Mm. Haven’t had this much hostility in awhile. I guess let me start by saying that I’m not trying to object to theism. I’m floating a problem raised by a very important philosopher. If anything, I’d love to see the arguments for God STRENGTHENED. I’ve been looking for a long time for one that I can accept. Proofs for God is what got me interested in philosophy in the first place. I’ve never once on the CA Forums tried to persuade anyone against God, or that their conception of God is wrong or unfounded. I would never try to make that argument to anyone. But what I will do is say when I see problems with an argument that’s put forward.
So I wandered around on Feser’s blog (plenty of bile there too, I swear, I didn’t mean to touch a nerve) and I think the best quote I found to show why everyone has an objection to Russell’s passage is this: “For none of them maintain in the first place that absolutely everything has a cause; what they say instead is that the actualization of a potential requires a cause, or that what comes into existence requires a cause, or that contingent things require a cause, or the like. Nor do they fail to offer principled reasons for saying that God does not require a cause even though other things do. For they say, for example, that the reason other things require a cause is that they have potentials that need actualization, whereas God, being pure actuality, has no potentials that could be actualized”
I put the last part in bold because I want to address that first. I purposely cut out the part from Russell where he talks about asking ‘who made God?’ because I wanted to try and avoid calling that into question. Russell’s objection presupposes that SOMETHING can be eternal and uncreated (“There is no reason to suppose that the world had a beginning at all”) so what I take from him is not that God NEEDS to have a cause if everything has a cause. I take from him that if something needs to be uncaused, why not the world?
This is the part that Feser says the First Cause Arguments ACTUALLY says. (As well as what I was trying to get at in the first place. I should have been more clear) There needs to be an argument why the world (the universe) can’t satisfy those criteria - for instance, why the world can’t be necessary.
Or, from Peter Kreeft: “Why must there be a first cause? Because if there isn’t, then the whole universe is unexplained, and we have violated our Principle of Sufficient Reason for everything. If there is no first cause, each particular thing in the universe is explained in the short run, or proximately, by some other thing, but nothing is explained in the long run, or ultimately, and the universe as a whole is not explained. Everyone and everything says in turn, “Don’t look to me for the final explanation. I’m just an instrument. Something else caused me.” If that’s all there is, then we have an endless passing of the buck. God is the one who says, “The buck stops here.””
But then why can’t Russell respond with “The idea that things must have a beginning is really due to the poverty of our imagination.” Why CAN’T the universe explain itself? Why can’t the buck stop with the universe? The answer I can give is “because of science”, but, when we’re talking about a subject like this I think that is an unsatisfying answer. We can also talk about act and potentiality, or form and matter but I think Aristotle’s ontology has its own questions to deal with.
I’ll close this post by saying that these problems can definitely be answered. Plenty of clever philosophers have said they address these worries. And clearly, for a lot of people, they do address these worries. I’ll say, for my own experience, the answers I’ve found aren’t very satisfying - they rely on ontologies that I find unnecessary. (I’ve read and wrote on Aristotle more than any other philosopher - I’m not expert but I think I have a firm grasp of the basics) But if they work for you, I say go for it. There’s no need to be rude about it.