William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Summary Against Modern Thought: Creation Is Not Change From Something To Something

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.

Creation-from-nothing is not the change of one thing into another in the way most physicists who write on the subject say it is (Larry Krauss is a good example). Creation is not a fashioning, for that implies making something out of something. Creation is the strangest thing you can think of. And, as always, review! These arguments not isolated from what came before.

Chapter 17 That creation is neither movement nor change (alternate translation)

[1] HAVING proved the foregoing, it is evident that God’s action, which is without prejacent matter and is called creation, is neither movement nor change, properly speaking.

[2] For all movement or change is the action of that which is in potentiality as such. Now in this action there preexists nothing in potentiality to receive the action, as we have proved. Therefore it is neither movement nor change.

Notes He means in the act of creation there is no movement or change. Nothing to something is not a change in something. No potentiality is being actualized. This is the key.

[3] Again. The extremes of a movement or change are included in the same order: either because they come under one genus, as contraries, for instance in the movement of growth and alteration, and when a thing is carried from one place to another; or because they have one potentiality of matter in common, as privation and form in generation and corruption. But neither of these applies to creation: for it admits of no potentiality, nor of anything of the same genus that may be presupposed to creation, as we have proved. Therefore there is neither movement nor change therein.

Notes In the state of Nothing, that lack of something is not a privation, i.e. an “evil” (lack of good, or evil, is a privation, as we discovered before). Nothing is not an absence. It is non-existence. Study Thomas’s description; it is technically correct. But as creatures embedded in material existence, Nothing is hard to think of, perhaps impossible to fully grasp.

[4] Further. In every change or movement there must be something that is conditioned otherwise now and before: since the very name of change shows this. But when the whole substance of a thing is brought into being, there can be no same thing that is conditioned in one way and in another, for it would not be produced, but presupposed to production. Therefore creation is not a change.

[5] Further. Movement and change must needs precede that which is made by change or movement: because having been made is the beginning of rest and the term of movement. Wherefore all change must be movement or the term of a movement that is successive. For this reason, what is being made, is not: for as long as movement lasts, something is being made and is not: whereas in the term itself of movement, wherein rest begins, no longer is a thing being made, but it has been made. Now in creation this is impossible: for if creation preceded as movement or change, it would necessarily presuppose a subject, and this is contrary to the nature of creation. Therefore creation is neither movement nor change.

Notes It’s not easy to see, but the concept of Infinity is wrapped up in all this. It must take infinite power to fashion something out of Nothing. Quantum fields are something. Strings, or whatever else might be wiggling about and forming particles, are something. Energy is something. Nothing is the complete absence of every physical thing. If creation isn’t a movement, what is it? That’s what, in part, the next chapter answers.

Chapter 18 How to solve the objections about creation (alternate translation)

[1] FROM this we may see the vacuity of those who gainsay creation by arguments taken from the nature of movement and change: such as that creation must needs, like other movements and changes, take place in some subject, and that it implies the transmutation of non-being into being, like that of fire into air.

[2] For creation is not a change, but the very dependence of created being on the principle whereby it is produced. Hence it is a kind of relation. Wherefore nothing prevents its being in the creature as its subject. Nevertheless creation would seem to be a kind of change according only to our way of understanding: in so far, to wit, as our intellect grasps one and the same thing as previously non-existent, and as afterwards existing.

Notes Hold this: “creation is…the very dependence of created being on the principle whereby it is produced.” In our limited way, we say creation is a change because “our intellect grasps one and the same thing as previously non-existent, and as afterwards existing.” But it is not a change in something.

[3] It is clear however that if creation is a relation, it is a thing: and neither is it uncreated, nor is it created by another relation. For since a created effect depends really on its creator, this relation must needs be some thing. Now every thing is brought into being by God. Therefore it receives its being from God. And yet it is not created by a different creation from the first creature which is stated to be created thereby. Because accidents and forms, just as they are not per se, so neither are they created per se, since creation is the production of a being, but just as they are in another, so are they created when other things are created.

[4] Moreover. A relation is not referred through another relation,—for in that case one would go on to infinity,—but is referred by itself, because it is essentially a relation. Therefore there is no need for another creation whereby creation itself is created, so that one would go on to infinity.

Notes Creation is a relation (say that thrice), but the relation cannot be from some “deeper down” thing, that itself was created from some deeper down thing, and so on. It has to bottom out. There must be a base which is responsible for everything. Next week we learn more about what this base must be.

17 Comments

  1. Sander van der Wal

    February 21, 2016 at 11:30 am

    Bij defining movement, change, as a particular potentiality becoming actual, one needs creation only when one imagine there was a ‘time’ when there was nothing, i.e. no things that were able to do the potentiality-actual trick.

    Secondly, God started as the First Cause, preventing the “turtles all the way down” issue to arise. Now we find that having a First Cause automatically gets you a Creator. Is this because it is logically impossible to have “seconds all the way back”?

    Thirdly, quantum fields are not a thing, in the same way a pile of sand is not a thing, or the Universe is not a thing. The argument is from YOS, afaik.

  2. Bij defining movement, change, as a particular potentiality becoming actual, one needs creation only when one imagine there was a ‘time’ when there was nothing, i.e. no things that were able to do the potentiality-actual trick.

    What is the point of the above?

    Secondly, God started as the First Cause, preventing the “turtles all the way down” issue to arise. Now we find that having a First Cause automatically gets you a Creator. Is this because it is logically impossible to have “seconds all the way back”?

    what you need to get your head around, and it is difficult to begin with, is the difference between a First Cause (creative/ metaphysical) and secondary causes (change/ empirical).

    Thirdly, quantum fields are not a thing, in the same way a pile of sand is not a thing, or the Universe is not a thing. The argument is from YOS, afaik.

    Even if we granted the analogy, do you think this means a quantum field is no thing? No it doesn’t. The claim that the universe is a mereological sum only yields the claim that the universe cannot be distinguished from its parts (stars, planets, etc).

  3. “It must take infinite power to fashion something out of Nothing.”

    More or less. e=m/c^2

  4. Sander van der Wal,
    ‘defining movement, change, as a particular potentiality becoming actual, one needs creation only when one imagine there was a ‘time’ when there was nothing, i.e. no things that were able to do the potentiality-actual trick.”

    When you say ‘imagine’ a ‘time’
    It’s simple logical imperative given current physics explanations to question or think this point existed.
    No one can imagine it because if they could they would have to be God because they would have imagined nothing to something. It can be spoken but not imagined. It strengthens the idea that a creator must have created the something. “In the beginning was the word”.
    Even when matter is not spoken of but energy there still needs an explanation because energy is not nothing.
    There is no effect without cause and yet it is said, by many in this case there is, just the first time.

  5. Thank you, Mr. Briggs, for making my Sundays end with a smile!

  6. The cosmologists and physicists certainly treat the universe as a thing and not merely as a mereological sum. They write wave function of the universe and classically, too, the universe is treated as thing whose global structure was deduced by Lamaitre’s solution to the equations of general relativity.

  7. swordfishtrombone

    February 22, 2016 at 6:19 am

    @Briggs: “It must take infinite power to fashion something out of Nothing”.

    First, this could be technically incorrect as the total energy content of the universe might be zero. As I understand it, gravity is considered to be negative energy and could exactly cancel out the positive energy of everything else.

    Second, ‘nothing’, by definition, doesn’t exist. The universe, by definition, is everything which does exist. There is no connection between the two. It isn’t necessary for the universe to be created “out of nothing”, it may simply ‘just exist’. The number three ‘just exists’. It isn’t necessary for three elephants or the roman numeral for three to exist for the number three to exist – it ‘just exists’ in an abstract, platonic sense.

    Isn’t it possible that the entire universe could be a mathematical structure in the same sense that the number three is? If that’s the case, might it not be possible that the universe ‘just exists’ and only appears to be ‘real’ from out perspective as part of it?

  8. SwordFishTrombone writes: “Second, ‘nothing’, by definition, doesn’t exist. The universe, by definition, is everything which does exist.”

    That is the simple solution to straining at gnats. God exists by definition which is to say, until you have a definition the word has no meaning and can be neither proven, disproven or even asserted.

    So you can define yours one way, I define it another way; all will be happy until you seek to impose your definition on me (or I on you).

  9. I’ve been trying to locate the “keystone” of all this logic and rhetoric, the thing that must be accepted as true but is not demonstrably true. If that keystone is true, then pretty much everything that develops from it must also be true; but if the keystone is false, well then the deductions could still be true but not for the reasons stated.

    “But if in efficient causes it is possible to go on to infinity, there will be no first efficient cause, neither will there be an ultimate effect, nor any intermediate efficient causes; all of which is plainly false. Therefore it is necessary to admit a first efficient cause, to which everyone gives the name of God (ST Ia 2.3).”
    http://www.iep.utm.edu/aq-ph-th/

    All of which is plainly false. That is the keystone. It is NOT plainly false. It is possible that causes do really go back in time infinitely, and there might not ever be a final effect. If that assumption be true, then a different line of reasoning would seem to be equally incomprehensible and we would be straining at different gnats.

    it is necessary to admit a first efficient cause, to which everyone gives the name of God

    And there we have it. If there is a first cause, that itself was not caused, coming into existence spontaneously and ex nihilo, Thomas gives it the name “God”. That’s not much go to on. Physicists give the same thing the name “Big Bang”.

  10. Sander van der Wal

    February 22, 2016 at 1:33 pm

    @dover_beach

    The First Cause is just the first cause of a finite sequence of causes. Otherway it is “secondary causes all the way down”.

    Quantum fields are certainly some’thing’, but not a thing as defined here. The virtual particles are a thing for the short time of their existence. But try doing that for a quantum field, which is potentially a lot of virtual particles all over place, and which is actually also a bunch of virtual particles all over the place, but in different places, presumably.

  11. @Michael 2:

    “It is possible that causes do really go back in time infinitely, and there might not ever be a final effect.”

    This is just ridiculous.

    I do not know many times it has been repeated throughout the whole consideration of the ScG in this blog, that Aquina’s argument has *nothing* to do with causes that “really go back in time infinitely” — which Aquinas *explicitely* says it *can* happen, that is, he rejects in a famous little tract that it can be proven philosophically that the World is finite in the past or had a beginning — or even with whether the chain is infinite (with some qualifications) or whether there is a head of the chain. If the latter were what Aquinas set out to prove, his argument would be a piffle, because it would reduce God from primary cause to a secondary cause, demoting Him to a mere demiurge or lower-case god.

  12. “The First Cause is just the first cause of a finite sequence of causes. Otherway it is “secondary causes all the way down”. ”

    And so it is. How can you know one way or the other?

  13. The First Cause is just the first cause of a finite sequence of causes. Otherway it is “secondary causes all the way down”.

    No, the first cause is not ‘just’ the first in a series of ‘finite sequence of causes, nor can you have ‘secondary causes all the way down’. Given the nature of secondary causes, a first cause is categorically different. Secondary causes are dependent causes but the First Cause is not. Given this, you cannot have secondary causes ‘all the way down’ because they are all dependent causes without the power to move themselves.

    And so it is. How can you know one way or the other?

    See above. Or this http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2010/08/edwards-on-infinite-causal-series.html

  14. “See above. Or this http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2010/08/edwards-on-infinite-causal-series.html

    Thank you for trying to help me understand this hobby. In the end, I wonder if it matters, but I do not wonder very much.

  15. Sander van der Wal

    February 23, 2016 at 1:59 pm

    @dover_beach

    So, at some point you run out of secondary causes, and get to the First Cause. When this exercise started there was no such thing as a categorical difference between causes. By the time you have a First Cause there is a difference, but that does not prevent peeling of layers of secondary causes until you get at the First One. The whole point of having a First Cause is that you can stop peeling at some point.

    Anyway, are quantum fields things?

  16. So, at some point you run out of secondary causes, and get to the First Cause. When this exercise started there was no such thing as a categorical difference between causes.

    Was there really?

    By the time you have a First Cause there is a difference, but that does not prevent peeling of layers of secondary causes until you get at the First One. The whole point of having a First Cause is that you can stop peeling at some point.

    Set aside your analogy, what you need to comprehend is what the nature of secondary causes entails; that is, a cause utterly unlike secondary causes.

    Anyway, are quantum fields things?

    Of course, they are something, describable, differentiable, and so on. They are not no thing.

  17. swordfishtrombone

    February 24, 2016 at 2:58 pm

    @ Michael 2: “So you can define yours one way, I define it another way; all will be happy until you seek to impose your definition on me (or I on you).”

    I’d be interested to hear how your definitions of ‘nothing’ or ‘the universe’ differ from mine. Not much I suspect. I’m assuming that ‘nothing’ really is nothing and that it doesn’t contain quantum fields, virtual particle/antiparticle pairs, or anything else.

    The commonsense notion that there must have been ‘nothing’ before there was ‘something’ is actually meaningless. What is stopping the universe from being self-contained? (as I’ve asked before.)

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