One Man’s Modus Ponens…Part 6

In Chapter 3 of Handbook of Christian Apologetics (hereafter: HOCA), Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli present twenty arguments for the existence of God. The very first argument is one of the Five Ways of Aquinas. This is not surprising, since Kreeft is a Catholic:

The universe is the sum total of all these moving things, however many there are. The whole universe is in the process of change. But we have already seen that change in any being requires an outside force to actualize it. Therefore, there is some force outside (in addition to) the universe, some real being transcendent to the universe. This is one of the things meant by “God”.

Briefly, if there is nothing outside the material universe, then there is nothing that can cause the universe to change. But it does change. Therefore there must be something in addition to the material universe. But the universe is the sum total of all matter, space and time. These three things depend on each other. Therefore this being outside the universe is outside matter, space and time. It is not a changing thing; it is the unchanging Source of change. (HOCA, p.50-51)

There may be more than one argument in this passage, but one line of reasoning here goes something like this:

1. If there is nothing outside the material universe that can cause the material universe to change, then there is nothing outside the material universe that is causing the material universe to change.

2. If there is nothing outside the material universe that is causing the material universe to change, then the material universe is not changing.

Thus:
3. If there is nothing outside the material universe that can cause the material universe to change, then the material universe is not changing.

4. But the material universe IS changing.

Thus:
5. There is something outside the material universe that can cause the material universe to change.

6. The statement “There is something outside the material universe that can cause the material universe to change” means the same thing as “God exists”.

Therefore:
7. God exists.

The intermediate conclusion is premise (5), but (5) does not say anything about God, so another premise is required in order to get the desired conclusion (7) that God exists. Premise (6) provides a logical bridge between (5) and (7) by asserting that two different statements have the same meaning.

But premise (6) is clearly false. The two statements in question are NOT equivalent in meaning. For example, the claim that ‘There is something outside the material universe that can cause the material universe to change” does NOT entail that ‘There is a person who is perfectly morally good’. But ‘God exists’ does entail that ‘There is a person who is perfectly morally good’. (7) entails something that (5) does not entail, so (7) does not have the same meaning as (5).

Premise (6) appears to involve a confusion between sense and reference. It might be the case that the expression ‘something outside of the material universe that can cause the material universe to change’ refers to the same being as the expression ‘God’, but these two expressions don’t have the same meaning or sense. We can improve upon the above argument for the existence of God, by reformulating (6) to be a claim about the reference of the two expressions, rather than about the sense or meaning of the expressions:

(6A) The expression “something outside the material universe that can cause the material universe to change” and the word “God” both refer to the same being.

Kreeft would need to come up with an argument to support premise (6A), but at least it is not obviously false like the original premise (6), and it does the job of providing a logical link between premise (5) and the conclusion (7).

However, premise (6A) in combination with some other assertions made by Kreeft, plus a claim about the logical incompatibility of timelessness and perfect freedom (defended by Richard Swinburne), allows us to build an argument against the existence of God:

(6A) The expression “something outside the material universe that can cause the material universe to change” and the word “God” both refer to the same being.

Therefore:
(8) If God exists, then there is something that has all of the divine attributes and that is outside of the material universe.

(9) If something is outside the material universe, then it is outside of space and time.

Thus:
(10) If God exists, then there is something that has all of the divine attributes and that is outside of space and time.

(11) One of the divine attributes is being a perfectly free person.

Thus:
(12) If God exists, then there is something that is a perfectly free person that is outside of space and time.

(13) It is NOT the case that there is something that is a perfectly free person that is outside of space and time.

Therefore:
(14) It is NOT the case that God exists.

Based on what Kreeft says in spelling out the first argument for the existence of God in Chapter 3 of HOCA, I believe that Kreeft would accept every premise of this argument with the exception of premise (13). But premise (13) is well defended by Richard Swinburne.

According to Swinburne if God is outside of time, then God is totally immutable. But if God is totally immutable, then God is NOT a perfectly free person (The Coherence of Theism, revised ed., p.222) So, if something is outside of time, then it cannot be a perfectly free person. But one of God’s divine attributes is being a perfectly free person, so it is incoherent to assert that ‘God is totally immutable’, or to assert that ‘God is outside of time’.

Swinburne has another argument for the incoherence of the assertion that ‘God is outside of time’, which is based on the trasitivity of simultaneity: If A is simultaneous with B, and B is simultaneous with C, then A is also simultaneous with C. (See The Coherence of Theism, Revised edition, p.228). I won’t spell out this other argument for the incohernce of the assertion ‘God is outside of time’, but Swinburne does make a strong case that this assertion makes a self-contradictory statement, and thus is necessarily false.

  • Dennis

    The list appears to me to assume a Newtonian universe. I have a couple of questions that need someone smarter than me to answer.

    1. If one replaced “material universe” with “space-time” how does that change the argument? Does space-time change? Can it be considered static? That is, is point four false in space-time?

    2. How would the second law of thermodynamics be involved in the answer?

    3. If one considers the possibility that our universe is only one bubble in a larger “thing,” then even in a Newtonian universe point 2 is false. Point 1 in the post appears to assume there is something outside the “material universe,” which would be intelligible in this bubble idea. But not in a classical view of the universe?

    At this point, I get even more confused. Help!

    • Bradley Bowen

      1. If one replaced “material universe” with “space-time” how does that change the argument? Does space-time change? Can it be considered static? That is, is point four false in space-time?
      ====================================
      I don’t think I have a good answer to your question, but I think it is a good question.
      In particular, in order to evaluate the argument properly, one needs to understand what the expression ‘outside the material universe’ means.

      On the one hand, Kreeft describes the universe simply as a collection of physical objects:

      “The universe is the sum total of all these moving things, however many there are.”
      If the universe is just a collection of material objects, then it is unclear to me whether space is part of the universe, and whether time is part of the universe. Space is not a material object. Time is not a material object. Space is not a ‘moving thing’, and time is not a ‘moving thing’. So, space and time appear to be ‘outside’ of the material universe, in that they are not part of the set of ‘moving things’ nor are they part of the set of ‘material objects’.
      The same goes for laws of physics, and for physical forces, like gravity. Gravity is not a ‘material object’ nor is gravity a ‘moving thing’ (although a specific gravitational field can move).
      On the other hand, Kreeft characterizes what is ‘outside the material universe’ as being “outside matter, space and time”. So, he seems to have a broader conception of what constitutes the universe than just a set of material objects. Space and time are also part of the universe, even though they are not material objects and are not ‘moving things’.

      I would not be surprised if a careful analysis of this argument revealed that Kreeft is making use of two different concepts or understandings of the term ‘the material universe’, and that there is a fallacy of equivocation going on in this argument.

  • David_Evans

    Premise 2:

    “2. If there is nothing outside the material universe that is causing the material universe to change, then the material universe is not changing.”

    assumes an Aristotelian physics (not even Newtonian!). Consider an insulated container full of gas. The positions and velocities of the gas molecules are continually changing, and this change is not caused by anything outside the container. It was Aristotle who thought that continuing change required a continuing force.

    • Bradley Bowen

      Aquinas was an Aristotelian, so it is quite possible that his arguments for God were based upon or inspired by Aristotelian physics.

      Newton’s First Law of Motion concerns inertia, and the idea that an object in motion tends to stay in motion:

      “The principle of inertia is one of the fundamental principles of classical physics that are used to describe the motion of objects and how they are affected by externally applied forces. Inertia comes from the Latin word, iners, meaning idle, sluggish. Inertia is one of the primary manifestations of mass, which is a quantitative property of physical systems. Isaac Newton defined inertia as his first law in his Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica, which states:[1]

      “The vis insita, or innate force of matter, is a power of
      resisting by which every body, as much as in it lies, endeavours to
      preserve its present state, whether it be of rest or of moving uniformly
      forward in a straight line.

      “In common usage the term “inertia” may refer to an object’s “amount
      of resistance to change in velocity” (which is quantified by its mass),
      or sometimes to its momentum,
      depending on the context. The term “inertia” is more properly
      understood as shorthand for “the principle of inertia” as described by
      Newton in his First Law of Motion;
      that an object not subject to any net external force moves at a
      constant velocity. Thus, an object will continue moving at its current velocity until some force causes its speed or direction to change.”

      Interestingly, Newton thinks in terms of change in velocity and change in motion. In other words, for Newton, a physical object that continues to move at 100 miles per hour in a straight line through space is NOT changing. It is continuing at the SAME velocity in the SAME direction, and thus no cause is required to explain this circumstance, other than the First Law of Motion.

      So, one question this raises is ‘What is change?’ The moving object just described is changing in the sense that its location is changing each moment. But its velocity and direction is NOT changing.

      I don’t think Aquinas put his argument in terms of something be ‘outside the material universe’ so Kreeft’s version of the argument may be importing foreign concepts into Aquinas’s argument. I

      In any case, your objection might be taking the word ‘outside’ too literally. But that raises an important question: What does it mean to be ‘outside’ the material universe? Obviously, being ‘outside’ of space is a metaphorical expression, just as being ‘outside’ of time is metaphorical. But, then, what is the literal meaning of this expression?

      Kreeft talks as if the material universe is just a collection of physical objects (“The universe is the sum total of all these moving things…”), but then it is not clear whether space and time are ‘inside’ the material universe or ‘outside’ it.

      Also, what about the laws of physics? Is Newton’s First Law of Motion ‘inside’ the material universe or ‘outside’ the material universe? How can we determine the status of an entity or force that is not a physical object?

      • David_Evans

        It’s true that a single object or particle moving with a constant velocity can be regarded as not changing, because we can always find a reference frame in which it is permanently at rest. But as soon as we have two or more particles with different velocities we have, in general, a changing system.

        I don’t think Aquinas uses the concept of a universe at all. He simply argues that the motion of any thing cannot be self-caused, but must be caused by some other thing, so that we have either an infinite regress of motion or an unmoved mover. Whether you regard the unmoved mover as outside the material world is another question.

        Even if we decide that Newton’s laws are outside the material universe, I don’t think Kreeft would regard them as an adequate synonym for God.

        • Bradley Bowen

          Here is Aquinas’s First Way of proving the existence of God:

          “The first and more manifest way is the argument from motion. It is certain, and evident to our senses, that in the world some things are in motion. Now whaterver is in motion is put in motion by another, for nothing can be in motion except it is in potentiality to that towards which it is in motion; whereas a thing moves inasmuch as it is in act. For motion is nothing else than the reduction of something from potentiality to actuality. But nothing can be reduced from potentiality to actuality, except by something in a state of actuality. Thus that which is actually hot, as fire, makes wood, which is potentially hot, to be actually hot, and thereby moves and changes it. Now it is not possible that the same thing should be at once in actuality and potentiality in the same respect, but only in different respects. For what is actually hot cannot simultaneously be potentially hot; but it is simultaneously potentially cold. It is therefore impossible that in the same respect and in the same way a thing should be both mover and moved, i.e., that it should move itself. Therefore, whatever is in motion must be put in motion by another. If that by which it is put in motion be itself put in motion, then this also must needs be put in motion by another, and that by another again. But this cannot go on to infinity, because then there would be no first mover, and, consequently, no other mover; seeing that subsequent movers move only inasmuch as they are put in motion by the first mover; as the staff moves only because it is put in motion by the hand. Therefore it is necessary to arrive at a first mover, put in motion by no other; and this everyone understands to be God.”

          Quoted from Summa of the Summa (p.65) by Peter Kreeft, a commentary on key passages of Summa Theologica by Thomas Aquinas (this passage is from Part I, Question 2, Article 3).

          • Pofarmer

            I realize that Aquinas is pre Newton, but it seems that this argument completely ignores Gravity, as well as the effects of chemical potential energy.

  • L.Long

    There is so much wrong with ALL those statements. In fact that is the basic wrongness…They are statements!! Where is the proof that any one of those is true??? I could restate each in the exact opposite and still be just as true as the originals are.

    • L.Long

      I just read #5 and then came back to #6 and reread this one.
      I now see that you were saying something similar to me but in detail.
      So for blog #5 & #6 the statements are in essence unsupported and thus mostly wrong as are the conclusions.

      • Bradley Bowen

        Some of the premises are supported:
        3. If there is nothing outside the material universe that can cause the material universe to change, then the material universe is not changing.
        4. But the material universe IS changing.
        Thus:
        5. There is something outside the material universe that can cause the material universe to change.
        If (3) and (4) are true, then (5) must be true, because this is a standard form of deductive argument:
        IF P THEN Q.
        NOT Q
        Thus:
        NOT P.
        Furthermore (4) is obviously true, and (3) is also supported:

        1. If there is nothing outside the material universe that can cause the material universe to change, then there is nothing outside the material universe that is causing the material universe to change.
        2. If there is nothing outside the material universe that is causing the material universe to change, then the material universe is not changing.
        Thus:
        3. If there is nothing outside the material universe that can cause the material universe to change, then the material universe is not changing.
        (1) is necessarity true (if we can determine what is meant by ‘outside the material universe’).
        So, the only premise that is subject to doubt here is premise (2).

        • Bradley Bowen

          Premise (1) is a necessary truth, assuming we can determine what is meant by ‘outside the material universe’. The word ‘outside’ is presumably metaphorical, because the universe is not literally a container with an inside and an outside.
          In any case, once we nail down what that expression means, it would create a category, a logical container, if you will. Some things (entities, forces, objects of thought) will fall into that category, and other things will not.
          So, (1) says, in general terms, that:
          If there is nothing in CATEGORY X that can cause the material universe to change, then there is nothing in CATEGORY X that is causing the universe to change.
          This is a logically necessary truth (once we spell out CATEGORY X), just like the following statement:
          If there is nothing in my pocket that CAN ring, then there is nothing in my pocket that IS ringing.
          This is a necessary truth because whatever IS doing X must of necessity CAN do X. If my cell phone IS ringing, then, necessarily, my cell phone CAN ring. And whatever CANNOT do X, of necessity IS not doing X. If the chewing gum in my pocket CANNOT ring, then it follows necessarily that the chewing gum in my pocket IS not ringing.

          • Bradley Bowen

            ‘CANNOT’ is ambiguous between ‘physically cannot’ and ‘logically cannot’. My examples (cell phone CAN ring, and chewing gum CANNOT ring) are examples of the concept of physical possibility and physical impossiblity (a cell phone physically CAN ring, chewing gum physically CANNOT ring).

            In the case of a deductive proof of the existence of God, the ‘CANNOT’ in an IF/THEN premise needs to be stronger than that. It needs to mean ‘logically cannot’. A triangle logically cannot have four sides. We cannot conceive of a four-sided triangle, and the claim that ‘This is a four-sided triangle’ makes an incoherent statement, a statement that contains a self-contradiction.
            If premise (1) was interpreted in terms of physical possibility/impossibility, then the proof would be invalid:

            “If there is nothing in CATEGORY X such that it is physically possible for it to cause the material universe to change, then there is nothing in CATEGORY X that is causing the universe to change.”

            The antecedent needs to be about logical possibility/impossibility:

            “If there is nothing in CATEGORY X that is such that it is logically possible for it to cause the material universe to change, then there is nothing in CATEGORY X that is causing the universe to change.”
            Hmmmm. What if no single entity in CATEGORY X is such that is it logically possible for it to cause the material universe to change, but the combined force or efforts of two entities in CATEGORY X are such that it is logically possible for that pair of entities to cause the material universe to change?
            In that circumsance it would be true that there is “nothing” (i.e. no one thing) that had the logical possibility of causing the material universe to change, but the universe could still be changing, because of the combined force or effort of the pair of entities.

  • Steven Carr

    Are there many branches of philosophy where there are logical, sound arguments for the existence of certain entities and yet there are sill professors of philosophy who refuse to believe such entities exist, despite knowing and often teaching these alleged ‘logical, solid’ arguments which refute their position?

  • UWIR

    (6A) The expression “something outside the material universe that can cause the material universe to change” and the word “God” both refer to the same being.

    If I understand this correctly, Bowen is saying that (6) says that “God” is defined as meaning “something outside the material universe that can cause the material universe to change”, while (6A) says that God empirically is “something outside the material universe that can cause the material universe to change”. But one can’t appeal to the empirical nature of God unless God actually exists. So implicit in (6A) is that God exists. Since one of the premises in the “proof” that God exists is that God exists, it is a circular argument.


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