The Unmoved Mover Argument – Part 1: Kreeft’s Version

The Unmoved Mover Argument – Part 1: Kreeft’s Version July 20, 2020

FESER’S ARISTOTELIAN PROOF & AQUINAS’S UNMOVED-MOVER PROOF

I plan to analyze and evaluate Ed Feser’s Aristotelian “proof” of the existence of God, from his book Five Proofs of the Existence of God.  According to Feser, the proofs that he presents in that book are “the most powerful arguments for God’s existence on offer”.

But before I take on Feser’s Aristotelian proof,  I want to warm up a bit, by taking a look at the version of that argument presented by Thomas Aquinas.   Aquinas presented an “Unmoved Mover” argument as the first of his “Five Ways” of proving the existence of God.

There are two phases to Feser’s Aristotelian proof.  The first phase is supposed to establish the existence of an odd sort of metaphysical being:

14. So, there is a purely actual actualizer.

(Five Proofs of the Existence of God (p. 36). Ignatius Press. Kindle Edition.)

A “purely actual actualizer” is something that has no potential to change, but that can cause something else to change.  So, a purely actual actualizer is an UNCHANGING CHANGER.  Motion is one type of change, so an UNMOVED MOVER is something that is unchanging in motion, but that causes something else to change from not being in motion to being in motion.

The first of Aquinas’s Five Ways is also supposed to establish the existence of this odd sort of metaphysical being:

Therefore it is necessary to arrive at a first mover, put in motion by no other;

(Summa Theologiae, Part I, Question 2, Article 3)

But before I tackle Aquinas’s first proof of the existence of God,  I want to warm up a bit by examining a presentation of this first proof by a well-known Christian Apologist:  Peter Kreeft.

I have already analyzed and evaluated his version of the unmoved-mover argument or the unchanged-changer argument (found in his Handbook of Christian Apologetics, hereafter HCA).  So, I will just refresh my memory (and yours) by re-posting (here) excerpts from my previous discussion of Kreef’s versions of this “proof” of the existence of God (for more details see these posts: Kreeft’s Case for God – Part 9Kreeft’s Case for God – Part 10Kreeft’s Case for God – Part 11Kreeft’s Case for God – Part 12).

Actually,  some of my critique below is fresh, not cut and pasted from previous posts.

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ANALYSIS OF THE KREEFT’S UNCHANGING-CHANGER PROOF

Kreeft presents Argument #1 (The Argument from Change) twice.  The second presentation appears to be a summary.  It is a bit shorter than the first statement of the argument, and he begins the first sentence of this second presentation with the word “Briefly…”.  In any case, the second statement of the argument seems more clear and straightforward to me, so I will focus on the second statement of Argument #1, and draw upon the first statement only as necessary to clarify or evaluate the argument presented in his second statement of the argument.

Here is Kreeft’s second statement of Argument #1 (The Unchanging-Changer Argument):

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.  (HCA, p. 50-51)

Kreeft is not very good at being clear or at being logical, so it takes a good deal of effort to try to re-construct his reasoning into a logical argument.  In re-constructing his reasoning, I found that several UNSTATED ASSUMPTIONS or PREMISES were needed to make his argument logical.  In the argument diagram below, each of the numbers corresponds to an explicit premise, and each of the letters corresponds to an UNSTATED ASSUMPTION:

 

THE CONCLUSION OF ARGUMENT #1 (Kreeft’s Unchanging-Changer Proof)

Here is the explicitly stated conclusion of Argument #1: “…this being outside the universe…is the unchanging Source of change.” (HCA, p.51).  I have re-stated this claim to clarify it a bit:

8a. There is exactly ONE being outside the material universe and that being is the unchanging Source of change.

One of the first things I look at when analyzing an argument is the conclusion of the argument.  Argument #1 is presumably one of the very best and strongest arguments for God, in the view of Peter Kreeft.  But there is an OBVIOUS and SERIOUS problem with Argument #1: The conclusion does not mention God!

In fact, the word “God” does not appear in anywhere in this argument.  How can Argument #1 be a strong and clear argument for the existence of God, if it never once mentions God?  In order for an argument to be a clear and strong argument for the existence of God, the conclusion of the argument should be that “God exists” or “There is a God”.   Argument #1 fails to satisfy this basic and obvious requirement.

We can fix this obviously defective argument by adding yet another  premise to fill in the logical gap:

(F) IF there is exactly ONE being outside the material universe and that being is the unchanging Source of  change, THEN God exists. 

But this additional premise is highly questionable and, as is seen in Edward Feser’s version of the Argument from Change (in Chapter 1 of Five Proofs of the Existence of God), a fairly long and complex argument needs to be presented in order to support this questionable premise.

In Feser’s presentation of the Argument from Change, MOST of that argument (over 70% of it) is given in support of this one premise (or one very similar to it).  Feser’s presentation of the Argument from Change is a fairly accurate representation of the reasoning of Aquinas; it is also the case that MOST of Aquinas’s case for God is focused on establishing this premise (or one very similar to it).

So, Kreeft left out what appears to be the single most important premise in the Argument from Change.  Kreeft is attempting to save us from an eternity of misery in hell and he is presenting what he thinks is one of his very best and strongest arguments for the most basic belief of the Christian faith, and yet somehow he cannot manage to clearly state the conclusion that “God exists” nor does he manage to explicitly state or provide support for what appears to be the single most important premise of this argument.

 

THE CORE ARGUMENT IN KREEFT’S UNCHANGING-CHANGER PROOF

Here is what appears to be the core argument in Kreeft’s Unchanging-Changer proof:

3a. There is something outside the material universe that causes the material universe to change.

D. Something is outside the material universe IF AND ONLY IF it is outside matter, space and time.

THEREFORE:

6a. There is exactly ONE being outside the material universe that causes the material universe to change, and that being is outside matter, space and time.

E. Any being that is outside time is NOT a changing thing.

THEREFORE:

7a.  There is exactly ONE being outside the material universe that causes the material universe to change, and that being is NOT a changing thing.

THEREFORE:

8a. There is exactly ONE being outside the material universe and that being is the unchanging Source of change.

F. IF there is exactly ONE being outside the material universe and that being is the unchanging Source of  change, THEN God exists. 

THEREFORE:

G. God exists.

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EVALUATION OF KREEFT’S UNCHANGING-CHANGER PROOF

OBJECTION 1: Premise (F) is highly dubious, and yet Kreeft provides no reason whatsoever to believe that (F) is true (unlike Aquinas and unlike Feser).

OBJECTION 2: There is good reason to believe that the antecedent in (F) is implies that God does NOT exist.  God is the person who created the universe, if God exists.  But a person cannot be an “unchanging” being, so the existence of an “unchanging” being does NOT imply the existence of God.  In fact, if the phrase “the unchanging Source of change” is taken to be a reference to the CREATOR of the universe, then the antecedent of (F), i.e. “there is exactly ONE being outside the material universe and that being is the unchanging Source of  change”,  implies that the CREATOR of the universe is unchanging and thus not a person.  But if the CREATOR is not a person, then it follows that God does not exist.  So, to assert that “there is exactly ONE being…that…is the unchanging Source of change” appears to imply that God does not exist, at least if we assume “the ONE being…that…is the unchanging Source of change” to be the CREATOR of the universe.

Someone who believes in God must either reject (8a) as FALSE, or else reject the view that “the ONE being…that…is the unchanging Source of change” is the CREATOR of the universe.  Either way, the argument from (8a) and (F) to (G) is UNSOUND.

OBJECTION 3: The inference from (7a) to (8a) is also dubious.  If we assume, for the sake of argument, that there is just ONE being outside the material universe that causes changes TO the universe, it is still not clear that this ONE being causes ALL changes IN the universe.  What is a change TO the universe?  If I wiggle my finger, that is a change IN the universe.  Is that also a change TO the universe?

If not, then I am the cause of a change IN the universe that is not a change TO the universe.  A believer could respond that “I” am a contingent and finite being, and that my existence is caused by something other than myself.  Let’s grant that point for the sake of argument; nevertheless, whatever caused me to exist, or whatever is causing me to exist right now is NOT causing me to wiggle my finger, at least not if I am doing so by my own FREE WILL.

According to most Christian philosophers, I can exercise FREE WILL only if my choices and actions are not all causally determined by other things or beings.  So, if I can exercise FREE WILL and choose to wiggle my finger without being caused to do so by something or someone else, then I can be the ultimate source of that change IN the universe (without being a source of change TO the universe?).  But in this case, there are changes IN the universe that are NOT caused by something that is outside of the universe.

On the other hand, if ANY change IN the universe (including the wiggling of my finger) is also a change TO the universe, then if there is a being outside the universe that causes some changes TO the universe, it does NOT cause ALL changes TO the universe, because I (who am inside the universe) cause some of the changes IN the universe, which are also changes TO the universe.

Either way, there is no possibility of there existing a being that is “the Source” of ALL changes.  Therefore, premise (8a) cannot be validly inferred from premise (7a).  That inference is INVALID.  Even if there is a being outside the universe that causes SOME changes TO the universe, it does NOT FOLLOW that this being is “the Source” of ALL changes IN the universe.

Therefore, premise (8a) is dubious, since it is supported only by an INVALID argument.

I am inclined to accept the argument of (6a) and (E) for (7a) as a VALID argument.  And I accept (E) a a true claim.  So, the only potential problem with this argument is with premise (6a). Is this premise true?

Kreeft gives the following argument in support of (6a):

3a. There is something outside the material universe that causes the material universe to change.

D. Something is outside the material universe IF AND ONLY IF it is outside matter, space and time.

THEREFORE:

6a. There is exactly ONE being outside the material universe that causes the material universe to change, and that being is outside matter, space and time.

OBJECTION 4: This argument for (6a) is INVALID, because premise (3a) refers to “something” being outside the material universe, which could be one being, two beings, sixty-seven beings, or five hundred thirty-two trillion beings.  Therefore, one cannot infer that there is “exactly ONE being” outside the material universe from premise (3a).

[NOTE: I think Feser argues that there can be only ONE being outside of matter, space, and time, so he could try to use (D) as part of an argument for there being only ONE being that fits the description in premise (3a).]

I accept premise (D), because I take it to be a stipulative definition of the unclear phrase “outside the material universe”.   Other definitions might be better, but Kreeft is free to define this key phrase however he wishes. Kreeft did not provide this definition, but I infer that this is what he means by the phrase “outside the material universe” based on the inferences that he draws from premise (3a).

This argument is INVALID and thus UNSOUND because (6a) does not follow from the premises, but there may be a second reason why this argument is UNSOUND: premise (3a) is dubious.  It might be FALSE.

Kreeft provides an argument in support of (3a):

2. But the material universe does change.

B. IF there is nothing outside the material universe that causes the universe to change, THEN the material universe does not change.

THEREFORE:

C. It is NOT the case that there is nothing outside the material universe that causes the material universe to change.

THEREFORE:

3a. There is something outside the material universe that causes the material universe to change.

Premise (3a) appears to be a logically VALID inference from premise (C), so the question at issue becomes: Is premise (C) true?  Kreeft provides an argument for (C), so we need to evaluate that argument.  Obviously, the universe does change, so premise (2) is true. (C) is a logically VALID inference from (2) combined with (B), so in order to evaluate the argument for (3a), the question at issue becomes: Is premise (B) true?  Kreeft provides an argument for (B), so we need to evaluate that argument:

1. IF there is nothing outside the material universe, THEN there is nothing that can cause the material universe to change.

A. IF there is nothing that can cause the material universe to change, THEN the material universe does not change.

THEREFORE:

B. IF there is nothing outside the material universe, THEN the material universe does not change.

The inference to premise (B) from (1) and (A) is a logically VALID inference, so the SOUNDNESS of this argument for (B) depends on whether premises (1) and (A) are both true.  If both (1) and (A) are true, then this is a SOUND argument, but if either one of those premises is FALSE, then this argument is UNSOUND.

OBJECTION 5: Premise (A) appears to be FALSE.  Premise (A) assumes that “The material universe changes ONLY IF some thing exists that causes the material universe to change”, which in turn assumes that “Some thing X changes ONLY IF some thing causes X to change”.  But there are things that change without there being something causing them to change.

For example, an object in motion tends to stay in motion, unless acted upon by some other object. So, if a comet moves from point A to point B, that is a change, but NOTHING is required to explain that change, because if the comet was already in motion, then it will continue to stay in motion, unless something acts upon it.  So, we don’t infer the existence of some unseen entity pushing the comet along from point A to point B.  All we need to know is that it was already headed in that direction with that speed and with the mass it had.  If the comet changes course, or slows down and stops, then we would need an explanation for why it did NOT go from point A to point B (as we had expected it to).

Not only does the motion of a comet NOT require that we infer the existence of some invisible object that is pushing it along, and thus we have an example of a change that is NOT caused by some existing object causing the change, but this is also an example of a change to the universe.  The movement of a comet is a change to the structure of the universe.  One piece of the universe is now located at point B, when it has previously been located at point A.  So, this is also an example of a change to the universe that is NOT caused by something causing that change to occur.

But what caused the comet to start moving in the first place?  Well, the comet might have ALWAYS been moving.  We cannot simply assume that the comet was stationary for a period of time, and then it began to move.  Aquinas, unlike Aristotle, believed that logic and philosophical arguments could NOT rule out the possibility that the universe has ALWAYS existed.  If Aquinas is correct, then the statement “Nothing caused the comet to start moving” is logically compatible with the statement “The comet moved from point A to point B”.  In that case, premise (A) is FALSE.

OBJECTION 6: Premise (1) appears to be FALSE.  I can cause my finger to wiggle by exertion of my FREE WILL.  In order for the wiggling of my finger to be the result of my FREE WILL, it cannot be caused by some other thing or being.  If some other thing or being caused my finger to wiggle, then my choice would not be the cause of that event.  Now there are intermediate events between my choice and my finger wiggle.  Nerves have to fire and muscles have to respond to signals from nerves.  But the ultimate cause, the first cause, has to be me and my choice to wiggle my finger.

The wiggling of my finger is a change IN the universe.  Perhaps someone would argue that this is NOT a change TO the universe.  But suppose that the US government is working on a project to be able to fire nuclear missiles at an oncoming asteroid in order to deflect the path of an asteroid to prevent it from smashing into the Earth and killing all human beings.  Suppose that I gain access to the secret lab where the aiming and firing of these missiles takes place.  Suppose I learn how to operate the equipment to aim the nuclear missiles at an asteroid, and suppose that these missiles are fired off by pulling a specific trigger with my finger.

So, I see an asteroid headed towards the Earth, and I go to the secret lab. I set up the aiming of the missiles, and then I pull the trigger.  Suppose the missiles launch and hit their target, and deflect the asteroid.  Now we have an asteroid that was headed from point A to point B (the Earth), but because I wiggled my finger at the right time and place, the course of the asteroid was changed and it did NOT end up at point B (the Earth), but instead headed out of our solar system.  This is a change TO the universe.  The path of an asteroid was going to be from point A to point B, but now it is headed off in a different direction towards a different destination.

This is an example of a change IN the universe that a human being brought about by wiggling his finger at a particular time and place, to intentionally cause the deflection of an asteroid away from the Earth, which was a change TO the universe.  Since the ultimate or first cause of this change was the FREE WILL of a human being, this change TO the universe was NOT caused by something that is “outside of the material universe”.

OBJECTION 7:  Based on Objections 5 and 6, we can see that the argument for (3a) is UNSOUND.  So, premise (3a) remains unproven and questionable.

OBJECTION 8:  God is a person, and as the Christian philosopher Richard Swinburne argues, something can be a person only if it can undergo change.  So, because (3a) talks about something that is “outside the material universe” which MEANS something that is outside of time, space and matter, this something must be UNCHANGING.  Thus, whatever it is that premise (3a) is talking about is something that is NOT a person.  Since God is a person, and premise (3a) is talking about something that is NOT a person, it is clear that premise (3a) is irrelevant to the question of whether God exists.  Even if (3a) turns out to be true, it won’t help to answer the question “Does God exist?”.

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NOTE:  I made some revisions to the wording of some of the premises in Kreeft’s argument, relative to the wording used in my previous posts.  I added the phrase “that causes the material universe to change” to (3a), (6a), and (7a).  I realized that that phrase was needed in order to make the inference from (7a) to (8a) more reasonable.

I changed premise (D) into an IF AND ONLY IF statement, to make it more clearly a stipulative definition.


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