"This Rock" on contingency

I read the article on the argument from contingency in the December This Rock magazine. To my eyes, he just keep saying “the world is contingent” without giving evidence that it isn’t necessary, having its own enduring strength. It was strange because they have a picture of William Craig, who argues against an eternal universe, and yet the article supports Aquinas’s position that an eternal universe is possible. My question is, what is the cosmological argument to them then? Isn’t it just the contingency argument: that the world needs an eternal creator because it is contingent? So far on this forum a lot of people have tried to formulate an argument from physics, but it is never clear what they are getting at, and I have doubts that they know what the argument is either. Therefore, I was wondering if someone on this thread could make the clear distinction between the two arguments, while assuming that the world is eternal. If I assume that the world is necessary, does the cosmological argument still work?

I’m always puzzled by the term " cosmological argument. " I guess that is the argument Craig uses. But it is a poor argument because it cannot be demonstrated philosophically that the universe is finite. And to say that because the universe is contingent it must have a beginning in time is just false. Contingency does demand creation, but not a creation in time.

Craig dislikes Thomas’ Five Ways and his argument from the nature of Existence and Essence, all of which are argued on the assumption that the universe is eternal. And even though Thomas assumes the universe is eternal, he proves that it still must be created. But in this case the creation is one of origin or dependency, it is not one in time.

See my thread, " The First Way Explained " somewhere four or five pages from the end. Also see lectures by Dr. William A. Carroll.


In simple sentence or two, what is the proof that there is a God if there is an eternal universe. Look at a piece of matter. It could have been created by change, and randomly so. But the matter itself, the elements, if they always were, why not say they are necessary, applying to them the thought you give to a thing without parts…

I believe that universe has to be finite…

I am also wondering what Aquinas was getting at here: “Now in efficient causes it is not possible to go on to infinity, because in all efficient causes following in order, the **first **is the **cause **of the intermediate cause, and the intermediate is the cause of the ultimate cause, whether the intermediate cause. be several, or one only.”

I don’t know how many times I have to say it but Thomqas did not think the case either way could be proven with reason. The truth could only be known by revelation. And he accepted the teaching of the Church on the matter.

But his arguments on the existence of God, creation, etc. were directed to non-believers who generally believed in an eternal universe. So all these arguments assumed an eternal universe. So they show that creation by God is necessary even for an eternal universe.


Why don’t you read Thomas and tell us :D.


Let’s try this a different way. This might help to understand what St. Thomas was getting at.

Suppose God had not created a material universe at all. He didn’t have to, of course. Suppose He stopped, so to speak, after creating the angels. (And anyway, it makes no difference if he had or not, because the material world does not affect the creation of the angels one way or the other. They affect us a whole lot, but we don’t really influence them very much.)

The angels are completely independent of matter. They don’t experience space and time as we do. Therefore, they don’t exactly have a temporal beginning.

So what makes them creatures? What makes them distinct from their Creator? It can’t be matter, because they don’t have any; they are pure spirits. It can’t be temporality, because they don’t exist in time.

The answer, says Aquinas, is that they receive their being (their existence, if you will, though for Thomas “being” is a much richer term than existence) from God. God does not receive his being from anyone; He is the only one whom we can call Being Itself. But His creatures receive their being from Him. Evidently, they receive that being only in part (if they got it all, to the degree that it makes sense, they would be identical with God, hence not creatures).

So, at the end of the day, to prove the existence of God it is sufficient to show that all of the creatures that we come in contact with are limited in some way. That means that they have received their being from the one who is Being Itself.

The world, Aquinas would argue, could be temporally finite or infinite, but in any case it is limited and only has being in part. It must, therefore, have received that being from the Being Itself (and the utter fullness of being, Being Itself, must be unique).

(That is more or less the gist of the Fourth Way, which I consider Thomas’ strongest argument by far.)

I didn’t deny that you believed in revelation, but I believe we live in a NOTICEABLY temporally finite world.

The purpose of this thread is to determine if there is a difference between the First and Third Way. So far the difference hasn’t been demonstrated

What’s the difference between eternal potency and contingency? I am also wondering about the strength of the Third way. How do we know that the idea of necessity subconsciously doesn’t come from matter and then enters the consciousness and connects in the imagination with the concept of simplicity?

“The being whose substance has an admixture of potency is liable not to be by as much as it has potency; for that which can be, can not-be. But, God, being everlasting, in His substance cannot not-be. In God, therefore, there is no potency to being.” Summa Contra Gentiles

The O.P. does not mention the First and Second way at all, it mentions only the " Cosmological " argument and you never defined what you meant by that term. It is not a term Thomas used, it is a term others have projected onto the first three ways, which I think Thomas would reject as inaccurate.


I think these statements need more explanation. It is a Dogmatic teaching that God created the entire universe, both the material and the spiritual, in time, out of nothing. Clearly then Angels had a beginning in time, so they must be creatures of time just as we are. Though I am sure they experience it differently than we do.

Thomas, in S.T., part 1, ques 61, art 2.

" On the contrary, It is said (Prov. 8:22), in the person of begotten Wisdom: “The Lord possessed me in the beginning of His ways, before He made anything from the beginning.” But, as was shown above (Article [1]), the angels were made by God. Therefore at one time the angels were not.

I answer that, God alone, Father, Son and Holy Ghost, is from eternity. Catholic Faith holds this without doubt; and everything to the contrary must be rejected as heretical. For God so produced creatures that He made them “from nothing”; that is, after they had not been.

Reply to Objection 1: …ommitted because it is not important to the question of time for Angels…]

Reply to Objection 2: An angel is above that time which is the measure of the movement of the heavens; because he is above every movement of a corporeal nature. Nevertheless he is not above time which is the measure of the succession of his existence after his non-existence, and which is also the measure of the succession which is in his operations. Hence Augustine says (Gen. ad lit. viii, 20,21) that “God moves the spiritual creature according to time.”

Reply to Objection 3: Angels and intelligent souls are incorruptible by the very fact of their having a nature whereby they are capable of truth. But they did not possess this nature from eternity; it was bestowed upon them when God Himself willed it. Consequently it does not follow that the angels existed from eternity. "

Your comments seem to be in opposition to what the Church and Thomas are saying. Would you mind clarifying?


I don’t mean to side-track everything but I’m curious what would lead someone to think that the world is necessary. It seems to me that if you’re a theist or not, the creation of the world is contingent on something - either divine fiat or the convoluted processes described in a naturalist point of view.

Agreed. The angels have a kind of time, because they experience succession, a “before” and “after.” However, unlike ours it is not continuous.

Time (according to Aristotle, and I think he is right on) the measure of change, so to the degree that anything (including angels) experiences changes, it experiences time. Angels, however, do not have any dependence on matter whatsoever, so they do not experience what we would call time: that more or less continuous flow that we are familiar with.

And I think the first thing we have to say is that they had a beginning in time, just like the rest of God’s creation.


Don’t get Heideggerian on me, now :).

Seriously, though, OK. I guess what I was trying to emphasize is that there isn’t a cosmic clock out there that measures time independently of the of the events that take place in creation.

So, for example, the question, “In what year was the angel Gabriel created?” is meaningless, because there is no correspondence between the creation of a purely spiritual creature and the material time that we experience. As far as we are concerned, the archangel Gabriel has existed for as long as the physical universe has existed. If the physical universe were “eternal” (extended indefinitely into the past) Gabriel would be (from our perspective) “eternal,” too, but not less a creature.

(This is my speculation, of course. I don’t think Aquinas ever addresses this particular question, but I believe that it is consistent with what he affirms about time.)

Gabriel experiences a kind of time (that is nothing like our time) inasmuch as he went from not existing to existing, and then based on whatever acts of the intellect and will he has accomplished. But there is no relationship between Gabriel’s intrinsic actions and our physical reality, except insofar as Gabriel interacts directly with our reality (e.g., in the Annunciation).

We are spiritual creatures too, of course, but we are by nature embodied, so that we exist truly and properly in time. (And even in the Resurrection we will experience a kind of time—undoubtedly different from what we experience now—because we will continue to be embodied.)

The point is not how Angels experience time, that of course is something that we can only speculate about, just as Thomas did. But irrespective of how they experience time, they must have had an absolute beginning in time just like the rest of God’s creation. Otherwise the Church’s Dogma about creation is either wrong or we misunderstand what it is saying. And we must remember that they were created as a part of the temporal universe, not as citizens of heaven.

So aside from the fact that they must have had a beginning in time, as members of a temporal universe wouldn’t they be able to " experience " time vicariously through their observation of and their governance of material universe?

But the main point for me is that we cannot, nor should we attempt to nuance, the fact that Angels were created in time. :slight_smile:

Got to run for supplies before the next cold front hits!


No, please don’t get frozen (or let your pipes freeze) just for philosophy’s sake.

I guess my concern is not to reverse the cause and the effect. Both angels and other creatures experience various kinds of changes (each one according to its nature). Consequently, they experience the passage of time (again, each according to its nature).

So, I would say that the important thing is to say that the angels have a beginning: they receive their act of being from God, just like the rest of us. That is sufficient for making them creatures, which is the dogma that we are trying to save here, it seems to me.

My concern is that saying that the angels have a temporal beginning, just like all creatures, makes it sound as if time were a prior reality that God creates “before” He creates His other creatures. But that is not the case. Time is a consequence of the fact that there are changing creatures. It is ontologically posterior to those creatures.

Thus “angel time” and “physical time” as such are completely independent realities. The angels only interact with the physical world (whether that be by acting on it or by knowing things about it) because they choose to (and, as Revelation tells us, usually because God asks them to: that is why they are called “angels,” which means “messengers”).

This idea of time is at least as old as St. Augustine, so I don’t think I am on shaky ground here.

The Catechism translates the Dogma of Creation, as formulated by the 4th Lateran Council, by saying that God “from the beginning of time made at once (simul) out of nothing both orders of creatures, the spiritual and the corporeal, that is, the angelic and the earthly, and then (deinde) the human creature, who as it were shares in both orders, being composed of spirit and body.” ( para 327 )

Well, that is pretty clear. This would seem to mean that time and creatures arose together. It does seem that time is a condition of creaturely existence, both the spiritual and the corporeal. So Angles not only had a beginning such that God is the origin and cause of their existence, but that this beginning was " from the beginning of time. "


I really don’t think the Fourth Lateran Council was intending to take a philosophical position on the nature of time. It is also not necessary to interpret the word deinde in a temporal sense. It could easily have an ontological sense (man is ontologically inferior to the angels). In fact, I think we have to interpret it that way, because the council is saying that God creates everything simultaneously.

Here is the text in question:

Sua omnipotenti virtute simul ab initio temporis utramque de nihilo condidit creaturam, spiritualem et corporalem, angelicam videlicet et mundanam: ac deinde humanam, quasi communem ex spiritu et corpore constitutam.

So, it affirms that God “by his omnipotent power” creates all creatures simultaneously “from (or since) the beginning of time.” So far I think we are in agreement. God creates in a single act, and there is in reality no difference, so far as God is concerned, between bringing something into being for the first time and maintaining it in being.

Here I would like to make a slight modification of my earlier position. I said yesterday that time is posterior to change. The more I think about it, I think that is not exactly correct, at least not without making an important clarification.

Actually, I think that time is identical with change, but it is considered in a different way. I have to think about this one, but I think that time is still gnoseologically posterior (i.e., we know and understand change before we know and understand time). However, there is in reality no difference between the changes undergone and experienced by a given subject and the time that has transpired.

I am sure that you know this, but just for completeness’ sake, I mention that there are three major kinds of changes:

*]accidental changes (changes that don’t generate or destroy individual beings, like changes in color or temperature)
*]substantial changes (changes that generate a new being or destroy one, like death or conception, or something like that)
*]creation (which is not exactly a “change” because changes technically have to modify something that pre-exists, which is not the case in creation).

A creature that undergoes any of these kinds of changes will experience the passage of time. If he experiences only discrete changes (like an angel), his experience of time will be discreet. If he is material (like us) he will experience time as a continuous movement (because the accidental changes we experience are, for the most part, gradual and continuous).

Since angels have no spatial relationship to our world (except insofar as they deliberately interact with it), I think it follows that they do not have a strict temporal relationship either (except in that respect).

So, you see, I am not challenging the dogma that things are created in time. (In fact, creation is by definition the beginning of time.) Nor am I challenging the reality of time (like Kant). (Far from it; this position is as Aristotelian as you can get :).) I am just trying to steer away from considering time as a sort of container in which different moments are placed (which is a very common idea; its most famous promoter was Isaac Newton). That would, if you think about it, make time a sort of super-creature that is prior to the reality of creatures. But there is no need for this.

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