Welcome everyone to Deeper Waters where we are diving into the ocean of truth. We’re spending our time now looking at a video by “The Amazing Atheist” where he thinks he’s debunked Aquinas. Last time, we laid down a preliminary and then noted how TAA thinks that he’s smarter than Aquinas by an order of magnitude. (That’s not me saying it. He says it himself in his video of “Thomas Aquinas Sucks.” Be warned he does use profanity.)
Having laid a background for our study, we are now going to see how badly TAA does not understand them.
Let’s look at how he summarizes the first argument.
#1-objects are in motion.
#2-If something is in motion, then it must be caused to be in motion by something outside of itself.
#3-There can be no infinite chain of movers/movees
#4-So there is a first unmoved mover.
#5-Therefore, God exists.
Before we go on then, let’s see if this is a fair summary. Here is what Aquinas himself says in the Summa Theologica.
The first and more manifest way is the argument from motion. It is certain, and evident to our senses, that in the world some things are in motion. Now whatever is in motion is put in motion by another, for nothing can be in motion except it is in potentiality to that towards which it is in motion; whereas a thing moves inasmuch as it is in act. For motion is nothing else than the reduction of something from potentiality to actuality. But nothing can be reduced from potentiality to actuality, except by something in a state of actuality. Thus that which is actually hot, as fire, makes wood, which is potentially hot, to be actually hot, and thereby moves and changes it. Now it is not possible that the same thing should be at once in actuality and potentiality in the same respect, but only in different respects. For what is actually hot cannot simultaneously be potentially hot; but it is simultaneously potentially cold. It is therefore impossible that in the same respect and in the same way a thing should be both mover and moved, i.e. that it should move itself. Therefore, whatever is in motion must be put in motion by another. If that by which it is put in motion be itself put in motion, then this also must needs be put in motion by another, and that by another again. But this cannot go on to infinity, because then there would be no first mover, and, consequently, no other mover; seeing that subsequent movers move only inasmuch as they are put in motion by the first mover; as the staff moves only because it is put in motion by the hand. Therefore it is necessary to arrive at a first mover, put in motion by no other; and this everyone understands to be God.
Aquinas calls this the argument from motion. Remember that as we said yesterday, motion is the actualizing of potential. Aquinas says that our senses tell us that some objects are in motion. What is he getting at? For one thing, he’s making it clear that he needs something itself that is not part of the problem, something that is not being actualized. Second, he is dealing with the problem raised by Parmenides centuries before. How can change be possible? Parmenides was a monist who did not believe in the reality of change.
For instance, imagine something existing. How does it change? Does it change by being or by non-being? It cannot change by non-being, because non-being is nothing and nothing cannot change something. It cannot change by being because that would mean that being is changing into being. Aquinas’s answer to this ultimately was that there were degrees of being whereby things change.
Aquinas also starts with the senses because for Aquinas, knowledge begins with sense experience. He also does this since he is doing natural theology. He is not wanting to say at this point “Well the Bible says such and such.” This is what someone was to use when interacting with the person who did not accept Scripture.
For Aquinas, the putting of something into motion is due to the recipient’s potentiality, whereas putting something into motion is based on the agent’s actuality. The only way something can pass something on to something else is if that something somehow has the power to cause the effect.
You will not freeze something by putting it in fire because fire does not have the power to produce cold. Fire does have the power to produce heat. Two sticks being rubbed together also have the power to produce heat. God has within Himself the power to produce fire if need be as well. Thus, something must exist in the agent actualizing the potential either formally, based on its form, or as is sometimes said “virtually.”
Aquinas also says something cannot be something in actuality and potentiality both in the same sense. Now of course something could be hot and be potentially hotter, but it cannot be both hot in actuality and potentially hot. If it is hot, it is hot. Something cannot be both light and dark at the same time and in the same sense. This is simply the Law of Noncontradiction at work.
In reviewing how TAA describes this argument, he says nothing about what motion is and I have no reason to think that he has any clue how Aquinas refers to motion. One could speak of Newton’s laws of motion, but remember that Newton is speaking as a physicist and about how matter moves, and while Aquinas’s ways can include that, they do not limit themselves to only that.
This is a mistake many modern critics make as they go from metaphysics to physics and think that they’re disputing the metaphysics of Aquinas by arguing physics. Consider it part of the mistaken image that we have that because someone is a scientist, they are automatically an authority on anything that they comment on.
TAA is willing to grant his first and second premises listed above. The problem comes when he objects to the third premise in his way of looking at the argument. This is dealing with the infinite regress.
To begin with, he does not refer to the kind of infinity he is dealing with. TAA’s statement is simply “How does he know? We’re still trying to understand it today.” This is not an objection however. For one thing, it is a certainty as far as I’m concerned that TAA has never read Question 46 of the Prima Pars of the Summa which we pointed to yesterday to understand the kind of infinite regress that Aquinas speaks of.
Why does TAA not mention the two kinds of regresses that Aquinas knew of? It is because he does not know about them. In my last post, I referred to a number of works that one could read to further understand Aquinas. It is likely that TAA knows nothing of any of these people. One would hope he would at least read Anthony Kenny, an atheist critic of Aquinas, and get some idea of better arguments against Aquinas. (Although better is not saying much in this case)
We move on to step four where he says that this one is ridiculous since it contradicts the so-called second premise. What is ridiculous really is thinking that no great thinker throughout the ages who looked at Aquinas’s arguments failed to notice such a thing. In reality, TAA has made a simple mistake that most atheists make when attacking the horizontal cosmological argument. (Remember, this guy is supposed to be smarter than Aquinas by a magnitude)
When you read atheists, their literature will often say that the Kalam argument states that everything that exists has a cause. No Christian writer I know of defends such a premise. They say that everything that begins to exist has a cause. That which exists by nature does not need a cause.
TAA is making the same kind of argument here. Aquinas is talking about an unmoved mover. The unmoved mover is that which is not put into motion as it does not have any potential. This is a being of pure actuality. There is no contradiction as the argument talks about that which is put into motion and not that which is in motion by nature.
As for unmoved, this means unmoved by another. God is the most moving of all because it is by Him that all actuality is possible and he is the fundamental mover. Note Aquinas does not need God to be a first mover chronologically as he is open to a past without a beginning. Note also that TAA refers to the infinite chain again, the chain that he does not know about.
It is no shock that TAA refers to Aquinas as some moron living in the 13th century with no concept of modern science. Again, this is a problem that is frequently made as a metaphysical argument is made to be a physical argument. This is a sad condition many scientists get themselves into in that they can only think about something in scientific terms.
When TAA comes to the conclusion, he asks that even if we accepted everything before, why is it God. Why can’t it be a blueberry muffin?
And I thought the Flying Spaghetti Monster idea was dumb.
To begin with, a blueberry muffin is a material object and that which has some material component to its being always has potential to its being. Also, keep in mind that in order for something to actualize potential, it must exist in the agent actualizing either formally or virtually. Could the TAA tell me what actualizing he expects a blueberry muffin to do?
At least the Flying Spaghetti Monster would be an agent that could supposedly act of its own volition seeing as all living things are soulish to some degree. Plants have a soul that can take in nutrients. Animals have that power plus that of movement. Humans have those powers plus those of rationality. All other beings that are not soulish depend on something else entirely for their movement.
For TAA, a blueberry muffin sounds more plausible than God since he’s seen a blueberry muffin. I’ve also seen blueberry muffins, but I’ve never seen a blueberry muffin capable of creating a universe or capable of actualizing potential or possessing pure actuality. Maybe TAA has a recipe for blueberry muffins he needs to share.
Of course, we could say that if we are basing this on only objects we’ve seen, then we will need to throw out much of science since no one has ever seen many particles that we say are absolutely essential to the functioning of our universe. Does TAA think we need to replace those with blueberry muffins?
TAA says he has never seen God however. So what? Since God is not material in nature according to Thomistic thought, then of course God will not be seen. We only see God in an analogical sense. One will see God much the same way one sees that 2 + 2 = 4. How did we ever get to the point of “I’ve never seen God” somehow counts as an argument?
I conclude that TAA, again, does not have a clue about the arguments he critiques. Of course, he is more than welcome to come to TheologyWeb and challenge me on this if he disagrees.