Problems With "A Rational Approach to God’s Existence"


#1

Catholic Answers has parroted one of Fr. Spitzer’s bad arguments for God’s existence, and I would like to share my frustrations with it with the hope that you can clarify the matter for me and exonerate Spitzer’s argument.

First, if the cat is dependent on a finite number of conditions, there is going to be a most fundamental condition (a last or terminal condition) in the series of conditions that the cat depends upon for its existence.

Rather, conditions could be dependent on each other rather than proceed in a linear fashion. There is no reason to suppose that the cat’s particles cannot depend on conditions external to the cat, those conditions themselves being influenced by the cat, and that the system containing the cat exists as a unified, interdependent whole.

But this conditioned reality [namely, the cat’s quarks] could not have its conditions fulfilled, since it is the most fundamental condition (remember, hypothesis ~UR doesn’t allow for unconditioned realities).

We see the argument failing to consider the possibility I’ve pointed out. For example, if quarks depend for their existence on a sufficient amount of energy surrounding them, and the energy surrounding them in turn depends on the arrangement of surrounding objects, and these objects’ arrangement in turn depend on their quarks, we see that the system is interdependent. (Trying to give a simpler analogy here now, consider how a tied balloon requires surface tension provided by the air inside it to remain tied: The “conditioned reality” of the air inside the balloon requires the “conditioned reality” of the balloon knot’s surface tension, and this surface tension itself relies on the air inside the balloon. Hence the assumption that conditioned realities are always linearly dependent is false.)

Or, if my rebuttals here fail, then all Spitzer (Broussard?) has done is show that quarks exist as unconditioned realities, not that God exists.

The first thing we notice about unconditioned reality considered in and of itself is that it must be unrestricted being—pure being or pure existence itself.

No, we do not notice this. Quarks for example may be unconditioned realities and they are not “unrestricted being itself”.

Fr Spitzer (Karlo Broussard?) then continues to argue that even quarks must be ‘conditioned realities’, and hence the cat must be dependent on God, but claiming that the cat['s quarks] exist here on the floor and not there on the table clearly does not lead to God’s existence, especially when one conceives of an interdependent system such as our reality appears to be. (In other words, Spitzer here has a narrow-minded conception of reality, namely one that fails to consider interconnected conditions, instead assuming they must always be strictly linear.)

Hence this article’s disjunctions fail to prove the desired conclusion because their analysis fails to consider all of the possible options. Catholic Answers should remove that webpage (and stop promoting Spitzer’s bad book!) or else correct it into a sound argument.


#2

“Therefore, any reality X that is restricted in its mode of existence is going to be conditioned by some principle of selection outside itself.”

There is acknowledgement of interdependence here.

I think you’re focused too much on the quarks. He is not saying that quarks are unconditioned realities, as you’ve noticed.

It’s a fairly simple argument from logic. It’s focus isn’t really on physical properties. It’s on a first cause.


#3

My point is that the argument is too simple, such that it fails to address an obvious objection. Consequently the argument unsound because a premise is not clearly true, and is in fact apparently false.

What you quote addresses linear external dependence, not interdependence.


#4

Fr. Spitzer has written a book entitled New Proofs for the Existence of God which I suggest you pick up and read thoroughly, especially if you are going to be making sweeping judgments about the quality of his work. He literally discusses the exact objection you are raising on p. 117-118 according to my own copy of the book.

I’m not sure why you think this is such a devastating argument. In reality it seems to be a pretty classic example of begging the question. You are starting out by trying to explain the existence of quarks. So you propose that the quarks’ existence can be explained by A. And then you suppose A’s existence is explained by B. And then you propose that B’s existence is explained by quarks. However you cannot do this because the existence of quarks is still “up in the air.” You ended up needing to assume the existence of quarks in order to prove the existence of quarks.

If they are unconditioned realities, how could they not be “unrestricted being itself?” If they are not unrestricted being, then they do not possess being through nature and receive it from another. That’s precisely what it means to have “conditioned existence” as he claims. How do you understand the expression “unrestricted being itself?”

Just a bit of advice: you’ll probably come away from a discussion learning more if you don’t go in “guns blazing” especially since that tends to have the effect of putting people on the defensive and making everyone feel like they have to defend their turf. Might I suggest a better approach: “hey, I was reading this article by Fr. Spitzer and I don’t understand how X is true because Y. Can someone attempt to explain it to me?” Then a productive discussion can ensue.


#5

I read Spitzer’s no good very bad book years ago when Catholic Answers first promoted it. It was one of the worst books I’ve ever read, and I wrote a 14 page rebuttal to most of it. You’ve reminded me to publish it on Amazon in retaliation for my wasted time and my parents’ wasted money: My mother bought it after I asked her to from Catholic Answers’ recommendation, and after being sorely disappointed, was ignored by Fr Spitzer when I emailed him asking for our money back.

As I recall, he fails to address this concern by tripping over his own definitions regarding ‘condition’ and ‘conditioned reality’. It was a syntactical argument in which a reality had conditions, and then he confuses those conditions as if they were separate realities. Feel free to quote it and I may be able to tell you why he’s wrong to greater detail, if you’re interested.

I don’t want to bicker, but your thinking in the next paragraph is wrong, as evidenced by your need to use scare quotes for lack of a proper word: You’re thinking in terms of contingent realities, namely things being caused by prior things, which makes a straw man of my argument.

To answer your questions, a quark can simply exist as a quark. Sure, you can say it’s been ‘conditioned’ to exist on the floor instead of on the table, as I said in my OP, and this conditioning is irrelevant as far as explaining the cat is concerned. ‘unrestricted being itself’ can only be a definition for God, because otherwise it’s a meaningless phrase, or at least not a phrase that can be applied to anything we can identify. (A ‘being’ is something that exists, and to be ‘unrestricted’ would require that this object be everything that exists, because as Frank Sheed points out, if something else exists in that category then that thing is restricted insofar as it isn’t this other thing. To say ‘being itself’, one can only intend to define God, because otherwise ‘being’ is not a physical object that ‘itself’ can be considered, obviously. Hence without God, ‘unrestricted being itself’ is a nonsensical phrase.)

I’m a little sorry you don’t like my tone, but I don’t like Catholic Answers publishing bad content, especially after they harass me to give them money to continue doing so and pretend that they’re hurting with “urgent appeals” if they don’t get enough money to continue expanding their business.


#6

I think what he is trying to say is valid. The existence of quark which has positive energy depends on existence of gravitational filed which has negative energy and vice versa. Only in this manner we could have total energy of zero, in another word we could have things out of nothing. In simple word, things might be interdependent and applying a linear analyzes leads to a false conclusion.


#7

These definitions seem pretty clear and common-sensical to me. Are you saying that conditions so defined are not separate from the condtioned realities? If that’s the case, you seem to be arguing that everything is either unconditionally existing or is self-caused.


#8

I would think if my argument is wrong it has nothing to do with punctuation. Yes I am thinking in terms of contingent realities, Fr. Spitzer appears to be attempting to present Aquinas’ Second Way in terms palatable to modern readers. A contingent reality corresponds to what he calls a “conditioned reality.” I didn’t assume anywhere that the causality in question was of a temporal sort, and neither does Fr. Spitzer. He was arguing that here-and-now a cat can only exist if its cells exist, and the cells exist only if molecules exist, etc. Where is the “prior thing” in this analysis?

I don’t think anyone has questioned that quarks have a “quarkly” nature, they are questioning whether quarkly nature exists through itself. Are you arguing that existing is part of what it means to be a quark? And yes, this conditioning is necessary for explaining the cat unless you are questioning whether cats really have cells and quarks, in which case you are contradicting empirical findings.

I had a bit of trouble initially trying to parse what you are saying here, but I think this is sound. Why do you think something can be an unconditioned reality while not being unrestricted being itself? If it is unconditioned, it is not “a being” since it just has existence and does not receive it from another. That is how he defines “unconditioned reality” as quoted above.


#9

You’re going to have to give more details here, because I don’t think I can respond to this specific objection without knowing what you mean. I am not seeing how the fact that two separate realities whose energy sums to zero implies that things can come from nothing. If quarks depend on gravitational fields for their existence and gravitational fields depend on quarks for their existence, then neither one of them has existence as an essential property and cannot donate it to the other. From whence does their existence come then, since we know empirically that they do nevertheless exist?


#10

Are you saying that conditions so defined are not separate from the condtioned realities?

No, I’m saying he misuses those definitions. As I said, “he trips over his own definitions”, meaning he misapplies them in his analysis of the possibility of circular or interdependent conditions. (He instead mistakes interdependent conditions to be prior causes, as if they are conditioned realities rather than conditions.) He mistakes a condition for a conditioned reality, as I told you. I wish I knew why you’re misunderstanding what I’m writing, because I shouldn’t be spending an hour arguing and explaining.

The ultimate problem is, as you say, he’s trying actually to recapitulate the contingency argument, and consequently fails to acknowledge what a condition actually is as he tries to make it instead into a prior (efficient?) cause “giving existence to” other things, as you are thinking about. That’s why in his haste to deal with the objection of interdependent conditions he fails to properly deal with them: He is already looking at his finish line and is eager to arrive at it.

At any rate, this is all beside the point of Catholic Answers publishing this bad article, whose problems remain as indicated in my original post.

As a personal note to you, balto, it appears to me you’re not understanding me or STT because you are fixated on metaphysical models rather than looking at reality as it actually exists, i.e. looking at what we physically observe.

To put a point on it, the cat’s made up of quarks, and those quarks accumulated over a series of moments in time, while the cat gestated, when it eats food, etc. You don’t arrive at God by continually asking what caused those quarks to come into their cat configuration: You only arrive at the preceding moment in time. Trace it back far enough, and you end at agnosticism, because we don’t know that the universe had a beginning (the kalam argument begs the question) or that our physical theories are infallible.

To summarize, what we’re saying makes sense if you think of modern science, i.e. descriptions of what we actually observe, rather than try to fit everything into apparently obsolete models based on earlier more limited observations.


#11

Your problem is that you are trying to analyze conditional realities in linear way. You say, X depends on Y for its existence and Y depends on X for its existence therefore non could exist because the existence of one is subjected to other one. Conditional realities however could be intertwined granting possibility that they could exist together.

Particle has mass which means that it requires energy to create one. Two particle however absorb each other under gravitational force which means that they have negative potential energy. This means that you can have the possibility that two particles pup up into existence provide that total energy is zero. I have to mention that is Hawking theory for Big Bang.


#12

I believe it is Hawking who speculated (and he’s not likely the original physicist to suggest this, BTW), that it is possible that the entire sum of all energy (in whatever form it may take) is zero. What that means metaphysically I’ll leave to philosophers and theologians, but imagine if the Universe is simply an instability in a sort of “meta-vacuum”, in other words, it is one big vast particle-anti-particle pair and that the sum of the energy positive and negative energy is zero?


#13

I’ve provided the definitions he is using in my previous post to you, and the response is that he is “misusing” the definitions because he is assuming that a condition occurs prior in time to the conditioned reality. Where in the definitions quoted above does he assume any temporal sequence? Quoting it directly and explaining it would help. If you want to use Scholastic terminology, he appears to be discussing the cat’s material and formal causes, not its efficient cause which you correctly pointed out occurs prior in time.

On a related note, this is what a discussion is all about, you need to make your assumptions and considerations explicit so the other party knows what you are thinking. If it takes an hour or longer, so be it. If you would be more specific there would be no need to continually ask you to clarify what you mean. I’m not trying to be confrontational here, but not only do you and I need to know what the other is thinking, but everyone reading this thread needs to as well.

The thread is entitled “Problems With ‘A Rational Approach to God’s Existence’”, which is a metaphysical question. I don’t know what outdated models you think I am using, because cat’s being composed of cells, which are composed of molecules, which are composed of quarks, etc. is consistent with modern scientific knowledge. That cats exist only because more fundamentally cells exist is standard knowledge these days. He is trying to argue that this series cannot be actually infinite. There is no time dependency assumed here.

Since you mentioned the kalam cosmological argument, he devotes an entire chapter to an attempt to defend the kalam argument using insights from modern physics and mathematics. However his discussion of conditioned/unconditioned realities is part of his metaphysical proof for God’s existence in the preceding chapter. Perhaps you have mixed these two discussions in your mind?


#14

OK, thanks that helps somewhat. However I don’t think you have answered the objection. Let’s see if we can agree on our understanding of the terminology involved. If a reality is conditional, then it means that said reality does not “just exist on its own”, its existence is donated from something else. Is that acceptable?

If it is, do you agree that if you have a single conditional reality (no intertwined dependencies, using your terminology), then it depends on its existence for something else?

Then you seem to be saying that as long as you take two of these conditional realities, who ordinarily depend on another reality for their existence, and make them dependent on each other in someway, they suddenly are unconditionally existing? If we are supposing that both are conditional realities, then where is the existence entering into this system? It’s not coming essentially from either one of the members of the system since we supposed that they are conditioned and do not just have existence on their own.

Regarding Hawking’s theory for the Big Bang, I don’t know enough about quantum theory to be able to argue with what you are saying, so I will assume that it is true that energy can be expended from some kind of a field or some generic reality, since I don’t know what to call it. That seems consistent with what you wrote at a general level, if not please correct me. However I don’t see how this is an instance of particles being created from nothing. If total energy remains zero, then energy is flowing from the generic reality into the particle. That is not creation “from nothing.” Nothing is the absence of any reality. If the particle were being created from nothing, energy would not be coming from anywhere. I would be interested in your response so this idea can be explored more (your idea, not mine).


#15

Yes.

Yes.

Well, I am saying that two intertwined condition realities could unconditionally exist or come to existence. Minimally two intertwined conditional realities is required to resolve the problem of beginning. You can also have one conditional reality, universe, which depends on an unconditional reality, God, too. So we have two scenarios for beginning and I don’t have an argument in favor or against non of them. This means that we cannot have an argument in favor or against God too.

One condition reality depends on another condition reality and vise versa. They just complete each other.

You are correct. You basically have particle and force fields.

There is no need for the energy to flow from a generic reality. Total energy always remain constant, zero.


#16

Why not!?: A sort of “meta-vacuum” which at some “meta-moment” “meta-suffered” a sort of “meta-agitation” or, more “meta-precisely”, a “meta-instability”, giving rise to a “meta-physical” world. Yes! It has to be that way!


#17

OK it’s good to clear some of that up. But I am not understanding how this part makes sense. If the system of 2 cyclical conditional realities can exist unconditionally, then doesn’t that mean that the cyclical system itself is an unconditional reality that has two parts? And if that is the case doesn’t it not make any sense to call the system unconditional, since it depends on its two parts existing in order to exist itself?

But if A and B are both conditional realities, then it is really possible that they do not exist, based on the fact that they are conditional. If it is not possible that they do not exist, then they are unconditional realities I would think, so we must say it is possible that they do not exist. So if you are in a state of affairs where neither exists, you need to be able to transition to a state where both exist, and this would happen simultaneously because it is impossible for A or B to exist alone. How does this transition happen if neither one can exist independent of each other? They cannot be brought into existence by the other since the other has no existence yet.

I must be missing something then. If a particle (real particle?) can pop into existence and it has mass and energy, then in order for the total energy of the universe to remain at zero there needs to be a corresponding decrease of energy somewhere else. When you say a particle pops into existence, are you referring to a real particle or a virtual one (which evidently must not have mass and energy for this to make sense)?


#18

the response is that he is “misusing” the definitions

Yes, in his discussion, which you haven’t quoted.

because he is assuming that a condition occurs prior in time to the conditioned reality.

No, you’re not following me closely: I said I recalled that he confused a condition for a conditioned reality in his syntactical argument. I invited you to quote it if you wanted to know more, but instead you’ve only quoted his definitions, not his misuse of them.

The thread is entitled “Problems With ‘A Rational Approach to God’s Existence’”, which is a metaphysical question.

The thread is discussing a particular article published by Catholic Answers (hence the quotation marks), not the question of God’s existence per se. I don’t understand why you continue to slightly confuse the discussion, but you’ve taken the thread away from its focus by asking more specifically about Spitzer’s book, challenging the coexistence of quarks and gravitational fields, etc.

As for your questions about particle physics, I would recommend reading Modern Physics, an undergraduate textbook (cheaper, older version apparently sold here) and continuing the discussion elsewhere, as the topic of this thread is this particular unsound argument from Catholic Answers, not how mass is converted from energy or quarks’ relationship with gravitational fields. Please keep questions related to this article and my original post (OP).


#19

It could only be that way if the “meta-vacuum” is the one and only Quantum Vacuum™ available now at all meta-fine meta-retailers.


#20

It’s not my job to try to play a guessing game about what your objection is and then argue against it. If you have a specific problem with what he said, you have access to both the article and his book, which you claim to have read. Quote the relevant part that you think is a “misuse of his definitions” and then we can have a discussion. I cannot read your mind on this matter. Please provide the quotation that is giving you trouble and then we can discuss it in more detail. In your OP, you asked for someone to clarify Fr. Spitzer’s argument for you but have not given specifics about what the difficulty is, other than that you think that he has not considered the case of cyclical conditional dependencies, which he has.

Fair enough, this discussion has nothing to do with quantum physics so I am happy to discard it, however if you did not want it to be critically analyzed then you and @STT should not have cited it as an example that falsifies Spitzer’s argument for a finite series of conditional realities. If you want to cite it as an example, that is fine, but then all of the terms and definitions need to be made clear. That is not “challenging” anything. If all the terms remain ambiguous and can mean anything to anyone, there is no clarity that will be achieved, which is what you said you wanted. I will honor your request not to pursue this matter further however, it is your thread after all.

As I requested above, can you please quote the relevant part of the text that is giving you trouble, or if not at least tell me why a circular series of conditional realities can exist on its own. You earlier responded that my original rebuttal failed because I was assuming that the elements in the cycle needed to precede each other in time, and I responded by saying that I was not assuming temporal priority and that one need not assume that.


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