William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Summary Against Modern Thought: God Is Intelligent

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.

Saint Wiki is back! But in case it disappears again, I’ll keep running links to both our translations.

Chapter 44 That God is Intelligent (alternate link)

[1] IT may be shown from the above that God is an intelligent being.

[4] Moreover. In no order of movers do we find that a mover by the intellect is the instrument of that which moves without intellect; but rather the opposite. Now all movers that are in the world, are compared to the first mover which is God, as instruments to the principal agent. Since then we find in the world many movers by intellect, it is impossible that the first mover move without intellect. Therefore God must of necessity be intelligent.

Notes Did you notice we return to Chapter 13 more than any other? Review, review, review. If, as is true, God is (ever) the first mover, then He must be intelligent, because why? Because randomness certainly cannot be intelligent and causal (think about it).

[5] Again. A thing is intelligent from the fact of its being without matter: in sign of which forms become understood by being abstracted from matter. Hence also understanding is of universals and not of singulars, because matter is the principle of individualization. Now forms actually understood become one with the intellect actually understanding. Wherefore, if forms are actually understood from the very fact that they are without matter, it follows that a thing is actually intelligent from the fact that it is without matter. Now it was shown above[2] that God is absolutely immaterial. Therefore He is intelligent.

Note Not only God’s, but our intellects are also immaterial. We are not our brains. See this review of Feser’s The Last Superstition for more detail.

Consider first that when we grasp the nature, essence, or form of a thing, it is necessarily one and the same form, nature, or essence that exists both in the thing and in the intellect. The form of triangularity that exists in our minds when we think about triangles is the same form that exists in actual triangles themselves; the form of “dogness” that exists in our minds when we think about dogs is the same form that exists in actual dogs; and so forth. If this weren’t the case, then we just wouldn’t really be thinking about triangles, dogs, and the like, since to think about these things requires grasping what they are, and what they are is determined by their essence or form. But now suppose that the intellect is a material thing—some part of the brain, or whatever. Then for the form to exist in the intellect is for the form to exist in a certain material thing. But for a form to exist in a material thing is just for that material thing to be the kind of thing the form is a form of; for example, for the form of “dogness” to exist in a certain parcel of matter is just for that parcel of matter to be a dog. And in that case, if your intellect was just the same thing as some part of your brain, it follows that that part of your brain would become a dog whenever you thought about dogs. “But that’s absurd!” you say. Of course it is; that’s the point. Assuming that the intellect is material leads to such absurdity; hence the intellect is not material.

[7] Moreover. Whatever tends definitely to an end, either prescribes that end to itself, or that end is prescribed to it by another: else it would not tend to this end rather than to that. Now natural things tend to definite ends, for they do not pursue their natural purposes by chance, since in that case those purposes would not be realized always or for the most part, but seldom, for of such is chance. Since then they do not prescribe the end to themselves, for they do not apprehend the notion of end, it follows that the end is prescribed to them by another, Who is the author of nature. This is He Who gives being to all, and Who necessarily exists of Himself, Whom we call God, as shown above.[6] Now He would be unable to prescribe nature its end unless He were intelligent. Therefore God is intelligent…

Notes The acorn doesn’t know it’s heading towards and oak: it is merely fulfilling its genetic plan. If conditions are right. If they are not, then the acorn does not reach its end. Now we know that acorns become oaks and not Buicks or octopuses. If there was no regularity, there’d not only be no oaks, there’d be no us, thus there’d be no arguments on whether teleology was real.

It’s not only acorns that move toward ends but photons in double-slit experiments, too. Those photons don’t become kumquats or icicles, but move in regular, predictable patterns—as if they had an end, which they do. Slide from acorns to photons to whatever is smaller or more basic. It will be the same story. Ends are being met. And those ends could not be caused by “chance”, which cannot be a cause. At base, there must be a first mover, first cause, that designs the ends which are met. There is no other way to produce regularity. The “laws” which govern the universe (all there is) must come from an intelligence; they cannot come from nothing or “blind chance”, which isn’t a power.

So we’re right back at Chapter 13 again. Plus, it doesn’t seem likely that most people would argue God is not intelligent (though they do incorrectly argue He doesn’t exist).

—————————————————————

[1] Ch. xiii.
[2] Chs. xvii., xx., xxvii.
[3] Ch. xxviii.
[4] Ch. xxxi.
[5] 3 De Anima viii. 1.
[6] Ch. xiii.
[7] Ps. cxxxviii. 6.

37 Comments

  1. I have no problem with the conclusion as you state at the end, but I find this argument to be very weak. For example:

    “In no order of movers do we find that a mover by the intellect is the instrument of that which moves without intellect; but rather the opposite.”

    This seems to beg the question since we are surrounded by physical processes that are not moved by an intelligent mover, i.e. the weather, unless we assume that the prime mover is intelligent. Also we, presumably intelligent, are moved by natural processes on a daily basis.

    “Since then we find in the world many movers by intellect, it is impossible that the first mover move without intellect.”

    We also find many things that move without intellect, unless we assume the conclusion.

    “Because randomness certainly cannot be intelligent and causal (think about it).”

    You usually define randomness as unknown, so I don’t follow your point here.

    “it follows that a thing is actually intelligent from the fact that it is without matter.”

    This seems absurd. It may be true that the intellect is immaterial but how is the reverse true? How do you even define the immaterial? Thus your dog in brain analogy does not make any sense.

    The final argument (7) is the teleological one, that intelligence means purpose and the physical world is seen to have purpose. Possibly, but this also seems to beg the question. I have the feeling that Aquinas will get more and more tenuous from here out. Either that or this is all too subtle for me.

  2. Sander van der Wak

    March 29, 2015 at 6:51 pm

    Let’s think abouth saber-tooth tigers instead of dogs. There have been more than one kind of species that are called saber-toothed tigers. Some of them even were real cats, family of the lion and the house cat.

    So, saber-toothed tigerness is not an essense, because completely different kinds of animals supposedly had it. Why should it be different for dogs? Because there is just one actual example, in stead of a number of actual examples?

  3. Ye Olde Statistician

    March 29, 2015 at 6:53 pm

    the physical world is seen to have purpose

    Technically, the physical world has telos. Natural selection in biology, for example, “tends toward” greater fitness in a niche. “Ad apt” is “toward apt(itude).” In fact, denying natural telos amounts to denying scientific laws. Efficient causes may push matter around; but unless they push it some particular direction, there is no law.

    Chastek puts it this way:

    Thomists … never based a cosmological argument on design as opposed to adaptation. The Fifth Way, for example, starts from action with a predictable terminus, and this is common to both designed and adapted systems. DVD players run just as well off of wall sockets (which were designed to convey an electric charge) as off of cigarette lighters in cars (which were not, but merely adapted to the purpose). Both systems act in predictable and structured ways, and this is the way in which nature depends on intelligence.

    Purpose is only one sort of telos. Three basic sorts are:
    1. Termination. The process simply stops. The reaction is complete. The fingers have reached their final length. The telemeres have divided for the last time. This rest state may be a single point on the equilibrium manifold, or it may be an “orbit” or other repeating state, as in a Belusov reaction.

    2. Perfection. The process achieves all that is achievable of its nature. The tiger cub grows into an adult tiger, at which point it possesses all the attributes of tiger-hood. It can become no more tigerish. When two hydrogen and one oxygen atom have combined, the water molecule is perfected. The molecule lacks in nothing it should possess to be a water molecule.

    3. Intention. Many animal and human activities are planned or intended in advance and so can be seen as end-directed from the beginning. The wolf sets out in search of prey. The salmon swims upstream in search of the spawning grounds. A bird selects a twig to build a nest. A person building a house or a bird building a nest must have in advance some notion of what is intended, either intellectively (the person) or instinctively (the bird). Otherwise neither builder would know how to gather the materials.

    Much anxiety is expended over the belief that all telos if of the third kind, and that this always involves intelligence.

    But the argument here is not that the existence of scientific laws of nature demonstrates the existence of God. The existence theorems were many moons ago — although earlier proofs do tend to fade from consciousness — but that the ordering of Nature toward an end requires intelligence and, that ordering having been by God, God must have intelligence. (Though I think this is properly “intellect.”) If a natural intelligence causes a motion, it makes “art,” not “nature.”

  4. Too true YoS, a lot of modern art would seem to have been caused by a motion.

  5. TOF always move the level of argumentation toward its telos, namely, truth.

  6. Does Aquinas ever address God’s narcissism?

    JMJ

  7. JMJ – You first.

  8. Only if you worship me.

    JMJ

  9. What is the point exactly of dredging up this antique nonsense?

    Is the purpose of the exercise to pretend that this gibberish has some deep and profound meaning by virtue of the fact that the gibberish cannot be translated into anything comprehensible? Hence, one can pretend it’s a sort of secret codex of Dan Brownian mysterious into the true nature of reality?

    I suppose the only insight I’ve gathered from refreshing my memory over this types of writing is that post-modernism owes a lot more to socialistic and neo platonic thought than it would probably care to admit.

  10. Briggs

    March 30, 2015 at 7:05 am

    Will,

    I can’t speak for anybody else, of course, but your keen insight and brilliant argument have convinced me. “Antique nonsense”, “gibberish”? That’s about as definitive a take down as you can get.

    Unfortunately, since we’re throwing out the old and things you cannot understand, all of logic and mathematics will have to go, too. But be of good cheer. Millions of schoolchildren will be glad of the respite.

  11. Ye Olde Statistician

    March 30, 2015 at 10:03 am

    post-modernism owes a lot more to socialistic and neo platonic thought than it would probably care to admit.

    Fortunately, all this antique stuff here is Aristotelian thought. Whew.

    What is the point exactly of dredging up this antique nonsense?

    Logic is fun! Even if it has gone out of style.

    “[The] appeal of the cult of Reason began to weaken not only among intellectuals but among the general public.”
    — John Lukacs, At the End of an Age

  12. Dr Briggs, let’s analyse any sentence in that dialog, nay, any paragraph. If you can separate any part of it from nonsense, you’ll have a great opportunity to show me up as a windbag. I’ll let you pick anything there you want, that you feel might have the remotest possibility of intellectual coherence. Or we can just start at the beginning talking about the “movers”. God gives everything a big “push” at the beginning of time, transferring impetus into various other entities, which transfer their impetus into yet other entities and so forth. Let’s ignore how ludicrous this type of “physics” is, pretend Newton and Einstein never happened, and go back to rubbing sticks together in the dark while we all pat each other on the back about how modern thought was a big mistake. Next week we can go off and admire how the various creation myths of aboriginal tribes sticks it to those silly modern cosmological ideas.

  13. – What is the point exactly of dredging up this antique nonsense?
    -Logic is fun! Even if it has gone out of style.

    It has a point of sorts. It’s constructive in understanding failures of reasoning. There is a story philosophers tell each other about Wittgenstein, who when asked if he’d ever read Plato or Aristotle, retorted, what could that writing ever teach me?

    Well, I always thought Wittgenstein had made a mistake. He spent a life time teasing out very subtle errors in logic and reasoning from modern philosophical writing. He could have categorized those errors much more quickly had he viewed them in their original full glory.

  14. Ye Olde Statistician

    March 30, 2015 at 6:30 pm

    God gives everything a big “push” at the beginning of time

    Wrong.

  15. The universe is evidence of haphazardous trial and error and not of intelligent steering. Oh wait, I forgot, this of course is Thomism.
    God is “Intelligent”, which means standard definitions of intelligent are not applicable. Like previously “one” and “good” and “body”.

  16. I doubt very much that the universe is made up of ‘haphazardous trial and error’. Who is running the trials? And who decides what are and aren’t errors?

  17. Ye Olde Statistician

    March 30, 2015 at 10:05 pm

    The universe is evidence of haphazardous trial and error and not of intelligent steering.

    Actually, it seems more like evidence for lawful behavior and adaptation. Stars form from gravitational collapse of hydrogen countered by the expansive force of radiation pressure. Oaks grow from acorns. New species arise from organisms struggling to self-actualize their particular goals and thereby exploiting the possibilities of some copying error in their genes. (If evolution were haphazard, then cats could give birth to dogs, and eels evolve into ospreys.)

    Besides, few things require more intelligent planning than a casino.

    The Fifth Way, for example, starts from action with a predictable terminus, and this is common to both designed and adapted systems. DVD players run just as well off of wall sockets (which were designed to convey an electric charge) as off of cigarette lighters in cars (which were not, but merely adapted to the purpose). Both systems act in predictable and structured ways, and this is the way in which nature depends on intelligence.
    — Chastek
    https://thomism.wordpress.com/2015/01/29/evolutionary-theodicy/

  18. New species don’t self-actualize anything, not even the conscious ones (us). Although I appreciate this is a flavour of Plato’s Forms. Hence, its dogma not philosophy. The question isn’t whether the universe is ordered, but how the ordering came about. If you say the ordering is ‘intelligent’ then that doesn’t imply the intelligence is ‘conscious’. Since we’ve managed to create machines that exhibit intelligence now, although obviously in limited domains. Unless of course, you arbitrarily disallow any definition of intelligence except for ‘conscious’ intelligence. (Which is what Dr Briggs does, and for reasons I understand, but not for reasons I think hold up philosophically any more.)

  19. “If evolution were haphazard, then cats could give birth to dogs, and eels evolve into ospreys”
    True but if evolution was planned then 99% of all species That ever lived would not have been extinct.

  20. Ye Olde Statistician

    March 31, 2015 at 11:49 am

    New species don’t self-actualize anything

    Of course they do. They seek their goods: food, mates, etc. Darwin called this “the struggle for existence” and considered it the engine that drove the origin of new species.

    Although I appreciate this is a flavour of Plato’s Forms. Hence, its dogma not philosophy.

    Plato was a theologian? Who knew? However, it is not Plato’s forms, but Aristotle’s that make modern science intelligible.

    Since we’ve managed to create machines that exhibit intelligence

    Actually, we have not.

    Unless of course, you arbitrarily disallow any definition of intelligence except for ‘conscious’ intelligence.

    Consciousness arises in the brain due to the common sense. The common sense compiles all the sensory inputs (which arrive in the brain at different instants) into a single phantasm. The act divides the world into the perceiving subject and the perceived object, which is the essence of consciousness. Since this is true even of cockroaches, it is hard to see how there could be intelligence without consciousness.

    “Intelligence” is as the word implies the ability to “read between” the lines; that is, to discern things that are implicit in the perceived objects but not explicit. As such, it is tied to the intellect. However, in order to assemble artificial intelligences, it has been necessary to “define intelligence down” to something buildable, hence one often hears it said of simple memory-of-many-factoids, as in the game Jeopardy or of possible-next-moves in chess.

  21. Ye Olde Statistician

    March 31, 2015 at 12:38 pm

    if evolution was planned then 99% of all species That ever lived would not have been extinct.

    Why do you think so? A plan can include extinctions.

    You may be thinking of planning and design in the sense of a draftsman with a blueprint. But I may have designs on a piece of chocolate without having a blueprint of it. Think “intention,” not “engineer.”

  22. There appears to be quite a lot of bloviating on the part of the critics here.

  23. “Why do you think so? A plan can include extinctions.”

    This is similar to the argument that all of geology was put there by God to test the Faithful, and that the universe is actually really on 4000 years old. It’s possible. Just not especially likely. 😉

  24. Ye Olde Statistician

    March 31, 2015 at 6:14 pm

    It’s not especially similar. I was just wondering why Hans thought a plan would necessarily exclude extinctions.
    https://thomism.wordpress.com/2015/01/29/evolutionary-theodicy/

  25. Because the argument is that God is intelligent. Actually supreme intelligence. So can build a scheme that doesn’t require trial and error. He could even build a world that isn’t always changing, hence necessitating extinctions. It’s not a unreasonable question. The catch-all response is, of course, that God Works In Mysterious Ways. Thomism was abandoned as a philosophy because it failed the utility test. Just as countless other philosophies have failed such tests.

  26. Ye Olde Statistician

    March 31, 2015 at 11:44 pm

    Thomism was abandoned as a philosophy because it failed the utility test.

    Utility test? Who knew.

    Historically, of course, it was abandoned for other reasons.

  27. Utility test as in ‘of no practical use’. In fact it was a hindrance for a very long time as ideas incompatible with Thomism were dismissed by virtue of the authority of the scholastics. That was why it was an uphill battle in some domains to have the ideas of Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, et al., ‘accepted’. Everyone knew this, as in historians of science and other literate people, present company excepted.

  28. Ye Olde Statistician

    April 1, 2015 at 12:36 pm

    Utility test as in ‘of no practical use’.

    That was the reason Sherlock Holmes gave to Dr. Watson why he knew nothing about and would endeavor to forget what Watson had just told him about the Copernican system. It was of no practical use to him.

    ideas incompatible with Thomism were dismissed by virtue of the authority of the scholastics.

    Which ideas were those?

    it was an uphill battle in some domains to have the ideas of Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, et al., ‘accepted’.

    So which was it? Copernicus or Kepler? (It could not be both. Galileo did not add to or change Copernicus’ model.)
    The battle was uphill (as for any paradigm shift in natural science) because important empirical data was against them.

    Everyone knew this, as in historians of science and other literate people, present company excepted.

    http://tofspot.blogspot.com/2013/08/the-great-ptolemaic-smackdown.html

  29. We read a lot of claims by St. Thomas of the type “God is X”, without him taking the trouble of defining X.

    Are the definitions of the X’s of St. Thomas really the same as the definition of our X’s?

    “Intelligent” is a good example, “universe” also.

  30. It’s not in the interests of Thomism or most flavours of Aristotelian or Platonic thought, to precisely define anything. That way, no claim can be disproved as nobody is quite sure what the writing is actually claiming. More importantly, it’s possible to reach interesting and startling conclusions merely by subtly shifting the meanings of individual words between sentences. This word play dazzles people such as Ye Olde, who are wanting to be dazzled by the vagaries of this type of writing. Others, not so much.

  31. Ye Olde Statistician

    April 1, 2015 at 8:04 pm

    Thomas did not use the term “universe” but rather the more prevalent word “world.” (Actually of course the Latin word mundus) But later “world” got demoted to mean a “planet”.

    A great many startling conclusions have been reached by shifting the meanings of terms from what the originators meant in the common usage of the time.

    Time as the measure of change in changeable being — say, the decay of cesium atoms — was for a time forgotten and time was regarded as some sort of absolute until Einstein restored it to the original meaning.

  32. YOS, sorry to intrude but the cesium used in atomic clocks is not radioactive and does not decay. See: (I have a vague feeling that I’ve said this before)

    http://science.howstuffworks.com/atomic-clock3.htm

    Will, if you are going to debate someone of YOS’ caliber you are going to have to up your game. Try giving a concrete example of your claim.

  33. “Because randomness certainly cannot be intelligent and causal (think about it).” — Cf. that YouTube video “The Reductionist Delusion,” at least in regard to a particular kind of example. Sorry, shameless plug, but I’m just backing you up on this.

    Intelligence can produce results that seem random, though there are some real subtleties to this, as Donald Knuth pointed out in his study of “random-number” generators, but randomness cannot mimic intelligence except to a very limited degree.

  34. I don’t debate dogmatists over non-contested issues settled centuries ago. It is perhaps interesting to discuss what we can learn, philosophically, from the mistakes made by Scholastics. Obviously, there is no point debating such issues with people who still consider themselves Scholastic. That debate was started by Descartes, and the Scholastics lost it five centuries ago. If you grew up in a closet, and you’re five centuries behind in intellectual thought, it’s not my job to bring you up to speed. As good a place to start, as any, would be Discourse on the Method, and then Principles of Philosophy.

  35. “but randomness cannot mimic intelligence except to a very limited degree.”

    Randomness can’t mimic anything except randomness.

  36. “Intelligence can produce results that seem random,”

    OTOH Random processes can produce results that seem intelligent.
    e.g. Face on Mars

  37. Ye Olde Statistician

    April 2, 2015 at 5:02 pm

    I don’t debate dogmatists over non-contested issues settled centuries ago.

    You are producing a good simulation of it, though. The best way to not debate is to remain silent.

    It is perhaps interesting to discuss what we can learn, philosophically, from the mistakes made by Scholastics.

    In debate, this is what is known as “begging the question.” That is, you are embedding your conclusion in the proposition. This, of course, is something that you can learn from the scholastics, who endeavored to avoid such logical fallacies. Scholasticism was rejected by the Renaissance dudes because it was “too damned logical.” The Rengen much preferred the witty insult coupled with a reference to Greece and Rome.

    That debate was started by Descartes

    The odd thing is that much of what is being objected to these days were assertions made by Descartes, the ghost-in-the-machine guy, whose tampering with a well-built structure of thought with ad hoc adjustments resulted in the mind-body problem, the problem of the qualia, and the other “problems” of modern philosophy. It seems unfair to object to Cartesian things with the belief that you are objecting to Scholasticism.

    Here is an amusing commentary on Hume — a rival school to Descartes, but one incoherently held by moderns together with Descartes! — written in Hume’s style:
    https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B7SKlRTfkUieNV9tZkpobWVRWFE/edit

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