Natural Theology: Peter Kreeft’s Summa Philosophica Part III

Part II

Back into the fray! Article 3 is Natural Theology. The juiciest articles are eight through ten.

Remember, we’re doing summaries of summaries here; only bare sketches are possible. Buy his book for more detail.

Article 1: Whether natural theology is possible?

Yes. Since you cannot desire what you do not (or cannot) know, you couldn’t desire God if He didn’t exist (see also Art. 5). “And insofar as anything is knowable by reason, it can be the object of a rational science, whether physical, mathematical, or philosophical.” Yes, lads and lasses, theology is a science; indeed, as Newman said, the Queen of them all. When the world was young, it was thought impossible, and it was true, that to receive an education lacking royal exposure was no education at all. It is still true.

How can you study an infinite creature such as God, since we cannot know infinity?

God can be defined negatively. as the non-finite being, the non-temporal being, the non-caused being, the non-potential being, etc.

Playing with infinities is also the daily toil of mathematicians, who would recoil if you were to tell them that because we cannot know the value of the last number, infinity doesn’t exist.

God can be an object of faith or reason. Here’s something you hear all the time: “We now know how this certain protein folds.” We know nothing of the kind, at least if we is taken as all of mankind, instead of a small fraction of highly trained (and gifted) individuals. A physicist can tell his mother a neutrino has mass and she will reply, “Yes, dear” and believe him. One knows by reason, the other by faith. The latter class is always much larger.

(Scientists usually accept this, except for evolution, where ignorance is considered sacrilegious and as justification for verbal stonings.)

Article 2: Whether there is one primary meaning to the word “God”?

Yes. Atheists love to tell theists, “I am almost like you. I reject all the same gods you do. I just go one further.” It’s a good line, if you have a back-slapping fetish, but it is fallacious if used to say God therefore doesn’t exist. It’s also an (indirect) and unfair aspersion against mathematicians. How?

John Von Neumann was asked by a colleague for a proof of some contention. Von Neumann asked which of several theorems his questioner knew, and then proceeded to prove the contention by one or two theorems. There is usually more than one path to the right answer. Or to the partial answer. Just because one religion emphasizes one aspect of God, and a different religion highlights another, does not mean that both are wrong, in the sense of completely, utterly wrong (though of course they might be wrong in part).

Anselm’s definition of God as “that than which nothing greater can be conceived” is “agreed to by Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and even Buddhists and Taoists.”

Article 3: Whether God’s existence can be proved from the concept of God (Anselm’s “ontological argument”)?

No. We covered this before.

Article 4: Whether God’s existence can be proved from the cosmos?

Yes. Kreeft then gives his précis of a Kalam-like argument, which he calls “the Emo argument.” Here is my précis of his précis, which is therefore too short by far.

  1. All matter, time, and energy came into existence, probably at the Big Bang.
  2. “Either this event was caused or uncaused.”
  3. If uncaused, then we have defenestrated causality and Cole Porter was right: Anything Goes. Including, for no reason whatsoever, the popping into existence of Emo, “a large blue rabbit with the name ‘Emo’ tattooed on its tail.” Emo couldn’t have caused his own appearance, neither could anybody have been the tattooer.
  4. “This (Emo) is absurd.” God help you if you disagree.
  5. Therefore matter, time, and energy must have been caused by something outside itself (quantum fields are not outside themselves). Which is to say, God (being itself, “I Am”) created physical existence.

Article 5: Whether God’s existence can be proved from human existence?

Yes. Besides the argument from conscience (we all have one, it came from somewhere, and all agree it should be obeyed; why?), and the argument from intelligence (only something at least equal to our intelligence could have caused our intelligence; and, yes, evolution could have been a tool here), there is the argument from desire.

We all desire perfection, beauty, goodness, etc., and desires can only correspond to real objects (“real hungers entail real foods”), thus the only thing that fits the bill is God. What of unicorns? Glad you asked:

The objects of ideas can be mere potential beings, or mere essences, like unicorns, but the objects of desires are real goods.

Article 6: Whether God’s existence as man’s ultimate end can be proved?

Yes.

If we weigh the idea of God, in the scales of the mind, against all other ideas and ideals that have ever appeared in all the minds of men who have ever lived, this single idea infinitely outweighs all others. For it is the idea of “that than which nothing greater can be conceived,” the idea of an infinitely perfect being. What a dirty trick it would be if all the other ideals we could aspire to were real and attainable and this one alone, the greatest of all, were not…It would indicate not randomness but the existence of a God behind this carefully designed trick, but his name would be Satan.

Article 7: Whether God’s relation to man (“religion”) can be proved?

No. God can be known to man, but mere “knowing is not religion.” It is “not to have a personal relationship.”

Aside: Stalkers also get this wrong, but in reverse.

Article 8: Whether the existence of evil disproves the existence of God?

No. An unhappy guy bumped into me when I was moving a box, which caused me to slip and cut my right middle finger. Just a pinprick, really. But it stung when I washed my hands and again when my dental floss rubbed up against it. Ouch.

On the scale of evils, this rates somewhat below Communism or faulty tenure committees (but I repeat myself). Still, it is evil. Even lower down the scale is the sentencing of thousands of otherwise joyful souls to suffer a third of each day in a “cubicle” (see torture, instruments of). Don’t forget the one everybody leaves out, the philosopher’s favorite premise: All men are mortal.

How could an all-loving, all-powerful God could have allowed evils like these to flourish? Why doesn’t He just drop (antioxidant rich, transfat free, etc.) manna in front of us at regular intervals so we don’t have to move? Shouldn’t our physical lives be unrelenting bliss, all desires satisfied on demand? For anything short of that perfection bespeaks of a deity who is willing to let bad things happen.

[T]he existence of infinitely good God and the existence of evil are compatible because of the existence of time. For an infinitely good God could allow evil to exist in order to bring out of it, in time, an even greater good than could have existed if evil had not been allowed to exist. Evil will, indeed, be totally destroyed, but in its proper time.

Evil is allowed to exist in order to preserve free will…Also, the premise that evil exists is not, strictly speaking, true, for evil is not a substance, but existence is properly predicated only of substances.

Article 9: Whether human free will and divine predestination are logically contradictory?

No. It’s difficult, probably impossible, to write of free will from the point of view of God, who is outside of time. We’re stuck in it, and in a sense made out of it. For us, it is enough to observe we have free will (our intellect understands choices, and the consequences of choices). This observation, incidentally, falsifies all theories which say free will is an illusion (of course!; only rational beings with free will could comprehend illusion; only intellects can comprehend!).

Kreeft puts it in terms of a story, which is under control of an author but which is populated by creatures with wills (or who follow rules). It’s only an analogy, though, because it’s easy to imagine writing a story where a character is made to do whatever we want; and then the character doesn’t really exist except in our intellect. The analogy is not entirely satisfying.

But tough luck. Just because you don’t understand something, doesn’t it make it false (unless you can prove it false; but then you understand it: how much depends on whether your proof is merely demonstrative or constructive).

Article 10: Whether God changes (or is in “process”)?

No. If God at some point changes for the better, he was imperfect; and then if He changes for the worst, well then He becomes imperfect. Perfection cannot change.

God’s love is an act. There are two kinds of act. (1) “First act,” or actuality (as distinct from mere potentiality), does not necessarily imply change. (2) “Second act,” or activity, follows and depends on first act, and implies change in its object, but not necessarily in its subject. An unchanging cause can produce changing effects, and this would entail changes in the relationship between them.

Kreeft doesn’t mention it, but there some who posit a changeable God as a solution to free will. The solution is to deny God knows the future, which is as “open” to Him as it is to us. Ever wonder what tomorrow will bring? So does God in this view. But as there is no predestination, it’s easy argue for free will. The price for this is a radically diminished God who cannot understand what He created. This deity is sort of a superior space alien who one day said to himself, “I wonder what’ll happen if I press this button?” Kind of sort of like Deism.

Read Part IV.

Comments

Natural Theology: Peter Kreeft’s Summa Philosophica Part III — 25 Comments

  1. Pingback: Everything There Is To Know In Eleven Lessons: Peter Kreeft’s Summa Philosophica—Part II | William M. Briggs

  2. 1. I desire a little teapot full of spaghetti (now in orbit around the sun)
    2. What precludes multiple extrema?
    3. No problem there
    4. To be caused by someTHING is not the only possible limit on what “goes”
    5. See 1 (or YES, god is just as real as a unicorn!)
    6. Perhaps it is! (which is why it may be a sin to worship him)
    7. Agreed!
    8. agreed
    9. agreed
    10.See 2 re the silly argument (but the concept of “change” is problematic for something outside of time)

  3. Article 1: Whether natural theology is possible?
    Yes. Since you cannot desire what you do not (or cannot) know, you couldn’t desire God if He didn’t exist.

    Coop: 1. I desire a little teapot full of spaghetti (now in orbit around the sun)

    YOS: No you don’t; you are only pretending to desire one because it is a cute notion combining Russel’s teapot and someone else’s “spaghetti monster.” It’s an idea, not a desire, and the objects of ideation need only be potential.

    You cannot be hungry for something you don’t know about. You can imagine alien foods, but you cannot have an actual hunger for them. The sons of Nietzsche, who believe the will triumphant over the intellect, have a hard time with this.
    + + +

    Article 2: Whether there is one primary meaning to the word “God”?

    Coop: 2. What precludes multiple extrema?

    YOS: The term “God” attaches to the Being of Pure Act (BPA) deduced from the existence of change/motion in the world.

    Now suppose there were two BPA. Then to be distinct one must have some power or attribute that the other lacks, say X. But then the one lacking X would be in potency toward it and would hence not be purely actual. Hence, there cannot be more than one Being of Pure Act, and hence cannot be more than one God.

    But the article in question only states that there is only one primary meaning to the term. Not sure what you mean by “extrema” here.
    + + +
    Article 4: Whether God’s existence can be proved from the cosmos?

    Coop: 4. To be caused by someTHING is not the only possible limit on what “goes”

    YOS: It is not clear what you mean by THING, what you mean by “limit,” or what you mean by “‘goes’.” Surely you don’t suppose it possible to be caused by NOthing!
    + + +

    Article 5: Whether God’s existence can be proved from human existence?

    Yes. … The objects of ideas can be mere potential beings, or mere essences, like unicorns, but the objects of desires are real goods.

    Coop: 5. See 1 (or YES, god is just as real as a unicorn!)

    It is not clear what you mean by “real.” Are the imaginary numbers “real”? Are the real numbers “real”? Are isosecles triangles real? Is justice real?

    Being is an essence joined to an act of existence. We grasp the essence of a unicorn, but this essence is not joined to an act of existence (so far as we know). But without an act of existence the unicorn remains only an idea, and thus has only potential existence.

    Things like mayflies, clouds, mountains, or stars come into and go out of existence. Their existence is contingent, not necessary. They must be given their existence by something which already actually exists. (Something which does not exist can’t do diddly squat.) Contingent being concludes to necessary being, that is to some thing whose essence just is to exist. Let’s call this being Existence Itself. Since Existence exists — it cannot not exist — it is “real.” If it could talk, it would call itself “I AM.”

    OTOH, there is nothing in the essence of a unicorn that requires its existence, so the two are not “just as” real.
    + + +

    Article 10: Whether God changes (or is in “process”)?

    No. If God at some point changes for the better, he was imperfect; and then if He changes for the worst, well then He becomes imperfect. Perfection cannot change

    Coop: 10.See 2 re the silly argument (but the concept of “change” is problematic for something outside of time)

    YOS: An excellent point. Time is the measure of motion in corruptible being. Outside of time, there cannot be change. However, you are begging the question. The proof that God is outside time comes from the prior demonstration that he is the unchanging changer (unmoved mover), so you cannot legitimately deduce unchanging from timelessness (eternal). Rather, you deduce it from the earlier conclusion that there exists necessarily a Being of Pure Act. “Change” is the reduction of potency to act (e.g., “collapse of the wave function”). Thus, a being would have to be in potency to something in order to change and the BPA by definition is not in potency to anything. Hence, it cannot change. And =now= hence: eternal.

    Hope this helps.

  4. it is enough to observe we have free will (our intellect understands choices, and the consequences of choices). This observation, incidentally, falsifies all theories which say free will is an illusion

    ???
    Observing something means it’s not an illusion? Mirages are not illusions even though they aren’t what they appear to be?

    (of course!; only rational beings with free will could comprehend illusion; only intellects can comprehend!).

    And what exactly does being rational or possessing an intellect or being able to comprehend “free will” have to do with the observation of a “free will” or its status as non-illusory?

    Even if one were to accept the logic that dictates the existence of various attributes, it doesn’t mean all things associated with them exist anymore than demonstrating the color red exists would prove the existence of apples.

    Also, it doesn’t mean those attributes must be collected in one place or being.

    Surely you don’t suppose it possible to be caused by NOthing!

    Just because the mechanism behind a concept may be beyond our ability to comprehend doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

  5. DAV: And what exactly does being rational or possessing an intellect or being able to comprehend “free will” have to do with the observation of a “free will” or its status as non-illusory?

    YOS:
    a) If the will is illusory, who or what is suffering the illusion?
    b) In answer to your primary question, the will is ordered to the intellect in a way analogous to the ordering of the emotions (aka, sensory appetites) to the imagination (aka, inner senses). That is, it is the intellective appetite: a desire for (or against) the products of the intellect, as the emotions are desires for the products of the senses. Since it is impossible to want what you do not know, the will is not determined to this or that to the extent that the intellect does not fully know its object. (The will does not withhold consent when the object is completely known, as for example that 1+1=2.) That is, the will has “play” or is “free.” This is not an illusion, but a necessary logical deduction from the fact that we don’t know everything perfectly.
    c) It would be more accurate to say we experience free will rather than “observe” it.

    DAV: demonstrating the color red exists would prove the existence of apples.

    YOS: That is because red is “accidental” to the apple, rather than “essential.”

    + + +
    Surely you don’t suppose it possible to be caused by NOthing!

    DAV: Just because the mechanism behind a concept may be beyond our ability to comprehend doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

    YOS: Ah, the argument from mysticism. Magical mystery causes! But it is logically impossible for no-thing to cause anything. In order for A to act, A must actually be. Don’t be so quick to throw materialism under the bus.

  6. a) If the will is illusory, who or what is suffering the illusion?

    Gee, I don’t know. Oh, yeah! Maybe the observer suffering the illusion?

    Again, what exactly does being rational or possessing an intellect or being able to comprehend “free will” have to do with a mistaken interpretation or observation?

    b) is total BS.

    This is not an illusion, but a necessary logical deduction from the fact that we don’t know everything perfectly.

    So we don’t know everything but that of course means we can’t be wrong about our observations or our conclusions from them, eh?

    c) It would be more accurate to say we experience free will rather than “observe” it

    Especially if one insists observation can only be sensory but OK.

    DAV: Just because the mechanism behind a concept may be beyond our ability to comprehend doesn’t mean it’s impossible.
    YOS: Ah, the argument from mysticism.

    No, an argument from logic. Show it’s not a case of “Can’t think of anything else so what is left must be so.”

    Just because you can’t think of a reason and just because it is outside of experience and just because one might have a firmly held belief doesn’t mean one can be comfortable enough to claim experience or knowledge is complete enough to make the assertion that everything has a cause.

    But it is logically impossible for no-thing to cause anything. In order for A to act, A must actually be.

    Everything has a cause because everything has a cause. Kinda circular isn’t it?

    DAV: … demonstrating the color red exists would prove the existence of apples.
    YOS: That is because red is “accidental” to the apple, rather than “essential.”

    Again, BS. Even if red was essential for apples, the existence of red wouldn’t prove the existence of apples.

  7. a) If the will is illusory, who or what is suffering the illusion?

    DAV: Gee, I don’t know. Oh, yeah! Maybe the observer suffering the illusion?

    YOS: What observer? Who is observing acts of will?

    DAV: Again, what exactly does being rational or possessing an intellect or being able to comprehend “free will” have to do with a mistaken interpretation or observation?

    YOS: Anyone can be mistaken, whether about phlogiston or canals on Mars. But no one is mistaken on his own experience. Chastek notes:
    If I walk into a room and see a blue sheet of paper on the table, then I’ve seen blue and that’s all there is to it. Even if there was a blacklight in the room and the paper was in fact as white as snow, it remains that blue was in my consciousness. End of story.

    http://thomism.wordpress.com/?s=proper+sensibles

    DAV: b) is total BS.

    YOS: You would be more convincing if you could frame a logical argument rebutting b), but I notice catcalls and such are more usual from the Reaktion. The will is free because the intellect is imperfect, and that’s that. It is something directly experienced.
    + + +

    But it is logically impossible for no-thing to cause anything. In order for A to act, A must actually be.

    DAV: Everything has a cause because everything has a cause. Kinda circular isn’t it?

    YOS: So you are saying that there might be an Uncaused Cause? Who’da thunk it?

    It’s not a circular argument because it was not argued. The assertion being rebutted was the absurdity that nothing could cause something.

    + + +
    YOS: That is because red is “accidental” to the apple, rather than “essential.”

    DAV: Again, BS. Even if red was essential for apples, the existence of red wouldn’t prove the existence of apples.

    YOS: BS? (Another reasoned argument!) So you assert that red is an essential to apple? Do you hold that a particular skin color is also essential for a human being?
    Of course the existence of red does not prove the existence of apple — because there is no essential relationship between redness and applehood. However, the experience of redness does prove the existence of “red”. Similarly, the experience of consciousness proves the existence of consciousness; likewise, the experience of volition.

  8. YOS: What observer? Who is observing acts of will?

    And why is this important? Because of the following?

    YOS: Anyone can be mistaken, whether about phlogiston or canals on Mars. But no one is mistaken on his own experience.

    Firmly disagree. I refer back to the bar incident in another blog post as an example. I can get more if you like and maybe not so anecdotal. Observations of self and memories of experience have many pitfalls.

    DAV: Everything has a cause because everything has a cause. Kinda circular isn’t it?
    YOS: So you are saying that there might be an Uncaused Cause? Who’da thunk it?
    It’s not a circular argument because it was not argued. The assertion being rebutted was the absurdity that nothing could cause something.

    Oh, I dunno. Maybe But it is logically impossible for no-thing to cause anything. In order for A to act, A must actually be. wasn’t an argument but the A acting part looked like one. Another way perhaps: “It is logically impossible for no-thing to cause anything because the cause must exist”.

    Sentence #2 is restating sentence #1. Still circular if it was meant as anything beyond repetition for emphasis — which, of course, wouldn’t make it any more correct.

    But, yeah, there may be Uncaused events (not quite the same thing as an Uncaused Cause). Can’t say otherwise.

    DAV: b) is total BS.
    YOS: You would be more convincing if you could frame a logical argument rebutting b), but I notice catcalls …

    Wasn’t meant as a catcall. (b) Really didn’t offer anything to defend the conclusion of the existence of free will based upon introspection as anything non-illusory. IOW: it was irrelevant and looked like so much hand waving. Obviously, you don’t see it as such.

    So you assert that red is an essential to apple?

    No I am not. I said “EVEN IF”. I can understand your need to pretend you didn’t know what I meant.

    the experience of consciousness proves the existence of consciousness

    Presumably because consciousness would cause the the experience and even may be the sole cause. Maybe you didn’t really understand my point which is: the existence of an essential ingredient or attribute of X does not imply the existence of X.

    Would you be OK with an example using the existence of Red and a Red Sports Car? Showing that Red exists doesn’t go very far in proving the existence of Red Sports Cars.

  9. Dav,

    You keep turning the argument around backwards. Consciousness doesn’t prove the existence of free will because consciousness is necessary to free will, it proves the existence of free will because free will is necessary for consciousness. The same thing goes for intellect. Do you think computers possess intellect?.

    To use your example, you are correct that the existence of red wouldn’t prove the existence of red sports cars. However the existence of a red sports car would prove the existence of red.

    YOS: What observer? Who is observing acts of will?
    DAV: And why is this important?

    It’s important because if free will is just an illusion than nothing exists which is capable of observing it or anything else.

  10. MattS,

    Consciousness is the quality or state of being aware. Awareness is necessary for free will but free will is not necessary for awareness. Think of it as the difference between being the driver or passenger of a car.

  11. DAV,

    “Think of it as the difference between being the driver or passenger of a car.”

    When you apply that analogy to a single living organism, you proclaim an automaton that is aware but has no control over it’s own actions. This is an absurd result that indicates that you have no comprehension of what consciousness actually is.

  12. DAV,

    An addendum to my last reply.

    I posit that you can not prove that any being that does not have free will has consciousness.

    A puppet has no awareness no matter how much it might appear to, any awareness lies not with the puppet, but with the puppet master. The same applies to any computer or automaton. No matter how much complexity you build in to give it the appearance of awareness, it possess none, any awareness lies with the controller of the automaton not the automaton itself.

  13. MattS,

    you proclaim an automaton that is aware but has no control over it’s own actions. This is an absurd result …

    Absurd? How? Can you demonstrate that our choices aren’t made for us?

  14. I posit that you can not prove that any being that does not have free will has consciousness.

    Correct — not anymore than I can prove any being has intelligence. Best that can be done is to say said being conforms to our ideas of what those terms are.

  15. Dav,

    “Absurd? How? Can you demonstrate that our choices aren’t made for us?”

    I can’t. What is absurd is to suggest that such is the case AND we are truly conscious. If free will does not exist, we are no more conscious than any computer.

  16. What is absurd is to suggest that such is the case AND we are truly conscious.

    I see nothing in the definition of the word that implies the ability to control. That appears to have been tacked on. There IS one sense that contains volition but that may be mere wishful thinking.

    So, by that definition, no, we aren’t conscious.

  17. DAV,

    What is the point of consciousness without the ability to make choices. Such would be the ultimate practical joke gone bad.

  18. MattS,

    Good question but just because one may not see any other purpose doesn’t mean it has to be the primary one or even a lesser one.

  19. DAV,

    Free will in and of itself is not the purpose of consciousness, however without free will consciousness can not serve any purpose at all.

  20. The claims in 1 and 5 that “you cannot desire what you do not (or cannot) know” and “desires can only correspond to real objects” assign an unconventional meaning to “desire” which just push back the question.
    They just mean that I must deny the reality of your “desire” for God because all you can really have knowledge of is your own idea of God.

    Indeed, if I believed that any God exists I would consider it beyond the knowledge of any human, and so also beyond the scope of our possible desire (in your interpretation of that word). And I would also consider any claim to “know” God as an extreme form of sacrilege.

    Re 2: Anselm’s definition of God as “that than which nothing greater can be conceived” may be agreed to by *some* of every religion, but it is not accepted by *all* of them for the good reason that it is not actually a definition of anything. Its many flaws include the fact that there are many possible measures of “greatness”, that whatever “greatness” is may quite possibly be unbounded, and if bounded it may have multiple extrema. I’m afraid that YOS’s description of the BPA concept is quite unintelligible to me, so (at least for me) it can’t serve as a definition either.

    Re 4 and what “goes”: My point was that the requirement that every event be caused by some THING is not necessary in order to refute Cole Porter.
    A “Big Bang” that is uncaused in the sense of having no antecedent events is not necessarily unconstrained in the form it might take. It might for example be completely determined by the fact that I exist in its aftermath (in fact in some “holographic” sense it might conceivably be completely determined by the properties of any tiny part of that aftermath) but I would hesitate to take that as an excuse for solipsistically defining myself as “God”. This is not out of mere modesty. According to YOS: “the BPA by definition is not in potency to anything. Hence, it cannot change”. If it cannot change any properties of itself, including what it has done, will do, or will have done, then I guess it is well and truly impotent. I, on the other hand, prefer to continue to enjoy the freedom to decide to do whatever I am ordained to do.

  21. The important bit about God is not whether he does exist or not, but whether he’s capable enough to smite your enemies, and punish you if you do things wrong. The important bit is why this God has the rights to push people around.

    Saying that God created the world is about establishing ownership. He owns the place, including you, so you must do as being told.

    Saying that God is all powerful is about establishing that you have no change rebelling against him, and especially against the people running the show.

    Saying that God smite your enemies and will provide lodging in the afterlife (for religions with a proper afterlife) is the carrot part of the proposal.

    If Christians, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhist would agree about each and every aspect of religion, then there would be a point about their agreement on some aspects of God. But they only agree on the aspects that a religion has the rights to push people around. The way people are pushed around is different in all these religions.

    Nobody cares about the God of Spinoza, or of Einstein. He’s as existing as the theological ones, but without the pushing around bits, and therefore useless.

  22. He owns the place, including you, so you must do as being told.

    Why do you suppose that God is a socialist?

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