William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Summary Against Modern Thought: God Is Eternal

This may be proved in three ways. The first...

This may be proved in three ways. The first…

See the first post in this series for an explanation and guide of our tour of Summa Contra Gentiles. All posts are under the category SAMT.

Previous post.

Short, sweet, and entirely obvious proofs today. But I add some material from Aristotle on which St Thomas relied, which itself is fascinating and makes you wonder why people stopped reading the former. Review: for any change, there must be a first and unique (single) Unchanging Changer. What does that imply?

Chapter 15: That God is eternal

1 FROM the foregoing it is also clear that God is eternal.i

2 For whatever begins or ceases to be, suffers this through movement or change. Now it has been shown[1]ii that God is altogether unchangeable. Therefore He is eternal, having neither beginning nor end.

3 Again. Only things which are moved are measured by time: because time is the measure of movement, as stated in 4 Phys.[2]iii

Now God is absolutely without movement, as we have already proved.[3] Therefore we cannot mark before and after in Him. Therefore in Him there is not being after non-being, nor can He have non-being after being, nor is it possible to find any succession in His being, because these things cannot be understood apart from time. Therefore He is without beginning and end, and has all His being simultaneously: and in this consists the notion of eternity.[4]iv

4 Moreover. If anywhenv He was not and afterwards was, He was brought by someone out of non-being into being. Not by Himself; because what is not cannot do anything. And if by another, this other is prior to Him. Now it has been shown[5] that God is the first cause. Therefore He did not begin to be. Therefore neither will He cease to be: because that which always was, has the power to be always. Therefore He is eternal.vi

5 Furthermore. We observe that in the world there are certain things which can be and not be, namely those that are subject to generation and corruption. Now whatsoever is possible to be has a cause, because, as in itself it is equally related to two things, namely being and not being, it follows that if it acquires being this is the result of some cause. But, as proved above[6] by Aristotle’s argument, we cannot go on to infinity in causes. Therefore we must suppose some thing, which it is necessary to be.vii

Now every necessary thing either has a cause of its necessity from without, or has no such cause, but is necessary of itself. But we cannot go on to infinity in necessary things that have causes of their necessity from without. Therefore we must suppose some first necessary thing which is necessary of itself: and this is God, since He is the first cause, as proved above.[7] Therefore God is eternal, since whatever is necessary of itself is eternal.viii

6 Again. Aristotle[8] proves the everlastingness of movement from the everlastingness of time: and thence he goes on to prove the everlastingness of the substance that is the cause of movement.[9] Now the first moving substance is God. Therefore He is everlasting. And supposing the everlastingness of time and movement to be denied, there still remains the argument in proof of the everlastingness of substance. For if movement had a beginning, it must have had its beginning from some mover. And if this mover had a beginning, it had its beginning from some agent. And thus either we shall go on to infinity, or we shall come to something without a beginning.ix

7 Divine authority bears witness to this truth: wherefore the Psalm[10] reads: But Thou, O Lord, endurest for ever, and again:[11] But Thou art always the self-same, and Thy years shall not fail.

—————————————————————————–

iEternal, which is to say, outside time, not part of time, unchanging. Eternal does not mean now, one second from now, two seconds from now, etc. It means no time.

iiThis is what Aquinas did in Chapter 13.

iii From the Philosopher, and don’t forget that when these gentleman use motion they mean change:

But neither does time exist without change; for when the state of our own minds does not change at all, or we have not noticed its changing, we do not realize that time has elapsed…So, just as, if the ‘now’ were not different but one and the same, there would not have been time, so too when its difference escapes our notice the interval does not seem to be time. If, then, the non-realization of the existence of time happens to us when we do not distinguish any change, but the soul seems to stay in one indivisible state, and when we perceive and distinguish we say time has elapsed, evidently time is not independent of movement and change. It is evident, then, that time is neither movement nor independent of movement…

Now we perceive movement and time together: for even when it is dark and we are not being affected through the body, if any movement takes place in the mind we at once suppose that some time also has elapsed; and not only that but also, when some time is thought to have passed, some movement also along with it seems to have taken place. Hence time is either movement or something that belongs to movement. Since then it is not movement, it must be the other…

But we apprehend time only when we have marked motion, marking it by ‘before’ and ‘after’; and it is only when we have perceived ‘before’ and ‘after’ in motion that we say that time has elapsed. Now we mark them by judging that A and B are different, and that some third thing is intermediate to them. When we think of the extremes as different from the middle and the mind pronounces that the ‘nows’ are two, one before and one after, it is then that we say that there is time, and this that we say is time. For what is bounded by the ‘now’ is thought to be time—we may assume this.

iv This is from Summa Theologica[4]—the debt to Aristotle is obvious:

As we attain to the knowledge of simple things by way of compound things, so must we reach to the knowledge of eternity by means of time, which is nothing but the numbering of movement by “before” and “after.” For since succession occurs in every movement, and one part comes after another, the fact that we reckon before and after in movement, makes us apprehend time, which is nothing else but the measure of before and after in movement. Now in a thing bereft of movement, which is always the same, there is no before or after. As therefore the idea of time consists in the numbering of before and after in movement; so likewise in the apprehension of the uniformity of what is outside of movement, consists the idea of eternity.

Further, those things are said to be measured by time which have a beginning and an end in time, because in everything which is moved there is a beginning, and there is an end. But as whatever is wholly immutable can have no succession, so it has no beginning, and no end.

Thus eternity is known from two sources: first, because what is eternal is interminable–that is, has no beginning nor end (that is, no term either way); secondly, because eternity has no succession, being simultaneously whole.

vIt’s high time to resurrect this word; so much more evocative than whenever.

viSince the first cause of the here-and-now change must exist, and cannot be caused by anything else, and therefore cannot change, this first cause must be eternal, i.e. outside time.

viiReview Chapter 13. What is not cannot cause what is. You can’t get something from nothing.

viiiWhatever is necessarily true, in the logical sense, will not be false at some point in the future, when circumstances change. True is always true, true outside of time, i.e. eternal.

ixThese proof by contradictions are, I think, especially convincing when they involve infinities. We’ll end with a portion of the footnote to Aristotle, more for the flavor than anything else (the paragraph break is mine):

Now the existence of motion is asserted by all who have anything to say about nature, because they all concern themselves with the construction of the world and study the question of becoming and perishing, which processes could not come about without the existence of motion. But those who say that there is an infinite number of worlds, some of which are in process of becoming while others are in process of perishing, assert that there is always motion (for these processes of becoming and perishing of the worlds necessarily involve motion), whereas those who hold that there is only one world, whether everlasting or not, make corresponding assumptions in regard to motion.

If then it is possible that at any time nothing should be in motion, this must come about in one of two ways: either in the manner described by Anaxagoras, who says that all things were together and at rest for an infinite period of time, and that then Mind introduced motion and separated them; or in the manner described by Empedocles, according to whom the universe is alternately in motion and at rest—in motion, when Love is making the one out of many, or Strife is making many out of one, and at rest in the intermediate periods of time…

Asserted by all not fearful of where this admission leads, that is.

[1] Ibid.
[2] xi. 5.
[3] Ch. xiii.
[4] Sum. Th. P. I., Q. x.
[5] Ch. xiii.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid.
[8] 8 Phys. i. 10 seqq.
[9] vi. 3 seqq.
[10] Ps. ci. 13.
[11] Ibid. 28.

20 Comments

  1. Briggs

    August 3, 2014 at 8:23 am

    All,

    Apropos:

    “Indeed, after forty years, during which the word ‘metaphysics’ was forbidden, the question of the First Cause is somehow making its way back into physics. It will remain a burning question because human existence cannot be answered in any other way.”

  2. Sander van der Wal

    August 3, 2014 at 9:52 am

    This is all very logical, but how this is going to describe the workings of the universe…

    An attempt. General Relativity is timeless too. It describes the particular way space and time are connected, but the theory itself doesn’t change, so it is too outside of time. The same for all other theories.

  3. Re: ” General Relativity ”

    General Relativity marks where Physics went off the rails.

    Dan Kurt

  4. @Sander van der Wal:

    “General Relativity is timeless too. It describes the particular way space and time are connected, but the theory itself doesn’t change, so it is too outside of time. The same for all other theories.”

    The theory of General Relativity *exists*? On what principles did you arrive at that conclusion? Certainly not on scientific ones, strictly understood.

    And it must a *very* strange sort of theory, since it has the *causal* power to actually bring into being space and time and its contents. Who would a-thunk that a certain mathematical relation between tensors could have such vast powers? And what does the existence of this thingy called “General Relativity” buy you in the explanation of the workings of *the universe*? Because apparently that is the sole criterion that matters. The answer is, quite obviously: absolutely nothing, but maybe you know something the rest of us don’t. And if this thingy called “General Relativity” exists, and exists a-temporally, and is thus prior to the universe in the ontological sense, why the squeamishness about the existence of pure act, which you concede was logically derived?

    And by the way, the arguments laid out until now are not an attempt to describe the “workings of the universe”, if by that you mean some quasi-scientific mode of explanation. For that we have the various particular sciences, like physics, chemistry, biology, etc. They do presume (and argue for them) some principles of *being*, principles that any and every changeable, intelligible universe would have to have.

  5. with respect to Sander V. derW.’s and C. Rodriguez’s comments–the difference is whether one takes scientific theories to be descriptive or prescriptive. In the latter case, the theory corresponds to some reality, and so when one speaks of the theory one is really speaking of the reality prescribed by the theory. Given the history of science, I’m not sure whether the prescriptive view is correct. I’m more inclined to the views of Bas van Fraassen and Nancy Cartwright (see previous posts and http://rationalcatholic.blogspot.com/2014/06/confessions-of-science-agnostic.html )
    that theories are an attempt to describe reality, but have no relation otherwise to reality.

  6. Sander van der Wal

    August 3, 2014 at 2:55 pm

    @G. Rodrigues

    I was commenting on the timelessness of these theories. Not on their First Mover capabilities.

  7. @Bob Kurland:

    “with respect to Sander V. derW.’s and C. Rodriguez’s comments–the difference is whether one takes scientific theories to be descriptive or prescriptive.”

    There are a couple of things wrong here. First, this is a false dichotomy, and for a reactionary ultramontane Aristotelian-Thomist like me, they are both wrong. Second, the view presented by Sander van der Wal is literally meaningless. I do not have the least idea what *he* can even mean by saying that the “theory of General Relativity” exists, or even that it exists timelessly or a-temporally, and I am pretty sure that neither does he — but he is welcomed to disabuse me of my ignorance.

    And this is not the only problem. Here is another. Suppose sense could be made out of saying that “theory of General Relativity” (ToGR for short) exists. Then of necessity, ToGR is immaterial. Not only ToGR is immaterial, but it is that which ultimately explains the (gravitational) behavior of matter, so it has causal powers. So we have a gravitational analog of the mind-body dualist problem. And this for someone continuously *touting* scientism and naturalism.

    The ironies are endless. And endlessly delightful.

  8. CR…please show me why the dichotomy between prescriptive and descriptive is false. The distinction Is accepted by many philosophers of science, and is indicative of differences between a “realist” and “anti-realist” view of science, so if it’s false, not only I but some minds much greater than mine have fallen into error.

  9. @Bob Kurland:

    “please show me why the dichotomy between prescriptive and descriptive is false. The distinction Is accepted by many philosophers of science, and is indicative of differences between a “realist” and “anti-realist” view of science, so if it’s false, not only I but some minds much greater than mine have fallen into error.”

    The fact that the distinction is valid (which I do not deny) does not imply that the dichotomy you presented exhausts all the possibilities: you can be a descriptivist in one sense (e.g. that natural laws are short-hand descriptions of other, more basic and fundamental things) and a prescriptivist in another (e.g. reject Humean regularity accounts and accept necessitarian accounts of laws of nature). Or still in another way, one can be a realist without thereby committing ourselves to the extra-mental reality of natural laws (as usually understood).

  10. I was thinking that the argument that God is one should come earlier than number 42 and that these earlier statements depend on it.

    “But neither does time exist without change; for when the state of our own minds does not change at all, or we have not noticed its changing, we do not realize that time has elapsed”

    Is this why time passes more quickly as we age? Although it seems contradictory to the adage that times passes when we are having fun.

  11. @G Rodrigues
    I agree that the dichotomy I presented (for rhetorical effect) does not exhaust all shades of meaning, but it is useful nevertheless. As you point out there are shades of difference, not black and white, between realist and anti-realist interpretations of science and scientific theories.

  12. If you’ve understood the argument so far it’s pretty easy to work out why there can be only One.

  13. Asserted by all not fearful of where this admission leads, that is.

    That the universe is deterministic?

  14. No that the universe itself is eternal, therefore God is academic and does not add any scientific value.

  15. Sander van der Wal

    August 4, 2014 at 1:03 am

    @G. Rodrigues

    All I am doing is trying to find an example of something that is timeless. You are reading way to much in my statements.

  16. Hans,

    No that the universe itself is eternal, therefore God is academic and does not add any scientific value.

    Eternity is not the problem here, it’s immutability.

  17. time is the measure of movement

    Is it? Or is that how time itself is measured? What is between two of Caldirola’s Chronons? Nothing? Eternity? For an electron in Caldirola’s model, one chronon corresponds to roughly 6.27E−24 seconds. How can it be anything but zero if there is no time between them?

    The statement is much like saying the ruler markings make the distance.

  18. Sander van der Wal

    August 6, 2014 at 4:32 am

    Space is measured by the relative positions of bits of matter. Time is measured by keeping track of changes in bits of matter. But in GR spacetime itself exists independent of other things.

    As far as I can see this contradicts statement number 3

    3 Again. Only things which are moved are measured by time: because time is the measure of movement, as stated in 4 Phys.[2]iii

  19. @Sander van der Wal:

    “Space is measured by the relative positions of bits of matter. Time is measured by keeping track of changes in bits of matter. But in GR spacetime itself exists independent of other things.”

    Spacetime is as independent in GR as in classical, Newtonian mechanics.

    If space is measured by “relative positions of bits of matter” and time measured “by keeping track of changes in bits of matter”, then what are you cognizant of that the rest of us isn’t, that allows you to claim that “spacetime itself exists independent of other things”? It is not like you can “measure” it, or apprehend it aprt from the existence of matter. Or do you have empirical access to a spacetime devoid of matter? GR is a theory about *this* universe. Do you perhaps intend to say that GR describes possible universes, including ones that are only spacetime devoid of any matter contents? And if yes, how exactly do you know that? Maybe your reasoning is as follows:

    (1) What is possible is what is logically possible, e.g., not contradictory.

    (2) GR describes possible universes that are empty spacetimes devoid of matter.

    (3) GR is consistent.

    (4) Therefore there are possible universes that are empty spacetimes devoid of matter.

    Assuming that the argument is sound, in particular that broad logical possibility is the modality we are interested in, what is the relevance of the possible existence of possible universes that are empty spacetimes devoid of matter to the actual universe? Maybe you want to say that this modal argument shows that time is independent of matter. You (well, me impersonating you) have just made a species of metaphysical argument — so you got the work just cut out for you. Defend it. Thank you.

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