William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Summary Against Modern Thought: God Brought Things Into Being Out Of Nothing

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.

We’re only to start the proof of the title’s contention; we’ll finish it next week. Don’t complain. I once sat through a two week proof of a theorem in a long-memory course. This is peanuts next to that.

Chapter 16 That God Brought Things Into Being Out Of Nothing(alternate translation)

[1] FROM this it is clear that God brought things into being out of no pre-existing thing as matter.

[2] For if a thing is an effect of God, either something exists before it, or not. If not, our point is proved, namely that God produces an effect from no pre-existing thing. If however something exists before it, we must either go on to infinity,–which is impossible in natural causes, as the Philosopher proves (2 Metaph.)–or we must come to some first thing that presupposes no other. And this can only be God. For it was shown in the First Book that He is not the matter of any thing, nor can there be anything other than God the being of which is not caused by God, as we have proved. It follows therefore that God in producing His effects requires no prejacent matter out of which to produce His work.

Notes We did this in Book One. Y could cause Z, and X could cause Y, and W cause X, and so on, but we have to bottom out somewhere to get the process going. There has to be some A which is the root or fundamental cause from which all other things have their being. prejacent = preexisting.

[3] Further. Every matter is constricted to some particular species by the form with which it is superendued. Hence to produce an effect out of prejacent matter by enduing it with a form in any way belongs to an agent that aims at some particular species. Now a like agent is a particular agent, since causes are proportionate to their effects. Therefore an agent that requires of necessity prejacent matter out of which to work its effect, is a particular agent. But God is an agent as being the universal cause of being, as was proved above. Therefore He needs no prejacent matter in His action.

Notes You, dear reader, a particular agent, can make an astray, a form within a species of ash-catching devices, out of preexisting clay. But you cannot make the clay out of nothing, where by nothing Aquinas means the complete and utter absence of any material thing or energy (the two are now known to be equivalent in a certain sense). superendued = endowed = superinductam in the original.

[4] Again. The more universal an effect, the higher its proper cause: because the higher the cause, to so many more things does its virtue extend. Now to be is more universal than to be moved: since some beings are immovable, as also philosophers teach, for instance stones and the like.

It follows therefore that above the cause which acts only by causing movement and change, there is that cause which is the first principle of being: and we have proved that this is God. Therefore God does not act merely by causing movement and change. Now everything that cannot bring things into being save from prejacent matter, acts only by causing movement and change, since to make aught out of matter is the result of movement or change of some kind. Consequently it is not impossible to bring things into being without prejacent matter. Therefore God brings things into being without prejacent matter.

Notes We’re back—as we often are!—to Chapter 13 of Book One. Aquinas, incidentally, does not mean that stones cannot be moved; he means they don’t self-motivate. That makes this the most fascinating part of this argument: “everything that cannot bring things into being save from prejacent matter, acts only by causing movement and change, since to make aught out of matter is the result of movement or change of some kind.”

Now physics is the study of movement and change. But physics is not science of how things are brought “into being without prejacent matter”. Too, that things are created out of nothing could not have been proved within physics proper. A physicist who doesn’t understand this can therefore misdirect his energy. Finding the precise point of intersection where metaphysics ends and physics begins isn’t necessarily easy, either!

[5] Again. That which acts only by movement and change is inconsistent with the universal cause of being; since by movement and change a being is not made from absolute non-being, but this being from this non-being. Now God is the universal cause of being, as we have proved. Therefore it is not becoming to Him to act only by movement or change. Neither then is it becoming to Him to need preexisting matter, in order to make something.

[6] Moreover. Every agent produces something like itself in some way. Now every agent acts according as it is actually. Consequently to produce an effect by causing in some way a form inherent to matter, will belong to that agent, which is actualized by a form inherent to it, and not by its whole substance.

Hence the Philosopher proves (7 Metaph.) that material things, which have forms in matter, are engendered by material agents that have forms in matter, and not by per se existing forms. Now God is actual being not by a form inherent to Him, but by His whole substance, as we have proved above. Therefore the proper mode of His action is to produce a whole subsistent thing, and not merely an inherent thing, namely a form in matter. And every agent that requires no matter for its action, acts in this way. Therefore God requires no preexisting matter in His action.

Notes It is not the form of the ash tray which, somehow Platonically, creates the ash tray out of the clay. It is you, the agent, which is the cause. The form in the clay is inherent, but the clay itself, its total matter-energy, is subsistent. But you still don’t have power to create the clay itself. God, since He is subsitence or being itself, can do what is impossible for you.

Next week we finish the chapter.

20 Comments

  1. Sander van der Wal

    February 7, 2016 at 12:26 pm

    So, Hoyle et al were wrong when they postulated in the Steady-State Theory that hydrogen atoms were created spontaneously. Not because the universe is not static, but because the study of that phenomenon is not physics.

    This is a curious notion. One would assume that the study of things being created ex nihilo would be a boon to physics.

    But for some reason it is forbidden. Who they is allowed to study this phenomenon?

  2. The answer lies in the next chapter: CHAPTER XVII–That Creation is not a Movement nor a Change
    Compare it with the creation of the natural numbers. They alays existed, yet they are creatures. Likewise the universe.

    But keep watching the pea under the thimble!

  3. Sander van der Wal ,
    “the study of things being created ex nihilo would be a boon to physics.”

    But Hoyle et al did not study any matter being created ex nihilo. They merely postulated ex nihilo creation. This is not even regular procedure in physics and make nonsense of conservation laws. Recall so much progress in physics has depended upon reliance on the conservation laws e.g. discovery of neutrino.

  4. Briggs

    February 8, 2016 at 9:21 am

    Mactoul,

    Exactly so. And those conservation laws, where do they come from? Why are the true? They must have been created. How? Etc.

  5. swordfishtrombone

    February 8, 2016 at 10:50 am

    What’s wrong with the universe being self-contained, which it is by definition?

  6. Briggs,
    “Exactly so. And those conservation laws, where do they come from? Why are the true? They must have been created. How? Etc.”

    This seems odd. A conservation law is the observation that something can not be created out of nothing, without divine intervention at least. Above you say that the acceptance of the divine prerogative is also a creation otherwise objects would be popping in and out of existence all the time. I smell a logical fallacy.

  7. Get your own dirt …
    The details are here: http://storiesforpreaching.com/get-your-own-dirt/

  8. I like that story Leo.

  9. “2. For if a thing is an effect of God, either something exists before it, or not. If not, our point is proved, namely that God produces an effect from no pre-existing thing. If however something exists before it, we must either go on to infinity,–which is impossible in natural causes, as the Philosopher proves (2 Metaph.)–or we must come to some first thing that presupposes no other. And this can only be God.”

    There are a number of problems with this passage alone, the first one being the presumption of the applicability of conventional causality in the first sentence. I now understand that when mischievous physicists like Lawrence Krauss proclaim that the universe “came from nothing”, they do not mean that ‘nothing’ has creative powers, but rather that the universe didn’t have a cause in the sense that we usually mean when we use that word. To say that all of reality (which is what ‘universe’ actually means) had a cause, whether that cause be ‘God’ (whatever that may be) or ‘nothing’ is to apply reasoning based upon personal experience to a situation that may not necessarily be amenable to such reasoning. The counter-intuitive nature of Q.M., which is what one must dabble in if one wishes to understand anything at all about how it all came to be, in an instant demolishes all arguments that have as their foundational base the claim that something must be true because it is intuitively obvious (W. L. Craig makes this mistake all the time).

    The belief that since the universe is temporally finite it must therefore have had a cause, may be an example of something that is intuitively obvious (which is why so many people just lazily accept it), but that does not therefore mean it cannot be incorrect. Intuition is no argument, and yet this entire Aristotelian framework is built upon both it and classical logic, neither of which can help us in our understanding of what actually is. It took experimentation for Galileo and others of his ilk to actually discover the truth, to finally dispel archaic ‘wisdom’ that virtually everyone thought was so clever and irrefutable. After all, we just KNOW that two objects with weights that differ will fall to the ground at different velocities if they are released from the same height. It does, after all, make so much sense to believe this, it’s obviously true, because it confirms our intuitive understanding of reality. It’s such a shame that reality is almost never what we think it is, and the beginning of science was when people finally woke up and decided that they would actually challenge long-held views like this one, and ever since we have been constantly surprised by what we have found.

    Nothing (in the sense of ‘no thing, not anything at all’) existed before the universe did, because it doesn’t even make any sense to say this in the first place. What is further South than the South Pole? Ummm… nothing! As in not anything, because it is a nonsensical question. This is a similar problem, for time itself did not, because it cannot, exist anywhere beyond our physical reality. Your claim that “God produces an effect from no pre-existing thing” is, I have to say, rather naive, because of the presumption that ‘God’ works within the existing laws of physics. If so, then He/She/It is a product of the Big Bang, and therefore your ‘god’ cannot be the true one (assuming there even is one in the first place, that is).

  10. “What’s wrong with the universe being self-contained, which it is by definition?” – SFTB

    Good question. Well… ? Can anyone here address this?

  11. “A conservation law is the observation that something can not be created out of nothing, without divine intervention at least.” – Scotian

    Nope, wrong. ‘Divine intervention’ never comes into it. Are you here making the claim that in the presence of divine intervention we can have situations where the conservation laws fail to hold? If so, could you provide a single example where this has been known to occur?

    The conservation laws never fail. Ever. That was one of the biggest problems with F. Hoyle’s version of Steady State, for he believed in the creation of matter, and how this creation could compensate for the expansion of the universe that even he recognised.

  12. Peter A,
    The cosmologists treat the universe as an entity all the time. They solve for evolution of the universe, write wavefunction of the entire universe. Then why would they not apply the “conventional notions of causality”?

    “The counter-intuitive nature of Q.M” is a problem to the extent that philosophically the dominant interpretations of QM are a muddle. I do agree that Craig falls into muddle insofar he fails to query the idea that causality might fail in QM.

    “that since the universe is temporally finite”
    Physics can not tell us. Contrary to popular misconception, the Big Bang theory does not, indeed can not describe, the creation of universe. Physics requires a running universe including spacetime, matter, acting consistently even to get started.

    “God produces an effect from no pre-existing thing” is, I have to say, rather naive, because of the presumption that ‘God’ works within the existing laws of physics”

    The principle of causality is NOT a law of physics. The entire enterprise of physics, however, presupposes the principle of causality. This principle is a reflection of God that is Reason Himself and creator of cosmos, the totality of consistently interacting things.

  13. Peter, I think that you have badly misread my post. It addresses a claim made by Briggs.

  14. Briggs

    February 9, 2016 at 9:04 am

    Scotian,

    Plus I didn’t expect my pithy one-liner reply would be mistaken for a complete theory of ‘laws’ of conservation. Quite right that this is a point at which physics meets metaphysics. And quite right that only an infinite power could create something out of absolutely nothing.

  15. Peter A,
    The nothing referred to in the philosophical sense of an absence of absolutely everything is different to the nothing spoken of by physicists. They are not the same thing.

    As for you don’t understand QM so you can’t draw a conclusion is a veiled insult of the type which intellectual snobs use. Nor does it explain those who do “understand” QM and who draw different conclusions.

  16. Sander van der Wal

    February 10, 2016 at 2:15 pm

    when the Steady State theory was proposed, people weren’t really bothered by the conservarion laws. The death blow was the discoverey of the 3K background radiation, not the incompatability with other theories. Which means that the death blow was an observation.

  17. Scotian, even if you did address this to Briggs, the claim itself – “A conservation law is the observation that something can not be created out of nothing, without divine intervention at least” – is one that others here can judge the validity of, and in my opinion it is not a claim that can be substantiated.

    “The nothing referred to in the philosophical sense of an absence of absolutely everything is different to the nothing spoken of by physicists. They are not the same thing.
    As for you don’t understand QM so you can’t draw a conclusion is a veiled insult of the type which intellectual snobs use. Nor does it explain those who do “understand” QM and who draw different conclusions.” – Joy

    Yes, I understand that the ‘nothingness’ that physicists speak of actually isn’t nothing at all, but something. Nothing, in it’s true and literal sense, is not anything that one can conceive of: it is a complete absence of everything, and that is something that many have tried to point out to them, but they just will not listen because they are too proud and stubborn to take advice from anyone who isn’t a physicist.
    What ‘veiled insult’? I don’t see any insults, veiled or otherwise, in anything I have written.

  18. “And quite right that only an infinite power could create something out of absolutely nothing.” – Briggs

    We should believe this because… ?

    No one really knows how or why the something in question (i.e. the universe) came to be, or even if it actually did come from literally nothing in the first place. We are constantly told that it did by people like L. Krauss, but the one thing that people should keep in mind is how hopelessly speculative modern cosmology truly is. They may turn out to be wrong about this, and if that happens then all of this speculation about ‘God’ creating something from nothing will have been all for nothing.

  19. Does the claim that ‘something from nothing’ requires an infinite power as well as other attributes like simplicity, etc. depend upon on modern cosmology? No. And there are reasons for the conclusion, which this post begins to preset, that explain why ‘something from nothing’ requires infinite power.

  20. Peter A,
    “counter-intuitive nature of Q.M., which is what one must dabble in if one wishes to understand anything at all about how it all came to be, in an instant demolishes all arguments that have as their foundational base the claim that something must be true because it is intuitively obvious (W. L. Craig makes this mistake all the time).”
    veiled insult not intended it seems but it is something which crops up in these discussions.
    I will admit it’s nothing on the vitriol spewed by many on here but appeals to intellectual superiority are fallacious as well as unfounded in most cases.
    (The really outrageous arguments don’t warrant consideration.)

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