks, trees and buildings and change them, but lightning requires a mover, in this case, separation of positive and negative charges within a cloud (I acknowledge the scientific debate over precisely what causes lightning).
The clouds which host the separation of positive and negative charges which produce lightning require a mover, too. In fact, all change in the natural world requires a mover of some sort, and quite literally, the history of the current universe is an hierarchy of change. It's mind-boggling to conceive that the singularity of matter and energy was in potency for our current universe long ago, and given the aforementioned considerations, what happens when we traverse this hierarchy of change backwards through time?
It seems we encounter three options: either we say matter and energy moved from some previous state of potency, or we say matter and energy moved itself, or we say matter and energy moved from pure actuality, an Unmoved Mover of immense magnitude. Let's consider the ramifications of each.
1) If we say matter and energy moved from a previous state of potency, such prompts the question of where that state of potency came from. For example, if the matter and energy in our universe came from a pre-existing universe that had the potency to produce or become our current universe, where did that universe come from? Each time we add another previous state of potency, we simply avoid the question of ultimate causality, and unless we introduce an unmoved mover, we encounter an infinite causal regress, which — as far as I know — is thought to be a logical and ontological impossibility.
2) If we say matter and energy always existed and moved itself into the current universe, it seems we violate the previously established logic. As the seed can't express the attribute of tree without being moved by things outside itself — sunlight, water, etc. — it would seem matter and energy couldn't express the attribute of the current universe without being moved by something outside itself. A hammer can't move itself to hit a nail; it must be moved by another. Further, matter is caused because it has potency, and the potency of matter is continually exhausting. Indeed, if left alone, our universe will eventually encounter an entropic heat death. If matter and energy moved itself into our current universe, it appears to have been one big cosmic suicide.
3) If we say matter and energy were put into motion by an Unmoved Mover of immense magnitude, we conserve the principles of logic as we experience them in the present moment, and we enjoy the security of a real-world analogy: as unmoved movers ourselves, we humans are able to introduce complex and intelligent change in the natural world.
…it is impossible, I say, for the human mind not to believe that there is, in all this, design, cause and effect, up to an ultimate cause, a fabricator of all things from matter and motion, their preserver and regulator while permitted to exist in their present forms, and their regenerator into new and other forms.
Accepting 1 entails an infinite regress and merely delays 3, and accepting 2 entails violates observed logic. It seems to me that accepting 3 requires the least amount of additional explanation: the most logical explanation for change or kinesis in the natural world is that it emanated from something that is itself in a state of pure actuality and does not change. It seems to me that for those who wish to avoid infinite regresses and creation ex nihilo, the only way out is to argue that the Unmoved Mover is some unconscious force or entity, and not God.
What do you think?