William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Summary Against Modern Thought: There Is Nothing In God Against Nature

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.

A short entry this week, for next week we start on something bigger and of more importance: that God is not a body. Plus, this is the last hurrah of summer and many of us are not around. We could skip this, but why not be complete during the lull? Besides, I can’t see any of this being controversial, granting the previous arguments.

Chapter 19: That in God there is nothing violent or beside nature

1 HENCE the Philosopher[1] concludes that in God there cannot be anything violent or outside nature. For whatever has in itself anything violent or beside nature,i has something added to itself: since that which belongs to a thing’s essence cannot be violent or beside nature. Now no simple thing has in itself anything that is added, for this would argue its being composite. Since then God is simple, as shown above,[2] there can be nothing in Him that is violent or beside nature.

2 Further. The necessity resulting from compulsion is a necessity imposed by another. Now in God there is no necessity imposed by another, for He is necessary of Himself, and the cause of necessity in other things.[3] Therefore nothing is compulsory in Him.ii

3 Moreover. Wherever there is violence, there can be something besides what belongs to a thing by its very nature: since violence is contrary to that which is according to nature. But it is not possible for anything to be in God that does not belong to Him according to His nature, since by His very nature He is necessary being, as shown above.[4] Therefore there can be nothing violent in Him.iii

4 Again. Everything that is compelled or unnatural has a natural aptitude to be moved by another: because that which is done by compulsion has an external principle, without any concurrence on the part of the patient.[5] Now God is altogether immovable, as shown above.[6] Therefore nothing in Him can be violent or unnatural.iv

——————————————————————————————–

iDon’t take violent in its most common meaning. A pin in a hip to keep it swinging free is “violent” in St Thomas’s words. As the rest of this argument shows, since God is not in potential, he cannot possess anything that is besides His nature. Here is Aristotle on nature, from St Thomas’s footnote (to understand the language used if nothing else):

(4) ‘Nature’ means the primary material of which any natural object consists or out of which it is made, which is relatively unshaped and cannot be changed from its own potency, as e.g. bronze is said to be the nature of a statue and of bronze utensils, and wood the nature of wooden things; and so in all other cases; for when a product is made out of these materials, the first matter is preserved throughout. For it is in this way that people call the elements of natural objects also their nature, some naming fire, others earth, others air, others water, others something else of the sort, and some naming more than one of these, and others all of them.-(5) ‘Nature’ means the essence of natural objects…

(6) By an extension of meaning from this sense of ‘nature’ every essence in general has come to be called a ‘nature’, because the nature of a thing is one kind of essence.

From what has been said, then, it is plain that nature in the primary and strict sense is the essence of things which have in themselves, as such, a source of movement; for the matter is called the nature because it is qualified to receive this, and processes of becoming and growing are called nature because they are movements proceeding from this. And nature in this sense is the source of the movement of natural objects, being present in them somehow, either potentially or in complete reality.

Then much later, about privation, an important term:

We speak of ‘privation’ (1) if something has not one of the attributes which a thing might naturally have, even if this thing itself would not naturally have it; e.g. a plant is said to be ‘deprived’ of eyes. (2) If, though either the thing itself or its genus would naturally have an attribute, it has it not; e.g. a blind man and a mole are in different senses ‘deprived’ of sight; the latter in contrast with its genus, the former in contrast with his own normal nature. (3) If, though it would naturally have the attribute, and when it would naturally have it, it has it not; for blindness is a privation, but one is not ‘blind’ at any and every age, but only if one has not sight at the age at which one would naturally have it. Similarly a thing is called blind if it has not sight in the medium in which, and in respect of the organ in respect of which, and with reference to the object with reference to which, and in the circumstances in which, it would naturally have it. (4) The violent taking away of anything is called privation.

Also, on accident, “Accident’ has also (2) another meaning, i.e. all that attaches to each thing in virtue of itself but is not in its essence, as having its angles equal to two right angles attaches to the triangle. And accidents of this sort may be eternal, but no accident of the other sort is.”

iiNobody forces God to do anything, not even 800-pound gorillas. But you get the idea.

iiiIf somebody dents your skull with a lead pipe, he has done violence to your cranium. But don’t miss the subtle point, repeated: “it is not possible for anything to be in God that does not belong to Him according to His nature, since by His very nature He is necessary being”. A necessary being is one which must exist and in the form, or rather essence, it takes. If it were other than its essence, it would be contingent and not necessary.

ivThe note is back to the important Chapter 13, where it is proved God is the Unmoved Move, the Unchangeable Changer. God must be the first cause, and therefore cannot be done violence, nor can He be compelled against His will—and this is so despite some fanciful and overly literal interpretations one occasionally runs into.

[1] 5 Metaph. i. 6 (D. 4, v. 6).
[2] Ch. xviii.
[3] Ch. xv.
[4] Ch. xv.
[5] 3 Ethic. i. 3.
[6] Ch. xiii.

30 Comments

  1. Sander van der Wal

    August 31, 2014 at 4:18 pm

    Violent is not defined. It might have meant something else in earlier times, but currently it is an adjective (if I get the term right). Violent actions, i.e a specific kind of action, which differs from, for instance, gentle action.

    But if violent is used as an adjective here, then Thomas doesn’t prove that God is not violent. He has no violent parts, but the entiere First Mover can still be violent.

  2. Ye Olde Statisician

    August 31, 2014 at 4:52 pm

    “Violent” in Aristotle is contrasted with “natural”, not with “gentle.”

    When a baseball falls under gravitational force, that is natural motion. When it is hurled in any other direction by a pitcher or batter, that is “violent” motion. This is sometimes called “unnatural” motion or an “unnatural” act. It means, this is not what the thing would do under natural circumstances. Hence, a two-headed calf is unnatural, not because it is impossible, but because it is not according to the common course of nature.

  3. So by simply defining “god is not violent” you completely circumvent the theodicy issue.

    Neat.

  4. Ye Olde Statisician

    August 31, 2014 at 7:30 pm

    Or by redefining “violent” in non-Aristotelian terms you can avoid the actual theorem for this week! It’s a win-win situation!

    It was the Modernist rejection of the idea of natures that led physics to focus entirely on accidental qualities and violent motions. Instead of “violent motion” they said “force”.
    A short discussion here:
    http://mathpages.com/rr/s3-02/3-02.htm

  5. YOS,

    When a baseball falls under gravitational force, that is natural motion. When it is hurled in any other direction by a pitcher or batter, that is “violent” motion.

    Immediately prompting the questions: what are miracles? Are they different from human acts of volition? I imagine some of this is covered in future chapters, though IIRC, Thomas does not much cover the subject of human free will as much (or at all) as he discusses the topic of God’s free will.

    Or by redefining “violent” in non-Aristotelian terms you can avoid the actual theorem for this week!

    Be that as it may, the question of theodicity is still relevant to me. Given, “in God there is no necessity imposed by another,” making any value judgment about God being right or wrong, good or evil seems moot. God simply IS.

  6. As with all Thomist philosophy, a definition means whatever it needs to mean to in order to support the pre-drawn conclusion.

  7. Thomaist reasoning follows the Johnnie Cochran “If the glove don’t fit, you gotta acquit” line of reasoning.

    Those of us who actually have to work under the scrutiny of professional liability insurance payments are a wee bit more concerned with trying to prove ourselves wrong (before it’s too late) than patting ourselves on the back in attempt to reassure ourselves how very clever we are. We want to be proven wrong. An idea totally foreign to Thomas and his ilk….

  8. Sander van der Wal

    September 1, 2014 at 2:02 am

    @YOS

    But a thrown ball does the “natural” thing for an object given an impulse.

    Aristotle’s base level notion of how the universe works is wrong. In particular, his starting premises are wrong, which means that everything derived from that premises has to be re-examined by putting it on the new premises and check whether it still fits.

    You can call that Modernists rejecting the notion of natures. AFAICS, Modernist are using a different notion of natural, and because of the wider range of natural motions , essentially, all possible motions (in the Aristotelian sense) are natural, the term natural ceases to have any extra meaning. So you stop using it in building a theory.

    But there are still lots of unnatural stuff in the Modernist notion. Like going faster than the speed of light. General Relativity says that is unnatural.

  9. @Jim S:

    “As with all Thomist philosophy, a definition means whatever it needs to mean to in order to support the pre-drawn conclusion.”

    Definitions, in the modern sense (that is, nominal definitions as opposed to real ones), do mean whatever is needed for them to mean. There is nothing particularly mysterious or ominous here.

    I have to say you have a great knack of turning trivialities into fallacies compounded into idiotic comments. Where did you unlearn such an ability?

  10. If all things are in motion (and they are) you cannot deduce that at one time they were NOT in motion. All you can say is that “they are in motion”.

    And cut’n-N-paste’n Aristotle’s 4 causes u’causality ain’t gonna change dat.

  11. @G. Rodrigues
    By “real definitions”, I assume you mean an appeal to immaterially?

    Lol.

  12. @Jim S:

    “By “real definitions”, I assume you mean an appeal to immaterially?

    lol”

    So a completely wrong assumption, from someone who has absolutely no idea what he is talking about, followed by a lol. Where are you posting from? Kindergarten? Is this your weekly hour at the computer in the Asylum for the Terminally Stupid?

  13. @Hans Erren:

    “So by simply defining “god is not violent” you completely circumvent the theodicy issue.”

    Aquinas did not “define” “god is not violent”, he argued it. Neither has “violent”, in the sense St. Thomas is using it, any relevant connection with violence or theodicies. No one even mentioned any theodicy at all, much less “circumvented” it.

    YOS frequently chastises modernity; the explanation is much simpler, methinks: the plain and simple incapability to read.

  14. Briggs

    September 1, 2014 at 6:27 am

    Jim S,

    I wonder if you realize you have no made an argument. Your comments are bare assertion, “I do not like what you have said” and so forth. Perhaps you’re letting your emotion get the better of you?

    I also recommend re-reading Chapter 13.

    Sander,

    Of course, Aristotle’s and St Thomas’s proof that God must be the first cause is both valid and sound, as proved. The premises are simple and involve not much more than noticing that things change.

    It’s true that modernists use many different definitions of “natural”, but that is nothing. We’re using it as defined by Aristotle et al., where in essence it is essence. If, as general relativity insists, it is the essence of the universe to have a speed limit, then fine.

    You’ve also offered nothing in the way of argument, except to say you don’t like what you’ve seen. You have no proof.

  15. Sander van der Wal

    September 1, 2014 at 8:34 am

    @Briggs

    You’re trying to convince people who do not believe that Aristotle’s notion of essence is a better way of reasoning about the universe than their own way.

    For an example, the essence of a pile of stones might be a house for most people, but for a demolisher a house is a pile of rubble waiting to happen. So what is essential can be a matter of opinion.

    And what is the essence of a hydrogen atom in a star? At some point it might becomes part of a helium atom, or even a carbon atom. Iron even if it is a very heavy star. It will be thrown back into space and be part of a new star, or it could end up inside some planet and be dug up to be used for the steel in the demolisher machinery. Talking about its essence, I do not see that concept making sense on the atom scale. By the time you have the steel to make a demolishers machine, yes. But that is only on the human scale, while the whole point of this exercise is to show that it is rigorous, working for all levels in the entiere universe.

  16. @Sander van der Waal:

    “So what is essential can be a matter of opinion.”

    Argument 1:

    (1) What is essential is a matter of opinion.

    Hypothesis.

    (2) What is essential to being a human is a matter of opinion.

    From (1).

    (3) There is nothing essential to a human being.

    From (2).

    (4) There are no human beings as a matter of objective fact.

    From (3).

    (5) Sander van der Waal is not a human being as a matter of objective fact.

    From (4).

    Argument 2:

    (1) What is essential is a matter of opinion.

    Hypothesis.

    (2) What is essential to being an electron is a matter of opinion.

    By (2).

    (3) What an electron is is a matter of opinion.

    By (3).

    (4) Fundamental physics is a matter of opinion.

    From (3).

  17. Ye Olde Statisician

    September 1, 2014 at 9:44 am

    Immediately prompting the questions: what are miracles?

    The Latin word means “marvels.” So miracles are things we marvel at. As Thomas says elsewhere in the book Briggs is covering:

    “We marvel at something when, seeing an effect, we do not know the cause. And since one and the same cause is at times known to certain people and not to others, it happens that some marvel and some do not.”

    There is a short item on miracles here:
    http://thomism.wordpress.com/2014/08/28/miracles-laws-theism-and-otherwise/#like-12996
    +++
    Thomas does not much cover the subject of human free will as much (or at all) as he discusses the topic of God’s free will.
    In Summa theologica PI. Q82-Q83
    http://dhspriory.org/thomas/english/summa/FP/FP082.html#FPQ82OUTP1
    http://dhspriory.org/thomas/english/summa/FP/FP083.html#FPQ83OUTP1
    +++
    As with all Thomist philosophy, a definition means whatever it needs to mean

    No, it means what it meant historically, in Greek (for Aristotle) or Latin (for Aquinas). Or for that matter in Arabic (for ibn Rushd and Maimonides). Since these were, resp. pagan, Christian, muslim, and Jewish, it’s hard to see what single conclusion that clever Aristotle had in mind.
    Now, the Moderns really did do that: they trimmed the definitions of things precisely fit their needs: so “motion” became restricted to local motion, which was more amenable to mathematical treatment; “violent motion” became “forced motion” and became reified as “forces” — even though Newton’s definitions were opaque and at least a little bit contradictory.
    See here for an extended discussion:
    http://www.thomist.org/jourl/2007/2007%20Oct/2007%20Oct%20A%20Keck.htm
    +++
    But a thrown ball does the “natural” thing for an object given an impulse.
    “Given” the impulse. But a ball is not “thrown” as a natural thing; that is, it is not in the nature of a ball to fly off horizontally.
    Modernist are using a different notion of natural
    Yes, precisely. They have trimmed their definitions to fit their needs, as JimS has commented in a different context.
    the term natural ceases to have any extra meaning. So you stop using it in building a theory.
    Well, “natural” means “by birth” or “inborn”, as one man may be naturally strong while another makes himself strong by exercise and other artifices. It’s not that all motions to the Modern are natural; it’s that they are mainly violent or unnatural: that is, motions imposed on a body by force(s). The problem with losing the root meaning of a nature is that we therefore lose “human nature” and people with different color skins start posing a problem. If there is nothing essentially human…
    Like going faster than the speed of light. General Relativity says that is unnatural.
    No, it says it is impossible. Not the same thing.

  18. Ye Olde Statisician

    September 1, 2014 at 9:59 am

    For an example, the essence of a pile of stones might be a house for most people, but for a demolisher a house is a pile of rubble waiting to happen.

    A pile of stones is not a “thing” (ousia, substantia) and would not have an essence. That is, it has no intrinsic organizing principle that makes it what it is. Your first example describes [one] potency of the pile of stones and the other a final cause. Neither one is an essence.
    There is a useful discussion here: http://home.comcast.net/~icuweb/c02002.htm
    +++
    Talking about its essence, I do not see that concept making sense on the atom scale.
    Wallace, in the above link, uses atoms as an illustration.
    +++
    There is a useful discussion here, where “things” and “doings” are used in place of the hard words.
    https://bearspace.baylor.edu/Alexander_Pruss/www/papers/Forms.html

  19. @Sander van der Wal:

    Just in case it is not obvious, I just noticed that in argument 2, counting is off by 1 in (2) and (3). I also doubled up the a in Wal, to Waal. Apologies for that.

  20. I’m not a Thomist or an Aristotlean (sp?), but perhaps an Augustinean (sp?) and Platonist, a ‘priori rather than a ‘posteriori, so I’m not really engaged by this series, and I do have some sympathy with those who find fault with the expositions.
    At any rate, the analogy or distinction between a thrown ball and a ball acting under gravity is faulty. If the ball is acted on by gravity (i.e. is released at some high point) it would have to be transported to that high point so the initial impetus or impulse (as someone used the term) is for a long rather than a short time interval, and of course a thrown ball is acted on by gravity (even in outer space), so let’s come up with a better illustration.

  21. I should be more specific about the physics of the dropped vs thrown ball. Work is done on the dropped ball by taking it to a height where its potential energy is increased. Work (force of throw times distance of throw) is done on the thrown ball. The one difference (and perhaps this is what is meant by “violent” vs “natural”) is that the thrown ball may have an upward component of momentum, whereas the dropped ball has only downward component of momentum.

  22. Ye Olde Statisician

    September 1, 2014 at 2:12 pm

    But, Bob, gravity just is the natural behavior of mass. It tends to move toward the point of minimum gravitational potential — and what is minimizing potential but a reduction of said potency to act?

    Of course, a thrown ball is acted on by gravity. Nothing prevents a body from being subjected to natural as well as violent motion. It is impossible to tell the difference, from a mere study of the physics, between a thrown ball and one moving naturally under gravity. The same equations describe both; the forces are the same. Hence, if one is only interested in predicting where the cannonball will hit, that is all that is necessary.
    http://thomism.wordpress.com/2009/02/27/3580/

    Recall that Aristotelians virtually define the material world as one in constant motion — which is why they never wrote about a time when nothing was moving, but only when something was in equilibrium, which they called “rest.” For example, my mug sitting on my desk was at rest until a moment ago, when it rose into the air and tilted its contents into my mouth. You could use the same equations to describe the force with which I lifted it as the “force” with which it would hit the ground if I dropped it. Except you wouldn’t need me to explain the latter. It is perfectly able to fall all on its own.

    And if we keep in mind that Aristotle’s Greek word that we translate as “motion” is more properly translated as “kinetic change,” we might recall that what these folks were talking about when they wrote these things was not the “thin” notion of motion that modern physics deals with, but one that included morphogenesis, generation and corruption, qualitative change, and so on. Hence, a body in inertial rectilinear motion is “at rest” in the Aristotelian sense. When Aristotle speaks of a mover, he means a “changer”. In this case, something that would change the motion from inertial rectilinear motion. Aquinas said that anything that is changing is being changed by another. Newton was more restricted saying that an acceleration requires an outside force. But that is because Newton no longer understood immanent motion.
    As for the original inertial motion, that was caused by whatever impetus put it in motion in the first place. (The impetus, said Jean Buridan, is permanent until and unless a contrary impetus acted to degrade it.) Those in the know will notice some Aristotelian principles swimming below the post-modern surface; e.g.:

    The next basic definition in Principia is of the “quantity of motion”, defined as the measure arising conjointly from the velocity and the quantity of matter. Here we see that “velocity” is taken as another irreducible element, like density and volume. Thus, Newton’s ontology consists of one irreducible entity, called matter, possessing three primitive attributes, called density, volume, and velocity, and in these terms he defines two secondary attributes, the “quantity of matter” (which we call “mass”) as the product of density and volume, and the “quantity of motion” (which we call “momentum”) as the product of velocity and mass, meaning it is the product of velocity, density, and volume. Although the term “quantity of motion” suggests a scalar, we know that velocity is a vector, (i.e., it has a magnitude and a direction), so it’s clear that momentum as Newton defined it is also is a vector.
    — Kevin Brown, Reflections on Relativity §3.9

  23. Sander van der Wal

    September 2, 2014 at 9:47 am

    @YOS

    An electron stays an electron, unless it bumps into a positron, and then you get some other particles. The weird thing is that the attributes of the electron are conserved, but the things themselves aren’t. So it seems that the attributes of an electron are more essential than the electron itself.

  24. Ye Olde Statisician

    September 2, 2014 at 10:58 am

    When an electron is in the “shell” of an atom, it behaves quite differently from a free electron, because it is then a part of a whole rather than a thing-in-itself.

  25. @Sander van der Wal:

    “The weird thing is that the attributes of the electron are conserved, but the things themselves aren’t.”

    Attributes are attributes *of* things; there is no coherent sense to be made out of the suggestion that the substance ceases to exist but its attributes carry on.

    Conservations laws are mathematical relations between certain universals. To go from there to the suggestion that these attributes are subsistent things is just metaphysical zannyness — you are free to defend it, of course, but you will find no solace in Physics itself.

  26. ‘…that which belongs to a thing’s essence cannot be violent or beside nature…”

    and

    “Since then God is simple, as shown above, there can be nothing in Him that is violent or beside nature.”

    WHY IS THAT?

    Because that philosopher said so…repeating the statement is not a proof or derivation of anything.

    Nothing violent in His nature, eh:
    …Walls of Jericho…
    …Sodom & Gomorrah…
    …Noah’s Flood…
    …in a fit of rage, a curse upon a fig tree that wasn’t bearing fruit out of season; the tree is dead the next day….

    Deuteronomy 5:9: “You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me”

    Deuteronomy 6:15: “(For the LORD thy God is a jealous God among you) lest the anger of the LORD thy God be kindled against thee, and destroy thee from off the face of the earth.”

    Deuteronomy 11:17: “Then the LORD’s anger will burn against you, and he will shut up the heavens so that it will not rain and the ground will yield no produce, and you will soon perish from the good land the LORD is giving you.”

    Similar sentiments & overt remarks are found in several other documents in the Bible…

    WHICH pretty much settles it…nothing violent or against nature in God as evidenced by those Godly destructive punishments & threats of punishment to even the 3rd & 4th generations, which of course could not possibly have been culpable in the thing(s) for which they were or were threatened with punishment.

  27. Ken, did you miss the second comment on this thread by YOS that explains what is meant by ‘violent’ or is patient and careful reading too much circa 2014?

  28. Ye Olde Statisician

    September 3, 2014 at 1:28 pm

    @dover:
    Like most fundamentalist types, he is imprisoned by a colloquial understanding of Modern English in reading a translation of (in this case) medieval Latin, itself a paraphrase of the original Greek.
    +++

    Nothing violent in His nature, eh: [followed by Biblical proof texts rather than rational arguments]
    (Why Aristotle might care about how a fundamentalist reads the Jewish scriptures is unclear.)

    The proposition runs:
    Ex hoc autem philosophus concludit quod in Deo nihil potest esse violentum neque extra naturam.
    “From this [i.e., the lack of composition] the Philosopher [Aristotle] concludes that in God there can be nothing violent or unnatural.”

    The appositive phrase “unnatural”/”beside nature”/”extranatural” should be a useful clue. But alas, all these words have been stolen by the Moderns and turned to alien uses, which is why it is so difficult for a Modern, esp. a Late Modern, to understand the arguments naively. There is a conjugate relationship between violare and volens and so the meaning of violentum carries a sense of being due to willful (voluntary) action. This is not entirely the sense of the division natural/violent, but it you think “what stuff does on its own”/”what something else can make it do” you are closer to the mark. Not only that, but you also get a sense why Aristotle and Thomas said that this follows from the lack of composition in the Unactualized Actualizer.

    So once again we must say it:
    “Natural” means what is “innate”
    And so will surely display it.
    And what is “violent” ain’t.

  29. Sander van der Wal

    September 4, 2014 at 6:04 am

    The meaning of words change over time. Why would that be different for the words Thomas was using?

    Regarding the electrons, two things with a couple of essential attributes turn into completely different things with the same essential attributes, but distributed differently. Electrons, positrons, photons and neutrino’s are according to the theory all simple things in the Aristotelian sense.

  30. Ye Olde Statisician

    September 4, 2014 at 8:18 am

    The meaning of words change over time. Why would that be different for the words Thomas was using?

    That’s precisely the point. You must use the words in the sense of the user’s milieu, not in your own colloquial sense. Would you chide mathematicians for calling a figure-8 “complex” but a maze “simple” just because most people would say precisely the opposite?

    Regarding the electrons, two things with a couple of essential attributes turn into completely different things with the same essential attributes, but distributed differently.

    Assuming you are actually talking about essences (substantial forms) what is so astonishing about that? It’s called transformation. As the phrase “distributed differently” indicates, the forms are distinct.

    Electrons, positrons, photons and neutrino’s are according to the theory all simple things in the Aristotelian sense.

    No, according to Modern science. Aristotelian metaphysics holds that all material bodies are composed of parts, are compounds of potency and act, are contingent, etc. To be simple is to be none of these things. But all the bodies you name (assuming they exist) are actually here but potentially there, consist of parts or portions, etc. Therefore, they are not simple in the Aristotelian sense.

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