Category: Apologetics

Bennett on the Authorship of the Gospel of Matthew

Bennett on the Authorship of the Gospel of Matthew

{Note for simplicity’s sake, I will mention the account as Matthew’s Gospel, without argument. This does not beg the question though, as this is convertible into a statement about the writer, without any assumption of who wrote it. I am not assuming outright that Matthew wrote it}

In this post, we will be looking at the case made by the 19th. Century Lawyer Edmund H. Bennett for the traditional authorship of Saint Matthew’s Gospel in his work “The Four Gospels from a Lawyer’s Standpoint”. Bennett, using his “judicial apologetic”, tries to make a case for the authorship and reliability of all  four of the Gospels solely by looking through the internal evidence found in various scriptural passages, an obviously ambitious project for one who is not a trained theologian or textual critic. The reason we will focus on the Gospel of Saint Matthew is the strength of the peculiarities cited, with none of the other ones appearing to have equal measure in this regard. For instance, while the case Bennett makes for Saint John’s Gospel is good, there is still a reasonable doubt to its authenticity at the end of it in this authors opinion. However, I am not sure this is the case with Matthew’s account, and strangely, the validity of it is actually strengthened by the external evidence that these documents were transferred anonymously (which we will go into later).  Following Blunt and Paley, making a case self admittedly not his own, Bennett reasons from peculiarities, these “Undesigned Coincidences” that you would expect if Matthew were the author, to traditional authorship of his gospel.

To begin, Bennett opens up the chapter speaking of the sort of evidence required to show genuineness and reliability. He provides anecdotal evidence of a particular event in a Massachusetts town that occurred during the American Revolution. That in this case, simply reasoning about the kind of letter it was and the fact there was not any obvious defeater, allowed him to include it as an event in the town’s history, in spite of him not knowing the authorship, nor the state of any of the people attending the event. He then ventures to argue that the Gospels have such clues, that they have features you would not expect a forger to make, and the external evidence can only strengthen this case. He also argues that contradictions cannot call into doubt the big picture of an event, under the consideration that it appears to be at least trying to record real history. To use this pun further, he cites four particular portraits of George Washington, with each having a particular feature absent from the other, despite being drawn during the same period of the Founding Father’s life. Yet as Bennett states “the same George Washington undoubtedly sat for them all”. Now obviously a skeptic could pin the point that these writers had room to express some freedom with their particular narrative, but as scholars like Craig Evans note, that is exactly how Greco-Roman Histories were recorded, and most of these narratives are considered reliable. The basic facts, even if you do not accept inerrancy, will be there. Bennett want’s to press this point further however, and says that an honest man, an honest eyewitness, will record a generally reliable story. Now the question is whether these were honest men. We will focus on his case for Matthew’s authorship and reliability here.

Bennett starts by noting specific stories that only Matthew’s Gospel records, the Temple Tax in Capernaum being the first one mentioned. Why is this notable, and something that only Matthew would in all probability have a keen eye remembering? It could very plausibly be due to his occupation as a tax collector. Now obviously one could say that this is simply a coincidence, but she has to remember that this is a cumulative case. Matthew, obviously being dedicated to this occupation, would write with a bit of a tainted lens, one which would incline him to write this particular feature. Bennett’s next point is admittedly less plausible, which is to note Saint Matthew’s Gospel is the only one to describe the event of the Jewish authorities sealing the tomb. Now Bennett reasons from this that this is what we expect if Matthew was the author, since Jews, under heavy taxation, would obviously try at all costs to secure their particular worldly goods. While this is probably a fact you would expect Matthew to focus on (since he would have to go through this stuff to get the money), it does not seem like this needs to be explained by traditional authorship. This does not seem like enough in and of itself to constitute moral certainty, because it is not even related to money. Bennett moves his focus from this point on to certain features, and writing choices Matthew makes.

Firstly, Bennett notes that Matthew records himself last in the traditional dual grouping of the Disciples, something you would expect an honest man to do, and something which the other writers, noting Matthew’s special significance, do not do. Luke, for example, in both of his recording’s of the duo’s, states the group Matthew was in as “Matthew and Thomas”. Now the writer of Matthew, with utter humility, does the opposite of this and mentions Matthew last, plausibly out of humbleness, and something you would expect a writer recording himself in a third person manner would do. Hence, in contrast to the other Gospels, it is recorded “Thomas and Matthew”. This fact is actually strengthened as an explanation for traditional authorship by the supposed anonymous transfer of these documents, because a forger would have no incentive to add this feature. Bennett, not seeking to stop there, forcibly makes the case that traditional authorship offers so much more explanatory power than other accounts, particularly from the writer’s humbleness and simplicity. Proceeding, Bennett argues from the fact that Matthew’s account included the occupation of Matthew in this aforementioned listing, alone among the Gospel’s to note this exclusively in a way not strictly narrative in nature. He thinks this solid evidence for as Bennett says “simplicity and truth”, in the Gospel attributed to Matthew. Matthew, being a tax collector, would obviously have a high degree of “odious”ness surrounding himself. Being a tax collector was never a job for a person who is universally loved by the people, and it most certainly could not have been during the Roman occupation of Judea.  None of the other Gospel’s mention his occupation outside of the initial narrative and the feast (which we will speak of soon), probably due to respect for his position, and this is quite fitting. The author however in Matt. 10:3 states “Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus;”, which is unarguably something a person writing a list which he is included in would do, and appears to work quite better with the traditional view. The simple account is that Matthew was recording the truth, and in such a way that would be expected of him if he did write it. The author of the Gospel singles out only two particular peculiarities in his full listing of the Disciples, noting the often derided status of Simon being a Zealot, and Judas, who betrayed Christ. The writer, naming himself among these figures, would both display the reliability of the account, along with its authenticity. For it is quite odd that while he notes Matthew’s closeness with Thomas (who he easily could have pinned for doubting Jesus, to make this symmetrical) , the author groups both Simon and Judas together, something odd if, say Simon wrote this account (since obviously Judas could not have written it).

The last argument for Matthew’s reliability and authenticity Bennett makes is by noting how Matthew’s account of the Feast among Tax collectors is unusually bare compared to Saint Mark’s and Saint Luke’s accounts. He notes how Luke records that the feast occurs in  Matthew’s house rather emphatically in Luke 5:29,  stating not just that the house was Matthews but that the feast was made by Matthew as well, a stupendous one at that.  “Levi (Matthew) made a great feast for him in his house. There was a great crowd of tax collectors and others who were reclining with them” exemplifies the fantastic description of Luke’s account. Matthew, being a key disciple, one who had contact with Paul, was quite well known and hence would receive some glorification. However, Matthew’s own account on the subject is quite less strong  in Matt 9:15: “As he sat in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Jesus and his disciples“. Notice none of the virtuous actions are attributed to Matthew, like the making of the feast, plus the ownership of the housing is predicated of no one. Matthew’s account of this verse is important in two ways: 1. The humbleness here seems to be something that a writer would do, particularly one who was changed morally, and who followed the commands of his Lord. You would expect a barer description of this would be absent if this was copied straight out of Mark without any additions 2. This statement seems rather off the cuff, something one would say if the acquaintance they have with the subject is second nature. Rather than stating that it is Matthew’s  house, and not wanting to shift into a first person account, the author simply omits the possessiveness here. This seems most reasonable under the consideration that this is good history, one that is self consistent and matches up with predictions you would make if this was written by Saint Matthew.

Now one might contest that even having Matthew as an explanation is contrived, and I seem to be begging the question at times by saying that this is what we should expect if Matthew wrote it. The beginning note was important here, because I am simply arguing under the assumption Matthew wrote it, and moving from there. This is a cumulative case. I think an argument such as this, combined with the limited amount of argument about its authenticity in the early church (with contesting not foreign, take Hebrews for example), seems rather plausible, to the point I feel it can lead to moral certitude. Of course some of the examples are stronger than others, but given the assumption that it is at least plausible, if perhaps probable Saint Matthew was the author, plus the fact that we do have these internal evidences which comport best under this assumption, we are warranted in holding to traditional authorship. This is simply a proper abductive inference.

Overall, while the veracity of the examples of the internal evidence concerning the authorship of Matthew’s Gospel varied, it seems more plausible than not in light of them to conclude that it is a genuine and authentic account. Why would one not, when presented evidence comporting with an explanation so well, in the absense of an equally sound competing explanation, follow the evidence where it leads? It seems in this case, we have just that, and hence, traditional authorship can be vindicated just by looking at the Scriptures

All Citations from the Bible

Bennett’s work is in the Public Domain

Cotter on Epistemology and Skepticism: Part 1

Cotter on Epistemology and Skepticism: Part 1

In this post I will be doing a study on the Epistemological section of the book “The ABC of Scholastic Philosophy”. The preliminary remarks are full of  definitions of certitude (which he defines as “unhesitating, firm assent (or dissent), without fear of error”), and the particular end one should aim at while doing epistemology. Cotter thinks this end will be, “Formal Certitude or Objective Certitude”, the attaining of which is the most perfect of the hierarchy of certainty. Cotter defines Formal Certitude as that  “firm assent (or dissent) which is necessarily true and known to be true”. He strengthens this definition by giving an obvious example of the equation 2+2+4. This is something know to be true, which also has a corresponding object in reality.  He contrasts this with a weaker form of certitude, one in which the first definition can possibly be in direct opposition to, “Subjective Certitude”. Cotter defines subjective Certitude as that “assent (or dissent) which is indeed firm, but really should not be firm”. Cotter, again uses obvious examples, mentioning the absurd belief of our ancestors, who once held that the earth was flat. Obviously this was held firmly, and yet there was too limited data available and it certainty did not correspond to reality. Cotter also briefly mentions respective and practical certitude, but only practical certitude will need mention in this essay. Practical Certitude is that which “is an assent (or dissent) which is firm merely for practical reasons, viz. because otherwise life would be impossible.”. An example of this would be the belief that the world will not be subject to a black hole, something practical but ultimately out of our control.

To begin, Cotter defines the views of several types of skeptics, a group of people who would obviously disagree with the philosophical enterprise he is seeking to establish. He starts by defining the views of an individual who would identify as a universal skeptic, a person who believes in no such object as a truth known with formal certitude. For the purpose of this article, we will leave his defense against the universal skeptic as the only one mentioned, but there will surely be other posts on the topic (he does mention the partial skeptic as well, but that is not entirely relevant to this work). Cotter then divides the universal skeptics into two sub groups, those of the objective and subjective skeptics. The objective skeptic believes that we do hold truths with a certain firmness, and yet we should never do so. The subjective skeptic in contrast holds that we both should not hold to any position with firmness, as indubitable, and that we, absurdly, never do hold to such a belief with a complete assent. That is to say, that we literally are never sure of anything, and we never should think or hold any position with such commitment. This will do with the definitions for now as we continue into the juice of his analysis.

Cotter after defining his terms seeks to give a lesson in the history of this skepticism, noting the Sophists held no belief in the Law of Contradiction, thinking they could prove every proposition to be a truth and a falsehood. Now, Cotter being a Thomist, thinks Aristotle solved this, but for now we will withhold judgement (plus it is outside the current area of study). After this, Cotter presents a number of arguments against Skepticism we will mention below. Here is the first argument:

  1. That statement is absurd which denies implicitly what
    it affirms explicitly.
  2. Now universal skepticism may be expressed in such a
    statement. (namely that skepticism holds to the proposition ‘skepticism is true’ implicitly while denying such a proposition can in principle hold such a value).
  3. Therefore universal skepticism is absurd.

Now this first argument looks very promising. Cotter pins the skeptic using a powerful (and quite common modernly) retorsion argument to the effect that the skeptic is committed to formal certainty even if outwardly denying it, which is obviously fallacious. Now Cotter does anticipate the charge of question begging (because you have to admit the certainty of the premises to accept the conclusion) and answers with the following: “This is not a proof in the strict sense of the word.  This is not directly addressed to the skeptics, but to such as are not yet infected with this extreme form of intellectual despair. To the ordinary sane individual the absurdity of skepticism is manifest enough.”

Perhaps this could be charged as ad hom in nature, but I do not think it needs to be. Cotter shows the absurdity of skepticism on the basis of a first principle he thinks is immediately apprehended and there is no reason to doubt. Not directly addressed to Skeptics, perhaps he could treat this as a Moorean fact, one that shows, at least the one not “infected by skepticism” , the reasonableness of accepting every day truths (like the truism that some things are held with certainty and are known factual), thus shifting the burden off the Dogmatist. It is true to the one simply looking at this argument without any prior commitments to US, any claim of skepticism has been issued a powerful defeater in the form of an argument such as Cotter’s. Thus, this would at least show the unappealingness of it. Given that this was the goal, it can be supposed Cotter is successful in achieving it.

Cotter gives a second argument appealing to pragmatic considerations. This will be displayed in the following:

  1. A doctrine is practically impossible, which cannot be carried out in practice.
  2. Now universal skepticism cannot be carried out in practice.
  3.  Therefore universal skepticism is practically impossible.

At first glance this would not appear obvious. Why ought the universal skeptic have any harder of a time living than the every man? Cotter again ahead of the critic, anticipating this objection, issues out a clear and convincing example, once again illustrating his masterful rhetorical skills. Cotter gives out a powerful set of criterion, which the universal skeptic does not follow. To quote:

“To carry out practically the doctrine of universal skepticism, one should (a) really doubt everything and (b) live accordingly. But this is impossible, nor has any skeptic ever attempted it. For (a) no one can honestly doubt in his mind about his own existence, about the existence of the world around us, about the principle of contradiction etc., though one may, of course, deny them externally. (b) Imagine the life of a consistent skeptic: Why does he get up in the morning ? Why does he eat ? Why does he breathe ?
Why does he dodge autos? If nothing is certain or if he is not sure of anything, he should do none of these things.”

This argument, which by his own earlier admission, is not a proof, but an appeal to pragmatic considerations that should speak to the lay person and the epistemic pragmatist. Cotter makes the case that, why ought a huge part of our daily experience be thrown out, when even the Skeptic doesn’t follow suit? The warrant for skepticism considerably weakens if you understand common place considerations. Hence, the epistemological skeptic is shown to be sure of at least the pragmatic value of formal certainty, and hence should see his error, follow suit in abandoning his position.

Cotter, showing the absurdity of this level of skepticism to the lay man, then seeks to wield off objections (these objections are the best part of the book). He fends off the charge of ad hominem, that he is calling the skeptics liars, by noting that the skeptic is simply inconsistent, not necessarily to be participating in purposeful deception. This appears defensible in the face of this charge, considerably softening the blow. The second objection is a bit better in gradation, which is to state that the basis on which the skeptic holds her position is found in practical certainty of the calamities that would ensue if one is not cautious of  “dodging an auto”, noting that an error merely probably will happen. Yet as Cotter notes, we cannot simply say that our belief is merely probabilistic in all of these cases. For example, the reason for dodging an automobile is because we have certainty of the disposition of our bodies in relation to the causal powers of an automobile. To say this is merely probabilistic is patently absurd. The third objection raised against Cotter is similar to the former, saying that the “rule of life” is probability, not formal certainty. While Cotter agrees that there are many cases in which we have to rely on probabilities, our certitude is only based on this. The belief that we will not get food poisoning is a practical consideration, while the fear we have in relation to a car is obviously more than this. It then follows from both these arguments that Universal Skepticism is false.

Now Cotter thinks two corollaries follow out of the defeat of universal skepticism. The first one is that we can have formal certitude of at least something. He notes in relation to the first point that while the failure of US does not entail universal assent, formal certainty is more certain that one would think, which he seeks to prove later. Secondly, he argues that it follows not everything is a two sided debate, the skeptics are simply wrong here.

We will not look with any tedious study upon Cotter’s closing objections and answers, because they are largely similar in nature and flow from eachother. Cotter simply states that things like 2+2=4 are formally certain even in the midst of errors. He also notes that the variety of errors in the world do not lead to a universal doubt, but rational skepticism, simply forcing us to make our judgments with a bit more apprehension. Most forcefully, he argues that contradictions obviously do occur among men, and yet this does not lead to any universal doubt. He also notes that it simply isn’t true that all men contradict their fellow man in every event, although in what manner we don’t he does not clarify. The first point is key because he notes later the reason for this doubt is not in the general unreliability of our faculties (which he defines later) but a missed judgment, that we simply did not fully apprehend the object of our mind.

Overall, Cotter has some powerful considerations contra skepticism, which I think have bearing still today. Cotter’s style and precision help convey this argument even clearer than the vast majority of thinkers in his tradition who have thought about this question, hammering home the absurdity of his opponents position quite artfully. Yet he does this with considerable charity, presenting understandable and well thought out arguments against his position, for the purpose of enlightening the reader.

A Neo-Scholastic Leibnizian Cosmological Argument

A Neo-Scholastic Leibnizian Cosmological Argument

In this post I will be discussing a formulation of the Principle of Sufficient and it’s relation to the Cosmological Argument. However, instead of Leibniz’s version of it, we will be using a special formulation of the PSR, made popular by Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, stating the crucial principle as “Everything is intelligible”. While for the format of the Argument I will be making modifications to it, this same basic formulation holds true. While Leibniz held that explanations tended towards an explananas, the Scholastic view was that explanations supervened on being. Due to this, the Scholastic has the machinery to escape a great deal many of the problems associated with conjunctive propositions, such as the ones discussed by Van Inwagen. The Thomistic view of truth being a transcendental is key here. Truth is merely being in relation to the intellect. This allows for propositional knowledge to merely be a correspondence relation, not something that is extramental. A point such as this is note worthy here because most scholastic’s held God lacked propositional knowledge, for reasons of Divine Simplicity (which we will discuss soon in our upcoming series on God and His Existence). The reason the point is relevant to the PSR is that because truth is being ordered to the intellect, it is by definition intelligible. So upon noting a specific being we can see by virtue of what it is whether it is intelligible of itself. Since we come to know objects by their quidities, we can note whether its essence ordered to the intellect entails it’s being. If it does not, it is merely in potency to an act of existence, and hence needs an external explanation. With these notes in mind, here is the article:

The Argument from Contingency

This argument, with roots in Greek Philosophy, was perhaps most popularized by the Polymath Gottfried Wilhem Leibniz. While we will be taking some steps back from the position of Leibniz, we do owe a basic formulation to him. The argument we will defending is not the exact version of Leibniz, as said before, who felt that explanations typically terminated in Propositions. For the proponent of a Averoest-Thomistic view on propositions, this is simply wrong headed. Propositions purely supervene on being, being merely devices of the conceptual order.  With that note, the formulation of the Argument will be presented as follows:

  1. Everything that possesses being has its existence plus every attribute it has intelligible, and it has it intelligible in one of two ways A. Through itself and what it is internally (necessary) 2. Through another due to a deficiency in the being with regards to self intelligibility. (contingent)
  2. If the universe, the whole existing really related world of causal powers (Anderson), is not an intelligible ground for its existence, it has to find its intelligibility through another
  3. The universe and all of its constituents is not a intelligible ground of its own being (it is contingent)
  4. Therefore, the Universe’s ground for existence is found in another
  5. The universe may receive it’s intelligibility externally in one of three ways A. Through an essentially ordered series of contingent causes B. Through an accidentally ordered series of contingent causes C. Through a First Sufficient Explanation (FSE)
  6. If an essentially ordered series of causes is finite (if one wants to know what an accidentally ordered series and an essentially ordered series are, I refer you to this post) , it is more than obvious that a FSE will have to be posited to explain the effect. Such a series would terminate without an explanation if this is not the case, which is manifestly repugnant to the First Premise
  7. If such a series is infinite however, we have an absurd conclusion, for merely merely moving the series to an infinite number of deficient sustaining causes serves no more as an intelligible ground for the universes existence than positing a brush of infinite length with the ability to paint by its own self movement.
  8. Therefore such a series is reliant on a FSE outside of it, imparting intelligibility to the series as a whole
  9. If the amount of sustaining causes is constituted by a finite accidentally ordered series of sustaining causes, then as stated in premise six, such a series would terminate without an explanation, which is repugnant to premise one. Hence, a FSE has to stand outside the series, giving such a series its intelligibility
  10. If such a series is infinite however, Leibniz’s argument from Geometry books is of great applicability. For positing an eternal generation of Geometry books serves as no intelligible grounding for their contents or being, and is obviously analogous to an eternal procession of sustaining causes. In order to give intelligibility to a series of this variety, one would have to posit a FSE outside of such a series all together, imparting the intelligibility to each member.
  11. Hence this series has to terminate in a FSE
  12. But all three of the options amount to option C (that the explanation for the Universe is a First Sufficient Explanation)
  13. Therefore, there is a First Sufficient Explanation
  14. Anything that is composed of distinct parts is contingent on them, and hence stands in an essentially ordered series
  15. The FSE cannot in principle stand in such a series
  16. Therefore, the First Sufficient Explanation is not composed of parts
  17. Supposit and essence are distinct parts
  18. Therefore, the FSE can have no distinction between Supposit and Essense
  19. Therefore, the FSE is completely One, with no others possessing its self sufficient glory, for if another did, then it would have to share the Supposit from the FSE, which is impossible
  20. Essence and existence are parts
  21. Therefore the First Sufficient Reason is not composed of essence and existence
  22. But the First Sufficient Reason exists as we have shown, and there are objective facts that can be said about the First Sufficient Reason
  23. Therefore, in the First Sufficient Reason Essence and Existence are not distinct, but are unified, that which explains what the FSE consists in entails that it exists
  24. Such a Being is by definition necessary, with it’s act of existence being identical with itself, making it the sort of Being who could not not exist
  25. Therefore the explanation of the existence of the universe is found in a Necessary Being, one whose essence is its existence, and who is self sufficient, existing with a supreme Oneness unequaled

Now this argument seems a bit odd at first. How exactly is the first premise even justified? After all, this is the crux of the argument. Have we done a few well researched experiments and came to the conclusion that it was true? While there is appeal for the first premise on purely inductive grounds, the strongest justification for it comes from the various retorsion arguments that show that a denial of the Principle of Sufficient Reason (The first premise), leads to self referentially incoherent conclusions. An example of these oddities would be largely found in the fact that a denial of the PSR leads to a level of skepticism not even anticipated by Descartes himself. To quote Alexander Pruss, a Baylor Philosopher:

“Start with the observation that once we admit that some contingent states of affairs have no explanations, a completely new sceptical scenario becomes possible: No demon is deceiving you, but your perceptual states are occurring for no reason at all, with no prior causes.

Moreover, objective probabilities are tied to laws of nature or objective tendencies, and so if an objective probability attaches to some contingent fact, then that situation can be given an explanation in terms of laws of nature or objective tendencies.  Hence, if the PSR is false of some contingent fact, no objective probability attaches to the fact. “

So the denial of the PSR leads to a level of radical Skepticism that seems completely untenable. Hence to deny the PSR, under the assumption that it is done rationally, leads to the denial of reason itself. To try to appeal to laws of nature, or perhaps powers (which has other issues for the atheist), one would have to compare an explanation from literally no catalyst to that of an objective law, which seems to be impossible. Hence Pruss concludes:

“it may be taken to follow from this that if the PSR were false or maybe even not known a priori, we wouldn’t know any empirical truths.  But we do know empirical truths.  Hence, the PSR is true, and maybe even known a priori.”

This argument shows that anyone who thinks the root of knowledge comes from experiential apprehensions like I do, who is at the very least a weak empiricist, should accept the PSR, and hence the crucial premise of the argument.

Though this argument is good enough to rationally compel the reasoned individual, it can be pressed even further. Following the lines of Edward Feser, we can challenge a denier of this premise as a denier of logic, which is undeniably self referentially incoherent. For if the denier of the Principle of Sufficient Reason  seeks to justify her central premise,  this would involve moving  from a few premises in a way akin to a Syllogism and arriving at the conclusion that the PSR was false. But to do this seems to entail a sort of government by this principle. The reason is that unless the Premises are moving along with a sort of entailment, it could follow that the conclusion is simply a brute fact. Yet the critic came to the conclusion the PSR was false through this very method, a method deduced from premises which rationally followed from each other. Any attempt to justify the critical argument against this rebuttal would seem to require again using logical reasoning, which appears to lead to an infinite regress which is untenable in this sort of philosophical endeavor. Therefore, since we can rationally come to the conclusion of the PSR’s falsehood if it were false, it absurdly follows that the PSR is true!

One could deny these arguments by saying that we are noting examples that are only related to human affairs, and particularly ones related to action and becoming. Perhaps a principle such as this governs our intellectual processes, while not governing reality as a whole, something even Kant might implicitly accept. However, once analyzed, this becomes all the less plausible. For if the PSR is merely contingently true of intellectual judgements, its needs an explanation for why it only governs intellectual judgements. The only two options are appealing to A. a First Principle outside of our intellectual judgements serving as the explanation of it applying to our intellectual judgements, or B. positing it as merely a brute fact, making the PSR false. However, A. is outside of our intellectual judgements and B. allows the absurdities we just discussed to slip in, making it all the less preferable. Therefore, the PSR is a First Principle governing every layer of reality, for if it were not, one could always run the same two options just presented to the questioned layer of existence, making this a all or nothing affair.

What of the second premise, that the universe, being the interrelated world of objects in our experience, if it were not the intelligible ground of its being, would need an explanation? This inarguably follows from the first premise. This is simply the form of the first premise with new subjects. It is  a conditional statement, which is largely reliant on the truth of the first premise, which we have argued is practically indubitable. To appeal to brute fact scenarios, saying the universe is simply there has some prima facie compellingness, it requires a denial of the first premise which seems quite implausible as we have shown. This reply doesn’t seem to even address the First premise in any real extended way and will not be treated with any considerable length for this reason. 

The third premise is perhaps the most controversial (besides the first). Is the universe naturally an explanation in and of itself for itself?  It is very rational, in fact indubitable to think it is not. Here are just three arguments to that effect. Firstly, whatever is really distinct from an act of existence cannot be intelligible through itself with regards to its own being. But the universe contains many concrete objects that when abstracted reveal just that. When we abstract what it is to be a dog, we find out that what it is distinct from that it is, which is to say its nature is not by necessity existent. The concept of doggity is the same in both a mind independent Dog and one that exists only in the imagination. These quiddities also happen to be analogous to many items we know do not exist like Unicorns and Phoenix’s.  Even moving down to the sub atomic realm, we find just this. Nothing about the essence of any of these items reveal that it exists. For if it did, that item would be self sufficient and have aseity. But since this is false from our experience of many of these things coming into being and gaining accidental forms (like Quarks do when they move spatially), we can conclude that the universe simply does not exist by its own essence, or by the essences of its constituents (if you more plausibly treat the universe as a collection rather than a thing), for nothing about it entails an identity with its act of existence. It follows from this the explanation cannot be a being among beings, but Being or existence itself (which we will go into later). The essence of this cause ultimately has to be identical with its act of existence.  If the universe had this feature however, our experience of matter-form composites would be illusory, since matter is the primary form of limit, and secondary matter serves as the main principle of  identity. The argument would go as follows: Our experience shows a plurality of distinct items that exist, and form substances that have objective tendencies distinct from each other. From this it follows to have a collection of items distinct from each other is proof of at least some contingency, because no matter the status of Leibniz’s law, it does not match up with the accidents that make up our primary sense data. The descriptions of these items are not identical with its act of existence, and the differing elements of our sense data show this. To be material, or to be in a spatial relation, or to have a particular color different than another object is to be unidentical with simple existence.  To press this point further, in order to display a dissenting option on this matter (that all things are identical with their act of existence) to an interlocutor would be to distinguish her from yourself based on a sort of natural difference, which perhaps could show a denial of this point to again be open to more retorison argumentation. Secondly, since atoms have the ability to terminate in all sorts of objects within our experience like water and humans, we can conclude from the fact that it is susceptible to different perfections, at least spatially, that it has to have an explanation for its being and the particular accidental forms it possesses, showing at least the non essential elements to be contingent. Nothing about the operations of these atoms is necessary to them, but appears to require the ordering of another. In order for a disposition to be actuated in a way not ultimately natural or essential to it, an external explanation for this governance needs to be posited, hence requiring an external explanation. Thirdly and lastly,  the fact that the universe exists through its parts is a key metric of its contingency. For anything that is compiled cannot be an explanation for itself, since all the parts are ordered in potency to the whole which is in act. Anything that is in potency is merely possible,  which displays that the universe, rather than being an ultimate ground for its existence, is completely unintelligible in and of itself.  Something that is Simple has to ground the being of anything that exists through its parts (which will be shown in greater length below), in no small way due to the obvious fact that many of the parts are purely contraries and contradictory’s. Nothing about the essence of a human explains the essence of a hydrogen molecule. Since these contraries and contradictory elements are directed towards each other as we have shown, forming a really related world of causal interactions, an external explanation is needed to explain the fact the universe is composite. This directedness is non essential (how could it be in the midst of the distinction just noted), and so treating the  universe as a being and not simply a set of beings will not suffice to serve as an explanation for why it exists and why it exists in the way it does.  However, maybe the objecter wishes to press a point about part based necessity. Why can the universe not be necessary through its parts? The reason this escape route is fallacious is that postulating part based necessity seems to be a contradiction in terms. One is either contingent on ones parts, which is to say it is not intelligible in itself, or it is necessary through ones parts, which is impossible, because to have real parts is to be dependent on them. Hence, such a system requires a natural compiler to incline these distinct parts together, something that explains the composite. Since all of these parts have quiddities distinct from their existence as shown from our first argument,  the beings of the world will have to be created and conserved as well. Retreating into Monism will not help the denier of the world’s contingency here either. For Monism ultimately leads to the conclusion that the ability to isolate a variable is false, since variables under Monism are merely illusory. This therefore makes the success of science purely chance, which the proponent of scientism should obviously deny (obviously there are points about Scientific realism vs anti realism, but that discussion is for another day). For this reason, and the fact that it does not correspond with our introspective experiences of unity, most metaphysicians and scientists do not look upon this position favorably. This is however not the only argument that can be leveled against a Monistic escape route. Even treating the universe as a continuous whole, it cannot ground its own being. For even if we consider the universe in and of itself as a unified thing, it still has features that are not describable in a way conveying identity with being itself (like say being material and having a space time history of a certain length), which means it is still merely possible as was shown earlier. Therefore, since  the contingency of the world with regards to esse (being) has been shown, it requires an explanation.

Premise Four follows unarguably from the other three premises.

Now premises 5-13 are explained in their respective ways above, but there is room to comment on them in some form here. It is perhaps arguable that they need to be stated, as my definition of the universe allows for these series to be included. However, this is merely an exercise in precision.  The first evasion route one could take from positing a First Being fails because if it were true, the PSR would be false, and since the PSR is not false as we have shown above, a series such as this without an FSE is ill fated. The second way is no more of an escape route than the first route, as an essentially ordered series of causes that was not competent in serving as an intelligible ground for its own being on a finite stage will not be helped being infinite. The analogy used was the one penned by Garrigou Lagrange with regards to Aquinas’s argument from motion. Just as a broom cannot suddenly sweep by itself if it’s handle is long enough, a series of causes unintelligible with regards to existence, will not gain intelligibility if the parts posited are too deficient in this respect, no matter if the length of such a series is infinite. The other two routes were with regards to an accidentally ordered series of procession. The first argument based on a finite series requires the same argument against it as refutation of a a finite essentially ordered series. For if the explanations merely terminated on something that was a brute fact, then the PSR is false, and since we have shown the PSR to be true, such a series is not sufficient in itself. Now, the second argument from an accidentally ordered series, this time presented in its infinite variety, fails because of Leibniz’s analogy and its relevance to our present proof. To quote Leibniz:

“We can’t find in any individual thing, or even in the entire collection and series of things, a sufficient reason why they exist. Suppose that a book on the elements of geometry has always existed, each copy made from an earlier one, with no first copy. We can explain any given copy of the book in terms of the previous
book from which it was copied; but this will never lead us to
a complete explanation, no matter how far back we go in the
series of books. For we can always ask:
Why have there always been such books?
Why were these books written?
Why were they written in the way they were?
The different states of the world are like that series of
books: each state is in a way copied from the preceding state—though here
the ‘copying’ isn’t an exact transcription, but happens in accordance with certain laws of change”


For even in this series we run into obvious issues, while every book is explained by a previous book, the existence of books, their contents, and the length they have been written is simply unintelligible when just looking at this series alone . One could ask all of these questions about any contingent object. If a procession of these objects were the only things to possess being, then why do we not run into the same issues. For just as the Geometry books are not grounded due to the type of thing they are, even in spite of them being existent from all eternity in a procession, why is not any series of contingent objects also of this variety? Just as nothing about a geometry book contains any self sufficiency, contingent sustainers no matter how long they have been around, still are definitionally unintelligible, requiring a external explanation of a much higher sort. Hence, since all three options amount to option C, it follows that a First Sufficient Explanation exists.

Now the remaining premises are either about attribute deriving. To start, as shown earlier, since parts require a compiler outside of the being in which they inhere (unless one wants to postulate a break in the PSR, which is absurd or self causation, which breaks the Principle of Contradiction), a FSE, being fully sufficient could not be the sort of thing composed of parts. Since essence, existence, nature, and supposit are parts, these must be foreign to the FSE. Therefore, the FSE must have the attributes of complete uniqueness and supremacy, and identity with being itself. A Being such as this cannot help but be necessary, for what it is (it’s essence) entails that it is. Therefore, a Supreme First Cause and Sufficient Reason for all of reality exists, explaining everything outside of itself.

Now we can seek to prove more attributes of this First Being, not directly listed. From the conclusion that the First Cause brought all of reality that was not Himself into being without any causal conditions or preexistent matter, it follows that such a being is utterly omnipotent. The reason for this conclusion is from the plausible belief that the gap between being and nonbeing is infinite, so whatever brought the world into being from non being would possess infinite power. Also, this is defensible from the truth that the beings in our experience are only in potency to existence, which requires something possesing infinite active power. The First Cause moved the object from potency to act solely from His own power, meaning that His  power is not limited by the constraints of our experience to only act on a particular, actualizing subjective potency’s on an already existent patient. This shows that the First Being is not limited in the way we are, and can bring about a merely potential state of affairs in a self sourced manner. Secondly, the First Being must be an intellectual Being, since the only way a particular perfection or object can be brought into being is if it is found formally, virtually, or imminently in the cause (If this were not true, it would be inexplicable what is actualizing a particular potency, hence requiring the PSR to be broken, which we argued cannot in principle be true).  Since humans are one such contingent being, a species who possess an intellect, it follows the First Being, the creative cause of man as we previously have proved, possesses an intellect, at least in an analogous fashion to our own. For the First Being can have those perfections which formally contain no sign of limit in a manner at least analogous to our own, not eminently. Another argument to this effect would be that, since the First Cause is Being itself, which would seem to be what the implied conclusion of Anselm’s argument presented in the Monologium  (He did believe Divine Simplicity was a conclusion of his particular proofs as well), we can use Anselm’s doctrine of pure perfections and predicate any attribute that has no principle of limit or sign of imperfection to the First Being. Since an intellect has no intrinsic principle of limit or sign of imperfection (at least considered in itself), it follows not only that the First Cause is befitting of an intellect to match His essential perfection, but that He is all wise, His mind being in the intrinsic mode of infinity. Thirdly, since any principle of limit would be a part to the First Being, and since the First Being is as we have previously shown is not composed of parts, it follows that the First Being is unlimited and hence infinite. Fourthly, the FSE cannot be material for two obvious reasons. The most manifest way to prove this is that anything material is composed of matter and form, and since composition is repugnant to the First Being, the First Being is not material. Another way to show this is that anything material has spatial relations, and since the First Being is self sufficient something else would have to explain the particular relation He has, which is a contradiction in terms. This conclusion holds whether one wants to adopt a relative or absolute view of space, either way ends up with foreign attributes not fitting to the FSE.  Lastly, as Augustine noted, since existence is the first perfection, prior to any of the essential goods of any concrete object,  we can conclude naturally that something that is essentially Being itself would be essentially perfect, Perfection itself even. Therefore we have arrived at a being who is Omnipotent, Uncomposed, Intelligent, All Wise, Infinite, Immaterial and Perfect, not just possessing these things, but in His beautiful simplicity, being these things, with all of His fantastic attributes flowing from the same total reality. To quote the words of Thomas Aquinas, from this proof alone we can arrive at “That which all men call God”.


GARRIGOU-LAGRANGE, Réginald Marie., and Bede ROSE. God-His Existence and His Nature. A Thomistic solution of certain agnostic antinomies … Translated from the fifth French edition by Dom Bede Rose, etc. B. Herder Book Co.: St. Louis, Mo. & London, 1934. Print.
 Feser, Edward. Scholastic Metaphysics: A Contemporary Introduction. Heusenstamm: Editiones Scholasticae, 2014. Print.
Koons, Robert C., and Timothy H. Pickavance. Metaphysics: The Fundamentals. Chichester, West Sussex, UK: Wiley, Blackwell, 2015. Print.
Moreland, James Porter., and William Lane. Craig. The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012. Print.
Anselm, Sidney Norton Deane, and Gaunilo. Saint Anselm: basic writings: Proslogium, Monologium, Gaunilons In behalf of the fool. La Salle, IL: Open Court, 1974. Print.
DAquino, Tommaso, James Francis. Anderson, and W. Norris. Clarke. An Introduction to the Metaphysics of St. Thomas Aquinas. Washington, D.C.: Regnery Publishing, 1997. Print.
Leibniz, Gottfried Wilhelm, and Philip P. Wiener. Leibniz Selections. New York: Charles Scribners Sons, 1979. Print.
Natural Theology or God and His Existence Part 1: Anselm’s Ontological Argument

Natural Theology or God and His Existence Part 1: Anselm’s Ontological Argument

[This essay is developed in terms of a book, so the formatting will be odd, also I cut out Descartes OA for the sake of space, and the fact it is not very good]

God and His Existence

  1. The Ontological Argument
  2. The Various Cosmological Arguments, the types and their veracity
  3. The Teleological Argument
  4. The Argument from Eternal Truths (Divine Conceptualism)
  5. The Henological Arguments
  6. Arguments from the Existence of Moral Values and Duties
  7. The Immediate Experience of God



This chapter will treat the topic of God’s existence in the various major ways it has been discussed through history. While the writer is clearly sympathetic to the defense of the theistic proofs, a survey of opinions will be addressed, using many points from atheists and skeptics within the Philosophy of Religion. While CAB (The head writer) is a committed theist, not all of the proofs will be immediately accepted, and many will be outright rejected as we will see. This is clear when reading a proof like the cosmological argument, which has quite the supply of iterations and versions. Given the high amount then, it will be quite hard to agree with all of them. However, as we will see, the quantity is strength here. Another word of warning is needed before we begin, one of immense importance. The chapter will be full of Metaphysical terminology that will perhaps be glossed over, so the reading list at the back might be quite helpful to the lay reader (assuming I ever finish writing this). With so many historical periods being traversed through these proofs, the terminology will simply have to change frequently. Cosmological arguments which seek to explain the universes beginning will shift from the Aristotelian language of Al Ghazali and Bonaventure, to the language of Modern Astrophysics. With this word of caution in place, we will proceed to the various arguments for the existence of God, separated from the breadth of evidence for revealed religions, within the context of Natural Theology.

  1. The Ontological Argument

The Ontological Proof’s for the existence of God are a tradition of arguments based around the concept of God as a maximally great being, and moving onwards from this to His existence. Originally written in 1078 by Saint Anselm of Canterbury in his Proslogion, this argument has been debated with great frequency, with no shortage of detractors, and quite a few major supporters. Thinkers like Descartes, Gödel, Bonaventure, Norman Malcom, Robert Maydole, Dun Scotus and Alvin Plantinga  have all offered support for versions of this argument. For the sake of this discussion however, we will focus on two versions:

  1. The Classical Anselmian Formulation
  2. Alvin Plantinga’s Modal Ontological Proof

We will proceed from here to a long treatment of Anselm’s argument,  then move hence forth to the one deemed most successful in modern philosophy, Alvin Plantinga’s formulation using S5 Modal Logic.

  • The Classical Anselmian formulation

The version of this argument which typically receives the most treatment in philosophy classrooms today is the version  belonging to Saint Anselm of Canterbury. While there is some debate on the purpose of this argument, whether it was truly an argument or a sort of a petitionary prayer, most commentators do agree Anselm was trying to convince even the fool that God, the concept he is aware of even if he does not fully understand all of the implications, entails His existence. Anselm argues the fool does have this concept in his intellect from a reading of Psalm 14:1 “The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.”…”, because any sort of denial presupposes a subject to be denied.  A key reason many interpret this as a prayer rather than an argument against unbelievers is that the historical context. Like Aquinas’s proofs, the middle ages was not a period of significant strife among religious skeptics, if you could even say something akin to an atheist existed in 11th. Century Europe. Like Aquinas, who was battling groups sympathetic to other deity concepts like the Pantheists, or educating Theology students, Anselm did not have His goal as an evidential apologetic. It is debatable if even Pantheism was in the crosshairs, as Anselm’s proof has been quite convincing to Pantheist’s like Spinoza. Rather what Anselm was doing was formulating a shorter work than the long proof of the Monologium, which served as quite an extensive argument in length and substance. The Proslogion is very brief however, with most of it being a treatment of what would later be known as perfect being theology. Secondly, to support the position this is a prayer rather than an argument, an assumption can be made based on the very use of the Psalm. Anselm was never questioning the inspiration of sacred scripture, in fact it is probable following Augustine, he sees this authority piggy backing off the “miracle of the Church”, in that it was converting the whole world with fisherman as some of its key early catalysts. Only God could make such a movement powerful, Anselm likely thought. It is not of the present task to decide the correct reading, as it is still obviously a (mostly) working logical argument. With this background information now in place, we will move onto the argument.

While the exact intended formulation of this argument is contested among Historians of Philosophy, it is of the opinion of the author that the version presented by Father Brian Davies presents this in the most defensible way possible. It is helpful to note still there is debate among historians and philosophers on what Anselm’s intended formulation was, and the formulations given will likely vary across introductory works. Here is the argument as presented by Davies:

  1. On the assumption that that than which nothing greater can be conceived is only in a mind, something greater can be conceived;
  2. For some­thing greater can be thought to exist in reality as well;
  3. The assumption is therefore contradictory: either there is  no such thing even in the intellect, or it exists also in reality ;
  4. But it does exist in the mind of the fool;
  5. Therefore that than which nothing greater can be conceived exists in reality as well as in a mind.

From this we can proceed. To start out this argument relies on quite a few metaphysical terms. An example of this would be how Anselm proceeds from Premise 1 to Premise 2. Anselm is using a sort of Platonic view of gradation to serve as a fulcrum, comparing mind independent reality with that of the conceptual realm within the intellect. Anselm illustrates what he takes to display the truth value of mind independent realities combined with conceptual realities supremacy by using the example of a painter and his artwork. To quote the Proslogion “For example, when a painter envisions what he is about to paint: he indeed has in his understanding that which he has not yet made, but he does not yet understand that it exists. But after he has painted [it]: he has in his understanding that which he has made, and he understands that it exists”. The painting can be enjoyed in the world as well as delighted about in the intellect upon its assumption into reality.  Dun Scotus also notes that a Being, having only mind dependent existence, seems to have an intrinsic limiter, namely the intellect, and hence Divine Infinity, clearly a property of a perfect being, is nonfunctional, which would also seem to support Anselm’s task, that His greatness would entail His being.  Anselm however takes this as a simple truism, and hence the fool, who has the concept of God in his mind if you give the Biblical account credence, when truly grasping the idea of what the concept of a greatest conceivable being entails, will be forced to admit His existence. From here Anselm tries to create a reductio ad absurdum (Reduction to the Absurd). This concept of the Divine exists, and yet it is only existent in the intellect. Existing in reality has no signs of any imperfection (This will be noted yet again during our treatment of the Divine Attributes), and like the painting, there is reason to suppose it would be greater to have being apart from the intellect. But if the being exists only in the mind, then a greater can be conceived. The idea either does not exist in the intellect, or it exists in reality as well. Since one contradicts background information we already know (namely the concept of God exists in the intellect), the way out of the dilemma is to accept that this being exists in reality as well. Therefore, God, who is the maximally great being this proof sets to argue for, exists.

Now this argument was very controversial even in its day, and obviously with any argument so meaningful if true, there have existed skeptics. Yet most accept there was not a decisive critique until Immanuel Kant offered one in his Critique of Pure Reason. Still, it is worth mentioning the opinions of two of the greatest detractors of this proof, Gaunilo of Marmoutiers and Saint Thomas Aquinas, who were functioning during the point of the arguments greatest fame.  Aquinas’s argument is much briefer and of less note, so we will treat it first. Aquinas, arguing from an Aristotelian epistemology, points out we cannot form any argument from God’s essence to His existence, because we have not abstracted or entertained His essence. While Aquinas certainly does think that God’s existence (Note Aquinas takes God’s esscence to be His existence, but he comes to this position based off A Posteriori proofs) will be self-evident if humans experience the beatific vision, due to them perceiving God in His fullness, it isn’t self-evident to most individuals on earth (if not all), nor will it be unless we receive the special grace Aquinas posited to explain the experience of Abraham and Moses. Still, even with Aquinas’s great note, there still is a certain weakness to his objection. Aquinas perhaps takes for granted how controversial Aristotelian metaphysics was and still is, and hence it seems without arguing for an entire ontology, we will have to limit our discussion of it there. Anselm, being a Middle Platonist along the lines of Augustine, would not accept the idea of abstraction being key to epistemology and would instead opt more for an Iluminationist view of the mind and its grasp of the abstract concepts (We will touch upon this in our examination of divine conceptualism). It would be silly to not argue against Anselm on his own terms, unless we defend a whole ontology.  The more interesting critique will be that of Gaunilo of Marmoutiers, a monk who wrote against the argument while living as a contemporary of Anselm. We will focus on this critique and Anselm’s reply in the next sub section.


Gaunilo’s Piland

The most viable pre-Kantian criticism of Anselm’s argument came from a Monk operating contemporaneously with Anselm in the person of Gaunilo of Marmoutiers. While even Anselm accepted how cordially Gaunilo operated in his critique, there is a level of bitterness in their correspondence. For example, Gaunilo titles his rebuttal “On Behalf of the Fool”, an obvious slap at Anselm’s Proslogion. Still, it can hardly be denied that Gaunilo’s counter argument offers a sort of persuasiveness to it. To show Gaunilo’s refutation it would be helpful to display by looking at Anselm’s argument. Gaunilo used the terminology offered in Anselm’s proof but replaced God with a Piland, which is the greatest island conceivable (He actually said just the greatest Island, which Anselm pointed out, but it is helpful to strengthen the arguments of an opponent). With this in place, we will see what Gaunilo was stating. Using this argument you could prove something as absurd as an imaginary island from the concept of it alone. Gaunilo and many others took this as a solid defeater to Anselm’s position, and hence the glory of victory seemed belong to Gaunilo (if you could say Theologians have victories of this sort). Still, most have thought Anselm’s reply was solid enough to still make the argument quite respectable even if still, quite odd.  Anselm replies that things like Island’s are like the series of natural numbers. It is not quite evident that there can be an intrinsic maximum on these sorts of items. You can always conceive of a greater entity that exemplifies these particular ideas, a higher number in the series or more wildlife or tree’s on the Island. Is this necessarily the case with God?  Perhaps not. To give an example, think of God’s omnipotence. Typically theists have defined God’s power as entailing the ability to create any logically possible thing. If we define power as many modern theists do as the ability to bring about all possible state of affairs, does there seem to be any greater property that God could “exemplify” with regard to causal prowess (Note: I use this term loosely, God is typically though to possess Aseity, or self-existence apart from abstract objects like properties) ?  I think not. Surveying all of the other properties typically thought of as better to have than not to have seems to justify this intuition even more. Goodness, knowledge, and the whole host of typical divine attributes seem to fit plausibly under properties that can have intrinsic maximum’s. There is perhaps a layer of vagueness with regards to properties like justice, but again, these seem to be plausibly incorporated under Anselm’s defense as well. For example, if you accept the Christian view of a triune God, each person of the Godhead would be rendering to the other members of the Godhead His due to a maximal extent, namely infinite love. This perhaps toes the line into natural and revealed theology, but it is worth mentioning as a solution to this problem, and one a Catholic like Anselm would probably be sympathetic to (Note: There still is come vagueness with regard to the number of members of the God head for example, on this alone, but the point still has some weight, namely that a normally transitive property can function essentially). This objection while still used in moderation, has never been regarded as decisive in the opinions of most philosophers, most recognizing Anselm’s defense as at least plausible. Gaunilo’s Piland has been replaced by the objection of Immanuel Kant as the default objection to be dealt with by contemporary defenders of this argument. With that in mind, we will move on to the objections first presented in Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, namely whether being or existence functions properly as a predicate in an argument, or whether it’s denial leads to self-contradictory results.



Kant’s Objection

The objection of Immanuel Kant is by far the most famous objection to the ontological argument. Most philosophers accept it as decisive. Is this the case however? We will ultimately see. The first argument Kant presents in his Critique of Pure Reason is translated as follows:


“If,  in  an identical proposition, I  reject the predicate while retaining the subject,contradiction results;  and I  therefore say that the former belongs necessarily to  the latter. But if we reject the subject and predicate alike,  there  is no contradiction for nothing is then left that can be contradicted.  To posit a  triangle, and yet to  reject its  three angles,  is self-contradictory;  but there  is no contradiction in rejecting the triangle together with its three angles. The same holds true of the concept of an

absolutely  necessary being. If its existence  is rejected, we reject the thing itself with  all  its predicates;  and no question of contradiction can then arise. There is nothing outside it that would be contradicted,  since the  necessity of the thing is not supposed to  be derived from anything external;  nor is there anything internal that would be contradicted,  since in rejecting the thing itself we have at the same time rejected all its internal properties

… I cannot form the least concept of  a  thing which,  should it  be rejected with all its

predicates,  leaves behind a contradiction”

To summarize, Kant is arguing that rejecting the existence of something is not akin to rejecting a proper accident of it. A triangle being 3 sides makes any sort of negative proposition denying this self-contradictory, because it is of the very nature of a triangle to have three sides. Rejecting existence however seems to lead rejecting the whole substance and all of its features, and hence it seems God could be consistently denied existence.



Now this seems to have some bearing to Anselm’s proof at face value, but upon a further look, this conclusion is less obvious. Historically, the first argument Kant used is probably lodged for the most part not at Anselm, but the ontological arguments of Descartes and Christian Wolff. Read in this context, it is quite obvious what Kant is saying. In Descartes Meditations on the First Philosophy, he reasons from the essence of God to His existence, by way of asserting that He cannot conceive of God’s essence separate from His existence, because it seems to include it by its very nature. Descartes also uses the example of a triangle which makes this even more obvious. Kant’s critique seems to quite frankly, tear down the arguments of the other two thinkers. Is it, however clear this line of argumentation works against Anselm? Perhaps not. To quote Father Brian Davies on the subject “most people writing on Anselm assume that he does (Try to define God into existence). But we may, in fact, challenge this assumption. Early in the argument of Proslogion 2 Anselm introduces a premiss assert­ing existence (‘Something than which nothing greater can be conceived exists in the intellect’). And his question in Proslogion 2 is not whether we can move from a definition of God to the reality of God,  but whether we can reasonably suppose that something  than which nothing  greater  can be conceived exists only in the intellect.” If this is the right way of reading Anselm, perhaps Anselm does have an ample rescuing device to his proof.

This however is the less popular objection Kant fired against Ontological proofs (in other words Anselm is not out of the firing zone). Kant’s main objection is his second one, whether it is a valid belief that being or existence is a true predicate.  To quote again from Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason:

“‘ Being’ is obviously not a real predicate; that is, it is not a concept of something which could be added to the concept of a thing. … . By whatever and however many predicates we may think a thing … we do not make the least addition to the thing when we further declare that the thing is.”

In this quotation Kant argues that adding is or exists does not add anything new to the concept of God. What it does is merely constitute a new relation. This is not however the case with attributes like red or omnipotence, which seem to function and have conceptual value. Existence does not seem to function as a predicate in any real sense, and Anselm, at least critics have said, seems to place existence “on to” God. There is also a feel of Pre-Fregian fregianism, in asserting that existence as perfection or predicate seems to have strange consequences for nonexistent objects. An example of this would be a Phoenix. To talk about the existence of a Phoenix using being as a first level predicate, something along the lines of the sentence “The existing Phoenix’s do not, in fact, exist,” would have to be a functional proposition. This sentence is  self-contradictory and obviously absurd however, and its implications ought to make one skeptical of existence being a first order predicate. Now the Scholastics did use existence as an accidental predicate, affirmed of a subject, and hence, a discussion on these two views will be needed. The question however, is whether, Anselm is open to this criticism. Contrary to popular opinion, it is not so clear it is. To quote Alvin Plantinga:

“According to the great German philosopher and pessimist Arthur Schopenhauer, the ontological argument arises when “someone excogitates a conception, composed out of all sorts of predicates, among which, however, he takes care to include the predicate actuality or existence, either openly or wrapped up for decency’s sake in some other predicate, such as perfection, immensity, or something of the kind.” If this were Anselm’s procedure-if he had simply added existence to a concept that has application contingently if at all-then indeed his argument would be subject to the Kantian criticism. But he didn’t, and it isn’t.”

Also to quote G.H. Joyce, an opponent of the argument, notes that a crucial error when accessing this argument is treating it as if the absurd results of applying listing existence as a proper predicate arbitrarily to finite objects:

“Kant criticizes the ontological proof at length in the Critique of Pure Reason. It is frequently assumed that his refutation was decisive; but in point of fact his arguments are wide of the mark. He throughout treats the notion of the infinite nature as though it were on a par with other natures, and could be represented either with or without existence. He fails to meet the fundamental contention of those who defend the proof, viz., that the nature of the infinite is inconceivable apart from real existence”

And yet again:

“They (the modern opponents of the argument) think it sufficient to adopt an illustration employed by Kant, and to say that we cannot prove the existence of a hundred dollars from the idea of them, no matter how good the dollars are supposed to be. Of this imaginary refutation of the ontological proof Professor Sorley well says: “It really misses the point of that proof which was an effort to discriminate between the idea of God and all other ideas.”


To summarize, Kant’s point about predication perhaps has some value. Applying predicates to random essences (existence being one such predicate), seems to be an ill adviced way to form propositions or arguments. However, Anselm is not doing this; he is meditating on the attributes and the implications of a Metaphysically Ultimate being, and arguing mind independent reality follows for God. This is not like adding an act of being arbitrarily to the whole host of items within the conceptual realm, generally finite ones. This point is also arguable against Gaunillo, whose argument seems especially prone to an error of this sort as well.

  Due to a variety of arguments against the applicability of these old rebuttals, is now true, since the 1960’s a complete shift in reading Anselm has occurred. It is now true that a great many philosophers, theistic in persuasion or otherwise, accept that Kant’s criticism has more limited strength than the historical consensus has attributed to it. This does not mean it is never used, and as we said earlier, there is a definite application available here to attack arguments like that or Descartes. In spite of this however, it seems clear Anselm’s argument is at least immune to the objections of Kant.

As I have noted, it is not of the current project to answer, the interpretation of Kant, thinking along the lines of Frege, about existence being merely a second order predicate. This is because we will treat this important discssion in a further chapter on the Divine Attributes, since it is especially tied to Divine Simplicity. For now however, we will move on from the major criticisms of Anselm’s arguments and go on to the version typically recognized as the most defensible by modern proponents of this family of arguments, the modal version popularized by Alvin Plantinga, arguably anticipated by Anselm himself.

To conclude, while Anselm’s proof is a metaphysic dependent argument (to be fair, what argument is not?), most of the common points against it are at the very least answerable, if not conclusive. If you accept a system like that of Aristotle’s, then plausibly yes, the a priori element in this proof will be subject to intense skepticism. However, arguing on Anselm’s terms and granting his middle Platonistic leanings, it seems to be at least a defensible line of argumentation, and one with some fruits to the enterprise of Natural Theology.





Will continue in part 2 with Plantinga’s version



Davies, Brian. An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion. Oxford: Oxford U Press, 2004. Print.
Joyce, George Hayward. Principles of Natural Theology. Neunkirchen-Seescheid, Germany: Editiones Scholasticae, 2016. Print.
Plantinga, Alvin. God, Freedom and Evil. Grand Rapids, Mich: William B. Eerdmans, 2008. Print.

MobileReference. Critique of Pure Reason: by Immanuel Kant. Boston:, 2008. Print.





The Second Way of Thomas Aquinas

The Second Way of Thomas Aquinas

                In this essay we will continue on our analyzation of the natural theology of Saint Thomas Aquinas and his many arguments for the existence of God. As with my post on the first way, a keen understanding of Aristotelian metaphysics is needed to have an accurate conception of the said arguments, so referring to my first post is needed decently heavily. The second way is an argument from the efficient causes that frequently occur within our world, and the need for a being whose essence is existence. The argument is commonly in the form of:

  1.    We perceive a series of efficient causes of things in the world.
  2. Nothing exists prior to itself.
  3. Therefore nothing [in the world of things we perceive] is the efficient cause of itself.
  4. If a previous efficient cause does not exist, neither does the thing that results (the effect).
  5. Therefore if the first thing in a series does not exist, nothing in the series exists.
  6. If the series of efficient causes extends ad infinitum into the past, for then there would be no things existing now.
  7. That is plainly false (i.e., there are things existing now that came about through efficient causes).
  8. Therefore efficient causes do not extend ad infinitum into the past.
  9. Therefore it is necessary to admit a first efficient cause, to which everyone gives the name of God.

First in analyzing this argument we need to go over the weighterer terms. An essence is the whatness of a thing. For example the whatness or quiddity of a camera would be cameraness. Things possess an essence conjoined to an esse, or existence, but an essence is entirely separate from the act of  existence a being possesses (In all things but God as we will see from the argument).  An efficient cause is a cause that brings something into being, in the most common example, the efficient cause of the David would be Michelangelo and his tools, and in the case of a mountain, in many cases it would be erosion.

As in the first way, the argument relies on the  absurd implications of an actually infinite essentially ordered series without a first cause, but not against the concept of the actual infinite as a whole. An essentially ordered series is one in which each member is reliant on an intermediate member for an effect, hence every member must function for the series to go on, in a roughly simultaneous manner. If a potency ceases to be actualized, so will the series. This is also not an attack on series ordered per accidents in which a series will continue after termination of another member. In the most popular example, Abraham begets Isaac, Isaac begets Jacob, and Jacob begets Joseph and so forth. If say Abraham dies, the series can still continue even after the termination of Abraham (and it did). Aquinas’s objection to this carrying on in an essentially ordered series can be summed up in an example with moons.  If seven moons in a series relying on the first moon for light have no potency to create light on their own, extending said series to infinity will not suddenly make said series have the potency to  achieve self-lighting. Even if we grant said movers extends to infinity, something would still have to be instilling within them causal powers from outside of the series. So this argument is not an attack on the finitude or lack thereof, of the universe.

Now on to the argument!

  1.  Premise one seems uncontroversial for any sincere truth seeker, things clearly are brought about, and these are generally the result of efficient causal relations. These include not only the substances of our everyday experience, but also the accidents that exist through a substance. 
  2. Premise two also seems uncontroversial, for something to exist prior to itself entails a contradiction, and hence I fail to see this as a valuable tool for evading the implications of the proof. It would both have to exist and not exist in the same respect, and since it is plausible simuatenous causality is true, this makes the absurdity even more definite, it will exist and not exist within the same event.
  3. Premise three does follow logically from the other premises, and hence to deny it leads to the strongly  argued conclusion nothing creates itself, because if a being did, a previous un-existing potency for existense would be required within be actualized by a being that exists, which is contradictory since they are the same being (being is used broadly here, accidents work fine for this as well), hence Aquinas’s conclusion should follow working through the implications. This is by no means making the claim that everything that exists requires a cause, which Aquinas would clearly never make, he was a pretty intelligent guy.
  4. Premise four seeks to show that without an existing cause explanatorily prior, the effects of the cause cannot exist, which plausibly follows from the other steps.
  5. As hinted at earlier, premise five is working through the implications of an essentially ordered series extending indefinitely. Even if there was no  first temporal cause that brought something into existence, a being would be needed to give the series itself a potency or proclivity to function. This is why Aquinas’s arguments are not temporal arguments ie, the universe could be eternal on the view of these arguments, although the Third way implies the universe is in fact finite in the past, although it is not even needed there.
  6. Premise 6 follows as well due to the argument that it seems  illogical to posit that a series of contingent causes would  be a sufficient explanation in the series even thought the act of existence intrinsically in a finite one is absent.  Extending this to infinity would yield nothing.
  7. Premise seven is also clear for any sincere truth seeker. Things clearly do exist now, and have been brought about by efficient causes. Even to think said statement in the case of man would be to have been the result of some prior efficient cause, and this also applies you abstracting the idea of this article. This brings me to an  interesting thing about Aquinas’s arguments, that they explore why things exist at the present moment rather than not, and hence it isn’t an argument for a sort of deistic God. His family of arguments explore why things exist here and now first and foremost, and hence without the act of being, nothing could exist at any point. Necessarily everything is reliant on God’s creative powers as the primary cause of all things here and now, since an escence is not a cause in any real sense. As Aquinas would say


“that the act of existing itself be caused by the form or quiddity – and by ‘caused’ I mean as by an efficient cause – for then something would be the cause of itself and produce itself in existence, which is impossible”

Which means that existence has to be conjoined to an essence. For example, if these things do not have existence conjoined with their essence, there is no reason at all for their essence to naturally be existent,  as the essence of a turtle with and without the act of existence is exactly the same. This is clearly contrary to  the interventionist view of God professed by most Theistic personalist’s like Plantinga and Swineburne.

8. Premise eight follows logically, limited amount to explain.

9.Hence Premise nine concludes resoundingly stating that something exists in which the essence is identical with it’s existence, is the primary cause and creator of all things, and that would be what all declare as God. The same arguments from the previous post can be used to argue for God possessing an intellect, (That is the best way to word it) as this points to the same being, as existence itself  is an actualized potential, and God is pure existence/being itself as Actus Purus, and hence the Prime Mover and first cause. Logical possibility is itself a potency, which needs to be remembered. 


Overall, as with the first way, the second way is a successful argument in natural theology. The argument is really quite great, but it probably a bit too metaphysic heavy to explain adequately to the novice in this area. We will review the Third Way in my next post, which relies heavily on the prior two arguments for one of its most potent solutions. Thank you for reading and God bless you all! 

The First Way of Thomas Aquinas

The First Way of Thomas Aquinas

In this post I will give a rundown of one of the most central and oldest arguments of natural theology, with roots all the way to Aristotle, The First Way of Thomas Aquinas, or the argument from motion. Here is the argument in its most common form:

The project of Natural Theology is by no supposition a new one, with roots in ancient Greek philosophy, and this argument is of no exception to being quite aged. Originating as a staple of Aristotle’s causal order, with Him being both the Actus Purus and serving as the worlds final cause, the Unmoved First Mover has gained a wide array of recognition, perhaps being the most iconic piece of Natural Theology in existence. Aquinas in particular refined this argument to it’s fullest conclusion, and successfully moved the act potency distinction within Christian Theology. Problems related to Divine Causality, Free will, grace, and various others have all been explained by using this formula. The distinction itself arises due to our cognition of change. For although this is a universal distinction describing all of reality, we come first to know of the distinction through our senses, seeing the subjective potencies and accidents gained by the objects of our experience, and then moving beyond them (which we will discuss later). Our knowledge of essences starts from the objective dispositions of them placed upon our intellect, and the fundamental ways in which they work, and from this we can tell whether it existence is non accidental to them. For Aquinas argues that even the essence and existence paradigm is a variety of the Act Potency one, with an essence being in potency to an act of existence. With this background in mind, we will move forward with the proof:

  1. Our senses prove that some things are in motion.
  2. Things move when potential motion becomes actual motion.
  3. Only an actual motion can convert a potential motion into an actual motion.
  4. Nothing can be at once in both actuality and potentiality in the same respect (i.e., if both actual and potential, it is actual in one respect and potential in another).
  5. Therefore nothing can move itself.
  6. Therefore each thing in motion is moved by something else.
  7. The sequence of motion cannot extend ad infinitum.
  8. Therefore it is necessary to arrive at a first mover, put in motion by no other; and this everyone understands to be God.

This argument uses plenty of metaphysical terms and hence, a introductory guide is quite useful as a companion help the reader. To word it simply, we observe change, which is what motion means in a scholastic sense.  Actual motion is causal perfection or causal prowess. In the fullest sense it is the presence of a perfection that completes a particular object.  In the case of someone learning German, the German teacher would be actual as far as the breadth of knowledge on the subject goes, having learned German (I would hope).  A pupil in the German class would have merely the potential to learn the language, but as of yet, this ability has not been actualized. For something to be potential is for it to be a objective disposition or a perfection to be gained by an object. Now the reason this distinction is of necessity is best displayed by the various absurd positions held before this distinction. For example Heraclitus, the greek philosopher held that all of reality was in flux without any real objective stability.  The objection immediately raised against Heraclitus was how could such a principle not break the Law of Contradiction, since under this philosophers formula something both is being and becoming in the same respect. Heraclitus’s answer was to deny the Law of Contradiction held for anything more than dialectical dealings. In order to deal with this  (although he was more directly dealing with the next philosopher), Plato bit the bullet, and yet said that we do have knowledge  based on our experiences with the Realm of Forms, that we can recognize some objective resemblance of the things we see in fleeting moments, due to us recognizing the forms in which they exemplify. This is because the forms are unchanging and immutable, antithetical to the reality of our experience.  Taking the opposite extreme was Parmenides who held that all of reality was one and distinct. The reason he held such an extreme position was under the assumption that being was the only thing that could exist. For change in reality can only emerge from one of two things, being or non being. But from nothing nothing comes. Hence, only being can produce the reality we see. This seems all well and good until we see Heraclitus’s conclusion. For he reasons that something already in being is already in being, and hence no change would have occurred. Secondly, since everything is being, the only way to distinguish two objects would either be being or non being. If it is non being, then how can the absence of being explain a difference? However, if it is being, then we run into an issue we ran into with change. For how could one distinguish based off existence, which is common to all beings? Parmenides thought you could not, and hence all of reality was one and unchanging, a sort of block.

Aristotle argues that all of these views are simply mistaken. Heraclitus, trying to argue his position, actually commits several obvious fallacies. For to present this argument to an interlocutor, one would have to consult a variety of premises, and consult them in such a way that assumes stability. For if all of reality is in flux, one could not in principle present such a conclusion. One can simply retort that his “proof” is self referentially incoherent, that there has to be a distinction between being and becoming.  Secondly, since we work in the order of knowing, and since being is prior to knowing, any conceptual principle would have to be prior to the act of judging. Now the Principle of Non Contradiction is such a principle. Therefore, it follows, that the Principle of Non Contradiction does not merely govern the conceptual realm, but also any coherent ontology. How can one assume that ones intellectual judgement are protected by the law, when not arguing for it’s applying to reality as reality? Therefore, it follows reality has some stability, even if change does occur. After this Aristotle argues against Plato’s solution to this problem. It can even be questioned whether Plato’s solution solves the problem, as he cannot consult his intellect which is again in the unstable world of Heraclitus (Plato’s matter based solution is interesting, but we will not consult it right now). Aristotle’s main argument is due to the gratuitousness of the forms, and the data of our experience. One does not need to posit a realm of forms when the forms can merely inhibit the particular substances of our existence. For the intellect, when judging something comes across the forms not in a previous life, but by abstracting the particular tendencies of a subject and it’s final cause. It removes any of the principles of limit that obviously exist in this life, and abstracts them towards the final universal concept. In spite of this, the form is not merely an abstract sort of thing, but something that actually serves almost as a nature to the particular subject. It both grounds the type of thing any particular being is, and also the unique potencies it has. It provides a sufficient explanation for why an object has the dispositions and powers another one does not, and has limited cost on any ontological economy. Now one might ask why the form is limited in reality, since the sort of things Plato talked about were perfect. Also, what happens when a particular change occurs that is not related to the form gaining a property, say when a dog biodegrades into the dirt? Aristotle posited something called Prime Matter to do the work here. For Prime Matter, which is in potency to any form (that is it is literally infinite potentiality) both limits a item in space (where it is located), and also the degree of perfection it has in reality. Secondly, in the midst of a change of substance, something has to serve as the substratum of change. For when something changes, experience dictates that it is not merely annihilated and recreated. For there is a real layer that stays. When we see something melting, there is a really similar feature about the new object formed, even if it is not completely the same. The form is absent, while a part of the being continues on.  Only a framework that can match both of these experiences is to be preferred. Hylomorphism (the thesis that all material objects are composed of Form and Prime matter) according to Aristotle is the only the only option of preference. Both of these distinct parts constituted what is called a substance, which Aristotle posited is anything with causal powers in any sense part of our experience.

Now that we formed a frame work we can move to the objections of Parmenides. Firstly, Aristotle argues change is such an obvious feature of reality that a denial of this should not be taken extraordinarily seriously. Parmenides is undergoing a change in his mind when he delights in the argument (even if only introspectively) and when he presents it to an interlocutor. How can one deny this? A theory is absurd that denies explicitly what it affirms implicitly, and Parmenides no change thesis is an obvious example of this. Secondly, how can Parmenides hold that only one thing exists?  For when one peers inside oneself, she experiences herself as a unified whole, with all of her causal powers being experienced in this way as well. As Berkley argued, when one raises her arm, she manifests causal powers that are so real and obvious that a denial of this seems all the worse off. You are however, separate from the world outside you, and this is again obvious from your introspective experiences. However, we can perhaps even represent the first argument against Parmenides full circle to show this point. If all of reality was one and undivided, how could he present such a proof without consulting distinct premises in a syllogism, while also taking objections from an interlocutor? The same argument against the first premise can be presented here, and hence his position is reduced to absurdity.

Parmenides presented a distinct proof for his position related to being we will address here. This point is especially relevant to the prospects of natural theology. For the fallacy is hidden implicitly but is able to be bitten when one truly sees the fallacy peeping out. For Parmenides is using being in a univocal fashion, when it very plausibly it is not. To be univocal a term needs to be used in the same way across beings. Typically these usages are few and far between, as they rarely even apply to the same genus. An example of this would be the words “run” in both dogs and man, which share the same basic meaning. The opposite extreme is equivocation, which is when two objects, while predicated using the same word, are predicated in a entirely different order. An example of this is when you call a doctor a quack, and also say that the duck made the noise “quack”. These are manifestly not representing the same reality, even if the word is. Now the middle ground Aristotle took was to note that being is an analogical term, which is to say it is predicated both similarly and differently of two particular subjects. An example of this would be “The Sun is smiling at me” and “Brenda smiled at me”. This, an analogy of proportion, is constituted both by a clear difference, while also bearing similarity in a very important respect. There is something really alike in the two beings. Aristotle argues from this truism that being is a term of this sort. For if it were not, we would run into the sorts of problems Parmenides spoke of. While a thinker like Scotus had the tools to speak using a bare univocal definition of being, Parmenides did not. More importantly however, it actually seems true to say that things exist in different ways while still both having some resemblance in their status. For it is obvious while a horse doesn’t exist in the same way that a quark does, there still is some obvious likeness. So Aristotle’s position receives vindication.

With this in mind, we can present the Act-Potency distinction once more. Aristotle, due to these issues just posited, divided being into two distinct categories, being in act and being in potency. As we have said earlier, being in act is the fullness of a particular perfection, possessing a particular attribute one was merely in potency to. Being in potency is related to being as act as the disposition for a particular perfection. An obvious example for this would be a subatomic particle. A sub atomic particle, by it’s ratio is located at a particular point in space, say point A. It is in potency however, to the perfection of being in point B. If say such a particle were moved, something would actualize the perfection that was once merely in potency. Now local changes are not the only possible changes one can have. For one can grow in knowledge (which is not obviously local), one can change a color when mad, one can grow bigger etc. Qualities, Quantities, local changes, and substantial changes are all incorporated to Aristotle’s Causal thesis. It is important to contrast this with the change we discussed earlier that allowed us to posit Prime Matter. This is what Aristotle called an accidental change, one not essential to the being. Accidents are not the sort of things that exist in and of themselves, but exist by resting in a substance.  Aristotle also reasons from applying the Law of Contradiction to this problem that a being cannot move itself. For a being to actualize a potential in the same time and respect, by itself and from itself, is for it to both possess and not possess a particular perfection, which is absurd. One can perhaps argue that we have an obvious counter example to this in the actions of free creatures (Aristotle even thinks rational creatures are by definition self movers and most Scholastics felt creatures did move themselves with regard to their free will). Now the solution to this apparent difficulty is found in the contents of such movements. When a creature move’s itself, it is only on the basis that one part moves in relation to another, forming a particular action or deliberation. This is not self movement in the fullest sense, and hence is not a real counter examples. There are some interesting tidbits about the contents of this discussion (for the record Suarez was probably right), but that is neither here nor now. Another counter example posited is that of inertia, since this thesis seeks to show object’s in motion tend to stay in motion unless acted upon by another. This is obviously not the only type of change discussed, but it is of a particularly great sum in our daily experience. Now there are various way’s one could argue against this,  but there are three solutions of notoriety. Firstly, one can adopt the stance that Newton’s theory implicitly assumes such a distinction as act and potency. For since rest is the absence of motion in Newtonian physics, motion is merely a state actualized, with no need for any continued actualization. While this seems plausible, this faces a number of difficulties A. (Are spatial relations not things that need to be actualized, things that cannot be done by the object in itself?) and B. (Would not such a position seem quite absurd to Aristotle’s model?). These two difficulties seem insurmountable with regards to the problem. Secondly, one could adopt a sort of impetus theory, and say that the object which creates the motion in a particular agent allows the body to tend towards it’s place because of an “imparted form”. Thomist’s like Lagrange argue this to be viable, and there is a historical case to be made that Aquinas held this view too. The obvious issue with this however is that many, if not most of the forms imparted are finite, and inertia is infinite (at least with regards to movement). However, the defender of the impetus theory could charge the inertia proponent with an absurd position, for how can the fact that this effect be continued forever be explained by a finite cause? The impetus theorist, placing metaphysics at a higher place than physics sees the Newtonian’s assumption as not remotely justifiable. Newton’s laws are based on a few generalized test, and the impetus theorist would say that her model both explains the data while preserving a legitimate metaphysical assumption, that a being cannot give more than it has, which is the case of the cause who both stops (and if need be) and starts the motion. The Impetus theorist has a plausible stopping point here. It even becomes more viable if one assumes that the impetus provides a potentially infinite amount of power, although this supposition seems quite strange and unhelpful (even if it has been argued with some zeal). The most popular solution to the problem is to posit a sustaining cause, even in the face of it’s counter intuitiveness. The reason is a sustaining cause can both carry the motion forward in a potentially infinite regard, and is empirically equivalent to the inertial  theorist’s results. For since this is under a generalized condition, perhaps when one comes into a potential stopper (like say an object in the way of a projectile), they can posit the cause simply bracing for impact (in an analogical way of course). This seems to work, but the question is why one should one posit this cause at all? It is obviously simpler to ontological economy to go without it. However, since a First Mover bears a great deal of benefits with regards to other forms of motion, this device is already in the Thomist’s ontology. More importantly, is not obviously antithetical to all of Newtonian physics either. To note a physical example in which a sustaining cause is still needed, one need not look further than multi directional uniform motion. As GH Joyce states: “Motion which is of two or of three dimensions may also be uniform. Thus we have uniform motion of two dimensions when the movement of a body round a point is such that equal areas are swept by the radius vector in equal times. No one questions that uniform motion of two dimensions demands an external agency for its realization. It seems difficult to explain why, if a regulating cause is requisite in the one case, it is not equally necessary in the other. Again: we are familiar with the phenomenon of uniform acceleration with regard to time. The motion of a falling body increases in arithmetical progression. Here, too, we postulate an external cause, without which the acceleration is declared to be inexplicable. But it may be questioned whether uniformity of velocity is really a whit more intelligible apart from the efficiency of an agent actually present than is uniformity of acceleration”. If a sustaining cause is needed in this physical example, why not hold one in other conditions? Obviously the cases are different, but it shows that such devices are not utterly repugnant to modern physics. The three options show there is serious wiggle room for the Thomist, and that there are incentives to hold the respective positions. The first position, while deemed deficient by the authpr, does preserve the Newtonian formula in it’s complete glory. The impetus theory might preserve the traditional Thomistic view, while contradicting the results of modern physics. Yet, it provides justification for doing so. It is however deemed by the writer that the sustaining cause thesis both is the least absurd and explains away the results of modern physics in a clear way. If one places being as being, the study of Metaphysics, above physical theories, one can see the incentive to accept such a formula, even facing the weight of modern physics. One is not arguing with the results per se, but merely the interpretation.

With this background in mind, we will now proceed to the argument. The first premise was already pressed in the reply to Parmenides. For almost nothing is more evident in life than the fact that change occurs at least introspectively. How can one with any seriousness deny this? It is manifest that any argument against motion is far less obvious than the thesis that motion exists, and that any argument against change relies on motion as well.  The second premise is a reformulation of the act potency paradigm. We have just proved it’s usefulness previously, and it seems to be the only thesis that accounts for the robust change among stability we observe in the world. The third through fifth premises are perhaps a bit controversial, but it relies on the Law of Contradiction applied to the world of being. For if something actual was not actualizing the potential of another, then what is truly doing the actualizing? It cannot be the thing itself, for as we have shown, this would break the law of non contradiction. Nor can it be nothing, because from nothing nothing comes. Modern Quantum physics has not shown this supposition to be in flux, for the indeterminacy of a vacuum does not denote that there is not cause. We will go into arguments from the Principle of Sufficient Reason later, but this provides excellent justification that the Principle of Causality is a necessary explanation for things that come into being or are sustained in being. Aquinas felt that the First Mover moved our wills indeterminately, and hence, he already had a mechanism in his ontology capable of moving non mechanistically. The Philosophy of Nature adopted by Aquinas and Aristotle was not merely mechanic in essence, but purpose filled, and almost any perfection could be instilled to a secondary mover as long as it is within reason. It also had to befit the nature of the instrument. Perhaps the Vacuum functions as a sort of instrument.

Premise seven is often confused as an argument against the existence of an actual infinite, which is not actually the case at all. Aquinas had no noticeable issues with the existence of an actual infinite in comparison to a writer like Craig. He did not think the universe could be demonstrated to have a beginning, and hence none of his arguments require that (although the third way pushes for that being a very reasonable situation). Aquinas did actually have experience with the series spoken about by Craig, even if most were in the form of a traversal argument. What Aquinas was arguing against were what is called essentially ordered series, like a hand moving a stick, moving a rock, which in turn moves a leaf. This is the example Aristotle gives, in which if a potency withers away, the series terminates. Each mover is working roughly simultaneously, and hence there is no room in between for a mover to cease operation.  He did not have issues with say, a continuous string of parents having kids, where when the parents died, their children still could function adequately in the future without them (The second way goes into this more). This is what is deemed an accidentally ordered series, and is the thesis someone like Craig accepts as absurd with regards to actual infinitude.  In Aquinas’s mind if a finite amount of movers could not in fact give a sufficient explanation for the motion in a series order per se (An essentially ordered one), extending it to infinity has not suddenly created one. Even if an infinite regress could occur, something would be needed to impart their causal powers and perfections, something not within the series itself. Lagrange gives his argument in the form of a broom stick. Like a broom, a series of causes merely in potency to a particular perfection are deficient with regards to fulfilling their end, as a broom is with regards to sweeping without an agent moving it. The broom is manifestly finite, and yet moving it’s handle to an infinite length will not allow it to impart motion by it’s own doing. In the same way, a series that is merely in potency to act will not be given the power of movement even if such a series is infinite. Now one might object that such a series is quite odd. For modern science has shown absolute simultaneity to be a patent fallacy. Granting this, even if not necessarily the case, the series we are discussing is not based on a temporal argument, but one about explanations. Just a painting can have a certain hierarchy within the frame it fills, so can causes such as this. This argument is not strictly temporal, with these causes operating in such a way that modern physics does not touch it. Still, one can even challenge the notion that these movers are not functioning in an event based order. Movers move in relativity to another event, and yet we would just argue the events are separate. For it is our very argument that the series just discussed is an event based series, constituting a single event, no matter how many movers are involved. Hence such a trouble evaporates. Another challenge to simultaneous causation is whether it is possible for a simultaneous series to not be instantaneous, with the event just ending immediately. This is a robust challenge, and yet one answered by the Metaphysicians Rani Anjum and  Stephen Mumford. The reason simultaneous causation is not a chimera is because the sort of series is simultaneous over an event, which takes place in time. An example of this would be a ice cube melted by the sun. The melting of an ice cube is caused simultaneously by the sun beam’s thermal powers, and yet it is not instantaneously melted, because the total cause happened in a temporal sequence. This shows such a rebuttal is wrong headed, only indirectly facing an argument like this. When the hand moves the stick, he does so not once instantaneously, but over a sequence lasting as long as the series continues. With these rebuttals out of the way, we can arrive at a being who is Pure Act, not the sort of thing that could in principle be set in motion, and oneat  the top of the causal hierarchy.

Now a couple arguments about the conclusion can be set up right away. Why should one conclude the First Mover is immutable, and cannot be set in motion by anything else? Could it not be a brute fact that a part simply had this perfection and was able to terminate the series? Well upon looking at the total series such an argument becomes deficient in several respects. For one, either the mover actualized at the top of the chain had that perfection essentially, or it had to be moved to actualize this perfection by a distinct part. If the part is not the sort of being that can be moved towards such a series, it is pure act. If, however, the part only moved to participate in such a series because it was moved in relation to another part, it becomes manifest such a mover was actualized by another and hence part of these series. This makes it clear that the First Mover is not the sort of thing composed of parts, because if it were, then such a mover would have an Act in relation to the other parts that were previously in potency, requiring the First Mover to have been moved by another which is a patent absurdity. Nor can such a being gain accident’s, for accident’s are in potency to a substance which is in act. Hence, it follows the First Mover is entirely simple and immutable. Such a being could not pass from being in potency to being in act, and is hence eternal, essentially so. The school boys retort about “Who moved the First Mover?” is protected in this argument. Now an interlocutor can object that an immutable mover is a contradiction in terms, for how can one act without changing? One can give a few examples of such an event, as this is clearly not fallacious when one digs beneath the surface. When humans move after a particular object presented as sense appetite, they do so because they were moved by the particular goods of the item. The item never need be touched, but such an item did function as an unmoved mover to the agents who acted upon their appetitive tendencies.  Another example of a unmoved mover would be a professor in a class, who could be presenting his knowledge for all eternity on a chalkboard (the in’s and outs of such an analogy are not important), allowing others to gain in knowledge while he does not in any real sense change in this respect. While not all of the First Mover’s movements will be by mere intellectual influence, there are some obvious analogies. The First Mover is eternally acting, while no change is going on within Him.

The most obvious issue that can be raised is from the definition of such a being, as an opponent can object that such a being is not necessarily God. Why does Aquinas end with the conclusion “and this all men call God”?  We will touch on this in greater detail when we discuss the attributes of the Deity, yet we will mention some points here. To begin, all Aquinas meant by this line was that among the attributes of what God is, He is also the First Mover set in motion by no other. Aquinas dedicates extensive proofs to the properties of the deity, and sort of expected his readers to follow up on those. We will in our short time mention some of the attributes we can derive. The First Mover will both contain intellect and will, because if He did not, then how could He move and concur with free intellectual agents? While the contents of this concurrence will not be discussed as of now, in a weak sense the First Mover must move along side Human agents, allowing them to realize their self induced ends.  Some of the actions humans do is immanent (ie inside the agent), while other actions are transitive (outside the agent). The only beings capable of doing (even if God’s movement here is simply a weak concurrence) both of these actions are ones endowed with intellect and will. Therefore the First Mover is intellectual and willing. Secondly, this feature is assumed by the fact such a First Mover is a self Mover (in a weak sense due to His essence being fundamentally inclined “towards” movement, with the First Mover literally being an act), setting himself in motion “towards” the series. For the only beings capable of moving themselves in towards a good are those equipped with desire and apprehension (even if the beings in our experience only do it because of a continuous actualizing of parts). Now the First self moved mover cannot be so on account of any proximate good, for all proximate good’s are prior to the appetitive desire, while the First Mover is posterior to none. If He were posterior to a good He would be moved by a particular good non essentially, which is impossible and in explicit contradiction to the First Mover’s natural immutability as we have previously shewn. Nor can He do so on account of any parts that need actualizing, for as we have displayed the First Mover is not composed of parts. Therefore the First Mover has to move on account of His own goodness. Furthermore, this goodness will have to function as His beatitude. In a being not composed of parts however, what can limit the goodness of such an agent? Also, for something that is Pure Act, with all real perfections essentially, how can one not be perfect? Therefore, it follows the First Being is perfect as well, and only acts on account of His own goodness. Everything moved is on the supposition of the glory experienced within the First Mover’s beatitude, and His wish to spread His own goodness to the world. When humans deem something good, they do so on account of it’s desirability, and anything that is infinitely desirable and perfect is also infinitely good.Therefore, the First Mover is unlimited goodness. Obviously this proof has already been shown with regards to the First Mover’s tendency, but it can be displayed as objective through the judgements of men’s experience. Furthermore,  Given that God is pure act, and that no perfection is not found in Him on account of this, it follows God is utterly omnipotent. No movement or causal disposition is repugnant to the First Mover. This same proof can be used to argue that the First Mover is all knowing. Since the First Mover is a being endowed with intellect and will, it truly is open to all intellectual data. This means facts are something the First Being is in potency to. However, the First Mover can stand in potency to no things, but must contain all perfections essentially. It then follows that there is no knowledge that is not contained in a preeminent sense within the First Act. Next, it is manifestly clear the First Mover is not composed of matter and form, hence being immaterial. Anything material is composed of matter and form, ordered in such a way akin to potency and act. The form, being the determinant bearer of perfections is in act to Prime Matter, which both limits and forms the compound (since Prime Matter is potentially anything), which is in turn in potency to form. However, the First Mover can stand in potency to nothing, nor is composed of distinct parts. It then follows that the First Mover is not material. Secondly, anything material is in potency to division, as it is of a determinant length. However, the First Mover stands in no potency to anything and is hence not material. Thirdly, whatever is material is spatial, and is limited to a certain area. However, the First Mover stands in no potency to any specific spatial relation as he could neither be moved there nor move himself there, as no bodies are capable of such self movement in the sense just described, and the First Act is also unlimited as we have previously shewn. Therefore again, the First Mover is the First Act. Lastly and most magnificently, there can also only be one First Mover, as all movers have to be distinguished from each other by some part. However, the First being is not composed of parts. Therefore, it follows the First Being is essentially One and Unique. It is to be noted that all the perfections we have just proved are not found in a divided sense, but formally constituting the essence of the First Mover.

These arguments allow us to arrive at a being who is Intellectual, willing, Goodness itself, Perfection itself, simple, omnipotent, omniscient, immaterial and so forth. It is obvious why Aquinas felt this was “what all men call God”

     Overall, I do think Aquinas’s first way still does work as a plausible argument from natural theology. Not based on the natural sciences like the arguments used by most apologists, it has unfortunately fallen out of favor. This is also largely due to the moderns  disillusionment with a medieval argument.  However, the explanatory power and the wide reach of the argument speaks for itself. 


Aristotelian and Scholastic Metaphysics

Aristotelian and Scholastic Metaphysics

In this essay, I will be discussing Aristotelian metaphysics, a sort of preliminary piece before I analyze the five ways of Thomas Aquinas, seeing as a keen understanding of metaphysics will be extremely helpful in understanding the arguments and accessing them accurately. I will also analyze whether the argument stands up to modern science and could be perceived as convincing to the modern viewer.

Act or actuality: state of casual prowess and casual perfection. Aristotle’s and Aquinas’s God would be perceived as pure actuality in a general sense.

Potentially or potency: the state of being in which said being is able to receive causal prowess. A tree in my yard exists in potentiality, but not in actuality for example, since it has the ability to have casual prowess acted upon it.

Motion is change of any sort.

Substance: What really is. Certain qualities certainly could be beyond perception.

Accidents: Qualities that can be seen.

Form: Actuality, form would be in the case of a ball, roundness and bounciness. Examples of objects with great form would be a brick of silver, since over time it will not be destroyed in 100 years, compared to say an apple, which will change to not be perceivable (more on this later). Things can be pure form, and in a general sense, Angels would indeed be this, since they not material.

Matter: potentially, waiting to be form. Matter without form however is nothing.

The Four causes:

Formal cause: What the object is in the form of, in the case of the David, it would be the David.

Material cause: What said being is made of. In the case of the David, Marble.

Efficient cause: What brings it about. In the case of the David, Michelangelo and in fact his tools.

Final cause: Put simply, the reason why. In the case of the David it could be many, but to keep it simple we can just word it as to glorify David.

How things change:

Quality: When a being is changed in a fashion that does not change its necessary identity. an example would be making a triangle outlined red.

Quantity: The perceivable size of a being. An apple growing bigger would be an example.

Corruption/generation: changing the fundamental nature of what something is. Continuing with the apple example, chewing an apple down to where is ceases to be an apple.

Location: where an object is located. An apple located on a table instead of a tree would be an example.

Two more distinctions:

Existence: Act of being.

Essence: The whatness of a thing. Also called the quiddity of a thing. The whatness of a dog would be dogness to describe it briefly. The essence is separate from the existence in all things that are not God, which we will explore in the second way, and is a matter of Divine Simplicity.

This is just a basic outline of Aristotelian metaphysics. In the coming pieces, I will try to analyze whether the Five ways are still effective arguments in natural theology, or whether they have in fact been dismantled by modern physics. Thanks for reading.

The Religion Violence Exageration and the Dangers of Subjective Morality

The Religion Violence Exageration and the Dangers of Subjective Morality


Religion has taken a great deal of the blame when it comes to the violence and wars in the world, which is true to a degree. I will not doubt the fact that religion has caused a great deal of bloodshed. However, raw numbers alone point more towards a secular war machine, something far different from what is generally conveyed. Rather than take a defensive angle on religious wars, I will go on the offensive, attacking the commonly held view of standing peace in secular regimes. In this article I will analyze the reasons for this violence, and try and find common ground, as I think both these ideas are a bit wrong, as radicals from each side don’t categorize an entire demographic.

I will open my case with a look at some raw statistics, courtesy of  Well Spent Journey

    The Claim: “Religion has been the primary cause of war and oppression throughout the history of mankind.”

    The Truth: In their comprehensive Encyclopedia of Wars, Phillips and Axelrod document the recorded history of warfare. Of the 1,763 wars presented, a mere 7% involved a religious cause. When Islam is subtracted from the equation, that number drops to 3.2%.

In terms of casualties, religious wars account for only 2% of all people killed by warfare. This pales in comparison to the number of people who have been killed by secular dictators in the 20th century alone.

Secondly here is another claim in favor of violent secular actions via Vox Day in his book The Irrational Atheist Dissecting Hitchens

“The total body count for the ninety years between 1917 and 2007 is approximately 148 million dead at the bloody hands of fifty-two atheists, three times more than all the human beings killed by war, civil war, and individual crime in the entire twentieth century combined.”

Clearly, we can see that the correlation between religion and war is virtually non existent. I will actually turn this argument around and point toward various secular regimes form the 1900’s, particularly communist, leading to the deaths of 100 million people, and even relatively JV communists regimes like Pol Pot (I stress relatively) have killed up to 3 million. The numbers alone are more than 180,000 times the deaths caused by what could be argued was the worst Christian fueled event, the Spanish inquisition. To add it  all up, this killing happened in almost a twentieth of the time. A frequent objection to this is that communism is just a flawed ideology and not reflective of atheism, and I agree as atheists can be great people, but the issue is that within atheism, there is no basis for morality so regimes that stress reign of terror like terrorism like what is justified in the Communist Manifesto, can be condoned absolutely. I think this conveys that acts like the Salem Witch Trials, while horrible, are nothing compared to the lower death secular war events like the Reign of Terror.  I will even go further bringing Nazism into the equation. While Nazism did have some religion influence and symbolism, Hitler was clearly not religious, and actually hated religion with a passion.  Every time I hear people refer to Hitlers supposed Catholicism, I point them to a quote from 1933, when Hitler has achieved his election goal. Hitler says his plan to “stamp out Christianity root and branch”, going as far to say “Christianity is the invention of sick brains”. This statement and many other show the Anti-theism approach Adolf Hitler took. A frequently used objection to this is a quote from 1928, “in fact our movement is Christian. We are filled with a desire for Catholics and Protestants to discover one another in the deep distress of our own people”. This might be hard to object to , if his plan for religion wasn’t written in Mein Kamf, frequently siting that his public speeches were not actually his views, but propaganda for the masses. While it is possible Hitler was not a Atheist, he clearly did have some atheistic values, citing the works of Nietzsche frequently and promoting forms of racist social Darwinism. For example rather than preaching the love of Jesus, he preached “gems” such as this “The stronger must dominate and not blend with the weaker, thus sacrificing his own greatness. Only the born weakling can view this as cruel, but he, after all, is only a weak and limited man; for if this law did not prevail, any conceivable higher development (Hoherentwicklung) of organic living beings would be unthinkable”-Mein Kamf. If you add just a death toll of actual killings due to Hitler, it would be around 17 million. However, if you include the fact he started the bloodiest war of all time, that number shoots up to 80 million, but that is not quite fair. I have shown all these killings done by secular societies, without even mentioning Mao and Stalin, who have killed far more than Hitler, killing near 60-100 million just by themselves.

Believe it or not the point of this essay was not to show that religion has not caused anything and that atheism is evil. Most of the atheists I have met have been great people, and this does not prove atheism is evil, just as religious wars do not prove religion is. The issue lies in the danger of morality, as with in atheism and secularism, subjective morals run free, and these can be much more destructive than objective ones, if given the opportunity. This is really just a warning towards radical secularism, and the pass it has gotten on the revisionist history scale, and not to demonize atheists. I am also not protecting all religions, as within any ideology, there are flawed ones. The meaning of this essay was to defend and protect the teachings of Jesus, and his truly pacifistic nature. In the eloquent words of the Lord Jesus Christ.  37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”


“Religious Wars vs Atheist Wars.” Allipedia. 25 Sept. 2014. Web. 23 Oct. 2015.

Hitler, Adolf. Mein Kamf. New Delhi: Sagar Publications, 1967. Print.

Day, Vox. The Irrational Atheist: Dissecting the Unholy Trinity of Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens. Dallas, TX: BenBella, 2008. Print.

“Devastating Arguments Against Christianity (Courtesy of the Internet).” Well Spent Journey. N.p., 01 Oct. 2013. Web. 23 Oct. 2015.

“Oxford University Press Book: Is Religion Responsible for Wars and Violence in History?” WINTERY KNIGHT. N.p., 21 July 2015. Web. 23 Oct. 2015.