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Hebrews 3, Proving the Minor, and the Divinity of Christ

I was recently reading the Letter to the Hebrews and came upon an interesting passage:

Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest of our confession; He was faithful to Him who appointed Him, as Moses also was in all His house. For He has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses, by just so much as the builder of the house has more honor than the house. For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God. Now Moses was faithful in all His house as a servant, for a testimony of those things which were to be spoken later; but Christ was faithful as a Son over His house—whose house we are, if we hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end (Hebrews 3:1-6, NASB).

The logic of the passage jumped out at me, as I have been keen to find passages that affirm the divinity of Christ in light of my interactions with Biblical Unitarians.  This passage is concerned with demonstrating that Christ is worthy of more glory than Moses.  Thomas Aquinas dissects the passage in the following manner:

161. – But the Apostle’s reason is that more glory is due Him Who built the house, than to him that dwells in it. But Christ built the house: ‘You have made the morning light and the sun’ (Ps. 73:16); ‘Wisdom has built herself a house’, i.e., the Church (Pr. 9:1). For Christ by Whom grace and truth came, built the Church, as legislator; but Moses, as promulgator of the Law: therefore, it is only as promulgator that glory is due Moses. Hence, his face became bright: ‘So that the children of Israel could not steadfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance’ (2 Cor. 3:7). Therefore, the sequence of thought is this: You say that Christ is faithful as Moses was. Why then overlook Him? Certainly this man was counted worthy of greater glory than Moses, by so much as he that has built the house has greater honor than the house. As if to say: Even though Moses deserves mention, Christ is more honorable, because He is the builder of the house and the chief lawgiver: ‘Behold, God is high in his strength, and none is like him among the lawgivers’ (Jb. 36:22). Therefore, if Moses is deserving of glory, Christ is more deserving: ‘For is the ministration of condemnation be in glory, much more the ministration of justice abounds in glory’ (2 Cor. 3:9).

162. – Then he proves the minor premise of his reason when he says: For every house is built by some man. But the minor is that Christ built that house. He proves this, first, because every house needs a builder; secondly, because the house of which he speaks was built by Christ, the builder of all things is God.

163. – First, therefore, he proves that this house, as any other, needs a builder, because its various parts are put together by someone. This is obvious in a structure in which the wood and stones, of which it is composed, are united by someone. But the assembly of the faithful, which is the Church and the house of God, is composed of various elements, namely, Jews and Gentiles, slaves and free. Therefore, the church, as any other house, is put together by someone. He gives only the conclusion of this syllogism, supposing the truth of the premises as evident: ‘Be you also as living stones built up, a spiritual house, a holy priesthood’ (1 Pt. 2:5); ‘Built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone’ (Eph. 2:20).

164. – Then (v. 4b) he proves that Christ is the builder of that house, for He is God, the builder of all things. And if this is understood of the whole world, it is plain: ‘He spoke and they were made; he commanded and they were created’ (Ps. 32:9) But there is another spiritual creation, which is made by the Spirit: ‘Send forth your spirit, and they shall be created, and you shall renew the face of the earth’ (Ps. 104:30). This is brought about by God through Christ: ‘Of his own will has he begotten us by the word of truth, that we might be some beginning of his creature’ (Jas. 1:18); ‘We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus in good works’ (Eph. 2:10). Therefore, God created that house, namely, the Church, from nothing, namely, from the state of sin to the state of grace. Therefore, Christ, by Whom He made all things, ‘by whom also he made the world’ (Heb. 1:2), is more excellent (since He has the power to make) than Moses, who was only the announcer (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Hebrews).

If I understand Aquinas’s analysis of the passage correctly, the author of Hebrews is trying to prove:

C1: Christ is worthy of more glory than Moses

And the premises that support this conclusion are:

P1: For all persons p1 and p2, if p1 is the builder of the house that p2 dwells in, then p1 is worthy of more glory than p2.1

P2. Christ is the builder of the house that Moses dwells in.

Now, C does follow reasonably well from P1 and P2 (see the footnote below). Aquinas notes that further support is provided in verse 4 for the truth of the minor premise, i.e. P2. This sub-argument has massive Christological significance, and the argument looks like this:

P3: For all x, if x is a house, then there is some person who built x.

P4: For all x, if there is some person who built x, the person who built x is God.

From (P3) and (P4), we can draw the conclusion that God is the builder of all houses, or:

C2: For all x, if x is a house, the person who built x is God.

So, given that there is some house that Moses dwells in:

P5: There exists some x such that x is a house and Moses dwells in x.

We can conclude:

C3: There exists some x such that x is a house and Moses dwells in x, and the person who built x is God.

Or in more readable English: God is the builder of the house that Moses dwells in.

But wait a minute! C3 doesn’t say anything like P2. The only way that C3 could be taken to support P2 is if we add a premise, which the author of the Letter to the Hebrews has suppressed, namely:

P6: Christ is God.

The author invites the reader to reason through his enthymeme, and keep in mind the truth that Christ is God, and so the creator of all things, including the Church and all of the houses of Israel, including that of Moses. So from C3 and P6, we can draw out:

C4: There exists some x such that x is a house and Moses dwells in x, and the person who built x is Christ.

And C4 just is P2.

Now, we are also told that Jesus is the Son over the house, but that it is His house. So, we get both the idea that Jesus is the Son of God and God, the creator of all things.

Suppose, for a moment, that the author did not intend such an argument.  Instead, he merely wanted to argue that Christ is the Son of the house, whereas Moses is the servant.  If so, then his entire point about builders being more deserving of glory than members of the house would be wasted ink.  For that entire passage would only prove that God is more worthy of glory than Moses, which is hardly in dispute.  The passage only makes sense if it can lend support to the authors actual conclusion, and the only way to validly reach that conclusion is if we identify Christ as God.

1To be more precise, we should say something like, P1′: For all persons p1 and p2, if p1 is the builder of the house that p2 dwells in, and p1 is not identical to p2, then p1 is worthy of more glory than p2. We would also need to then add P3′: Christ is not identical to Moses, which is a reasonable assumption given the Transfiguration, for instance.

A Formal Version of the Third Way

I believe by using mereological sums, I avoid the charge of the quantifier shift fallacy.

D1: God is the x such there is not some y by which x receives the necessity it has, and x is a member of the essentially ordered causal series by which things receive their necessity .
P1. For all x, if it is possible that x does not exist, then there is a time at which x does not exist.
P2. If there is a time at which the mereological sum of everything does not exist, then there does not exist now the mereological sum of everything.
P3. If there exists now some x, then there exists now the mereological sum of everything.
P4. I exist now.
P5. If necessarily there exists the mereological sum of everything, then there is some x that necessarily exists, and x is a part of the mereological sum of everything.
P6. If there is some x that necessarily exists, then if for all x, x necessarily exists, then there is some y such that x receives the necessity it has from y, only if there is an essentially ordered causal series by which things receive their necessity and it does not regress finitely.
P7. For all z it is not the case that there is an x, such that both x is a member of the essentially ordered causal series by which things receive z and it is not the case that z regresses finitely.
P8. For all x, if x necessarily exists, then x is a member of the essentially ordered causal series by which things receive their necessity.
P9. For all x, if there is not some y by which  x receives the necessity it has, and x is a member of the essentially ordered causal series by which things receive their necessity, then for all z, there is not some y by which z receives the necessity it has, and z is a member of the essentially ordered series by which things receive their necessity, and z is identical to x.
C1. God necessarily exists.

Note: D1 tells us that God does not receive his necessity from any other cause, but, being a part of the causal series by which things receive their necessity, is the cause of necessity in other things.

E!x ≝ x exists
E!t ≝ x exists at time t
Fx ≝ x regresses finitely
Oxy ≝ x is a member of essentially ordered causal series y
Rxy ≝ x receives the necessity it has from y
σ<x,P> ≝ the mereological sum of all x that P.
σ<e,E!> ≝ (∀x)[E!x ⊃ (x ≤ e)] & (∀y)[(y ≤ e) ⊃ (∃z)(E!z & (y ⊗ z)]1
e ≝ everything
g ≝ (ɿx)[~(∃y)Rxy & Oxl]
i ≝ I (the person who is me)
l ≝ the causal series by which things receive their necessity
n ≝ now

1. (∀x)[♢~E!x ⊃ (∃t)~E!tx] (premise)
2. (∃t)~E!tσ<e,E!> ⊃ ~E!nσ<e,E!> (premise)
3. (∃x)E!nx ⊃ E!nσ<e,E!>(premise)
4. E!ni (premise)
5. ☐E!σ<e,E!> ⊃ (∃x)[☐E!x &(x ≤ e)] (premise)
6. (∃x)☐E!x ⊃ {(∀x)[☐E!x ⊃ (∃y)Rxy] ⊃ (∃x)[Oxl & ~Fl]} (premise)
7. (∀z)~(∃x)[Oxz & ~Fz] (premise)
8. (∀x)[☐E!x ⊃ Oxl] (premise)
9. (∀x){[~(∃y)Rxy & (Oxl & Fl)] ⊃ (∀z)[(~(∃y)Rzy & Ozl) ⊃ (z = x)]} (premise)
10. ♢~E!σ<e,E!> (IP)
11. ♢~E!σ<e,E!> ⊃ (∃t)~E!tσ<e,E!> (1 UI)
12. (∃t)~E!tσ<e,E!> (10,11 MP)
13. ~E!nσ<e,E!> (2,12 MP)
14. (∃x)E!nx (4 EG)
15. E!nσ<e,E!> (3,14 MP)
16. E!nσ<e,E!> & ~E!nσ<e,E!> (13,15 Conj)
17. ~♢~E!σ<e,E!> (10-16 IP)
18. ☐E!σ<e,E!> (17 ME)
19. (∃x)[☐E!x &(x ≤ e)] (5,18 MP)
20. ☐E!μ & (μ ≤ e) (19 EI)
21. ☐E!μ (20 Simp)
22. (∃x)☐E!x (21 EG)
23. (∀x)[☐E!x ⊃ (∃y)Rxy] ⊃ (∃x)[Oxl & ~Fl] (6,22 MP)
24. ~(∃x)(Oxl & ~Fl)] (7 UI)
25. ~(∀x)[☐E!x ⊃ (∃y)Rxy] (23,24 MT
26. (∃x)~[☐E!x ⊃ (∃y)Rxy] (25 QN)
27. (∃x)~[~☐E!x ∨ (∃y)Rxy] (26 Impl)
28. (∃x)[~~☐E!x & ~(∃y)Rxy] (27 DeM)
29. ~~☐E!ν & ~(∃y)Rνy (28 EI)
30. ☐E!ν & ~(∃y)Rνy (29 DN)
31. ☐E!ν (30 Simp)
32. ☐E!ν ⊃ Oνl (8 UI)
33. Oνl (31,32 MP)
34. ~(∃x)[Oxl & ~Fl] (7 UI)
35. (∀x)~[Oxl & ~Fl] (34 QN)
36. ~[Oνl & ~Fl] (35 UI)
37. ~Oνl ∨ ~~Fl (36 DeM)
38. ~~Oνl (33 DN)
39. ~~Fl (37,38 DS)
40. Fl (39 DN)
41. ~(∃y)Rνy (30 Simp)
42. Oνl & Fl (33,40 Conj)
43. ~(∃y)Rνy (Oνl & Fl) (41,42 Conj)
44. [~(∃y)Rνy & (Oνl & Fl)] ⊃ (∀z)[(~(∃y)Rzy & Ozl) ⊃ (z = ν)] (9 UI)
45. (∀z)[(~(∃y)Rzy & Ozl) ⊃ (z = ν)] (43,44 MP)
46. ~(∃y)Rνy & Oνl (33,41 Conj)
47. [~(∃y)Rνy & Oνl] & (∀z)[(~(∃y)Rzy & Ozl) ⊃ (z = ν)] (45,46 Conj)
48. [~(∃y)Rνy & Oνl] & (∀z)[(~(∃y)Rzy & Ozl) ⊃ (z = ν)] & ☐E!ν (31,47 Conj)
49. (∃x){[~(∃y)Rxy & Oxl] & (∀z)[(~(∃y)Rzy & Ozl) ⊃ (z = x)] & ☐E!x} (48 EG)
50. ☐E!g (49 Theory of Descriptions)


1Formulation of definition for everything based influenced by Filip, H. (n.d.) “Mereology”. Online:

Non-physical thought processes

Image from the American Heart Association Blog

An argument for the non-physical intellect and the possibility that it can survive the death of the body (based on a recent Facebook discussion and also roughly on James F. Ross’s Immaterial Aspects of Thought)1:

D1) For all x, (x is a semantically determinate process ≝ there exists a y such that x contains y, and y is a set of operations that have a fixed and well-defined syntax and are semantically unique in their referents).
P1) For all x, (if x is a physical process, it is not the case that x is a semantically determinate process).
P2) There exists an x and there exists a y, such that {x is a formal thought process in my intellect, [x contains y, and (y = Modus Ponens)]}
P3) For all y, [ if (y = Modus Ponens), y is a set of operations that have a fixed and well-defined syntax and is semantically unique in its referents].
C1) There exists an x such that (x is a formal thought process in my intellect and it is not the case that x is a physical process). [From D1 and P1-P3]
P4) For all x, [if (x is a formal thought process in my intellect, and the mode of being of my intellect is physical), then x is a physical process].
P5) For all x, (if it is not the case that the mode of being of x is physical, then x is non-physical).
C2) My intellect is non-physical. [From C1, P4 and P5]
P6) For all x, if x is non-physical, then x cannot be physically destroyed.
P7) For all x and all y, if x cannot be physically destroyed and y can be physically destroyed, x can survive the physical destruction of y.
P8) My body can be physically destroyed.
C3) My intellect can survive the physical destruction of my body. [From C2 and P6-P8]

The point of the argument is essentially this: A physical process can be mapped onto a language, as we have computers do. But that physical process is only simulating the use of language and the way it computes symbols is only insofar as we tether symbols to physical states undergoing various processes. But the physical process itself does not fix the semantic content or the syntax, we do. And so we say that a computer might fail to “add” properly because of a hardware malfunction. But there is no telos intrinsic to the physical process that distinguishes functioning from malfunctioning, so it is merely our attempt to simulate adding that can, at times, be frustrated by a computer functioning in ways we did not anticipate or intend.

This is why no physical process can be semantically determinate. You can have a physical process that is given semantic content by a mind, and then it will be semantic, in a sense, but indeterminate in that the process doesn’t have to fix upon the syntax or semantics assigned to it.

However, a mental process like reasoning according to Modus Ponens is a syntactically well-defined operation that a mind can do. When the mind is doing this operation, it is preserving truth values. A mind cannot “do Modus Ponens” and “not do Modus Ponens” at the same time and in the same way. But a physical process “programmed” to track “Modus Ponens-like inferences” can run a program that makes “Modus Ponens-like inferences” while never actually doing Modus Ponens. It might be doing some other operation all together that is indistinguishable from Modus Ponens up to any given point in time, but in the next run of the program, the hardware catches on fire and it spits out on its display “if p, q/ p// not-q”. You can’t say that catching on fire and displaying an invalid argument on a screen was not part of the process, since the process just is however the hardware happens to function.

Given this, and given that the thing known is in the knower according to the mode of the knower, the rest follows from relatively uncontroversial premises.

Deduction: Let,
Px ≝ x is a physical process
Cxy ≝ x contains y
Ox ≝ x is a set of operations
Tx ≝ x has a well-defined syntax
Sx ≝ x is semantically unique in its referents
Fxy ≝ x is a formal thought process in y
Mx ≝ x has a mode of being that is physical
Nx ≝ x is non-physical
Rx ≝ x is physically destroyed
Vxy ≝ x survives the destruction of y
Dx ≝ (∃y){Cxy & [Oy & (Ty & Sy)]}
m ≝ Modus Ponens
i ≝ my intellect
b ≝ my body

1. (∀x)(Px ⊃ ~Dx) (premise)
2. (∃x)(∃y){Fxi & [Cxy & (y = m)]} (premise)
3. (∀y){(y = m) ⊃ [Oy & (Ty & Sy)]} (premise)
4. (∀x)[(Fxi & Mi) ⊃ Px] (premise)
5. (∀x)(~Mx ⊃ Nx) (premise)
6. (∀x)(Nx ⊃ ~◊Rx) (premise)
7. (∀x)(∀y)[(~◊Rx & ◊Ry) ⊃ ◊Vxy] (premise)
8. ◊Rb (premise)
9. (∃y){Fμi & [Cμy & (y = m)]} (2 EI)
10. Fμi & [Cμν & (ν = m)] (9 EI)
11. (ν = m) ⊃ [Oν & (Tν & Sν)] (3 UI)
12. Cμν & (ν = m) (10 Simp)
13.(ν = m) (12 Simp)
14. Oν & (Tν & Sν) (11,13 MP)
15. Cμν (12 Simp)
16. Cμν & [Oν & (Tν & Sν)] (14,15 Conj)
17. (∃y){Cμy & [Oy & (Ty & Sy)]} (16 EG)
18. Dμ (17 Def “Dx”)
19. ~~Dμ (18 DN)
20. Pμ ⊃ ~Dμ (1 UI)
21. ~Pμ (19,20 MT)
22. (Fμi & Mi) ⊃ Pμ (4 UI)
23. ~(Fμi & Mi) (21,22 MT)
24. ~Fμi ∨ ~Mi (23 DeM)
25. Fμi (10 Simp)
26. ~~Fμi (25 DN)
27. ~Mi (24,26 DS)
28. ~Mi ⊃ Ni (5 UI)
29. Ni (27,28 MP)
30. Ni ⊃ ~◊Ri (6 UI)
31. ~◊Ri (29,30 MP)
32. (∀y)[(~◊Ri & ◊Ry) ⊃ ◊Viy] (7 UI)
33. (~◊Ri & ◊Rb) ⊃ ◊Vib (32 UI)
34. ~◊Ri & ◊Rb (8,31 Conj)
35. ◊Vib (33,34 MP)
36. Fμi & ~Pμ (21,25 Conj)
37. (∃x)(Fxi & ~Px) (36 EG)
38. (∃x)(Fxi & ~Px) & Ni (29,37 Conj)
39.[(∃x)(Fxi & ~Px) & Ni] & ◊Vib (35,38 Conj, which is C1-C3)

J.F. Ross. 1992. “Immaterial Aspects of Thought.” In The Journal of Philosophy. Vol. 89. No. 3. 136-150
I. Niiniluto. 1987. “Verisimilitude with Indefinite Truth.” What is Closer-to-the-truth: A Parade of Approaches to Truthlikeness. Ed. T.A.F. Kuipers. Amsterdam: Rodopi. pp. 187-188
(P4) is based upon the principle that a thing known is in the knower according to the mode of the knower. See, for example, Thomas Aquinas Summa Theologiae I.14.1.

Colbert on Faith, Logic, Humor and Gratitude

In the video below, Stephen Colbert talks about faith, logic, and humor.  Even though Colbert says that the ontological argument is “logically perfect”, like Pascal, he does not think logic can lead to faith in God.  There must be a movement in the heart, which Colbert connects to gratitude, and which he lives out in his work as a comedian.  But it isn’t as though logic and emotion as opposed forces.  The feeling of gratitude makes sense within a worldview where there is a being than which none greater can be conceived.

When we reflect on our existence, the love we share, the struggles, the joys, the busy days, and the quiet nights, we feel we ought to give thanks.  This gratitude is not conditioned by the kind of life we have.  For we see that gratitude is often freely expressed by the most lowly among us, and we are irked when the richest and most powerful lack gratitude.  Such a duty to feel gratitude seems to exist for us all and it doesn’t matter who we are or the sort of life we have.

Now, if we ought to express an unconditioned gratitude, then we can do so.  But if we can express such gratitude, there must be at least possible that there is an object worthy of such gratitude.  It is, after all, impossible to express gratitude if there cannot be anyone to whom the gratitude is due.  So, we might say that our ability to express unconditioned gratitude is at least predicated on the possibility of there being someone worthy of such gratitude.  So, I think only a perfect being is worthy of unconditioned gratitude, and if is possible that there is such a being, such a being exists.  That is, for me, one way in which gratitude and logic connect to bolster faith.

Anyways, here is the Colbert video.  I love a comedian who can name drop Anselm and Aquinas!

The Modesty of Maydole’s Temporal Contingency Argument

In a recent discussion that I had, my interlocutor claimed that “contingency” was an outdated scholastic concept. Really it is just a modal property. Sometimes it is called “two-way” possibility, i.e. x is contingent iff possibly and possibly not x. Temporal contingency the possibility of existing at some point in time and not existing at some point in time. We experience temporal contingency all the time. Anyways, I promised to explain how contingency is still relevant today in the philosophy of religion. In fact, I think it is relevant in one of the most powerful arguments for God’s existence. I can’t really imagine a good reason to deny any of the premises, and it is of course logically valid. So I am compelled to conclude that it is a sound argument for the existence of a supreme being, which I call “God”.

In a sense, The argument originates with Thomas Aquinas’s third way, but is developed by Robert Maydole, who fuses it with a modal ontological argument to devise an ingenious new argument.

Maydole defines a supreme being as follows:

D1. A supreme being is such that it is not possible that there exists anything greater than it and it is not possible that it is not greater than anything else that is non-identical to it.

He then proves the following, which we will call T1:

T1. If possibly a supreme being exists, then a supreme being exists.

Maydole does this by making use of a few theorems, like Barcan Formula, and other theorems in modal logic (I will reproduce the argument below, for those who are interested, see the conditional proof on lines 4-19 for the exact proof). Then Maydole constructs an argument for the possibility of a supreme being. He lists the following premises (but don’t attack them straight off, something interesting happens):

P1. Something presently exists.
P2. Only a finitely many things have existed to date.
P3. Every temporally contingent being begins to exist at some time and ceases to exist at some time.
P4. Everything that begins to exist at some time and ceases to exist at some time exists for a finite period of time.
P5. If everything exists only for a finite period of time, and there have been only a finitely many things to date, then there was a time when nothing existed.
P6. If there was a time when nothing existed, then nothing presently exists.
P7. A being is temporally necessary if and only if it is not temporally contingent.
P8. Everything has a sufficient reason for its existence.
P9. Anything that has a sufficient reason for its existence also has a sufficient reason for its existence that is a sufficient reason for its own existence.
P10. No temporally contingent being is a sufficient reason for its own existence.
P11. Every temporally necessary being that is a sufficient reason for its own existence is a being without limitations.
P12. A being without any limitations is necessarily greater than any other being.
P13. It is not possible for anything to be greater than itself.
P14. It is necessarily the case that “greater than” is asymmetric.

From P1-P14 one can prove C1:

C1. A supreme being exists.

The proof from P1-P14 to C1 is a bit long, and I believe Maydole even made a few typographical mistakes along the way. Here is my adaptation of this part of the argument, if you are interested.

Next consider what was said, before, that if it is possible that a supreme being exists, then a supreme being exists, i.e. T1. Maydole’s argument is surprisingly modest. What he does is argue that POSSIBLY (P1-P14) is true. Since C1 is provable from (P1-P14), we can say POSSIBLY C1 is true, which is to say that possibly a supreme being exists. Given T1 and the possibility that a supreme being exists, we can conclude that a supreme being exists (which is rightly called God)!

Now, the argument is very strong, because it is plausible that P1-P14 are actually true. However, Maydole only requires that the premises be possibly true rather than actually true, which is to say that they are not logically or metaphysically incoherent, or that they are true in some metaphysically possible world (as contemporary modal logicians would say). The deduction is valid, and it is very hard for me to think any of the premises are false. So I am compelled to think that this is, indeed, a sound argument for God’s existence.
So the proof looks something like this:


Gxy ≝ x is greater than y
Sx ≝ (~◊(∃y)Gyx & ~◊(∃y)(x≠y & ~Gxy))

1. ◊(P1-P14) (premise)
2. (P1-P14) ⊢ C1 (premise that C1 is provable from P1-P14)
3. {◊(P1-P14) & [(P1-P14) ⊢ C1]} ⊃ ◊C1 (premise)
4. ◊(∃x)Sx (Assump CP)
5. ◊(∃x)Sx ⊃ (∃x)◊Sx (BF theorem)
6. (∃x)◊Sx (4,5 MP)
7. ◊Su (6 EI)
8. ◊(~◊(∃y)Gyu & ~◊(∃y)(u≠y & ~Guy)) (7, df “Sx”)
9. ◊(~◊(∃y)Gyu & ~◊(∃y)(u≠y & ~Guy)) ⊃ (◊~◊(∃y)Gyu & ◊~◊(∃y)(u≠y & ~Guy)) (theorem)
10. ◊~◊(∃y)Gyu & ◊~◊(∃y)(u≠y & ~Guy) (8,9 MP)
11. ◊~◊(∃y)Gyu (10 Simp)
12. ◊~◊(∃y)(u≠y & ~Guy) (10 Simp)
13. ◊~◊(∃y)Gyu ⊃ ~◊(∃y)Gyu (theorem, by “S5”)
14. ◊~◊(∃y)(u≠y & ~Guy) ⊃ ~◊(∃y)(u≠y & ~Guy) (theorem, by “S5”)
15. ~◊(∃y)Gyu (11,13 MP)
16. ~◊(∃y)(u≠y & ~Guy) (12,14 MP)
17. ~◊(∃y)Gyu & ~◊(∃y)(u≠y & ~Guy) (15,16 Conj)
18. Su (17, df “Sx”)
19. (∃x)Sx (18 EG)
20. ◊(∃x)Sx ⊃ (∃x)Sx (4-19 CP, which proves T1)
21. {◊(P1-P14) & [(P1-P14) ⊢ C1] (1,2 Conj)
22. ◊C1 (3,22 MP)
23. ◊(∃x)Sx (22, def “C1”)
24. (∃x)Sx (20,23 MP)


To me, it is P11 that needs more explanation. It certainly seems right that a temporally necessary being who is the sufficient reason for its own existence has the sort of existence that is not limited by time nor by the existence of any other thing. But to say that the existence of x is not limited by time nor any thing seems a bit different from saying thag such a being is essentially without limitations. I believe the idea is that if there is no time nor state of affairs in which such a being would cease to exist or lack a reason for existing, then it is not limited by anything at all, and must be greater than every other thing.

Another person noted that P5 did not make sense to him because time is something that exists, so there could never be a time when nothing exists. Maydole, however, is quantifying over things in a way that is distinct from moments (in his “Modal Third Way” you see a more careful distinction between moments and things). With the right qualifications, and stipulations, this worry can be alleviated, e.g. one might say “no concrete things” or “no subsitent things” rather than “nothing”.

Maydole, R. 2012. “The Ontological Argument”. In The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology. Ed. W.L. Craig & J.P. Moreland. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, pp. 580-586.

Vexing Links (5/25/2015)

Some recent links of note:

  • Robin Smith has recently updated the SEP article on Aristotle’s Logic
  • Tuomas Tahko updates an entry at the SEP on Ontological Dependence originally authored by the late great E.J. Lowe
  • Peter Adamson’s History of Philosophy without any Gaps has a new podcast episode  on 13th century Logic
  • Massimo Pigliucci took the New Atheists to the woodshed (almost feel sorry for them)
  • Jeffery Jay Lowder notes that David Wood took John Loftus to the woodshed on the question “Did Jesus Rise from the Dead?” (I agree with Lowder and couldn’t help but get the impression that Loftus knew he had been whipped by the end of the debate—granting that he failed to address 1 Cor 15)
  • Messianic Drew constructs a similar argument for God from Fitch’s paradox as I did previously on this blog.  One difference is that I use the BCF (Big Conjunctive Fact) to explicitly argue for an omniscient mind (which isn’t a big slice of God, but certainly troubling for naturalism)
  • Alex Pruss as a nice neat argument for God from life (I list biogenesis as evidence that supports theism, though that is always subject to new discoveries)
  • Speaking of which, a new theory of abiogenesis is being lauded by internet atheists as putting God on the ropes (Should theists be sweating? It might be worth noting that the scientist who has devised the theory, Dr. England, is an observant Jew who prays to God three times a day.  Classical theists don’t require that the creation of life to be a miraculous intervention, but the general order of nature points to a living source of creation)
  • I recently found an interesting clip of evolutionary biologist, Ken Miller (who testified against ID in the Dover case) defend Aquinas’s fifth way (though the fifth way is a teleological argument, it is not the same as the sorts of arguments ID theorists put forward, as Ed Feser likes to point out)
  • Inspiring Philosophy has a great video response to the question of whether the Trinity is a pagan concept
  • Bill Vallicella and Dale Tuggy are discussing God’s relationship to being (this is the latest from Vallicella, but it all started from this interview on Tuggy’s superb Trinities podcast)
  • Lastly, and most importantly, if you are wondering which superhero would win in a one-on-one battle, wonder no more

A Response to the Argument from Material Causality

Ex-apologist presents an interesting argument against a form of classical theism that includes a classical view of creation: classical theismcvc (click here to read the original article). The argument is based on what he calls the principle of material causality, or PMC, which features in the first premise of his argument. The second premise states an implication of classical theismcvc and shows that one cannot hold to the PMC and to classical theismcvc at the same time, i.e. the two are inconsistent. Since one has good reason to hold to the PMC, classical theismcvc must be abandoned, so the argument goes.   Ex-apologists formulates it this way:

1. All concrete objects that have an originating or sustaining cause have a material cause of their existence.
2. If classical theismcvc is true, then the universe is a concrete object that has an originating or sustaining cause without a material cause of its existence.
3. Therefore, classical theismcvc is false. [1]

The argument is essentially valid, so the question of soundness comes down to the truth of the premises. In this critique, I will explore the notion of the principle of material causality, PMC, and show why, with a more precise notion of PMC in place, the argument cannot be successful. But first we must understand what ex-apologist means by a few of his terms.

Classical Theism: “…the view that there is a personal god who is omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfect.”

The Classical View of Creation: “the view that consists in the following three theses: (i) God is wholly distinct from the natural world; (ii) God is the originating or sustaining cause of the natural world; and (iii) God created the natural world ex nihilo.

Originating cause: “…an efficient cause of the temporal beginning of a thing’s existence…”

Sustaining cause: “…an efficient cause of a thing’s continued existence.”

Matter cause: “…the things or stuff from which another thing is made…” [Note: Ex-apologist’s (1), his PMC, is restricted to concrete objects that have either a sustaining or originating cause. So no question is begged against God, since God is typically held to be uncaused. Also, though it is not explicitly stated, I take creation ex nihilo to be defined as the causation of something without pre-existing matter]

My Response:

First, something more should be said about what “universe” means, so as to avoid equivocation. With contemporary talk of multiverses, the word “universe” has been relegated to mean this particular spatio-temporal expanse. There may be parent universes that have generated our own universe along with countless sister universes. Of course, classical theismcvc claims that God has created and sustains the whole natural world, which would include the multiverse and any other natural thing beyond or outside of that. So the argument should avoid talk of the universe and instead just speak of the “natural world” as that which includes the totality of nature, whatever that was, is, or may be.

Ex-apologist uses a disjunction to say that God is the originating OR sustaining cause of the natural world. Now, some theists might object and say that God is both the originating AND the sustaining cause of the natural world. However, I think he is quite right to insist upon the disjunction. The idea of a “first cause” is not necessarily the same as an “originating cause”, which implies that the effect has a temporal beginning or begins to exist. When, for instance, Aquinas calls God the “first cause,” he does not mean to imply that God preceded the existence of the universe in time. In fact, as an Aristotelian, he thought that the best science of his day indicated that the universe could very well be past eternal (see SCG II.33 and SCG II.38).  Instead of thinking that God is temporally first in efficient causal priority, Aquinas thought God, who transcends time altogether, had priority or primacy as a causal explanation of everything, i.e. there is nothing beyond or beside God in the causal series out of which the universe is created. This is not to say that God can use secondary causes, but they are not “beside” God in the sense that they are uncaused and per se necessary. God is pure actuality, and He explains the actuality of all other things. I suspect that this is why ex-apologist is making use of the disjunction “originating or sustaining cause.” For, the universe need not be finite in the past for classical theismcvc to be true, and historically speaking, many proponents of classical theismcvc explicitly embraced the possibility that the natural world or cosmos lacked an originating cause.

Let us consider the principle of material causation more closely and whether it is genuinely inconsistent with creation ex nihilo. Now, as I have said, the doctrine of creation ex nihilo is the claim that God caused the natural world without using pre-existing matter. But this does not mean that the natural world lacks material causality at any moment when it exists. Suppose there were a possible world where God creates, ex nihilo, a singular bronze sphere. Would the principle of material causation hold for this sphere? Yes. The sphere is materially caused by the bronze from which it is composed. The Aristotelian would not say that the sphere lacks a material cause merely because it wasn’t created from pre-existing bronze, or pre-existing copper and tin. Rather, the Aristotelian would say that a material cause did not precede the effect in time. That is, God did not use bronze or the components of bronze that existed prior to His willing the brazen sphere’s existence. In fact, even if the sphere were eternal, we could say that God creates the brazen sphere from no pre-existing matter even though bronze is the matter that “sustains” the sphere in existence as a secondary cause. Thus the brazen sphere is created ex nihilo and has a material cause. Likewise, the natural world could have a material cause at any moment it exists while not coming to be from pre-existing matter.

So what is going on here? How can some object be created ex nihilo and have a material cause? We need to make a parallel distinction to the one we find in efficient causality between originating and sustaining such that there can be an originating material cause for a thing and a sustaining material cause. We can define an originating material cause as the pre-existing matter out of which a concrete object begins to exist (e.g. the unformed bronze, or copper and tin). We can define a sustaining material cause as the matter that composes concrete object at all times that the concrete object continues to exist (e.g. the bronze currently in the sphere while it is existing). As the sphere and the bronze from which it is composed simultaneously exist as an effect of God’s will, the brazen sphere exists ex nihilo, from no pre-existing matter. Now, one might object by saying that this is not “creation” since creation must involve motion or change out of which something comes to be. This would be contrary, however, to what Aquinas argues in, for instance, the Summa Contra Gentiles II.17 where he specifically denies that creation involves motion or change.  For Aquinas, genuine creation is not merely changing one thing into another, but the very actualization of substance itself.  Creation is just what one calls the relationship between the first cause, God, and his effects, i.e. the creation of non-divine substance. Anything actualized by God, i.e. the being of pure actuality, is a created thing. So, for Aquinas, creation ex nihilo merely follows from the notion that God is the uncaused cause of all other things. It should also be noted that matter, the underlying stuff, is always a composite of act and potency. Consequently, on the Aristotelian-Thomistic metaphysical view, there simply cannot be uncaused or uncreated matter that co-exists with God from which other things are made. For such matter would have to receive its actuality from another, and so it must have a caused if it exists—a cause that will somehow trace back to the Being of Pure Actuality. Admittedly this is the Aristotelian-Thomistic notion of matter, and perhaps ex-apologist would like to distance himself from such an understanding of matter towards a more modern notion of matter as pure extended stuff. Perhaps pure extension can exist uncaused along with God. It is less clear whether standard particle theory, which seems to comport better with hylomorphism than early modern notions of matter, can be uncaused or self-actualizing. Either way, I think more needs to be said about what matter actually is.

Now consider ex-apologist’s argument and the disjunctions involved therein. Those disjunctions will prove important to this discussion. We may grant that a concrete object that has an originating OR sustaining [efficient] cause has a material cause, but for ex-apologist’s argument to work, there must always be an originating material cause. Otherwise, one might escape his argument through the following formulation, PCM’:

(4) All concrete objects that have an originating or sustaining efficient cause have an originating or sustaining material cause of their existence.

This reformulation will not force the falsity of classical theismcvc because it need not be the case that the universe has an originating material case. So:

(5) If classical theismcvc is true, then the natural world is a concrete object that has an originating or sustaining efficient cause and not an originating material cause of its existence.

(6) Therefore, if classical theismcvc is true, the natural world has a sustaining material cause of its existence.

Many classical theists will want to reject the notion that all of creation is material, but the thesis isn’t explicitly contrary to classical theismcvc, as ex-apologist defines it. So, the conclusion is consistent with classical theismcvc. To avoid this escape, ex-apologist will have to say that all concrete objects that have an originating or sustaining efficient cause, must have an originating material cause of their existence. This means that he must have an even stronger PMC’’ which states:

(7) All concrete objects that have an originating or sustaining efficient cause have an originating material cause of their existence.

From this, he can argue:

(8) If classical theismcvc is true, then the natural world is a concrete object that has an originating or sustaining efficient cause and not an originating material cause of its existence.

(9) Therefore, classical theismcvc is false.

Now PMC’’, as found in (7), seems a bit odd in that it maintains the disjunction with respect to efficient causality as though something could have an originating material cause (be composed from pre-existing unformed matter) simply because it has a sustaining efficient cause. Return to our possible world of the brazen sphere for a moment. Suppose God, or some other efficient cause, sustained the matter in the appropriate configuration for all eternity. Such a sphere would have a sustaining efficient cause but no originating material out of which the composite concrete object comes to be. This scenario has, at least, prima facie plausibility. So I see no good reason to suppose that a sufficient condition of having originating matter is for a concrete object to have a sustaining efficient cause. If something is eternal and sustained in existence (i.e. it has a sustaining efficient cause and no originating efficient cause), there is no good reason to think it came to be from pre-existing matter, and there is good reason to think that it would be incoherent to suppose it could have an originating material cause. Given that, (7) appears to be a false principle, and we should clarify our principle of material causality once again to PMC’’’:

10) All concrete objects that have an originating efficient cause have an originating material cause of their existence.

From here, one could argue:

11) If classical theismcvc is true, then the natural world is a concrete object that has an originating efficient cause and not an originating material cause of its existence.

(12) Therefore, classical theismcvc is false.

The problem, of course, is that (11) is too strong. Classical theism does not depend upon there being an originating efficient cause of the universe, just that there must be a first cause in order of explanation that could be either originating or sustaining. The universe need not have a temporal beginning at all. So it seems to me that ex-apologist needs argue, independently of whatever classical theismcvc may imply about the natural world, to say that it indeed has originating causes:

(13) All concrete objects that have an originating efficient cause have an originating material cause of their existence.

(14) The natural world has an originating efficient cause.

(15) If classical theismcvc is true, then the natural world does not have an originating material cause of its existence.

(16) Therefore, classical theismcvc is false.

Now what could be said of this argument? One might object to (13). Ex-apologist anticipates a rejection of his PMC via quantum mechanics or libertarian free will. I am not certain that his discussion is successful with respect to libertarian freewill, since he suggests that since an agent’s free will is caused by energy from outside of the natural causal order, freely willed choice is not genuinely caused ex nihilo. According to ex-apologist, the story would be that energy from outside the natural causal order was part of the causal explanation of the will, and so the choice would not be genuinely ex nihilo. It’s not clear to me that such an event would not be ex nihilo because of some supernatural energy.  I am not sure what this energy would be, but it is not clear that it is equivalent to or convertible with matter in any sense of the term, or that a free will choice is somehow composed from this pre-existing supernatural energy.  And it seems to me that if this point is pushed too hard, determinism threatens.  For if this supernatural energy is the something like the “pre-existing matter” out of which an agent’s choices emerges, then even if our choices are inexplicable within the natural causal order (since it is not closed), it may be explicable and determined within the supernatural causal order and determined there within.  The libertarian must maintain that alternative choice is possible, and so whatever this supernatural energy is, it cannot be determining things in the way pre-existing matter/energy determines things within the natural causal order.  So it is a disanalogous energy.

I would think that a more straightforward defeater for (13) would be the creation of immaterial souls or intellects. There are plausible arguments for the immateriality of the soul or part of the soul, and those arguments would have to be addressed by ex-apologist if his argument is to have any merit. My personal favorite is James Ross’s argument for the immateriality of thought (which I have blogged about here), though there are many other such arguments. Ross says that physical and material process are indeterminate, and so do not perfectly align with truth-preserving determinate processes such as we find in the intellect’s formal and deductive rational processes. He concludes that these intellectual processes cannot be material processes. If so, these processes are concrete and also have originating efficient causes in the agent. Insofar as they are immaterial, they lack a material cause in their origination, and they are not sustained by matter. Rather, hylomorphicists, like me, argue that the originating causes are formal and efficient rather than material.

With respect to (14), ex-apologist will have to sustain an enormous burden of proof. For this is not merely the claim that the universe began to exist at some finite point in the past, but that the whole of nature, itself, is a concrete object that began to exist at some point, and so came from pre-existing matter. What’s more, if the totality of nature was composed from pre-existing matter, then that matter would have to be, by definition, beyond that which is within the scope of the natural world, and so would be supernatural. This is, of course, problematic for any sensible definition of “natural” since matter has always been taken to be a prime example of that which is natural. Of course we need to pin down what “natural” and “material” mean to consider whether it is even coherent to talk about supernatural matter. Moreover, natural material things would have to be ultimately composed out of whatever this supernatural matter is. And since other things begin to exist out of this matter, all concreta that begins to exist would have to be ultimately composed out of this supernatural stuff. Also, there would have to be a supernatural efficient cause of the universe, to maintain this argument—some sort of demiurge. This is a very untoward consequence of attempting to sustain (13) and (14), as it would be a defeater for naturalism as much as it would be a defeater for classical theismcvc. In other words, in using  (13)-(15) to defeat classical theismcvc, one is, in effect, arguing in favor of the sort of cosmogony one finds in Plato’s Timaeus. I doubt that ex-apologist wants to defend the notion that there is a demiurge who fashions the natural world out of supernatural matter.

Summary: many classical theists would reject (13) on the grounds that the soul or part of the soul begins to exist, but lacks a material cause. Those arguments should not be ignored. Furthermore, classical theismcvc is neutral with respect to (14), so it is a premise that ex-apologist would need to justify independently. The ultimate problem is that (13) and (14), taken together, would undercut naturalism as much as classical theismcvc and lead to the absurd conclusion that the natural world is made out of some spooky supernatural “stuff”. I doubt any naturalist would want to defend (14) on its own merits, and it would be unfair to saddle the classical theist with defending (14), though there are some theists who seem keen on the idea of a finite past (I’m looking at you, Dr. Craig). It is for these reasons that I do not think a successful argument against classical theism from material causality can be had.

Ultimately the PMC is not incompatible with creation ex nihilo. At best, creation ex nihilo is incompatible with the notion that all concreta which has an originating efficient cause has an originating material cause, but only if it is assumed that the natural world has an originating efficient cause. Does the natural world have an originating cause? I’m not sure we can know. If it does have one, I am not sure that it is so much better to posit that it came to be from a demiurge and supernatural matter than from God ex nihilo.

[1] All quotes taken from Ex-apologist (2014, December, 04) “Theism and Material Causality”. Retrieved from

None More Actual

1579 drawing of the Great Chain of Being from Didacus Valades, Rhetorica Christiana (Wikipedia, Great chain of being)

Whenever I discuss the ontological argument with my atheistic friends, I find that they always get hung up on the same word, “greater”. They want to infuse it with moral or aesthetic meaning, and so suspect that it is subjectively defined. They don’t think there is any objective way to determine that one thing is ontologically greater than another (a flea is no greater than a child and the fact that you would swat one and not the other is just based on speciesist opinions). Indeed, to fully explain what Anselm meant by the definition, we would have to develop the neo-platonic notion of the Great Chain of Being, which is far more central to the argument than most contemporary philosophers of religion realize. Nonetheless, that requires some metaphysical assumptions from which many atheists will shy away. I want to sidestep that whole discussion by using something other than “greater.” My proposal is to run the ontological argument on a “more actual” relation. I think you can still derive the traditional divine attributes from this term, but it doesn’t suffer from seeming subjective (what is more actual is an objective question).  Nonetheless, understanding what is meant by “actual” will require some metaphysics.  When discussing proofs for God, metaphysics is inescapable.

What do I mean by “more actual”? I am appealing to the distinction between act and potency in the Aristotelian-Thomistic sense of the word. For Thomas, God is the only being that is purely actual. This is because God’s essence is His existence. God is “I am”. The distinction between act and potency is an important one in the history of philosophy. It is that distinction, which allowed Aristotle to provide a response to the Eleatics, who denied change. The Eleatics argued that change was impossible because it would have to involve being arising from non-being. Since nothing comes from nothing, change cannot arise from non-being.  Instead, Aristotle said that change occurs when a potential is actualized. So, a seed can become a plant because it is potentially a plant. And it undergoes that change when it is acted upon by actual things like water, soil, heat, etc.  We see change happen all around us, and it is rooted in the nature of things.  For instance, I am potentially bald, a potential that I am slowly actualizing with every lost hair follicle.  So, while act and potency are metaphysical concepts, they are fairly close to our commonsense.  The log is potentially fire, smoke, and ash.  The log is actually hard and damp.

An ontological argument that exploits the notion of actuality is a bit odd and perhaps shocking for my Thomistic friends. It is commonly thought that Thomas Aquinas did not accept the soundness of such arguments, a point that I am not going to discuss here. Nonetheless, I think the premises of such an argument could be defended. The argument would run like this:

1. God is that than which none more actual can be conceived (definition).
2. If God exists only in the mind, something more actual than God can be conceived (premise).
3. If something more actual than God can be conceived, something more actual than God can be conceived (tautology).
4. If something more actual than God can be conceived, something more actual than ‘that which none more actual can be conceived’ can be conceived (from 1 and 3).
5. Nothing more actual than ‘that which none more actual can be conceived’ can be conceived (premise).
6. Therefore, it is not the case that God exists only in the mind (from 2,4,5).
7. If it isn’t the case that something exists only in the mind, then it exists in reality (premise).
8. Therefore, God exists in reality (from 6 and 7).

Now, there are a few premises and a definition. The definition, I think, is fair. Aquinas takes great pains to show that whatever is pure actuality has the divine attributes. So a being than which none more actual can be conceived would be purely actual, and so simple, a se, necessary, immutable, eternal, omnipotent, omniscient, and good.

Furthermore, I think (2) is defensible. Generally that which exists merely as a conception is less actual, in some way, than its counterpart in reality. You can’t be cut by the thought of a knife.  Also, (5) seems plausible. For if something more actual than ‘that than which none more actual can be conceived’, a contradiction arises. Lastly, all that is meant in (7) is that if something doesn’t just exist in the mind, that means it exists independently of our minds, which is to say that it exists in reality.  I suspect someone might say that it is a false dichotomy to insist that if something doesn’t just exist in the mind, then it must exist in reality, but I can’t think of any alternative.  And if an alternative could be found, I am sure the argument could be adjusted in the relevant ways.

One last note is to consider whether this argument is susceptible to parody.  I think it is less susceptible.  Consider Gaunilo’s island.  Could we define an island than which none more actual can be conceived?  Well, every island is a composite of act and potency by nature.  So no island can be maximally or purely actual.  One can admit that islands that exist in reality are more actual than islands that exist in the mind, but this does not mean that ‘an island than which none more actual can be conceived’ would necessarily exist, since there is no such thing.  There are, at best, islands that are more actual than other islands, but that doesn’t lead to parody.

Unsharing Poster


Think of “sharing” as a form of efficient causality that brings the potentiality of a posted article on one’s social media page into the actual shared article. Intuitively, we know that a proper explanation of an article is always going to include an author and/or original poster, who did not share the article from someone else’s page. That is, the existence of the article cannot be explained by some endless chain of sharing. Likewise, our contingent universe cannot be explained by an endless chain of efficient causers that “share” their actuality so as to change potential effects into actual effects. There must be an original author, an uncaused causer, and an unsharing poster. And when it comes to the universe, everyone calls this “God”.

Some Thoughts on the Fifth Way

Aquinas’s fifth way is short, sweet, and misunderstood. I’ve been thinking about it as Dr. Ed Feser advises—not in terms of complexity à la Paley and the ID movement, but in terms of order (see here).

Here is what Aquinas actually says (emphasis mine):

The fifth way is taken from the governance of the world. We see that things which lack intelligence, such as natural bodies, act for an end, and this is evident from their acting always, or nearly always, in the same way, so as to obtain the best result. Hence it is plain that not fortuitously, but designedly, do they achieve their end. Now whatever lacks intelligence cannot move towards an end, unless it be directed by some being endowed with knowledge and intelligence; as the arrow is shot to its mark by the archer. Therefore some intelligent being exists by whom all natural things are directed to their end; and this being we call God (ST I.2.3).

So it is clear that Aquinas, like Aristotle, does not equate all forms of final causality with intelligent agency. Natural things are directed by what they are towards specific ends. What’s more, Aquinas emphasizes that the evidence that “we see”, i.e. the empirical data for the proof, is regularity. He isn’t making a watch-maker argument that the design is complex.

Here are some further thoughts:

We find in Metaphysics 983a30-984a1 that final cause is the opposite of efficient cause. Indeed, on the broadest level, final cause can be defined in relation to efficient cause (combined with formal cause) such that if x, by its nature, is the efficient cause of something y, then the final cause of y is that aspect of the essential nature of x by which x is directed toward the generation of y.

The carpenter has a desire to sit, and it is that aspect of the carpenter that is the final cause of the chair. The heart requires fresh oxygenated blood to beat, so the final cause of blood being circulated from the lungs to the heart is the nature of the heart itself, which uses oxygen to help it pump blood through the circulatory system to sustain its nature of rhythmic beating. Of course other things can exploit final causality. The carpenter exploits the cellular structure of woody material, which directs it towards solidity and also makes it workable. That woody nature is directed towards the high growth of trees, which in turn allows trees to gather sunlight above other plants and nourish the woody cells. So the woody cells are the efficient cause of growth, and the final cause of growth is to sustain the woody cells. With respect to the carpenter, it could be said that he functions in a wider economy to provide chairs for other people who want to sit. So the carpenter responds to their desires to sit as a cause to make more chairs (in exchange for money or goods which the carpenter needs to live). Likewise, other organs, besides the heart, need oxygen to pump. Those organs, in exchange, help to cause the heart to pump by providing neural input, or the proper hormone levels, etc. So there are systems upon systems of interlocking law-like causes. Those causes depend upon a constancy in the nature of things and the way they behave (just as economy depends upon regularity in human laws—hence the carpenter won’t act for the ends of other humans if they are inconstant and cheat him). Nothing in physical nature seems to determine this regularity in themselves. Thus, with the elimination of formal and final causality, Hume found the problem of induction. But with a supreme mind that sustains and orders the nature of all things, the problem of induction disappears and the regularity and intelligibility of the cosmos can be accounted for. Human economy can fail because our intelligence doesn’t guarantee law-like behavior. But physical laws won’t fail because the intelligence which orders and moves all things is immutable, though particular instances of natural kinds can be corrupted such that the function eventually ceases. Thus chairs break, and hearts cease to pump. The law-like behavior of essential natures are regulated, but evil can deform individual things and break down particular systems.

In Christian theology, God is the efficient cause of all things, and it is God’s Goodness that is the essential aspect of his nature which liberally and graciously generates all things. So God is both the first efficient cause and the final cause of all things. This is because God is Being itself, and so all beings are brought into existence through his essential nature, and they are directed towards Being insofar as Being is that which perfects their nature.

Perhaps, then, the fall can be understood as a metaphysical breakdown between individuals and their essences. That breakdown can allow the accumulation of accidental changes to disrupt systems within a natural individual to the point where it ceases to be what it is and a substantial change occurs—cataclysm and death. But God still sustains essences, and the promise of Christ is that there will be a new creation. Perhaps this means that individual things will be perfected, and function according to their natures perfectly.

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