William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Summary Against Modern Thought: God Is All Mighty

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.

Some fleshing out today—St Thomas was nothing but not thorough! I think by this time we’re persuaded, at least conditionally, that God is almighty. Next week is juicier material: proving God does not have to act.

Chapter 22 That God can do all things (alternate translation)

[1] HENCE it is clear that the divine power is not determined to one particular effect…

[3] Again. Every perfect power extends to all those things to which its per se and proper effect can extend: thus the art of building, if perfect, extends to whatever can have the nature of a house. Now God’s power is the per se cause of being, and being is its proper effect, as stated above. Therefore it extends to all that is not incompatible with the notion of being: for if His power were confined to one effect alone, it would be the cause of a being, not as such, but as this particular being. Now the opposite of being, which is non-being, is incompatible with the notion of being. Wherefore God can do all things but those which include the notion of non-being: and such are those that imply a contradiction. It follows, therefore, that God can do whatever does not imply a contradiction.

[4] Again. Every agent acts in so far as it is actual. Wherefore the mode of an agent’s power in acting follows its mode of actuality: for man begets man, and fire begets fire. Now God is perfect act, possessing in Himself the perfections of all things, as was proved above. Therefore His active power is perfect, and extends to all things whatsoever that are not incompatible with the notion of actuality. But these are only those which imply a contradiction. Therefore God can do all except these things.

Notes Even God can’t make an apple which doesn’t exist.

[5] Moreover. To every passive potentiality there corresponds an active potentiality: since potentiality is for the sake of act, as matter for the sake of form. Now a being in potentiality cannot come to be in act save by the power of something in act. Wherefore potentiality would be without purpose were there no active power of an agent that could reduce it to act: and yet nothing in the things of nature is void of purpose.

Thus we find that all things that are in the potentiality of matter in things subject to generation and corruption, can be reduced to act by the active power which is in the heavenly body which is the first active force in nature. Now just as the heavenly body is the first agent in regard to lower bodies, so God is the first agent in respect of all created being. Wherefore God can do by His active power all whatsoever is in the potentiality of created being. And all that is not incompatible with created being is in the potentiality of created being, just as whatever destroys not human nature is in the potentiality of human nature. Therefore God can do all things.

Note In short, since God is pure actuality, God can actualize any potential.

[6] Further. That some particular effect is not subject to the power of some particular agent, may be due to three things. First, because it has no affinity or likeness to the agent: for every agent produces its like in some way. Hence the power in human seed cannot produce a brute animal or a plant, and yet it can produce a man who surpasses the things mentioned.

Secondly, on account of the excellence of the effect, which surpasses the capacity of the active power: thus the active power of a body cannot produce a separate substance. Thirdly, because the effect requires a particular matter on which the agent cannot act: thus a carpenter cannot make a saw, because his art does not enable him to act on iron of which a saw is made.

Now in none of these ways can any effect be withheld from the divine power. For neither on account of unlikeness in the effect can anything be impossible to Him: since every thing, in so far as it has being, is like Him, as we have proved above:–nor again on account of the excellence of the effect: since it has been proved that God is above all beings in goodness and perfection:–nor again on account of a defect in matter, since He is the cause of matter, which cannot be caused except by creation. Moreover in acting He needs no matter: since He brings a thing into being without anything pre-existent. Wherefore lack of matter cannot hinder His action from producing its effect.

Note Biology was not out of the realm of study!

[7] It remains therefore that God’s power is not confined to any particular effect, but is able to do simply all things: and this means that He is almighty.

Note This completes the proof that God is all powerful, which is to say, almighty. Since all of creation was caused by God, is dependent on Him for its continued existence (in every moment), God can do anything.

21 Comments

  1. swordfishtrombone

    March 20, 2016 at 10:11 am

    If God can’t create anything contradictory (like the oft-cited example of a square circle) then presumably he can’t create a universe which does anything other than follow logically self-consistent principles. Nor can he suspend such laws to work miracles. But a logically self-consistent universe is also what one would expect to exist if God didn’t exist.

    Also,

    1. “God is above all beings in goodness and perfection”

    2. “God’s power is not confined to any particular effect, but is able to do simply all things”

    Contradiction, as God is therefore unable to do anything not-good. (Whatever that would actually mean in practice.)

  2. Sander van der Wal

    March 20, 2016 at 1:24 pm

    There is no proof that God has Created everything than can exist.

  3. Sander this it yet another corrolary of the premisse.

  4. Briggs,

    “Even God can’t make an apple which doesn’t exist.”

    I don’t understand what this means or this from Aquinas.

    “Wherefore potentiality would be without purpose were there no active power of an agent that could reduce it to act: and yet nothing in the things of nature is void of purpose.”

  5. God has big ripply muscles.

    JMJ

  6. There is no proof that God has Created everything than can exist.

    I sense a fallacy of equivocation in ‘proof’.

    God has big ripply muscles.

    Only figuratively and in perfect proportion.

  7. Ye Olde Statistician

    March 20, 2016 at 3:59 pm

    a logically self-consistent universe is also what one would expect to exist if God didn’t exist.

    Why would you expect that? Would not not, like Einstein, expect a chaotic universe? Or no universe at all?

    I don’t understand what this means … from Aquinas.
    “Wherefore potentiality would be without purpose were there no active power of an agent that could reduce it to act: and yet nothing in the things of nature is void of purpose.”

    This may be more clear:

    Non potest autem ens in potentia consequi quod sit actu nisi per virtutem alicuius existentis in actu.
    Otiosa igitur esset potentia nisi esset virtus activa agentis quae eam in actum reducere posset:
    cum tamen nihil sit otiosum in rebus naturae.

    [line breaks added] which might translate better as:

    (1.) It is only by the power of an actually existing thing that a potentially existent being can be made actual. [e.g. potential energy cannot do any work]
    (2.) A potency would thus be idle/useless unless there existed the active power of an agent which could actualize it.
    (3.) And yet, in the real world, nothing is idle/useless.

    Thomas does not use voluntas (purpose, will, desire) let alone consilium (intention) but otiosa which means “idle, useless” or by an extension of meaning “without-purpose.” When we say that rain has a purpose we do not mean that rain has intentions, but that it performs a function [e.g., as part of the hydraulic cycle].

    So, since everything in the universe actually does something, no potency is useless, which means it must be actively potential and not merely passively potential. But since no thing that is only potential can act — a thing must be actual on order to act — there must correspond some active agent that can move the thing from potency to act.

    For example, suppose there were water vapor in the air. It has the potential to form rain drops. But now suppose that this remains entirely passive. Raindrops never form under any circumstances. But what can this possibly mean? By what logic can we even conclude the potency exists? The potency must be active: the water vapor must have the actual ability to form rain drops, and this must be done by something that actually exists; say, actual dust particles around which the vapor may actually condense, even if it has not yet actually happened.

    An artificial example [i.e. an artifact] is a pile of building materials. It has the potential to become a house. Or a scaffold. Or a set of bleachers for people to watch the scaffold in use. Then the builder makes a decision and the wave function collapses onto a single potential, and we change from the passive potential to become a house to the actual potential to become a house. (From passion to action, in the old language.) Building [verb] commences. Finally, the house is completed (“perfected”). The materials are now actually a building [noun] whereas they were previously actually a-building [participle] — and previous to that potentially a {building, scaffold, bleachers, etc.}

    Notice it is the building materials that were being actualized, not the house.

  8. Sander van der Wal

    March 20, 2016 at 4:54 pm

    @dover_beach

    Proof in the sense used in this series. Square circles cannot exist because they are a logical inconsistency. Faster-than-Light star ships cannot exist because General Relativity forbids them. But General Relativity is not like Logic, so faster than light ships are in a different way impossible than square circles.

    If there are no faster-than-light ships then God is nog Allmighty because he cannot Cause them, by not Causing a universe where Faster-than-light ships are possible. The rules by which a universe runs are arbitrary, there is no reason why this universe runs this particular set of rules and not another one.

    A variation on this: it is not possible to tell for certain devices whether the device is still only in potential, or there is no potentially at all for the device, like there is no potentially at all for square circles.

    With this Allmighty argument one says that one is not allowed to act as if the square -circle-non-potentiallities are the same as not-yet-invented-potentiallities, like the star ship. Because if they are the same, then God can Cause square circles.

  9. RE: Chapter 22 That God can do all things …

    S/He/It cannot seem to provide unequivocal proof of ‘his’ existence — instead, we rely on 2nd hand garbled info….

    Imagine what a small (by “God’s” [alleged] capabilities) “show of existence” would do for faith, moral behavior, etc. — while still preserving one’s ability to exercise free will — a Rolling Stones-like world tour, for example….

  10. S/He/It cannot seem to provide unequivocal proof of ‘his’ existence — instead, we rely on 2nd hand garbled info….

    There is nothing more unequivocal than a proof. However, if God appeared before you, a 1000 feet high, a sceptic could always say this was not God, that is Being Itself, but that this was merely a particularly advanced form of extraterrestrial intelligence. And you would again be mumbling about “S/He/It”‘s inability to “provide unequivocal proof of ‘his’ existence”.

  11. Dover beach, if god would make simultaneously a global exact prediction of three unpredictabka cosmic events, eg a supernova, a daylight comet or a large visible meteorite impact on the moon. Then everybody would believe him. Alas god is merely in the heads of his believers, by definition untestable, for if you would prove god then you would not need to believe. Beats me why this would violate free will.

  12. Dover beach, if god would make simultaneously a global exact prediction of three unpredictabka cosmic events, eg a supernova, a daylight comet or a large visible meteorite impact on the moon. Then everybody would believe him.

    Hans, each of these could be discovered/contrived beforehand and presented as spontaneous observations later, and thus give the sceptic plausible reasons to deny the claimant’s divinity.

    Alas god is merely in the heads of his believers, by definition untestable, for if you would prove god then you would not need to believe.

    Proving God requires believing that this or that evidence is sufficient to establish the existence of God with absolute certainty. In other words, there is no circumstance in which belief can be avoided in any matter. Moreover, for something that is simply in the head of people, including philosophers, theism seems particularly amenable to rational discussion, as this series demonstrates.

    Beats me why this would violate free will.

    Because it’s like asking your father to prove his paternity. He’s made it obvious to reason, but you require it to be absolutely obvious.

  13. Ye Olde Statistician

    March 21, 2016 at 9:44 pm

    The problem with absolute proof is that it does not even apply to natural science (and this is the problem with treating God as if he were a hypothesis in nature). Given any finite set of fact, it is always possible to construct alternate theories that account for them. Hence, there is no single fact or group of facts that “prove” a theory, although it may be possible to assert a fact that disproves a theory.* Instead, it is the theory that gives meaning to the fact. A higher concentration of iridium in the K/T boundary stratum is simply a higher concentration of iridium. Whether it “means” a primordial asteroid strike or an irruption of the Deccan Traps depends on the angle from which you view the fact — and what other facts you join to it. Hence, the Latin distinction between factum est and fictionis, an “accomplishment” and a “contruction.”
    _______________
    (*) Though even falsification is not as simple as it sounds: heliocentrism was “falsified” by the facts. So was Maxwell’s electromagnetism and Darwinian evolution.

  14. Beecause it’s like asking your father to prove his paternity. He’s made it obvious to reason, but you require it to be absolutely obvious

    That’s the essence, isn’t it? If you really love your children that doubt your paternity, then you would go for that DNA-test, and not: “believe me, or I’ll punish you unitil eternity.”

  15. Ye Olde Statistician

    March 22, 2016 at 7:50 am

    If you really doubt that Existence itself exists, who can prove it to Hans? Since any empirical evidence presented to him presupposes existence, all such proofs are circular. It could all be illusions or deceptions. He could after all be a brain in a vat.

  16. That’s the essence, isn’t it? If you really love your children that doubt your paternity, then you would go for that DNA-test, and not: “believe me, or I’ll punish you unitil eternity.”

    LOL. No, the alternatives aren’t believe all the fatherly acts that I have performed establish my paternity, or I’ll punish you for all eternity, but believe all the fatherly acts that I have performed establish my paternity, or not. God is a true gentlemen, ultimately, He will give you what you want.

  17. Dover_beach I pity your children.

  18. Ye Olde Statistician

    March 22, 2016 at 3:28 pm

    I pity your children.

    Why is that? Because your children demand empirical proof that you are faithful to them, while his presumably do not, but rather trust in his faithfulness?

  19. No, if my children would ask for empirical proof, I would do everything to give that proof. If my children are in danger, I’d rescue them.
    How come the universe looks as if it is an opportunistically evolved structure? Could it be that is actually just that: an opportunistically evolved structure without goal or purpose?

  20. Ye Olde Statistician

    March 22, 2016 at 6:44 pm

    How come the universe looks as if it is an opportunistically evolved structure? Could it be that is actually just that: an opportunistically evolved structure without goal or purpose?

    How come it looks like it has goal and structure? Could it be…etc.? After all, evolution theories were devised in order to explain away the appearance of purpose. Otherwise, no one would have thought it “looks as if” something else.

    Besides, evolution requires adaptation and adaptation requires change toward greater aptitude in a niche. Everything in nature has a purpose; that is, a function. A heart, for example, pumps blood (provided it is part of a living organism). It also makes noise. But only the obstreperous would say the heart is for making a lub-dub noise in the same sense that it is for pumping blood.

    I’m not sure that ‘evolution’ as understood in biology is the proper term for the physics of the formation of the universe. Besides, it doesn’t really account for the Moonlight Sonata to say it is all explained by the physics of vibrating strings and the laws of chord progressions.

    If my children are in danger, I’d rescue them.

    Excellent. So you are like a policeman or a fireman or perhaps a total stranger? How do they know this ahead of time? Do they wait for such empirical proof, or do they believe before they see?

  21. swordfishtrombone

    March 28, 2016 at 9:42 am

    Better late than never.

    @ YOS: “Would you not, like Einstein, expect a chaotic universe? Or no universe at all?”

    No, I wouldn’t. A chaotic universe would fall apart and a ‘no universe at all’ can’t ‘exist’ by definition.

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