Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Review of Lander University's Criticism of the First Way

Lander University provides an explanation and critique of the First Way. I will respond to the criticisms here.
There seems to be a contradiction in the argument. Premise (2), "Whatever is moved is moved by another," conflicts with the notion of God in this argument as that of something unmoved, i.e., that of the Unmoved Mover. God, then, is an the exception to the truth of premise (2).
The premise is "whatever is moved is moved by another." Which means that if there is something that is NOT moved, then it isn't moved by another. What's the contradiction? I'm not sure. The premise does not say that "EVERYTHING is moved by another". To put it into the terms of the First Way, it says "whatever is a mixture of potential and actual is being changed by something actual."

This criticism does not make sense.
Nevertheless, cannot God move or act? If God is pure actuality, then it would seem to follow that God can't do anything, for God is already all that God could be. If, then, God is already all that God can be, there's no potential for God to be able to act or be in any way different from what God is. 
God (or: pure actuality) is timeless and spaceless as well. From his perspective, everything is already done. He doesn't move through time. So he would be like an octupus with his arms extended, and WE trip over the arms as we move through time, so from our perspective it looks like he is acting, even though from his perspective everything is already done.

Also, an imperfect analogy: a lump of gold in a mine can cause a war, even though the gold itself does not move or change relevant to the war.
If God is claimed to have a privileged status and not subject to the firse premise, then the argument becomes viciously circular.

I'm not sure what's supposed to be circular. If God is pure actuality, and the premise is that whatever is changing (i.e. a mixture of potential AND actual), then God is not a mixture of potential and actual and hence is not subject to premise 1.
There are inherent problems with the concepts of actuality and potentiality. Why must we presuppose natural processes have a beginning, middle, and end? Is such a scheme a natual one, or is this paradigm imposed by the nature of our thought?
Who ever said a process must have a beginning, middle, and end? The premise is that things change. If things change, then the are one way and potentially another way. If the are not potentially another way, then change does not occur. But it does occur. So actual and potential is a real distinction.
Why must there be a beginning to the universe?
Who ever said there was? Certainly not Aquinas: "By faith alone do we hold, and by no  demonstration can it be proved, that the universe did not always exist." Certainly not the First Way. What are they talking about?
By the principle of simplicity, isn't more reasonable to suppose that the universe of objects in motion has always existed than to suppose that we have to account for how things came from nothing?
Again, who ever said that "things came from nothing"? Certainly not the argument in question. What are they talking about?
An object at rest tends to stay at rest and an object in motion tends to stay in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an outside force.
There are at least three things to say about Newtonian motion relevant to the First Way:

1. "Motion" in Aristotelian terms means "change". Change in quality, change in quantity, or change from place to place. So even if the argument does not work for "motion from place to place", that still doesn't affect it's relevance to change in quality and quantity.

2. The law of inertia describes behavior, but does not explain it. We can describe how matter behaves when two bits of solid matter come into contact with each other and do not pass through each other, but that is similarly just a description of behavior; it doesn't explain it. In this example, it would be explained by the negative charges of electrons repelling each other. Similarly, the law of inertia is just a description of behavior but not an explanation, and so cannot serve as an objection to a purported explanation of that behavior.

3. Inertial motion is sometimes considered a "state", and not a true instance of change. If so, then it needs nothing to actualize it since it is in a single state. Indeed, the law of inertia itself even says: "...unless acted upon by an outside force," confirming the need for something else to change its state.
Therefore, neither movement nor rest is necessarily the default state of the universe. Hence, the Big Bang theory of the origin of the universe and the Big Rip Theory are initially less plausible than the Steady State Theory, the Loop or Cyclical Theory or the Pulsating Universe theory.
Ok..? I'm not sure what this has to do with the argument. The argument does not say "the default state of the universe is movement". Nor does the argument have anything to do with the origin of the universe.
Natural processes might be best explained without recourse to the dependence of one part to others.
Perhaps, but the argument is not an inference to the best explanation, but rather is a metaphysical proof: to refute it, you need to refute one of the premises. It is deductive, not inductive. All this amounts to is saying "perhaps the argument is wrong". If it's wrong, then one of its premises is false.
Can the notion of the independent interdependence of parts of the universe be just as plausible a notion as some sort of sequence of relations whereby we have to account for the sudden existence of the beginning?
Again with this notion that there must be a beginning. Whatever argument they are responding to, it isn't the First Way.

1 comment:

  1. The proper contrapositive of "Whatever is moved is moved by another" is equivalent to "Whatever is not moved by another is not moved," not "if there is something that is NOT moved, then it isn't moved by another." Or the inference might be thought about in terms of modus tollens.

    There's some room for debate about Aquinas on creation ex nihilo:

    (1) Aquinas is not entirely consistent on creation from nothing. He trades on an equivocation in the Summa:
    "'From' has both senses when we say that something is made from nothing; the first expresses sequence, as we have noted, while the second expresses and denies relationship to a material cause." (Ia, 45, 2-3). In the next section, he only considers the former which is consistent with the "Review" above.

    (2)However, in Summa Contra Gentiles Book II, Aquinas specifically states, "God's action, which is without pre-existing matter and is called creation, is neither a motion nor a change, properly speaking." This is explained at some length in these sections:
    16 "That God has brought things into being out of nothing."
    17 "That Creation is not a Movement nor a Change."

    (3) It doesn't help much to say we space-time creatures trip over a timeless and space-less God.

    (4) Don't you think it might be more accurate to say the efforts of different groups to posses the lump of gold is the efficient cause of the war, rather than the lump, itself.

    (5) "Whoever said a process must have a beginning, middle, and end?"
    That would be Aristotle where he speaks not just of poetics when he writes, "A whole is that which has a beginning, a middle, and an end. A beginning is that which does not itself follow anything by causal necessity, but after which something naturally is or comes to be. An end, on the contrary, is that which itself naturally follows some other thing, either by necessity, or as a rule, but has nothing following it. (Poetics, VI).

    In Aquinas' thought, it seems to me, he maintains the temporal beginning of the universe is hidden from human reason and can only be a matter of faith.