William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Summary Against Modern Thought: Proving God is Omniscient

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.

My predictions were right: attentions flagged. Yet we have to plow through this material. I recall in a course on “Long-memory time series” sitting through a proof that took four hours (spread over two weeks). The destination was unremarkable and the only way anybody knew to get there was through a dense forest. Here the going is slightly easier, plus our destination a lot more interesting.

Be sure to read at least the last Note.

Chapter 47 That God Understands Himself Perfectly (alternate translation)

[3]…A material thing is made intelligible by being abstracted from matter and from material conditions. Wherefore that which by its nature is severed from matter and from material conditions, is by its very nature intelligible. Now every intelligible is understood according as it is actually one with the intelligent: and God is Himself intelligent, as we have proved.[1] Therefore since He is altogether immaterial, and is absolutely one with Himself, He understands Himself most perfectly.

Notes We’re skipping around, but this material is stunningly important for understanding the immateriality of the intellect. Not just of God’s. Ours, too. Our understanding of the essence of material things cannot itself be material. Ask Jack Aubrey would say, “Ain’t you amazed?”

Chapter 48 That God Knows Only Himself First And Per Se (alternate translation)

[3]…It is impossible to understand simultaneously several things first and per se: since one operation cannot terminate simultaneously in several things. Now God understands Himself sometimes, as we have proved.[2] Therefore if He understands something else by way of an object understood first and per se, it follows that His intellect is changed from consideration to consideration of that thing. But this thing is less excellent than He. Therefore the divine intellect would be changed for the worse: which is impossible.

Notes Given the premises, I can’t see even ardent atheists not accepting this. Don’t forget the “given the premises” part. Review, review, review.

Chapter 49 That God Knows Things Other Than Himself (alternate translation)

[2]…For the knowledge of an effect is sufficiently obtained from knowledge of the cause: wherefore we are said to know a thing when we know its cause.[1] Now God by His essence is the cause of being in other things. Since therefore He knows His own essence most fully, we must conclude that He knows other things also.

Notes [1] 1 Poster. Anal. ii. 1. (Aristotle, of course). This one is used in Science, too.

Chapter 50 That God Has Proper Knowledge Of All Things (alternate translation)

[2]…let us suppose that God is the cause of every being, which is clear to a certain extent from what has been said above,[2] and will be more fully proved further on.[3] Accordingly then there can be nothing in a thing without its being caused by Him indirectly or directly. Now if the cause be known its effect is known. Wherefore all that is in anything whatsoever can be known if God be known as well as all the causes intervening between God and that thing.

Now God knows Himself and all the causes that intervene between Him and any thing whatever. For it has been shown already that He knows Himself perfectly.[4] And through knowing Himself He knows whatever proceeds from Him immediately: and again through knowing this, He knows whatever proceeds therefrom immediately, and so on as regards every intervening cause until the ultimate effect. Therefore God knows whatever is in a thing. Now this is to have proper and complete knowledge of a thing, namely, to know whatever is in a thing, whether common or proper. Therefore God has proper knowledge of things, according as they are distinct from one another.

Notes We are accepting, at least for the sake of argument, that God is the ultimate cause of every being. The rest follows immediately. The first paragraph (as always, I added the break) is succinct. Even if you skip the remaining notes, do read the last.

[3] Further. Whatever acts by intellect, has knowledge of what it does, as regards the proper idea of the thing done: because the knowledge of the doer appoints the form to the thing done. Now God is cause of things by His intellect: since His being is His act of intelligence, and every thing acts in so far as it is actual. Therefore He knows His effect properly, according as it is distinct from others.

Notes Which reminds us of George Carlin’s defense in a case of bank robbery, “I’m sorry, judge, I just forgot.”

[4] Moreover. The distinction of things cannot arise from chance, for it has a fixed order. Hence it follows that the distinction among things proceeds from the intention of some cause. But it cannot proceed from the intention of a cause that acts from natural necessity: because nature is determined to one thing, so that nothing that acts from natural necessity can have an intention in relation to several things considered as distinct from one another.

It remains therefore that the distinction among things arises from the intention of a cause endowed with knowledge. Now it would seem proper to an intellect to consider the distinction among things: wherefore Anaxagoras[5] declared that an intellect was the principle of distinction. But taken as a whole the distinction of things cannot proceed from the intention of any second cause, since all such causes are included in the universality of distinct effects. Wherefore it belongs to the first cause, which is of itself distinct from all others, to intend the distinction among all things. Therefore God knows things as distinct….

Notes “The distinction of things cannot arise from chance,” which says it all. The cause must have knowledge, because causes are directed towards an end. As for the rest…

Recapitulation. We started with knowledge our sense impressions gave us: that some things change. Why? Because of some cause. What was the nature of the cause for the per-se here-and-now cause? A First Mover. We proved this First Mover had to be the same for every change. “It” had to have no potentiality, “it” was outside time, i.e. eternal, that this Mover was God. It followed that God’s existence and essence were one, that He had no body or materiality, that God could not be known completely, but was Good, i.e. the basis and definition of Good.

And now, though there are a details to mop up (mostly in characterizing this knowledge), we have finally proved that God knows everything. Omniscience. We assumed Omnipotence, but we have already partly proved that. An amazing string of deductions, no? Yes. We’re moving towards God is Truth, Happiness, and all that. After we mop up the characteristics of God, we prove God is the creator, creating big-bang like, out of nothing (no thing). We look at the soul. And much more!

The best way to review is to scan first the Aquinas’s original writing without my comments. For sticky points, then use my notes.

[2] Ch. xiii.
[3] Bk. II., ch. xv.
[4] Ch. xlvii.
[5] 8 Phys. i. 2; ix. 3.
[6] Ch. xxviii.
[7] D. 3. ii. 5.
[8] Ch. xxviii.
[9] 1 Phys. ix. 3.
[10] Sum. Th. P. I., Q. xiv., A. 11.
[11] D. 2. iv. 15.

15 Comments

  1. Dear Dr. Briggs:

    Since this note is not about the article above – it’s about your Brietbart piece about sustainability – please delete it after reading.

    As is so often the case, I agree with your opinions as expressed there but disagree about one particular piece of supporting “evidence” -in this case the claim that “sustainability” is undefined. The term has a very clear and well understood meaning among insider intelligensia: something is sustainable iff it has the effect of reducing the earth’s human population – a belief going back to about 1799 when the cafe philosophers whose “work” eventually gave us Mao et al mis-translated Malthus to suit their own beliefs about themselves.

  2. Sander van der Wal

    April 19, 2015 at 4:49 pm

    You proved that all things that are caused are known to God. But everything that is not caused is not automatically known to God. which means that God must know why all those other things that are not caused cannot be caused. But you have not proved that.

  3. “Our understanding of the essence of material things cannot itself be material.”

    Sure it can. It is. Tiny material on a speedy, complex, interconnected scale, but it is all just material in the end. What we think of as an act of understanding, “intelligence,” is really just the changing of our material.

    JMJ

  4. “A material thing is made intelligible by being abstracted from matter and from material conditions.”

    1. Why should a material thing made intelligible by being abstracted? What is the basis for this claim?

    2. If something is made abstract, it typically becomes less intelligible does it not? Why does this sentence claim the opposite of what we logically recognize?

    3. What are “material conditions” ? What is meant by this?

    4. If this is an attempt to separate thought from material, how does one do this? Is not everything ultimately thought even we think about *things* ? Or does the author refer to things we can touch and feel versus thoughts that only exist as thoughts? I.e., stones versus happiness?

    5. Since the opening sentence is obviously unintelligible gibberish what is the point of drawing inferences from premises that begin as gibberish?

    6. Is the ultimate point of this exercise to reach a preconceived conclusion?

    And that’s only the problems with the first sentence…

  5. Sure it can. It is. Tiny material on a speedy, complex, interconnected scale, but it is all just material in the end. What we think of as an act of understanding, “intelligence,” is really just the changing of our material.

    LOL.

  6. When one declares everything is material one is professing a point of view that is about three centuries out of date. (Although that’s somewhat better than attempting to seriously discuss philosophy a thousand years out of date.) Are thoughts material? A simpler question: is music material? Well, one might argue that music can be represented as an arrangement of patterns within a material. But it’s not the material itself, is it? Is a vacuum material? If it isn’t, what is it? It makes no sense to talk about a vacuum being made of anything. Is time material? When we discuss the curvature of space-time in relativity theory, clearly the ‘curve’ in space is not ‘made’ of ‘material’. Are numbers material? Clearly the number ‘3’ is not made of a material substance, yet numbers exist. So things exist that aren’t material, unless you redefine the word ‘material’ to mean ‘all that exists’.

  7. @Will Nitschke:

    “Why should a material thing made intelligible by being abstracted? What is the basis for this claim?”

    That is what being made intelligible means for Aquinas: the formal principle of a material thing is abstracted, or separated, in the mind and grasped as formal principle. I can grasp what a Tree is, without myself becoming a tree — e.g. the formal principle is abstracted, or separated, in the mind from its concrete material instantiating conditions.

    “Since the opening sentence is obviously unintelligible gibberish what is the point of drawing inferences from premises that begin as gibberish?”

    Since quite obviously you do not have the faintest clue of what Aquinas is talking about, why so you insist on posing questions whose only point is to demonstrate (as if we needed such a demonstration) that you have no idea what you are talking about?

  8. Rodrigues, everyone studies the Platonists and (usually the neo-Platonists) at some point during their study of philosophy in the universities, if one studied philosophy in the universities of course. (I first encountered Aquinas during my study of the philosophy of jurisprudence.) So I’m assuming we’re all familiar with the concepts of the platonic forms. But platonic forms don’t tell us or teach us anything useful. But if you think I’m wrong and think using platonic forms in modern intellectual discourse means something or is helpful in some way, please speak up and explain how this is achieved. It’s been tried for a few thousand years with no useful result, but maybe you’ve discovered something nobody else had to date. How is this abstracting process intellectually? What is the ideal form of a ‘tree’ ? Does this thing even exist? On what basis do you argue it does exist as opposed to the whole idea being a nonsense concept?

    Note, I don’t believe it was a nonsense concept thousands of years ago. It was an impressive starting point for the creation philosophy. My question is, how is it not nonsense today?

  9. @Will Nitschke:

    “But platonic forms don’t tell us or teach us anything useful.”

    Aquinas is not a Platonist, but a moderate realist after Aristotle. When you say you have “encountered Aquinas during my study of the philosophy of jurisprudence”, I believe what you encountered, if you encountered anything at all, was not Aquinas but only a ghost vaguely resembling him.

    I do not have the time or the patience (and I suspect neither do you) to address either your chronological snobbery, as if Philosophical ideas lose their validity or are refuted in the same way as scientific ideas, or their usefulness or lack of it (useful *for* what?), or respond to your rather disingenuous request (do you expect anyone to go through the whole dialectic on realism and or essentialism in a combox comment?), or even to lighten your ignorance of Aquinas. I will repeat myself and quote the last paragraph (one typo corrected):

    “Since quite obviously you do not have the faintest clue of what Aquinas is talking about, why do you insist on posing questions whose only point is to demonstrate (as if we needed such a demonstration) that you have no idea what you are talking about?”

  10. Rodrigues,

    Your historical ignorance of Aquinas doesn’t help your case that you are not prepared to debate the ‘ignorant’. There are obvious neo-platonic influences in the writings of Aquinas which is not a point of dispute among academics. His use of ‘abstraction’ which you non explained, was a perfect example of that. Every stupid argument or claim made on the internet is routinely defended with the counter claim that the argument isn’t dumb, but rather the people who rejected it failed to appreciate its nuanced genius. Every piece of post modernist gibberish written up in pseudo intellectual literary journals come with the rubber stamped defense that their writings are too far advanced for the proletarians to comprehend.

  11. @Will Nitschke:

    “There are obvious neo-platonic influences in the writings of Aquinas which is not a point of dispute among academics. His use of ‘abstraction’ which you non explained, was a perfect example of that.”

    I know that very well, as (to give just one example) quotes of the pseudo-Dionysius figure very high in Aquinas corpus. Nothing I said contradicts or is inconsistent with this, because what I said was “Aquinas is not a Platonist, but a moderate realist after Aristotle” in *response* to “But platonic forms don’t tell us or teach us anything useful”.

    And no, “his”, Aquinas, “use of ‘abstraction'” is definitely not a “perfect example of that” (presumably of his neo-Platonism), because once again, everyone that has even the barest of bare acquaintance with Aquinas, knows that he rejects some of the most important doctrines in Plato’s account of knowledge. The classical locus for this being q84 of the Summa Theologica (and the ones following it, for a more complete account of Aquinas’ account of knowledge).

    Here is the thing: it is not me who is “historically ignorant”, it is you. Not only you do not know, you do not know that you do not know. And this is *demonstrably* true, and quite clearly, so there is no need to invoke “stud[ies] of the philosophy of jurisprudence” or some such, as if by dropping such references I would fall in awe of your non-existent knowledge. Your silly, vulgar and quite pathetic jabs about “unintelligible gibberish” or the latest about “post modernist gibberish written up in pseudo intellectual literary journals” do not change this one iota. You are railing against figments of your imagination.

  12. Rodrigues your silly, largely uneducated, and angry comment translates into an admission that you are not prepared to actually discuss Aquinas because you know as well as I do, that this archaic philosophy is intellectually indefensible. Otherwise you would mount a defense since that’s what the topic of this thread is all about? Are you going to persist in the childish strategy of insisting that Aquinas is so brilliant that dumb people (excluding yourself of course) just can’t ‘get’ what he is on about? Perhaps ultimately the only interesting question here is in relation to the unlimited capacity of the human mind to self delude.

    So I’m standing by the utterly obvious claim that what Dr Brigg’s has posted is largely meaningless drivel – in the sense of those words having any intellectual merit today – although you could easily debunk that claim by explaining what deep insights that writing has. Since it has done, you’re obviously not going to attempt that. Aquinas’s writings on these topics remind me of many other impenetrable philosophers that the intellectually insecure worship, yet don’t understand. Much of Kant’s tortured writings spring to mind.

  13. @Will Nitschke:

    “Otherwise you would mount a defense since that’s what the topic of this thread is all about?”

    In order to mount a defense, there would have to be an attack in the first place, but there isn’t. There is only your inane prattle about “unintelligible gibberish” and “archaic philosophy” and other choice slogans in the same vein. To mistake this for a genuine objection would be to mistake uninformed gossip for genuine philosophical discussion. I have already *proved* that you get even the most elementary, basic things about Aquinas utterly wrong, so I am done here. Your childish taunts mean absolutely nothing to me.

  14. So you’re not going to translate this gibberish into English? And explain how you arrived at the translation? Didn’t think so.

  15. @Will Nitschke

    I notice you constantly quibble over these posts and claim they’re too nonsensical and/or esoteric to understand. I just read one of your comments on another post where you claim to be trained in philosophy. I’m not; nor am I trained in medieval vocabulary and yet I don’t seem to have near as much trouble understanding these posts as you claim to.
    For instance in this post you complain about this point: “A material thing is made intelligible by being abstracted from matter and from material conditions.” Maybe it needs to be read more than once but it’s hardly written in another language nor is what it is saying particularly unreasonable.

    1. Why should a material thing made intelligible by being abstracted? What is the basis for this claim?

    Because thought itself is an abstraction. But more on that later.

    2. If something is made abstract, it typically becomes less intelligible does it not? Why does this sentence claim the opposite of what we logically recognize?

    BECAUSE WE DON’T LOGICALLY RECOGNIZE THAT AT ALL!!
    This. I can’t believe you actually wrote this and claim any kind of intellectual or rational superiority (you certainly don’t act humble in your questions or criticisms like your inability to understand might somehow be your own fault). My incredulity is only exacerbated by your response to JMJ where you state, “Clearly the number ‘3’ is not made of a material substance, yet numbers exist.” You acknowledge that numbers are immaterial and exist!? You do know that numbers are BY DEFINITION abstract objects, don’t you? Physicists have done an EXCEEDINGLY good job of doing EXACTLY what this sentence that you claim is gibberish states. Physicists have made excellent careers of making material things more intelligible by abstracting them. If you’ve ever described anything ever using math you are a poster boy for Aquinas’ first point in this post!

    Technically, anytime you generalize a problem and use representations (which is what you’re doing when you use math to describe and predict real world phenomena) then you are abstracting. This is by no means limited to numbers! For example, in war movies when generals move figurines around a table map to plan battle strategies? That is also a form of abstraction! Ever used graphs or any other kind of representational data? Then you have used abstraction to increase intelligibility!
    When you think of a tree do you truly know everything about it? Where every water molecule is in it and it’s orientation? What about something macroscopic like every leaf? Could you even if you wanted to? So you’re definitely generalizing.
    Are your thoughts made of leaves and wood? Does a tree physically materialize inside your brain or before your eyes when you think of one? No? Then you are using something else to represent the tree. This would be true even if we embraced JMJ’s material reductivism.
    Your thoughts are a generalization and are representational of other things. Therefore, thoughts are an abstraction. Without thoughts there’d be no thinking and nothing would be intelligible. Therefore, abstraction is necessary for intelligibility.

    With that said something CAN be too abstract to understand but this is a problem of degree, NOT of kind! It’s also relatively true. Maxwell’s equations are FAR too abstract to someone still learning to add but are understandable to proficient physicists and mathematicians. Business graphs will generally be too abstract for some random person on the street but hopefully they make perfect sense to the people who actually know the business.

    3. What are “material conditions” ? What is meant by this?

    Material means it’s made of physical things. He’s talking about physical things and the physical conditions they’re in and our ability to understand them. This isn’t a foreign language! It’s not even removed from everyday modern English. I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed but you have to be deliberately obtuse to claim not to understand this first sentence!

    4. If this is an attempt to separate thought from material, how does one do this? Is not everything ultimately thought even we think about *things* ? Or does the author refer to things we can touch and feel versus thoughts that only exist as thoughts? I.e., stones versus happiness?

    He’s saying that to understand anything at all about the universe we live in requires thought which is an abstraction of whatever physical thing in the universe we’re thinking about. Period.

    5. Since the opening sentence is obviously unintelligible gibberish what is the point of drawing inferences from premises that begin as gibberish?

    Once upon a time the nuance between position, speed, velocity, and acceleration were unintelligible to me but never once did I insist that it was the teacher, the subject, or the universe that was being unintelligible but rather my own understanding that made it seem so.
    I refuse to believe that anyone that’s smart enough to get on comment boards and write legible and coherent sentences is as obtuse as you seem to be. I can only conclude that you are being deliberately so, but why? Did a painting of Aquinas fall on and kill your mother or something? I could understand disagreeing with his arguments or his philosophical backdrop but to claim this rather simple and dare I say uncontroversial first sentence is unintelligible gibberish is insulting your own intelligence!

    6. Is the ultimate point of this exercise to reach a preconceived conclusion?

    This is the only intelligent question in the six! I think the answer is yes. With that said, let’s be wary of then condemning it which would be a genetic fallacy (or maybe a fallacy fallacy). Regardless, of the original intent it isn’t begging the question and using circular reasoning.
    If you have a legitimate complaint you need to show that the premises are flawed or that the conclusions don’t necessarily follow. But this constant insistence that it is just ‘unintelligible gibberish’ which then allows you to complain without actually putting forth any kind of intellectual work (especially for something as easy to understand as this sentence you singled out!) is just an insult to yourself.

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