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


#21

I understand what you are saying but I already gave you the example of two particles with positive energy which could exist in presence of their negative gravitational energy.

Two particles are needed in the example I provided.

You at least need two particles so you could have negative gravitational field.


#22

Let’s set aside Fr Spitzer’s error-riddled book to focus on Catholic Answers’ article. If you really want my opinion of it, I will try to publish my 14-page refutation of Spitzer on Amazon at a later date (and charge some 14/400 of what he charged for his 400 pages).

I think demonstrating Catholic Answers’ argument to be unsound can be done more simply by disagreeing with a different premise and implicit assumption: “Cat” is not clearly a form that exists spiritually to be ‘dependent on’ or ‘conditioned by’ cells for its existence physically, nor are “cells” a form dependent on molecules for their existence, etc. Rather, the cat is a collection of cells, those cells are collections of molecules, etc. When we recognize that the word ‘cat’ is simply a euphemism or label for a particular collection of cells, etc., we see the basis for Aquinas’s metaphysics vanishes: It is nonsense to speak of molecules “giving their existence to” cells, and cells “giving their existence to the cat”, or equivalently, “cells depending on molecules for their existence”, because the cat is those cells; the cells are those molecules; the cat is those molecules. It doesn’t “depend” on them: It is them. Do you depend on yourself for your existence? No, you are yourself.

Moreover, the cat – or any other object – is conditioned only by things external to it. Hence if its mother eats well while pregnant, the cat will be born healthy; frail if she doesn’t. The cat’s location is conditioned by my attention and my water bottle.

So the entire article is really a misuse of words. It is an attempt to present the argument from contigency by redefining what ‘conditioning’ is and by failing to realize that we use words as labels for collections of things (e.g. cat = collection of cells; cells = collection of molecules), i.e. it implicitly makes the unjustified assumption that Aristotelian “form” exists.

Edit: Perhaps I should attribute these ‘forms’ to Aquinas or Plato, rather than Aristotle … but I hope you know what I mean.

(As an aside, a thought experiment even shows, I think, that “forms” do not exist: Suppose you have a rock that looks like a chair. Is it a rock or is it a chair? The fact that we can be confused shows that these forms only exist in our minds, not independent of them. (What actually exists are the atoms, made of calcium, etc.) Hence they were useful fictions, not observed realities, and are no longer needed now that we have modern science – and given our discovery of atoms and constituent molecules, you must justify such metaphysical models before you may use them instead of our physical models.)


#23

Fascinating. I can’t wait to read balto’s response.


#24

Why does that fascinate you? Please note that I am not contradicting the idea that we depend for our existence on God. Rather, I am repeating the theology of the body, “You don’t ‘have’ a body: You are your body.” In other words, the cat doesn’t “depend on the existence of its cells” like this article claims: Rather, the cat is its cells.

Hence Catholic Answers has published a bad article. I want to blame Karlo Broussard, who seems to me to do little but repeat Fr. Spitzer, but since it is only attributed to Catholic Answers I can only say that Karlo Broussard is a handsome, muscular man with a somewhat pleasant voice.


#25

Well, matter is fundamentally just a collection of quarks,; so are you therefore saying that the distinctive qualities that we experience in the universe are nothing more than an arbitrary and completely imaginary means of distinguishing between specific groups of quarks? If natures do not exist then how have we comprehended a qualitative distinction between things in the first place? Is it just how certain groups of quarks are shaped?

It seems clear to me at least that there are things in existence that have holistic natures which are qualitatively greater than their parts. In other words, while it is true that i am made of cells, my nature as a man is not the same nature as a cat. This is self evident and objective. When you describe a cat you are not describing a man even though they are both fundamentally made of quarks…

This Materialistic attempt to reduce organisms to their constituent parts and claim “that’s all it is” doesn’t make any sense. There is a unified whole that causes us to describe something greater than its constituent parts.


#26

Interesting, thank you for providing this, it helps tremendously. This gives me a better understanding of where you are coming from. At first I was going to definitively say that this is a rejection of Aristotelian essentialism, and I think some of the ways you expressed your thinking are anti-Aristotelian, however some of the other parts of your response, and your response to @1Lord1Faith actually seems to be something that is possibly consistent with Aristotelianism. However a discussion concerning essentialism I think is tangential to the topic at hand, so maybe you should start an independent thread on the topic? I think it would make an interesting discussion, so if you do decide to do that please tag me so it shows up in my email. Or we can discuss it in this thread with your permission.

However I do think you have a fair criticism of the terminology used. If I am understanding you properly, I think what you are getting at is that God is, properly speaking, the only source of actual existence and so it makes no sense to speak of something created giving or donating existence to another thing, except in a temporal sense. In other words, existence comes from the “top down” rather than “bottom up.” If so, then I actually do agree with what you said. I think I may have expressed myself carelessly in an earlier comment to @STT and given the impression that I think otherwise, so it is entirely appropriate to be critical of that.

But I don’t think it is Fr. Spitzer’s intention to say that actual existence is coming from the “bottom up” as it were. What I understand him to mean by saying that a cat is conditioned by its cells (I am ignoring the essentialist discussion for now simply because it is easier for people to think at the macro level), he does not mean that the cat receives actual existence from its cells, but rather that the idea of a cat includes the notion of “being composed of cells”, so if cells were not a coherent idea then neither would a cat be a coherent idea. And conversely, if cats actually exist then cells also actually exist. In other words, if X has a condition for its existence, then it means that X presupposes the potential reality of another thing. I think maybe he could have distinguished between potential and actual existence and it might have helped, but I am guessing that most people reading his book would not understand the nuance between the two.

Continued… (the character limit is annoying me)


#27

Additionally the only other ambiguity I can suggest in his argument is that by discussing this conditional sequence and then arriving at the notion of unconditional being itself, it perhaps gives the impression that unconditional being just happens to be at the bottom of this conditional chain and is “pushing existence through” the chain like some kind of pipeline. That is the wrong way to think about how God’s actualizing power works, and I don’t know if that was his intention (I am guessing not) but it may give that impression.

What I am confused about is why, in your opening post, you listed circular dependencies as examples of falsifying his argument. It seems that you on some level accept his notion of conditional realities because you seemed to be saying that a circular chain of conditional dependencies is a thing that can happen. Can you elaborate on your own understanding of these dependencies and/or correct me if that is wrong?


#28

the distinctive qualities that we experience in the universe are nothing more than an arbitrary and completely imaginary means of distinguishing between specific groups of quarks?

Not imaginary, because we use it. (An “imaginary means” of, say, transit to Beijing would be a Star Trek transporter, whereas we use airplanes.) I’m not sure what you mean by arbitrary, but what we see is determined by what is there to be seen.

If natures do not exist then how have we comprehended a qualitative distinction between things in the first place? Is it just how certain groups of quarks are shaped?

That does seem to be the answer: Form specifies function. This is a fundamental principle in anatomy, and why we can make bridges out of playing cards and pencils or bricks and clay. This observation also rebuts the argument for God that “DNA encodes information”: DNA transcription is apparently a highly advanced mechanistic pinball-type machine, i.e. the mechanism is entirely determined by the molecules’ shapes: There is no need to posit that information exists in immaterial form.

while it is true that i am made of cells, my nature as a man is not the same nature as a cat. This is self evident and objective.

Again, what do you mean by “nature”? It’s self-evident and objective that your quark collection is different from the cat’s, but instead you are assuming “natures” exist. It appears to me that you are speaking euphemistically to refer to the consequences of the particular configuration – as we said above, form specifies function. With this in mind, there’s no reason to conclude that the whole is greater than its parts, because there is no reason to think that a collection of quarks should by themselves “do nothing” more than a single quark in isolation: For example, a slab of wood just sits there. Change it into a circular shape and it rolls. Wrap it in metal braces and it won’t chip as easily. The physical configuration and composition of the quarks matters.

In other words, to claim that “the whole is greater than the sum of their parts”, you must first show that the sum of their parts by themselves cannot explain the observed phenomenon.


#29

I really liked Father Spitzer’s 3rd volume on Jesus becasuse it was so informative, but I personally would not look first to him in philosophical proofs for God. My reason is that he seems to intertwine scientific theories with his proofs, which I don’t particularly like because it’s a theory. What happens if the theory is wrong? So yes to the OP, I would start elsewhere for these topics.


#30

Following Catholic Answers’ argument, they’re saying a cat must be made of cells to exist, the cells must be made of molecules to exist, and the molecules must be made of atoms, made of quarks to exist. They then “drop the ball”, i.e. drop this line of reasoning to then try to argue from syntax that quarks must depend on something else to exist, and that these dependencies must be finite and must lead to God. They assume they must be finite and must lead to God because in both cases, as you have identified, they are thinking there must be a “first uncaused cause” being the ‘owner of existence that pipes it into the system’.

But there is no reason to think this. Returning to the line of reasoning at the point they dropped it, what must exist for the quark to be there? This is the key question. The answer appears to be, “The quark maintains its own existence (i.e. is not made of constituent elements): It is the fundamental building block of matter”, or, “The quark is maintained by surrounding energy fields,” and then those energy fields are themselves determined by the rest of the system. What is needed for the rest of the system to be there? It is not clear what is meant by this question, because we are now considering the entire system, and there is nothing else we can clearly point to: It may just exist as a brute fact, being conditioned by its previous state (i.e. the previous moment in time).

Hence it’s possible for “co-conditioning” (you are still thinking wrongly linearly, ‘existence given from A to B’ to say “circular”) to occur if the cat and rest of the system mutually influence each other moment by moment; or else, the quark is itself an “unconditioned reality” according to the argument’s terms because it is not “made of” any constituent elements.

[continued below – you’re right about the character limit]


#31

I think this has been stated already, and perhaps the only way for you to understand if you don’t by now is to stop thinking in terms of “Entity A grants the property of existence to entity B” and instead look at actually-observed reality, i.e. empirical science. But even with this “A gives existence to B” framework, it can be used if you understand that “universe at time T receives its existence from universe at time T-1”. The problem here is that many (including Tim Staples and Trent Horn) mistakenly think there must be a “first” moment for T to receive being from T-1. They arrive at a contradiction, thinking they’ve proved the kalam argument, because they introduced it themselves through the nonsense of trying to identify the ‘first’ moment of a series extending infinitely backwards. (I think we can conclude that God exists if the universe is temporally bounded, but I think we cannot know that it is temporally bounded, because our science is limited to observation, and our descriptions of our observations are frequently incomplete or mistaken. From what I’ve studied, Catholic Answers has been misrepresenting the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theorem for years.)

To comment in conclusion, then, it appears to me impossible to look at nature and reason certainly to the supernatural. By definition, the supernatural is beyond the natural. To know God requires personal experience, not logic, I think. Any logical argument for God’s existence, if true, rests on uncertain premises, because God is beyond us and beyond nature, whereas we cannot doubt our experiences.


#32

Even after all you have said here, the self evident fact remains that a tree has qualities that i as a man do not have, and yet we are both made of atoms. So on some level we have to admit that the whole is qualitatively greater than its parts. There is no escaping it.


#33

The atoms are different. There are more than 100 elements on the periodic
table. Both atomic arrangement and what those atoms actually are matter.
Even how they are connected matters. The analysis you provided is overly
simplistic, neglecting these facts.


#34

How the atoms are arranged is different and they evidently produce qualities that each distinct atom does not have, and yet as a whole the quality exists.


#35

I think the argument was multifaceted, and the first part of the argument was to get the listener to acknowledge that at least one so-called “unconditional reality” exists. At this point, asking whether it can just be a quark or something similar at this stage is entirely reasonable. I think what followed was an attempt to show that there can only be one unconditional reality and that this unconditional reality cannot exclude any reality from itself.

Be that as it may, I will try analyze the problem from what I believe is your point of view, however I need an answer to this question. You said that a quark could “maintain its own existence” but I’m not 100% clear on how you reasoned thus. Let’s set aside the question of co-conditioning between many fundamental realities for the moment. If we were to suppose that quarks have always existed through an infinite past (suppose we knew this for certain), would that suffice to show that quarks “maintain their own existence”? I would say, even if we knew that, we would still not have necessarily shown that quarks maintain their own existence.

I am thinking that we may possibly be in agreement with each other for the most part, but are using different terminologies that, at face-value, seem incompatible.

I sort of agree with this, but it depends on what is meant by “God” in this context. If God means something having to do with God-as-He-is-in-Himself, or even God as understood by Christianity say, then I agree that this argument does not get you there with any degree of certainty. If “God” means “unchangeable self-sufficient being itself”, then I think it can get you there, which is enough to refute atheism/agnosticism.


#36

Your question appears to be how we should regard quarks’ existence, if they are not made of constituent particles and last across time until something interacts with them to destroy them. I don’t see that there’s much to say: It could be that God “holds them in being” each moment through his metaphysical creative will, or it could be that their existence as the building blocks of matter is a ‘brute fact’ with no explanation, or it could be that their existence is due to other principles (such as surrounding electromagnetic and gravitational fields) again as a ‘brute fact’.

I am a little disappointed, overall. It appears Catholic Answers will not be held accountable for publishing bad content, and people will continue believing everything they say and giving them money for it.


#37

Again, one must show that the observed phenomenon cannot be due to the sum of the atoms themselves. It is not a sound argument to say, “One atom cannot do x, therefore a collection of them cannot do X.”

Frankly, I think you have no way to show that ‘natures’ exist. The closest we can get is to look at the same animal alive and dead, but even then, closer scrutiny reveals physical differences that appear to explain the observed differences (e.g. presence of bacteria, cessation of cellular activity and chemical reactions).

It appears to be a free choice to believe in this metaphysics of ‘natures’, but even then, a materialist could argue that it’s due rather to upbringing and genetics. Perhaps the more men know the easier it is to become agnostic, and hence we are told to pray for the gift of faith.


#38

Its bad content to present brute facts as a plausible option. If you had any respect for reason, you would understand that. Nobody believes in just-so stories until the question of God arises. I find that interesting. Materialism as a philosophy is the attempt to present existence without God or non-physical causes. Its greatest defect is the fact that it unavoidably leads to brute facts; things that have no rational explanation for their existence. In other-words they do not exist because of what they are (their nature), they just exist. This is bad philosophy (more like anti-philosophy), and the only reason it continues is because its the only option if you don’t want to be a Theist .


#39

I never said that the atoms have no causal influence over what the whole actually is. However it seems evident to me that atoms produce new holistic qualities that did not exist before. I observe qualitative differences in things not just quantitative differences, and it is these differences that i call natures.

Are you arguing that atomic arrangements do not produce new qualities of which they are a part?

If they didn’t, i find it very hard to understand how anything we observe would be realised.


#40

There we go, see I knew we could get here. :+1: This is what we’ve been trying to get you to realize this whole time, that it is either God or a brute fact. It may not seem like much to say, but it really determines everything else. BTW, “holds them in being” is the kind of conditioning that we are talking about when we use that terminology, hence no time dependency.

Incidentally, if God is the ultimate explanation by “holding everything in being through His metaphysical creative will”, do you believe that is just yet another brute fact or something that grounds all explanations? Obviously I would argue for the latter. This seems to be where our atheist friends get hung up; they think that God would be just yet another thing that would just have to be there without any reason, so if we’re going to end up with a brute fact anyway we may as well adhere to the principle of parsimony and just give that status to the universe/multiverse/whatever and call it a day, since we have more direct confirmation of its existence than we do for God.


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