Aristotle’s Argument From Kinesis, 2

It seems Aristotle’s argument leaves us with three options:

1) potency has been transitioning into act eternally, i.e. infinite regress;

2) the initial transition from potency to act arose from absolute nothing, i.e. creation ex nihilo;

3) the initial transition from potency to act arose from an unmoved mover of some sort.

For those who accept the third choice, the key question becomes which type of mover is the best explanation, which often gets defined as the the more parsimonious explanation. Paring down even further, we find two sub-options for the third choice: either the first unmoved mover is some sort of conscious entity with intent, or some non-conscious, impersonal self-organizing emergent process of matter. Beginning around here, commenter Dominic and myself exchanged along these lines in the Introduction.

In particular, I’ve noticed a consensus among atheists who object to describing Aristotle’s unmoved mover as any sort of conscious entity or God. They typically offer some variant of an Occam’s razor complaint, arguing that such requires “extra steps” or is “not parsimonious.” I would respond that merely asserting that something “isn’t parsimonious” isn’t an argument – it’s an assertion – and I’ll address the “extra steps” claim in today’s post.

A response I left at Daylight Atheism also prompted some questions:

…doesn’t the Big Bang theory postulate a very simple first cause? Like, a single particle? Everything else evolved from that. Also, the complexity of the entity you are positing also counts. Positing a simple entity that has the minimum necessary qualities to solve the problem must be considered (by Ockham’s) to be superior to positing a complex entity that has addition unnecessary qualities. This should be easy to demonstrate: otherwise, you could simply package an infinite number of entities into a single meta-entity and call that your parsimonious answer.
-Yahzi, October 11, 2009, 12:16 am

Unless and until someone can provide evidence for a prior entity, the only sensible number to assume is 0. The only conscious entities we know of are highly complex beings with a long evolutionary history, which can only survive in a complex ecosystem. To postulate such a being spontaneously arising, without evidence, and then assert that it “DOES NOT multiply entities beyond necessity” is utterly absurd and flagrantly disregards the evidence available to us.
-Stephen, October 11, 2009, 6:29 am

How about ants? Plants? Bacteria? Viruses? Prions? Enzymes? Where do you define the line between “objects which can initiate a series of transitions from potency to act” and objects merely obeying the laws of physics and chemistry?
-Snoof, October 11, 2009, 9:01 pm

Any attempted explanation of cosmic origin, theistic or not, runs afoul of the paradox of the first cause. What caused the first cause? Either it was uncaused – and hence chaotic, as are all consequences of it – or it is caused by something other than itself – and hence not the first – or it caused itself – and hence is deductively empty. Neither theism nor atheism has any bearing on this problem, which is ultimately a problem in logic, solved by admitting uncertainty.
-paradoctor, October 12, 2009, 2:11 am

Maybe cl can help me figure out why the universe requires an “unmoved” mover. Why does the mover have to be “unmoved”?
-Paul S, October 12, 2009, 11:45 am

cl – are you arguing in favor of a conscious unmoved mover because it makes just as much logical sense as an unconscious one? If so, aren’t you assuming that consciousness can survive outside of a physical brain as some sort of disembodied soul?
-XPK, October 12, 2009, 7:15 pm

We can start with the variants of the Occam’s complaint. Time and time again, atheists assert that positing a conscious or “complex” God as creator of the universe violates Occam’s razor. Friends, as I’ve already asserted, that is bare naked assertion. In fact, the complete opposite is true. Occam’s razor shaves away the materialist’s last ground here, and I intend to support my case instead of just assert it.

Remember, thus far, we have three and only three viable options to explain existence: infinite regress, existence ex nihilo, or an unmoved mover. Which of these is the simplest? By simplest, I mean “requires the least amount of additional explanation.”

As far as causality is concerned, doesn’t an infinite regress of transitions from potency to act logically require an infinite number of explanation? Clearly, Ockham’s doesn’t like that, because that’s not simple at all.

What about creation ex nihilo? Then we’re just saying that the universe popped into existence from absolute nothingness. Yet, absolute nothingness would be just that – absolute nothingness – which means not even a single iota of potency from which existence might transition into act. Ockham’s doesn’t seem to like that, either.

What about an unmoved mover, as explained in the Introduction? If an unmoved mover has always existed, we have a single, simple explanation that requires no additional explanations. If we accept the plausibility of a unmoved mover, that leads to the question of what type of unmoved mover best complies with logical, philosophical and empirical rigor: a conscious entity, or an unconscious one? Who offends Ockham’s more as an unmoved mover? The conscious unmoved mover, i.e. God, or the unconscious one, i.e. nature? Obviously, atheists say the former, and theists the latter – but who can put their money where their mouth is?

I think the key in staying anchored here is to stay focused on the logical conclusions of Aristotle’s argument, which opts not only for an unmoved mover, but one with a unique set of qualities. 

Aristotle argues that the First Cause must be a being of “pure act”, a being whose nature it is to be actual. This seems to mean that there is for the First Cause no distinction between potentiality and actuality. The First Cause has no accidents: every property it has, it has essentially. This entails that the First Cause is immutable, since it lacks exactly that feature that explains the changeability of other substances.
-Robert C. Koons,
Plato, Aristotle, al-Farabi

Here’s another summation as delineated from Metaphysics Ζ:

Aristotle also offers (1050b6-1051a2) an “even stricter” argument for his claim that actuality is prior in substance to potentiality. A potentiality is for either of a pair of opposites; so anything that is capable of being is also capable of not being. What is capable of not being might possibly not be, and what might possibly not be is perishable. Hence anything with the mere potentiality to be is perishable. What is eternal is imperishable, and so nothing that is eternal can exist only potentially — what is eternal must be fully actual. But the eternal is prior in substance to the perishable. For the eternal can exist without the perishable, but not conversely, and that is what priority in substance amounts to (cf. Δ.11, 1019a2). So what is actual is prior in substance to what is potential.
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

There’s quite a bit packed in there, and by no means do I expect everyone to simply swallow all of it whole, but let’s take a good look at these qualities. 

The logical conclusion of Aristotle’s argument is not only that an unmoved mover necessarily exists, but that it also necessarily possesses a certain set of qualities: it must be active, eternal, necessary, pure, intentional, essential, immutable, immaterial, imperishable, and unmovable. I can see how atheists and skeptics may be tempted to see these as arbitrary proclamations or just-so statements, but remember that Aristotle wasn’t just some apologist trying to paint a bulls-eye around his target. In other words, we can’t claim the Old Testament writers hijacked Aristotle’s argument to construct the Biblical God because Aristotle post-dates the Hebrew scriptures, and we can’t claim Aristotle was favorable to Judaism or Christianity because he stands amongst the world’s most authoritative Pagan philosophers.

These characteristics are each logical derivations of Aristotle’s argument, and if we remove any one of them, we literally define his unmoved mover out of existence. For examples, if the first unmoved mover were not active, it would not move. If it were not eternal, it would demand a causal explanation. If it demanded a causal explanation, its cause would become more necessary than it. If something is more necessary than it, it cannot be said to be essential. That which is not essential is not pure. If it is not immaterial, then it becomes subject to the laws of matter, and cannot be imperishable. Etc.

Students of the Torah and the Bible probably already see where I’m going with this, but in both, the writers recorded every one of these qualities as revealed attributes of YHWH. The Torah predates Aristotle by a good thousand years, and therein YHWH purportedly describes Himself as, “I Am That I Am” (Hebrew: Ehyeh). Writing after Aristotle, in the New Testament, the writer of the book of Hebrews says,

In the beginning, O Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you will remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will roll them up like a robe; like a garment they will be changed. But you remain the same, and your years will never end.
Hebrews 1:10-12

Again, we find an accurate description of Aristotle’s unmoved mover. That single verse describes YHWH as catalyzing the changes that became the current universe. It describes YHWH as eternal and immutable, and also notes that in contrast, the entire created universe will “wear out like a garment.” An interesting question arises: did the Torah and Bible writers – who many atheists and skeptics normally denigrate as stupid goat herders – intuitively understand the 2nd law of thermodynamics thousands of years before Carnot?

The universe was necessarily moved either by another intermediate mover itself already in motion, or an unmoved mover has always existed in a state of actuality. As one writer put it,

..the point to note about these and all other changes is that the thing undergoing change can do so only thanks to something which is actual.
Lubor Velecky, Aquinas’ five arguments in the Summa theologiae 1a 2, 3, p.77

The universe is in a state of kinesis, that is, it is undergoing change; it exists in a series of transitions from potency to act. It can do so only in response to something which is actual. Further, this actuality cannot be constrained by the universe’s laws: entropy won’t let us posit matter and energy as existing eternally and unchanged, because matter and energy are themselves intermediate movers in motion that began in potency – and if left to their own will wind down to a state of absolute non-potency.

In closing, I believe I’ve made a good case showing that an eternal, purposeful unmoved mover is more parsimonious that infinite regress or creation ex nihilo. As we saw earlier in our evaluation of the options, anything else we can possibly posit would require at best one extra step, at worst an infinity of them. As far as what we’re allowed to call the unmoved mover while remaining in epistemically justifiable boundaries, I don’t need to call the unmoved mover God.

Albeit verbose, the “eternal, necessary, pure, intentional, essential, immutable, immaterial, imperishable, and unmovable” works just fine for me.


ADDENDUM: I’d also like to directly address the questions introduced earlier.

…doesn’t the Big Bang theory postulate a very simple first cause? Like, a single particle? Everything else evolved from that. Also, the complexity of the entity you are positing also counts. Positing a simple entity that has the minimum necessary qualities to solve the problem must be considered (by Ockham’s) to be superior to positing a complex entity that has addition unnecessary qualities. This should be easy to demonstrate: otherwise, you could simply package an infinite number of entities into a single meta-entity and call that your parsimonious answer.
-Yahzi, October 11, 2009, 12:16 am

Big Bang theory posits a singularity, but whether or not such is “simple” seems a matter of opinion either way. To me, a single particle that somehow had potency for the current universe is by no means simple. As far as the “minimum necessary qualities” part of your question, well… yeah, I agree with you, and I think I made a decent case demonstrating why the unmoved mover Aristotle posits is a simple a solution as can be. The “minimum necessary qualities” here are the ability to explain existence, preferably without entailing further explanation. I showed that infinite regress requires infinite extra steps of explanation, and that existence ex nihilo requires an explanation of how absolute nothingness – which means even lack of potency – could spawn the current universe. I’m game for trying to make that more intuitive and simple than a first unmoved mover, but I think there’s a reason most philosophers stay far away from creation ex nihilo. Then again, answers are often found where few are willing to go.

Unless and until someone can provide evidence for a prior entity, the only sensible number to assume is 0. The only conscious entities we know of are highly complex beings with a long evolutionary history, which can only survive in a complex ecosystem. To postulate such a being spontaneously arising, without evidence, and then assert that it “DOES NOT multiply entities beyond necessity” is utterly absurd and flagrantly disregards the evidence available to us.
-Stephen, October 11, 2009, 6:29 am

Your first sentence entails that we should accept creation ex nihilo. I disagree. You’ve also misunderstood my argument: I’m not “postulating [a conscious entity] spontaneously arising.” Such would be absurd, much like positing that the universe spontaneously arose – which is what we’re doing if we demand that “the only sensible number [of prior entities] to assume is 0.” I’ve not multiplied entities beyond necessity, nor has Aristotle. Rather, the argument shows that a first unmoved mover is logically required.

How about ants? Plants? Bacteria? Viruses? Prions? Enzymes? Where do you define the line between “objects which can initiate a series of transitions from potency to act” and objects merely obeying the laws of physics and chemistry?
-Snoof, October 11, 2009, 9:01 pm

Now this question, I like. I’ve thought quite a bit about this one, and knew it would just be a matter of time until somebody raised the issue of whether “natural forces” are intermediate movers or unmoved movers. When I refer to “objects which can initiate a series of transitions from potency to act,” I refer really to subjects, if that makes sense. Subjects possess the ability to initiate a series of transitions from potency to act, objects do not. One might say, “What about an explosion? Surely, an explosion initiates a series of transitions from potency to act, right? It can blow up the gas pump, which can set fire to the gas station, which can burn down the entire block.” All of that would be true, except for the most crucial part of the claim: an explosion does not initiate the aforementioned events; an explosion occurs in response to intermediate movers already in motion (the meeting of the molecules).

So back to your questions: where do I draw the line? Well, that might just demand an entire post of its own, but for now I’ll say it possibly starts with the line between organic and inorganic matter: rocks, sand, and empty buildings clearly do not initiate transitions from potency to act. Rocks need to be thrown by a subject, or moved by another object. Same with sand, and an empty building requires a subject or another object to transition from potency to act, too. We might say, “Well, in time won’t the building degrade and transition into a pile of rubble and dust, without any necessity for a subject or object?” The problem with that is, in the world of matter, all objects and subjects are being moved, which leads us right back to the original issue we’re debating: the “nature” of the intrinsic motion in nature. We can’t say a building decaying into rubble is being moved “by entropy,” because entropy is a description of an order of things, and not a thing itself. By motion here I mean the equivalent of Aristotle’s kinêsis – by which a substance transitions from one state to another, thereby possessing an attribute it previously lacked – not necessarily “everyday physical movement.” In order to undergo kinêsis, substance requires either an unmoved mover, or another intermediate mover already in motion.

Any attempted explanation of cosmic origin, theistic or not, runs afoul of the paradox of the first cause. What caused the first cause? Either it was uncaused – and hence chaotic, as are all consequences of it – or it is caused by something other than itself – and hence not the first – or it caused itself – and hence is deductively empty. Neither theism nor atheism has any bearing on this problem, which is ultimately a problem in logic, solved by admitting uncertainty.
-paradoctor, October 12, 2009, 2:11 am

If we follow Aristotle’s argument to its logical end, there is no paradox of the first cause. Further, uncaused is not synonymous with chaotic, though I think you’re onto something in that the first unmoved mover by definition could not be stagnant. When you say “neither theism nor atheism has any bearing on this problem,” I used to agree wholeheartedly with that, but after really thinking about Aristotle’s argument – not Craig’s or Strobel’s or any other modern apologist’s version of it – it came to make sense. What I can still say is that whether we’re atheists or believers, we’re bound to run into some sort of unfavorable epistemological curtain at some point.

Maybe cl can help me figure out why the universe requires an “unmoved” mover. Why does the mover have to be “unmoved”?
-Paul S, October 12, 2009, 11:45 am

Actually, if this post and the one that preceded can’t, then I don’t think anything else I can say would be useful. At least not at this very moment. Although, I’d caution that I’m not necessarily saying “the universe requires an unmoved mover.” That is what I happen to believe, as that shaves away unnecessary entities like multiple universes and the like, but the logic demands that at some point a first unmoved mover is necessary.

cl – are you arguing in favor of a conscious unmoved mover because it makes just as much logical sense as an unconscious one? If so, aren’t you assuming that consciousness can survive outside of a physical brain as some sort of disembodied soul?
-XPK, October 12, 2009, 7:15 pm

To the first question, no – I’m arguing in favor of a conscious mover because it makes far more logical sense than an unconscious one. To the second question, yes – that consciousness can exist outside a physical body is a necessary pre-requisite of my position. I acknowledge that many atheists, skeptics and metaphysical naturalists are reluctant to accept this position, but I think a fair accounting of the evidence would force them to reconsider. All I can do is continue to write and let the chips fall where they will.

27 Comments

  1. Scott says:

    Hey cl, looks like another great post, unforunately I don’t have time to read it all right now and so just wish to point one thing out quick:
    “I can see how atheists and skeptics may be tempted to see these as arbitrary proclamations or just-so statements, but remember that Aristotle wasn’t just some apologist trying to paint a bulls-eye around his target; rather, one of the most authoritative pagan philosophers the world has ever produced. IOW, we can’t just claim the Torah and Old Testament writers hijacked Aristotle’s argument to support theism.”
    I disagree strongly that we can’t claim the Torah and the Old Testament writers stole Aristostles work. The Torah is based completely on other earlier religions. It steals from babylonions, egyptions, pagans. The Torah simply takes Plato’s work on the ‘good’ and takes an ‘o’ out to make it about ‘god’. There is next to nothing in the Torah/OT that isn’t stolen from elsewhere, why should the characteristics of yahweh be any different?

  2. Scott says:

    Oh Snap, forgot we were talking Torah/OT there, yeah the Torah came before Aristotle but I would argue that the definition of what yahweh is in the bible is insanely flimsy. I’m pretty sure the main description of god is basically “I am that I am”. You can’t then turn around and claim that the idea of an eternal god is something new. Every single theistic religion claims that some eternal force created the universe. Though most of those claims become quite silly when we understand that as far as the people who believed these things were concerned, the universe only consisted of earth. Which they believed was flat.

  3. Dominic Saltarelli says:

    It looked to me that you made a great argument for why the ‘unmoved mover’ is a non-conscious phenomenon, then concluded with:

    In closing, I believe I’ve made a good case showing that a conscious first unmoved mover is actually the simplest possible solution to posit.

    Best way to address this is actually in response to your earlier post entitled “An Illusory But Incredibly Well-Timed Forethought?”. I’ll pick it up from there later when I have time. Maybe sometime tonight or tomorrow.
    The teaser to chew on in the meantime is the “actual” attribute ascribed to the ‘unmoved mover’. Essentially, everything observable about consciousness specifically is not “actual” as defined herein. Hence, the ‘unmoved mover’ is by definition, not conscious. Details forthcoming…

  4. XPK says:

    Cl – you said: “yes – that consciousness can exist outside a physical body is a necessary pre-requisite of my position”
    This is, for me, the crux of my atheism. I have no recollection of existence from before I was born. Also, I am not aware of any evidence to consult on that topic. If I am supposed to be harboring an “eternal soul” then where was it before I was born? If it will experience things after I die, why did it not experience anything before I was born? Those are the questions that plague the human soul concept.
    And thank you for answering my question. I’m still not sure if consciousness only makes more logical sense because we ourselves use consciousness while other animals do not.
    Regarding your thoughts on inorganic matter, simply because a rock appears “solid” to us does not mean the molecules of said “solid” are not decaying, moving and acting according to the laws of physics and chemistry.

  5. Dominic Saltarelli says:

    The conclusion cl drew from the Aristotle’s characteristics of the unmoved mover, that the mover was “eternal, necessary, pure, intentional, essential, immutable, immaterial, imperishable, and unmovable” …somehow… meant it was obvious that calling this mover conscious was the simpler explanation in view of Occam’s Razor.
    These necessary traits rest upon something called “actuality”, which was defined as something that must be, as all “potentialities” are perishable and subject to not existing.
    Which brings us to the subject of consciousness. “Actuality” and “consciousness” are decidedly at odds with each other, with consciousness being firmly in the realm of potentiality rather than actuality.
    I’m not about to offer up some grand explanation about the full nature of consciousness as though I knew it, but being one myself, I can make all manner of observations about what it is without knowing all the details.
    1) There was a point in time when I did not exist. Accepting the premise that the universe and I didn’t spring into being at the same moment, there was a time when I was, not. So it’s clear that consciousness by itself is not an actuality, it is possible to “not be”.
    2) Consciousness is comprised of thoughts. Distinct, independent thoughts, which are anything but homogeneous. Some thoughts are blue, some are loud, others involve pretzels and beer, many of mine are about video games. Others involve the lifting of one’s arm, most do not. There is no one thought that is necessary. Each thought is a potentiality, and any given consciousness, being comprised of naught but thoughts, is thus itself a potentiality. There is no necessary consciousness as there are no necessary thoughts. Thus it is possible for any particular consciousness to “not be”.
    So regardless of how you flip and turn it, neither the concept of consciousness or any given consciousness can ever hope to qualify as an “actuality”. The qualities of potentiality are immediately observable pre-requisites for consciousness. You have to have perishability, change, the possibility of not being a certain way, in order to have consciousness. These are bedrock observations.
    Saying that God’s thoughts are higher than our thoughts doesn’t change any of this, they’re still thoughts.
    Hence, due to the directly observable characteristics of consciousness that we all have available, the “actuality” characteristic is precisely what precludes the unmoved mover from either being a consciousness (as in a being of pure thought) or even possessing a consciousness (a God made of eternal spirit…stuff).

  6. Dominic Saltarelli says:

    The conclusion cl drew from the Aristotle’s characteristics of the unmoved mover, that the mover was “eternal, necessary, pure, intentional, essential, immutable, immaterial, imperishable, and unmovable” …somehow… meant it was obvious that calling this mover conscious was the simpler explanation in view of Occam’s Razor.
    These necessary traits rest upon something called “actuality”, which was defined as something that must be, as all “potentialities” are perishable and subject to not existing.
    Which brings us to the subject of consciousness. “Actuality” and “consciousness” are decidedly at odds with each other, with consciousness being firmly in the realm of potentiality rather than actuality.
    I’m not about to offer up some grand explanation about the full nature of consciousness as though I knew it, but being one myself, I can make all manner of observations about what it is without knowing all the details.
    1) There was a point in time when I did not exist. Accepting the premise that the universe and I didn’t spring into being at the same moment, there was a time when I was, not. So it’s clear that consciousness by itself is not an actuality, it is possible to “not be”.
    2) Consciousness is comprised of thoughts. Distinct, independent thoughts, which are anything but homogeneous. Some thoughts are blue, some are loud, others involve pretzels and beer, many of mine are about video games. Others involve the lifting of one’s arm, most do not. There is no one thought that is necessary. Each thought is a potentiality, and any given consciousness, being comprised of naught but thoughts, is thus itself a potentiality. There is no necessary consciousness as there are no necessary thoughts. Thus it is possible for any particular consciousness to “not be”.
    So regardless of how you flip and turn it, neither the concept of consciousness or any given consciousness can ever hope to qualify as an “actuality”. The qualities of potentiality are immediately observable pre-requisites for consciousness. You have to have perishability, change, the possibility of not being a certain way, in order to have consciousness. These are bedrock observations.
    Saying that God’s thoughts are higher than our thoughts doesn’t change any of this, they’re still thoughts.
    Hence, due to the directly observable characteristics of consciousness that we all have available, the “actuality” characteristic is precisely what precludes the unmoved mover from either being a consciousness (as in a being of pure thought) or even possessing a consciousness (a God made of eternal spirit…stuff).

  7. D says:

    “By simplest, I mean ‘requires the least amount of additional explanation.’ ”
    I stopped reading right there (for now). This is really gonna stick in my argumentative craw; that’s not what Occam’s razor is about. The original Latin formulation, “entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem,” means, “entities should not be multiplied beyond necessity.” When speaking of explanatory simplicity, we are not seeking to minimize the effort involved in doing so; quite to the contrary, the razor simply helps us make sure that our ontology hasn’t gotten too big for our epistemological britches.
    As applies to the argument at hand, it’s like this: whether we go with infinite regress, ex nihilo, or an unmoved mover, positing a deity as responsible for things without at the same time showing said deity, or proposing a mechanism by which the deity did such things, keeps it all just as mysterious. You have multiplied entities beyond necessity by saying that the thing which none of us can explain was done by this other thing which we still can’t explain. Why the extra step? You might like it, it might strike you as simpler to say that gods create universes, they don’t just spring out of nothing; but you still can’t justify the move because as far as we know, universes might very well spring out of nothing. I mean, we haven’t had any “nothing” since the universe has been, so it’s awful hard to say.
    Put differently, imagine two explanations for phenomenon X: A, B, C, D, thus X; and A, B, C, D, E, thus X. Since both explanations get us equally to the same X, how can we decide which is more likely to be right? Well, since the presence or absence of step E makes no difference to the output, it is explanatorily inert: it does nothing to enhance our explanation, and so ought to be written out. Or, as Einstein said, “Things should be as simple as possible, but no simpler.”
    I’ll get to the rest later on.

  8. cl says:

    A little late in the game, but I’ll take this:

    The original Latin formulation, “entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem,” means, “entities should not be multiplied beyond necessity.”

    That is what I mean when I say the simplest explanation is the one that requires the least amount of additional steps. Note that I can swap “God” with “nothing” and hoist you by your own petard here. “Nothing” is an extra step just like God. If we are not going to allow any extra steps, then we may not inquire beyond Planck time – but it seems the question of existence cannot be squarely addressed unless we’re willing to extend our view even further.

    Or, as Einstein said, “Things should be as simple as possible, but no simpler.”

    I agree. That is what I mean when I say the simplest explanation is the one that requires the least amount of additional steps.
    Also, don’t forget that Einstein felt the universe implied a purposeful design which means that Einstein didn’t use his own statement to shave away deistic thought as you appear to be doing.

  9. Jayman says:

    I don’t have time to read part 1 but I’ve read part 2 and its comments. Please forgive me if I rehash old points.
    I recently read an introduction to the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas (I’ve written up a rough summary of his Five Ways if anyone is interested). Aquinas followed in Aristotle’s footsteps and his First Way appears similar to the argument under discussion here. Below, I am
    basing my comments off of my understanding of Aquinas, which is hopefully identical or similar to Aristotle’s views. After reading the book I am quite interested in Thomism. However, I am not ready to accept it myself without a lot more investigation. I hope that by discussing things here I can better guage Aristotelianism and Thomism.
    cl:
    1) The proof from motion does not leave us with three options. If the premises are true and the logic is sound it proves the existence of an Unmoved Mover. The skeptic needs to refute the argument.
    If there is an infinite series of movers there is no first mover; and if there is no first mover then there would be no other movers because the subsequent movers move only inasmuch as they are put in motion by the first mover. Aquinas is not picturing a series of movers going back through time. He is picturing a series of movers in the here and now. The argument stands even if the universe has always existed. For Aquinas, the immediate cause of an effect is simultaneous with that effect. As an example, consider a hand moving a staff, which is moving a stone, which is moving a leaf. This causal series is ordered “per se” or “essentially.” The motion of the leaf depends on the motion of the stone, which in turn depends on the motion of the staff, which in turn depends on the motion of the hand. To put it another way, the leaf moves when the stone moves, which moves when the staff moves, which moves when the hand moves. The causes and effects are simultaneous. If any item in this causal series is removed the leaf will no longer move. Strictly speaking, the hand is moving everything else. The other items are used as instruments of the hand. It is incoherent to claim that the leaf would move without a first mover.
    Creation out of nothing (or movement/change out of nothing) is also incoherent under Aquina’s metaphysics. Nothing can be reduced from potentiality to actuality except by something in a state of actuality. Nothingness is not in a state of actuality.
    2) There is no need to ask which type of Unmoved Mover is the best explanation. Aquinas’ Five Ways are deductive proofs that converge on an entity that is immutable, immaterial, eternal, powerful, good, simple (not composed of parts), presently active, and has an intellect. This meets the basic definition of God and rules out polytheism, deism, and atheism. It is not merely the best explanation, but the only explanation. The atheist must prove the arguments wrong or accept defeat. Occam’s razor has already been applied by Aquinas himself.
    3) The Fifth Way proves the existence of a deity with an intellect. I suppose one could argue whether intellect and consciousness are the same. But the point is that a debate over what is simpler, an unconscious first mover or a conscious first mover, is beside the point if one or the other is proven by the argument.
    4) The Unmoved Mover is not moving and is not moved by anything else. The Unmoved Mover actualizes potentialities without itself being actualized. It makes other things move without itself undergoing motion. This is why its the Unmoved Mover. It is active in the sense that it is presently actualizing potentialities.
    5) Natural forces are final causes. The Fifth Way argues from the existence of final causes to the existence of an intelligent being.
    Scott:
    1) The conclusions drawn by Aquinas are compatible only with Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (among present-day religions). The vast majority of religions that have existed on this planet are not compatible with an Unmoved Mover.
    D:
    1) The “extra step” must be taken if the argument is sound. Its a deductive argument.
    2) If you believe the universe can spring into existence out of nothing then you reject one of the premises in the argument. Perhaps you can show something happening that has absolutely no cause. But ultimately Aquinas’ argument still stands even if there were just one thing in motion.
    3) I find it ironic that atheists, who worship science with its cause and effect, so easily dismiss cause and effect if it is used to argue for God’s existence (e.g., the Leibnizian cosmological argument). If you doubt cause and effect why look for causes at all? How do you know a proposed cause is any more reasonable than there being no cause at all? Maybe I didn’t type this post and it just popped into existence uncaused. It seems to me such atheists are desperately looking for a way to avoid the conclusion of the argument, for they seem to accept cause and effect everywhere else.

  10. Dominic Saltarelli says:

    2) There is no need to ask which type of Unmoved Mover is the best explanation. Aquinas’ Five Ways are deductive proofs that converge on an entity that is immutable, immaterial, eternal, powerful, good, simple (not composed of parts), presently active, and has an intellect. This meets the basic definition of God and rules out polytheism, deism, and atheism. It is not merely the best explanation, but the only explanation. The atheist must prove the arguments wrong or accept defeat. Occam’s razor has already been applied by Aquinas himself.

    Care to elaborate on the “has an intellect” part? On my Oct. 15 post, I outlined exactly why the opposite is true based on empirically verifiable observations.

  11. Jayman says:

    Dominic, you appear to be using the terms “actual” and “potential” in a different sense than Aquinas. You seem to take “actual” to mean “necessary” and “potential” to mean “contingent.” Aquinas takes “actuality” to refer to the present state of a thing and “potentiality” to refer to a potential state of a thing. Your comment merely shows that human consciousness is contingent.

  12. Jayman says:

    Dominic, you appear to be using the terms “actual” and “potential” in a different sense than Aquinas. You seem to take “actual” to mean “necessary” and “potential” to mean “contingent.” Aquinas takes “actuality” to refer to the present state of a thing and “potentiality” to refer to a potential state of a thing. Your comment merely shows that human consciousness is contingent.

  13. Dominic Saltarelli says:

    My October post was in response to the original posting by cl, where the terms were defined in Aristotle’s argument of an unmoved mover, not Aquinas.
    I also went ahead and checked out your link where you summarized the 5 ways. Looking at the 5th way, it’s readily apparent why he stated God had to have an intellect, and also why many Christians don’t want evolution taught in schools, natural selection kinda strangles the 5th way in the cradle.

  14. cl says:

    Jayman,

    There is no need to ask which type of Unmoved Mover is the best explanation. Aquinas’ Five Ways are deductive proofs that converge on an entity that is immutable, immaterial, eternal, powerful, good, simple (not composed of parts), presently active, and has an intellect.

    I agree that when correctly argued, Aristotle’s argument puts the burden of production on the atheist. I was approaching the whole thing from a “bottoms up” angle to show that I’d thought things through from both angles.

    Your comment merely shows that human consciousness is contingent. (to Dominic)

    I would agree there, too, but I think Dominic is saying he sees a problem with assigning intellect or consciousness to the unmoved mover because all observations of intellect and consciousness we have point to contingency. It seems we all agree biological and human consciousness is contingent; my question is how the contingency of biological and human consciousness makes the unmoved mover more likely to be “a non-conscious phenomenon.” I think at best, Dominic’s shown that the unmoved mover is not likely to be a biological or human phenomenon, and as theists we would agree.
    Dominic,

    These necessary traits rest upon something called “actuality”, which was defined as something that must be, as all “potentialities” are perishable and subject to not existing.

    I suspect a possible conflation of actuality with non-contingency, and potency with contingency. Unless I’ve read them wrong, neither Aristotle nor Aquinas intended “actuality” to refer to something that must be, nor did they intend “potency” intended to denote that which is contingent.
    And speaking for what I’ve wrote, actuality (or act) was never defined as “something that must be” and potency was never defined as “perishable or subject to not existing,” though by definition all potentialities are subject to not existing. From Pt. 1:

    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.

    Still, I think I understand the gist of your argument here. You see a problem with assigning intellect or consciousness to the unmoved mover on the premise that all observations of intellect and consciousness we have point to consciousness being contingent.
    Would that be a correct or at least working paraphrase of your rebuttal?

  15. Dominic Saltarelli says:

    As long as it gets us all on the same page regarding “potentiality” and “actuality”, I’d say yes.
    It leads into the next question of what other kind of intellect or consciousness is actually possible such that it is not constrained by the limitations observed on intellect and consciousness that we have available. What I’m seeing is that an intellect being the first mover is a deduction because the logical conclusions from the premises they both had accepted at the time point to an intellect. I argue that one should be in mind that while both Aristotle’s and Aquinas’ logic may be flawless, flawless logic still gets the wrong answer if based on faulty premises.

  16. Jayman says:

    Dominic:

    My October post was in response to the original posting by cl, where the terms were defined in Aristotle’s argument of an unmoved mover, not Aquinas.

    I’ll leave it to you and cl to sort out the definitions of actuality and potentiality.

    why many Christians don’t want evolution taught in schools

    I’m pretty sure such Christians reject the theory of evolution because it contradicts their interpretation of Genesis, not because it undermines an argument from natural theology.

    natural selection kinda strangles the 5th way in the cradle.

    You don’t understand the Fifth Way then (admittedly that could be my fault or due to the fact that people confuse it with modern ID arguments). Feser writes: “For as with mountains, asteroids, and the like, even if it should turn out that animal species are the accidental byproducts of various convergent causal processes, the existence of those evolutionary processes themselves would require an explanation in terms of final causes” (p. 115).
    In my opinion, the Fifth Way stands or falls on the premise that states: “Whatever lacks intelligence can only act for an end if it is directed by something that has intelligence.” I’m not sure if there are good arguments for or against this premise.

  17. Dominic Saltarelli says:

    In my opinion, the Fifth Way stands or falls on the premise that states: “Whatever lacks intelligence can only act for an end if it is directed by something that has intelligence.” I’m not sure if there are good arguments for or against this premise.

    I can’t see how there would be an argument. It’s either true or it isn’t. It’d be like trying to argue the logical basis of gravity. Problem though, is that gravity can actually be observed doing it’s thing. This premise is a wholesale fabrication, with nothing supporting it other than the fact it leads to the desired conclusion.

  18. Dominic Saltarelli says:

    In my opinion, the Fifth Way stands or falls on the premise that states: “Whatever lacks intelligence can only act for an end if it is directed by something that has intelligence.” I’m not sure if there are good arguments for or against this premise.

    I can’t see how there would be an argument. It’s either true or it isn’t. It’d be like trying to argue the logical basis of gravity. Problem though, is that gravity can actually be observed doing it’s thing. This premise is a wholesale fabrication, with nothing supporting it other than the fact it leads to the desired conclusion.

  19. cl says:

    Dominic,
    Addressing the earlier comments, if you agree to our definitions as stated, does your October 15th rebuttal retain its meaningfulness? I don’t think it does.
    Correct me if I’m wrong, but if we use act and potency and kinesis as Aristotle and Aquinas used them, your statement (1) that there was a point in time when you did not exist and your statement (2) that there is no necessary thought and that each thought is a potentiality each become irrelevant. I counter that the fact of human contingency has no import to the argument, and remain interested in hearing how you would rework your rebuttal using the same definitions Aristotle, Aquinas, Jayman and myself are using.
    Getting to your most recent comments, I agree with you that cogent arguments are not necessarily reflective of truth. That’s a given.

    What I’m seeing is that an intellect being the first mover is a deduction because the logical conclusions from the premises they both had accepted at the time point to an intellect.

    When you say “premises they had both accepted at the time,” could clarify exactly which premises you allude to?
    Lastly, if I might interject on the Fifth Way discussion with Jayman,

    Whatever lacks intelligence can only act for an end if it is directed by something that has intelligence. (Fifth Way premise)
    This premise is a wholesale fabrication, with nothing supporting it other than the fact it leads to the desired conclusion. (Dominic)

    Wholesale fabrication? I strongly disagree and counter that it’s a sound premise supported by empirical observation. That intent is an attribute of consciousness is the foundational premise by which we distinguish man-made objects from naturally occurring ones.
    If you want to reject that premise, you can meet the burden of production by showing an instance of something that lacks intelligence yet acts for an end.
    Pre-emptively, I do not agree to the statement that natural selection acts for an end. Natural selection acts, period. Non-conscious processes cannot “act for” or “select for” anything. They simply proceed according to their algorithmic parameters.
    As an analogy, I can write PHP code that reads all the images in a given directory, and I can write MySQL code that “selects for” only blue images, but the code’s tendency to “select for blue images” is not an emergent property of the code itself. Rather, the code proceeds according to the algorithmic parameters I established as intelligent agent.

  20. Jayman says:

    cl, I must quibble with your statement that natural processes cannot act for an end. They certainly do not consciously act for an end but they act in the sense that they are directed towards some end. Perhaps we could say that natural processes have a point but not a purpose.
    Dominic, Aquinas is well aware that you can study nature and remain ignorant of the Creator, just as I could study cl’s PHP code and remain ignorant of cl. This is why I think it is difficult to make a strong argument against the Fifth Way. The existence of what we call the laws of nature are not arguments against the Fifth Way. Even scientists yearn for a Theory of Everything.
    I think the Fifth Way is stronger than you give it credit for. I found this paragraph helpful:

    If the world has a point, if it is for anything, this cannot be a case of unconscious teleology, since unconscious teleology is always relative to a system, is always a case of a part being for the sake of the whole. There is, by definition, no greater whole of which the world forms a part. Even if there were, we could just perform the “we cannot go on to infinity in this line” move, and quickly come to the limit. There is therefore going to be something, viz. the world, which has to have a point if anything within the world is to have a point. Apparently there are things within the world that have a point: indeed, apparently the whole structure of the world depends on things displaying tendencies and thus having points, being for something. Therefore the world as a whole does have a point, does display teleology. But this teleology cannot be unconscious, since there is no greater whole for the world to have as its unconscious point. Therefore the teleology of the world must be conscious: the point of the world must be conferred on it by some mind.

  21. Dominic Saltarelli says:

    I did have a longer post in response to cl in mind that I was chewing on for a bit, but then I see this defense of the 5th way, and it’s too beautiful. I like being able to put things succinctly, and this summarizes everything I was going to try to say about putting the horse before the cart perfectly.

    Therefore the teleology of the world must be conscious: the point of the world must be conferred on it by some mind.

    That mind, of course, is my own.
    Now that I’m God according to the 5th way of Aquinas, I’ll let you all know that I take my worship and praise in the form of monetary donations and gift baskets (the edible ones, don’t care about scented body lotion from Bath and Bodyworks), burnt offerings are unnecessary.

  22. cl says:

    I did have a longer post in response to cl in mind that I was chewing on for a bit, but then I see this defense of the 5th way, and it’s too beautiful. I like being able to put things succinctly, and this summarizes everything I was going to try to say about putting the horse before the cart perfectly.

    Well I’d hate to see yet another seemingly productive exchange end on unanswered questions. While it’s certainly interesting, the whole Fifth Way thing between you and Jayman is still peripheral for me. I get that your comment was tongue-in-cheek, and I got a
    chuckle out of it, but I don’t think you’ve squarely confronted either Aquinas’ Fifth Way or the Aristotle’s argument from kinesis.
    I’m still very much interested in hearing your objections to the argument from kinesis, reworked to reflect the intended meanings of act and potency.

  23. cl says:

    I did have a longer post in response to cl in mind that I was chewing on for a bit, but then I see this defense of the 5th way, and it’s too beautiful. I like being able to put things succinctly, and this summarizes everything I was going to try to say about putting the horse before the cart perfectly.

    Well I’d hate to see yet another seemingly productive exchange end on unanswered questions. While it’s certainly interesting, the whole Fifth Way thing between you and Jayman is still peripheral for me. I get that your comment was tongue-in-cheek, and I got a
    chuckle out of it, but I don’t think you’ve squarely confronted either Aquinas’ Fifth Way or the Aristotle’s argument from kinesis.
    I’m still very much interested in hearing your objections to the argument from kinesis, reworked to reflect the intended meanings of act and potency.

  24. Dominic Saltarelli says:

    The part that I left out was that I had a longer post almost ready that did answer each question, but accidentally hit the ‘back’ button and lost it. Got a little irritated and dismissed the affair for the moment. It happens. After coming back later and seeing Jayman’s post though, I saw a quicker way to get my point across that didn’t involve a tediously long post of my own.
    To answer your most pertinent question though, I misunderstood what you meant by actuality and potency originally, guess I read the post a bit too quickly and walked away w/ the wrong impression, primarily due to the inclusion of the excerpt from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and the intention of the post. Also happens sometimes, not like any of us are being paid for this. You can ignore the Oct. 15 post of mine, it’s not relevant to this thread.
    Looking over Aristotle’s argument for myself, the only point at which I’d actually argue with him is the part where he makes the assumption that thinking is independent of and precedes matter (more specifically, motion). Even to think about thinking would require some preexisting thinking to think about. It suffers from its own infinite regress. As far as I can tell, it easily terminates with a material object or phenomenon that starts the process.
    Just read the above sentences a few more times. Maybe check out this link. It’ll make sense eventually, I promise.
    And infinite regress is off the table since we’re talking Aristotle here. Hence, a formless, changless, matterless source of motion can’t be the act of thinking.

  25. joseph says:

    This is very old ground for you CL, so I understand if you don’t want to revisit this post.

    You seem to advocate that God creates from itself. Do you include the Devil (as in the orthodox interpretation of Satan) as created, not only by God, but also of God?

  26. cl says:

    Dominic,

    Thanks for the link, sorry I never got back to you. Maybe sometime I’ll reread this entire thread to see if I can’t pick up where we left off. Don’t hold your breath though (not that you would).

    joseph,

    Sorry to you as well, didn’t realize I’d left another question unanswered. I think we already covered this in some detail here.

  27. joseph says:

    Thankyou CL, yes we did, now you probably understand why I went off on a tangent, no need to apologise.

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