William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Summary Against Modern Thought: No Body Can Create

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’ve finally reached the promised discussion about infinity, or rather infinite power being required to create something out of nothing. This and next week wraps up the arguing proving only God can create.

Chapter 20 How to solve objections against creation (alternate translation)

[1] HENCE it is evident that no body can produce anything by creation.

[2] For no body acts unless it be moved: since agent and patient must be together, as also maker and that which is made: and those things are together which are in the same place, as stated in 6 Phys., and a body does not acquire a place except by movement. But no body is moved except in time. Wherefore whatever is done by the action of a body is done successively: whereas creation, as we have proved, is without succession. Therefore nothing can be produced by way of creation by any body whatever.

[3] Further. Every agent that acts through being moved, of necessity moves that on which it acts, for the thing made and the thing patient are consequent upon the disposition of maker and agent, since every agent produces its like. Hence, if the agent, while varying in disposition, acts in as much as it is changed by movement, it follows that also in the patient and the thing made there is a succession of dispositions, which is impossible without movement. Now no body moves unless it be moved, as we have proved. Therefore nothing results from the action of a body, except by the movement or change of the thing made. But creation is neither change nor movement, as proved above. Therefore no body can cause a thing by creating it.

Notes Don’t forget that by “movement” it is meant “change”. A thing can stay in place and be changed. Something must cause that change, something actual must actualize the potential. This is echoed in the next argument.

[4] Again. Since agent and effect must needs be like each other, a thing cannot produce the whole substance of the effect, unless it act by its entire substance; thus the Philosopher proves conversely (7 Metaph.), that if a form without matter acts by its whole self, it cannot be the proximate cause of generation wherein the form alone is brought into act. Now no body acts by its whole substance, although the whole of it acts: for since every agent acts by the form whereby it is actual, that alone is able to act by its whole substance, the whole of whose substance is a form: and this can be said of no body, because every body has matter, since every body is changeable. Therefore no body can produce a thing as to the whole substance of that thing, and this is essential to creation.

[5] Further. To create belongs exclusively to an infinite power. For an agent’s power is so much the greater, according as it is able to bring into act a potentiality more distant from act: for instance that which can produce fire from water in comparison with that which can produce it from air. Hence where pre-existing potentiality is altogether removed, all proportion to a determinate distance is surpassed; and thus the power of an agent that produces something without any pre-existing potentiality, must surpass all conceivable proportion to the power of an agent that produces something out of matter. But no power of a body is infinite, as the Philosopher proves in 8 Phys.[6] Therefore no body can create a thing, for this is to make something out of nothing.

Notes Here’s the key: “pre-existing potentiality is altogether removed.” Pre-existing potentiality is something not nothing. Potentials exist in a sense. Failing to understand this is what causes some physicists to speculate that creation happens in the absence of God via (say) fields or quantum uncertainties. But the latter, at least, are potentials. They are not nothing. The rest of the argument follows. Infinite power is required to bring material+energy existence into being. And to sustain it in being, since all change “bottoms out” at God, as was proved in the first Book.

[6] Moreover. Mover and moved, maker and made must be together, as proved in 7 Phys. Now a bodily agent cannot be present to its effect except by contact, whereby the extremes of contiguous things come together. Wherefore it is impossible for a body to act save by contact. But contact is of one thing in relation to another. Hence where there is nothing pre-existent besides the agent, as happens in creation, there can be no contact. Therefore no body can act by creating.

Notes “Contact”, of course, includes that by fields, i.e. the interaction of fields (or whatever might replace this concept, as unlikely as it now seems).

[7] Thus we may see the falseness of the position of those who say that the substance of the heavenly bodies causes the matter of the elements, since matter can have no cause except that which acts by creating: because matter is the first subject of movement and change.

36 Comments

  1. I don’t understand the argument of infinite power. Is this another archaic definition of the word power meaning the ability to do something that others can not. For example I may have greater power to solve physics problems than my students. If so maybe the word power should be replaced by the word ability. If God can create something out of nothing, which is an ability that none others have, won’t the word unique be more descriptive than infinite? Also if the usual definition of power requires an existing physical universe how can there be power in its absence?

    An aside: Aquinas said at some point that he could not prove that the universe had a beginning and it could thus be eternal. So are we talking about a continuous creation that sustains the universe? Is this still out of nothing? I have the feeling that even Aquinas’ use of the word nothing is not the same as ours.

  2. @Scotian:

    “If God can create something out of nothing, which is an ability that none others have, won’t the word unique be more descriptive than infinite?”

    No, because by infinite Aquinas does not mean unique, he means what he says in the quoted portion. It is the fact that it is infinite, in the sense Aquinas is using, that allows him to infer that it is unique, that is, that it is beyond the power of every creature (e.g. everyone besides God).

    “So are we talking about a continuous creation that sustains the universe?”

    No, because God is not in time nor is there any succession in God, so God’s act (as distinguished from its effect) cannot be “continuous”; actually, there cannot be any real division in it, temporal or otherwise, whatsoever.

    “Is this still out of nothing?”

    Of course it is; sustaining in being just is creation (looked at from another point of view).

    “I have the feeling that even Aquinas’ use of the word nothing is not the same as ours.”

    I will hazard the guess that you are wrong for Aquinas meaning is the plain one — Nothing as in no-thing.

    I do not quite understand your other questions.

  3. Rodrigues,

    “he means what he says in the quoted portion”: This is not very helpful.

    “I do not quite understand your other questions.”: I don’t understand your answers either.

  4. @Scotian:

    “I don’t understand your answers either.”

    Well, then the conversation will be mercifully brief.

  5. Obviously then, “power” is not using the definition of energy per unit time as presumably energy did not exist prior to Creation in which case no energy was used during Creation or Creation wasn’t from Nothing after all. 0/0 is undefined rather than infinite.

    “Power” must mean “capability” here. Having a power in this sense is a bit like being pregnant — it’s all or nothing. You either have it or you don’t. So then what does “infinite power” mean?

  6. ““Power” must mean “capability” here. Having a power in this sense is a bit like being pregnant — it’s all or nothing. ”
    This is only true in the sense that ‘capability’ defines a particular power; power simply being the ability to bring about a particular state of affairs. So power admits of degrees and yet can also be infinite.

  7. Dover,

    Are you saying that there are different degrees of creation from nothing? Or is this case all or nothing?

    “So power admits of degrees and yet can also be infinite.” This is just an assertion. I am looking for understanding.

  8. So power admits of degrees and yet can also be infinite.

    Hmmm … So then what would Power=3 mean (3 being less than infinite)? Is it three times better than Power=1?

    You may have the power to do X but perhaps not X+Y=Z. There is no degree in this. X+Y is a different outcome that happens to include X. There are maybe an infinite number of those. Also maybe an infinite number of outcomes with Z-W. Much better to say you don’t have the capability to do Z instead of a partial capability. Not doing so is the equivalent of saying something like: I can make paint and know how to use it so I have the partial ability to build a car or be an artist. Quite a leap.

  9. ““So power admits of degrees and yet can also be infinite.” This is just an assertion. I am looking for understanding.”
    Is it really only an assertion? I have the power of locomotion; that is, I am capable of walking, jogging, and sprinting.

    “Much better to say you don’t have the capability to do Z instead of a partial capability. Not doing so is the equivalent of saying something like: I can make paint and know how to use it so I have the partial ability to build a car or be an artist. Quite a leap.”
    Not at all. People can be more or less accomplished at X; alternatively, they can become more or less accomplished at X over time due to practice or age, respectively. Further, the former can enable them to achieve more than they could otherwise and so is an increase in power, the latter the opposite.

  10. Dover,

    You are missing my point. How do these everyday degrees of power lead to the infinite? But, more importantly why is infinite power required for creation and is infinite power even a well defined concept in this case? I sense a certain skirting of the issue here.

  11. Further, the former can enable them to achieve more than they could otherwise and so is an increase in power, the latter the opposite

    The proper phrase would be “may enable them”.

    Even allowing for many levels of “closeness” to achieving X if you are missing only 1 of them you still can’t do X. It doesn’t matter at all that you are think you are close. Just like in a lottery, having all the numbers except 1 means no jackpot — even if the missing number differed from the actual by 1. Your combination isn’t any closer to the jackpot than any other losing combination. It ‘s really irrelevant how many combinations there are.

    Seems that the ability to create a Something from Nothing is an all or nothing proposition. This may be Aquinas’s point but it’s needless quibbling. It also doesn’t follow at all that there are an infinite number of power levels required. A lot maybe but infinite? Even if there are, so what?

  12. Ye Olde Statistician

    March 6, 2016 at 9:53 pm

    I’m pretty sure some folks are using “power” in the sense of modern physics; that is, as a measure of the rate of work while others are using it in the sense of a capability possessed, as in the power of reason or the power of sight.

  13. YOS,

    As has been made clear already, but no one who purports to know will explain the meaning of Aquinas or even Briggs.

  14. Or we’re all creating all the time. It’s an implication of Uncertainty theory and the Observer effect and all that, and a rather pleasant spiritual supporter for embodiment as opposed to ensoulment. As well, it is interesting to conceive that perhaps creation is a perpetual process.

    JMJ

  15. If you don’t know the answer, apply God.
    Fundamental magical thinking.

  16. Hans Erren > “If you don’t know the answer, apply God.
    Fundamental magical thinking.”

    Yes, many do just say, “It’s God, don’t bother trying to figure it out.”.

    And they may be right, or even intellectual in that answer.

    I believe, however, you are deriding lazy thinking. And you are right too.

    There are times when both statements are correct.

    But there are many things God wants us to figure out, so let’s not be lazy.

  17. @Hans Erren:

    “Fundamental magical thinking.”

    There is no magical thinking here, fundamental or otherwise, since Aquinas is doing, or purports to be doing (whether he succeeds or not is a judgment for the readers), a rigorous metaphysical demonstration. That some random Joe labels it “magical thinking”, without even putting on the minimum of work in analyzing the reasoning, tells us nothing about Aquinas or his reasoning, it just tells us that said random Joe is a clueless troll.

    @Scotian:

    “As has been made clear already, but no one who purports to know will explain the meaning of Aquinas or even Briggs.”

    This is false; you have not understood my answer, which of course is not the same as “no one who purports to know will explain the meaning”. At any rate, Aquinas *explains his meaning* in the quoted portion itself. In [5]:

    “To create belongs exclusively to an infinite power. For an agent’s power is so much the greater, according as it is able to bring into act a potentiality more distant from act: for instance that which can produce fire from water in comparison with that which can produce it from air. Hence where pre-existing potentiality is altogether removed, all proportion to a determinate distance is surpassed; and thus the power of an agent that produces something without any pre-existing potentiality, must surpass all conceivable proportion to the power of an agent that produces something out of matter. But no power of a body is infinite, as the Philosopher proves in 8 Phys.[6] Therefore no body can create a thing, for this is to make something out of nothing.”

    There is nothing particularly mysterious here, or that has not been talked (repeatedly) throughout the series, so what exactly is that you are struggling with? The key phrase is “For an agent’s power is so much the greater, according as it is able to bring into act a potentiality more distant from act”, that is, degree of power is tied to degree of actuality, not only in the patient, but in the agent, the latter because of the principle of proportionate causality.

    While the neo-Platonic idea of degrees of being (or actuality) is certainly important, in the passage concerned, and for what Aquinas intends to prove, he only needs the categorical distinction between finite and infinite power, which to Aquinas means unbounded or unlimited (or in his jargon, “must surpass all conceivable proportion to the power of an agent that produces something out of matter”), un-bounded or un-limited by potency which is the real limitation on what can be effected in the natural order.

  18. Ye Olde Statistician

    March 7, 2016 at 8:02 am

    If you don’t know the answer, apply God.
    Fundamental magical thinking.

    Or as the theists said:

    [They say] “We do not know how this is, but we know that God can do it.” You poor fools! God can make a cow out of a tree, but has He ever done so? Therefore show some reason why a thing is so, or cease to hold that it is so.
    — William of Conches

  19. Ye Olde Statistician

    March 7, 2016 at 8:19 am

    Magical thinking

    Magic is the manipulation of reality by using the hidden (occult) properties of matter, such as relieving headaches by chewing willow bark before anyone knew why chewing willow bark relieved headaches. As such, it is on the same axis as natural science, which is the manipulation of reality by using the known (manifest) properties of matter. In fact, the process of science might be considered as moving phenomena from the occult to the manifest side of the scale. That may be the reason why so many of the early scientists were also practicing magicians.

  20. Rodrigues,

    “This is false; you have not understood my answer”. Your answer was “he means what he says in the quoted portion” which is no answer at all.

    “thus the power of an agent that produces something without any pre-existing potentiality, must surpass all conceivable proportion to the power of an agent that produces something out of matter”

    Again, what is Aquinas’ definition of power and why is it infinite? This is not addressed here. At best the infinite part is asserted. I made this clear in my original comment. I have no objection to the Almighty’s ability but I also do not assume that this ability was taxed by the creation of the universe.

    If you are incapable of explaining Aquinas beyond repeating his words please say so. There is no shame in this as we are not all blessed with that gift. Even though I have worked as a teacher myself I have often doubted my ability.

  21. @Scotian:

    “Again, what is Aquinas’ definition of power and why is it infinite? This is not addressed here.”

    Yes it *is* addressed and I explained why and how it is addressed. I even asked “so what exactly is that you are struggling with?” I am not inside your head, so saying simply that you do not understand is not really helpful. What exactly is the problem? Definition of power? The key phrase I quoted explains it: “For an agent’s power is so much the greater, according as it is able to bring into act a potentiality more distant from act”. So power is the ability to actualize a potential. Do not know what is “actualize” or a “potential”? Go back to the start of the series. Infinite power? The power to bring into existence is said to be infinite because “Hence where pre-existing potentiality is altogether removed, all proportion to a determinate distance is surpassed; and thus the power of an agent that produces something without any pre-existing potentiality, must surpass all conceivable proportion to the power of an agent that produces something out of matter”. “Infinite” is the jargon for there being no proportion to the determinate, finite power of actualizing a potential, there being no such proportion for the reason Aquinas adduces. What exactly is baffling here? But apparently you prefer to not read, whine and then complain about the teacher. That is certainly your choice, but will you at least spare me your crap, please?

  22. Rodrigues,

    “That is certainly your choice, but will you at least spare me your crap, please?”

    You surprise me sir. Your rant makes it quite clear that you do not think that other people have the choice of disagreeing with you. The solution to your problem is clear: don’t read my comments. I have not forced them on you. I would prefer that my questions be answered by a more rational or at least calmer person, let us say YOS.

  23. Ye Olde Statistician

    March 7, 2016 at 2:15 pm

    The answer is as Mr. Rodriguez explained: the power in question is the power to actualize a potential. This power is greater the further from actuality the potential is. One can conceive of this as a ratio: One power is greater than another in proportion to the “distance” it can actualize. Without committing, it would seem that to actualize the potential of a quantum state to become a universe might require a greater power or ability than to actualize the potential of a green apple to become actually red. In the case of creation, there being nothing on the other side, as it were, there is nothing in ratio, and so the power required is infinite or (as we would say) “undefined mathematically.” That is, per hypothesis, there is no pre-existing potential at all.

  24. YOS,

    So power does mean ability without specifying the details as I said.

    “One power is greater than another in proportion to the “distance” it can actualize.”

    I would claim that this is rarely the case. Does it require more power to build an electronic microchip or to build the great pyramid of Giza. Which one is closer to the original state? Which potential has been actualized the most? The question is likely impossible to answer.

    “it would seem that to actualize the potential of a quantum state to become a universe might require a greater power”

    It might or it might require no power at all. This is the problem of having a slippery definition of power. You are wise not to commit yourself.

    “In the case of creation, there being nothing on the other side …”

    The crux of the matter. The problem as I see it is that we can not approach this in the way you and Aquinas claim. We can just as easily claim that such a creation is impossible regardless of how much power we have at our disposal or that the concept of power is meaningless in this case. We can also claim that God is not nothing or that nature abhors a vacuum.

  25. Ye Olde Statistician

    March 7, 2016 at 4:09 pm

    @Scotian
    You seem to be thinking of power in terms of something like “electrical energy” or some such thing. Also, it is always difficult (for me at any rate) to think of artifacts in the same sense as natural things, since the parts of an artifact have no natural potential to become part of the artifact. In that sense, they require the power of the human mind to become realized, and that is often supposed to be quite large indeed. Not that a microchip is ex nihilo for it is always designed on prior art. The building of it, once designed, is a relatively minor effort, requiring only skill.

  26. We can just as easily claim that such a creation is impossible regardless of how much power we have at our disposal or that the concept of power is meaningless in this case. We can also claim that God is not nothing or that nature abhors a vacuum.

    How can you? Aquinas makes a persuasive case; whoever ‘we’ are, not at all.

  27. Please do not forget that Aquinas had a medieval cosmological perception.
    Magical is what a magician does, or what a deus ex machina does. Is does not explain anything but it is the last resort when you have run out of explanations. To quote Wittgenstein: “Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muss man schweigen.”

  28. @Scotian:

    “Your rant makes it quite clear that you do not think that other people have the choice of disagreeing with you.”

    Since what (justifiably) qualifies as a rant in what I said has absolutely nothing to do with whether you or anyone else disagrees with me, the charge is nothing more than a lie.

  29. Ye Olde Statistician

    March 8, 2016 at 12:09 pm

    Please do not forget that Aquinas had a medieval cosmological perception.

    Which means that he thought the world was arranged with the earth at the bottom, in the most ignoble position. Magic, of course, has nothing to do with cosmology. The medieval perspective on magic was as I’ve explained. His attitude toward marvels was as in Contra gentiles:

    “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.”
    The medieval notion in general was that God had endowed material bodies with powers to act directly upon one another. This is known as ‘secondary causation’ and lies at the root of natural science.

  30. Yos invoking a god for the cause of everything is no much different as invoking a god for lightning. Praying to such a god is magical thinking.

  31. Yos invoking a god for the cause of everything is no much different as invoking a god for lightning. Praying to such a god is magical thinking.

    No, it isn’t, as has been explained repeatedly. It’s not our fault that you can’t understand the difference.

    BTW, praying to a God that creates and sustains the universe at every moment would not be ‘magical thinking’, but the least requirement of rationality.

  32. No, there is no fundamental difference between “abracadabra” and “let there be light”. The only difference is that in the first case you know that it’s a trick.
    Also there is no fundamental difference between a roman ex-voto and a roman-catholic ex-voto. The christian god is even far more harsh than the roman gods with his believe-in-me-or-else condition.

  33. Ye Olde Statistician

    March 9, 2016 at 6:48 am

    there is no fundamental difference between “abracadabra” and “let there be light”.

    Actually, there is no fundamental difference between “abracadabra” and “it just IS!”.

    As I understand it, the rabbit exists before as well as after the abracadabra is pronounced, but before the Big Bang there was no light. So there is this difference: the latter actually worked.

  34. Yos there was no “before” the big bang. Adding a timeless magician does not explain anything.

  35. Ye Olde Statistician

    March 9, 2016 at 12:33 pm

    before the Big Bang there was no light.

    Yos there was no “before” the big bang.

    Hence, there was no light. QED
    *******
    Of course, I have encountered atheists who have argued that there was too a “before,” and they get all in about multiverses and what have you or they simply say there is simply no way to tell because current models and measurements fail and so on. IOW, they give up science for a leap of faith. It’s always fun to watch.

  36. No, there is no fundamental difference between “abracadabra” and “let there be light”.

    There is where the One who commands is Being Itself. But lets set that aside, the difference under consideration was not the above, but between secondary causes (lightening) and a First Cause (Creative and Sustaining Cause).

    The only difference is that in the first case you know that it’s a trick.

    LOL, well, if you don’t ‘know’ if the second one is a trick you couldn’t assess whether they were not fundamentally different. You really walked onto that rake, didn’t you.

    Also there is no fundamental difference between a roman ex-voto and a roman-catholic ex-voto. The christian god is even far more harsh than the roman gods with his believe-in-me-or-else condition.

    Not at all. It isn’t harsh to respect the will of those that reject you.

    Actually, there is no fundamental difference between “abracadabra” and “it just IS!”.

    It really is extraordinary how comfortable some people are with brute facts. Apparently, reasoning this or that predicate of God from this or that empirical fact (i.e. the observation that some things change) and logic is ‘magical thinking’ but the universe springing out of no thing and no time is…Science! YOS, like you, I find this quite amusing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

*

© 2016 William M. Briggs

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑