It's been an over-timey couple of weeks at work recently, and the current snowstorm has made it rather late as I sit down to finish up this week's entry. Hopefully I'll have it up later tonight...
Wednesday, February 25, 2015
When I was an Evangelical Protestant, it was commonplace to ask whether a person was "saved", or "born again". Since Jesus told Nicodemus that "You must be born again" (John 3:3), one's answer to that question was clearly a matter of eternal importance! Yet if a non-Christian did want to be born again, the typical Evangelical response was to lead the person in a short prayer (similar to that which a Catholic prays at the end of Confession--the Act of Contrition) which is known in Protestantism as "the Sinner's Prayer." Often such occasions followed powerful preaching at a worship service, where people seeking salvation were invited to raise their hands or come up to the front for prayer. This is how I first came into a relationship with Jesus as a five-year-old child. My Pentecostal tradition, like many Evangelical denominations, didn't include baptism in the "born again" equation. For them, it was just a symbol of one's commitment, having no intrinsic power. If someone taught that baptism was necessary, it was only because "Jesus commanded that we should do it," even though no one seemed particularly sure why.
As I wrote in my last post, I came to discover that the Bible is very clear about what baptism is, what it does, and why it is necessary for salvation. Paragraph 1213 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church sums up the meaning of this sacrament well:
Holy Baptism is the basis of the whole Christian life, the gateway to life in the Spirit (vitae spiritualis ianua), and the door which gives access to the other sacraments. Through Baptism we are freed from sin and reborn as sons of God; we become members of Christ, are incorporated into the Church and made sharers in her mission: "Baptism is the sacrament of regeneration through water in the word."
Using this paragraph as the jumping-off point, we'll examine Scripture and the Church's teaching to better understand this first of sacraments, which, having been received in infancy for most Catholics, is perhaps too much forgotten in our day-to-day lives. First, we will examine baptism as the primary sacrament of initiation, and our divine adoption as God's children. Second, we shall explore the remission of sins that is effected in Baptism. Third, we will discuss how baptism incorporates us into the Church and her evangelistic mission, and see how the valid Trinitarian baptisms of our separated brethren make them truly Christian and that this truth should inspire us to work towards true unity. Finally, we will apply what we've learned to better be able to renew our baptismal promises and more fully live them as we move into the Easter season.
(I know I promised this article last night, and it was mostly written, but time got away from me, and I had to postpone it until today. I'll be posting the rest on Tuesdays as promised.)
Posted by Gregory at 8:53 p.m.
Monday, February 23, 2015
Christ himself died once and for all sins, the upright for the sake of the guilty, to lead us to God. In the body he was put to death, in the spirit he was raised to life, and, in the spirit, he went to preach to the spirits in prison. They refused to believe long ago, while God patiently waited to receive them, in Noah's time when the ark was being built. In it only a few, that is eight souls, were saved through water. It is the baptism corresponding to this water which saves you now—not the washing off of physical dirt but the pledge of a good conscience given to God through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has entered heaven and is at God's right hand, with angels, ruling forces and powers subject to him. (1 Peter 3:18-22, NJB)
Have you ever read the Bible and had the experience of coming across something there that you'd never noticed before, and which made you sit up and say "huh!"—something which completely rocked how you understood your faith? Growing up as a Protestant, I was encouraged to read the Bible every day. In Sunday School, we were taught to memorise verses from the Bible—most of which I can still recite, or at least paraphrase (the multiplicity of English translations makes it hard to get the exact wording right). When I was 15, I undertook to read the whole Bible from cover to cover, even, just so I could say that I had done so. When I went to Bible college, I decided to do so again in an effort to really figure out what was true about Christianity—since part of my going to Bible college, or at least the particular school I went to, was an attempt to discern which "brand" of Christianity was the true one. This particular journey through Scripture was the one that really spun me around, as I ran into several passages that, as above, made me sit up and say "huh!"
The second reading from yesterday's Mass was perhaps the most staggering example of such a passage. Most of the others (like, say, John 6) I'd read and tried to work out an interpretation that still jived with my old theological views, but when I got to the passage that said "baptism...saves you now", I had no rationalisation at hand to reinterpret the plain meaning of the text for my Protestant theology that taught me that baptism was just a symbolic act expressing our commitment to Jesus, and nothing more. Despite the fact that I'd read the entire Bible before (well, except for those "Catholic" books, of course), this passage from 1 Peter hit me with such force that it seemed as if I'd never read that verse before! Rocked by the straight-forward, plain sense of this verse, I had no choice but to entirely rethink my beliefs about baptism, and to study that issue further. And, of course, if my beliefs on baptism could be so at odds with the clear teaching of Scripture, what else was I wrong about, that I'd just taken for granted? These questions were the very initial steps on my journey that led a little over three years later into the Catholic Church.
Of course, 1 Peter 3:21 isn't the only passage in Scripture to teach about the saving efficacy of baptism. Jesus Himself teaches that unless one is born again of water and the Spirit, he cannot see the kingdom of God (cf. John 3:3-5), a sentiment echoed very closely by St. Paul in Titus 3:5, when he writes, "it was not because of any upright actions we had done ourselves; it was for no reason except his own faithful love that he saved us, by means of the cleansing water of rebirth and renewal in the Holy Spirit."
Many years after the events of that night where I truly saw 1 Peter 3:21 for the first time, I was sitting at the mechanic's waiting for some work to be done on my car, and writing a blog post, when an elderly woman, herself waiting for her car to be ready, asked me what I was doing. "Writing about theology," I answered her. "Oh!" she exclaimed. "You must be a Christian!" "Yes, I am," I answered. "I'm a Catholic." She was rather taken aback, and said that she was a Baptist (ironically), and that she didn't think that Catholics were Christians because of all their man-made traditions. I told her that I believed that nothing that Catholics believe is contrary to anything in Scripture, and that Scripture at least implicitly teaches the Catholic teachings. She immediately put forth the belief that baptism is necessary for salvation as proof that the Church teaches contrary to the Bible. Smiling, I showed her 1 Peter 3:18-22, and that it plainly says that Baptism saves us. "I've never seen that verse before!" she said, and asserted that it must only be in our "Catholic Bibles." I asked her what translation she preferred, and when she said (as expected) the King James Bible, I loaded it up on my laptop, and showed it to her. We were unable to continue our conversation that day, as her car was ready to be picked up (much to her relief, it seemed), but I'm sure it gave her much to think about.
It certainly reminded me that no matter how well we think we know God's Word, there's always more that He can teach us if we're open to listening, and re-examining what you thought you knew.
A few years back, I wrote a series of articles examining the Church's teachings on the Sacrament of the Eucharist. Each Tuesday of this Lent, starting tomorrow, I'll be posting a similar series on the Sacrament of Baptism. Stay tuned!
Posted by Gregory at 7:00 a.m.
Friday, November 29, 2013
Conclusion: Psalm 14:1G.K. Chesterton once said, "If a thing is worth doing, it's worth doing badly." I hope that I have been able to contribute some small amount to a greater understanding of St. Thomas' proofs of God's existence. Where my eloquence and erudition have failed, I hope the grace of God and the open minds of my readers will supply my defects.
Christopher Hitchens, the famous atheist, opined regarding the Five Ways, that even if they did prove the existence of a deity, that the bulk of the work still lies ahead of us. The proofs show us that a God exists, but they don't tell us anything about that God. To this I make two replies: the first is simply to agree with Mr. Hitchens. After all, St. Thomas' proofs for God are written in Part 1, Section 2, Article 3 of his expansive three-volume Summa Theologica. While the arguments take about a page to articulate, the work of coming to know Who this God is, what He is like, and how we are to relate to Him goes far beyond simply establishing that He exists. Certainly no one could claim otherwise. Atheists, of course, don't deny the existence of a particular God, however, but the possibility of any God, whatsoever.
On the other hand, however, the Five Ways do still reveal a lot about the identity and characteristics of the God which they set out to prove. From the first three Ways, we see that God is omnipotent, the effective power behind all existence and action in this universe. From the Fifth Way, we recognise that God is also omniscient, the supreme Intelligence. The Fourth Way, though, really fleshes things out, for in it we find that God is entirely simple, not made of parts, but utterly One. That unity is infinite, and contains within it intrinsically all perfection—all truth, beauty, goodness, life, justice, wisdom, and all the perfections there are, which, when brought to their infinite fullness are all one, and are God. Perfect, infinite truth is perfect, infinite goodness, which is perfect infinite beauty, which is perfect, infinite Love. As such, the logical conclusion of the Five Ways does not merely bring us to an abstract notion of a deity, but very and specifically close to the deity that the Christians worship.
That God is infinite, moreover, rules out the possibility of polytheism, because if there is more than one God, then they cannot be infinite. There must be some limit that distinguishes them. Since God is infinite, He must be the only God. Anything finite must be a lesser, created being, or simply a fiction. St. Thomas' proofs leave no other option. This is why I said in my introduction, that the atheist's accusation that he and I are both atheists, the only difference being that he believes in one less God than I do, but for the same reasons, is completely false. Because of reason, I believe in an infinite, all-powerful, all-knowing, loving God. No others need apply. My belief in this God is the reason I disbelieve in all the others.
I consider this series on St. Thomas' proofs for God to be a challenge, a dare, even, to those who don't believe in God. This past year, I finished off my Bachelor of Religious Education. One of the last classes I took was a philosophy class. The professor, a Protestant, made the claim that God could not be proven to exist—that we could only take His existence on faith, though a faith aided by reason. All the proofs, according to him, were only probabilities. St. Thomas Aquinas felt otherwise about his Five Ways. He believed that his proofs had the same weight that all logical or mathematical proofs have—and I, for my part, agree with him. Incidentally, so does the Catholic Church, which at the first Vatican Council, made it a binding truth of faith that reason alone could bring a person to a sure knowledge of the existence of God (Canon 1 On Revelation).
So the challenge is this: are you open-minded enough to reason through the arguments, and to follow reason to whatever conclusion it arrives at? What arguments can be brought against the Five Ways? Evolution doesn't work against the Fifth Way, of Design, because the very laws of nature themselves did not and could not evolve! Positing an eternal universe that proceeds from "big bang" to "big crunch" to "big bang" again, as Dr. Stephen Hawking suggests, does not work to overthrow the Second Way, of Causality, since St. Thomas himself held that the creation of the world at a particular moment in time was a matter of divine revelation, but not necessitated by philosophy or reason itself. Since his arguments specifically exclude revelation as a factor, they are equally valid whether the universe began yesterday, or whether it has always existed. Adding millions of years of slow processes to the equation, or removing time altogether from it, does nothing to affect the arguments.
Moreover, each argument stands alone. They do not combine to make a cumulative case for the probability of God's existence. Each demonstrates His existence independently of the others. Cumulatively, they reveal more of Who that God is, as we saw above. But thinking you have shot down one argument still leaves four more that must be dismantled as unreasonable or objectionable in some way in order to escape the inescapable conclusion. That is the challenge. That is the dare.
The thing is, there is a difference between St. Thomas' proofs for God, and a mathematical proof such as 2+2=4. The difference is not in their respective solidity or grounding in reason. The difference is in the subject matter. One has very little personal investment or responsibility in how he lives his life if 2+2=4. There is significantly more to consider about how one's life is lived, however, if God exists. The conclusions are equally inescapable, but they are not equally liked. The only way to avoid the logical conclusions of the Five Ways is to pointedly ignore them or attempt to shout them down. One's lack of faith in God is not the result of a well-reasoned thought process. It is the result of a choice, the choice to close one's eyes, stick one's fingers in one's ears, and shout "Non serviam!"
To quote Chesterton again, "The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried."
Prove me wrong!
(Category: Theology Proper: God in general.)
Thursday, November 28, 2013
Argument 5: God Exists, Because Science!It seems "the thing" these days is for atheists to pit science against religion (regardless of whether a particular atheist happens to know the first thing about either science or religion!). From ragging on a fictionalised and misunderstood account of the Galileo controversy, to claiming that somehow evolutionary theory is incompatible with biblical faith, to actual scientists like Dr. Richard Dawkins railing against religion, somehow the catch-all phrase "science" seems to trump and negate religious beliefs. I can't count the amount of internet memes that I've seen that try to undermine religious faith, "because, Science!" The irony, of course, is that "science" can't disprove God, because, well, science!
I've mentioned how St. Thomas' proofs for God take an observable fact about the world, and using inductive reasoning, goes from the effect to the cause. Perhaps this comes as a shock to any atheists reading these articles, but that's how science works! In fact, that science works at all is itself proof of God's existence! It is, essentially, St. Thomas' Fifth Way.
The argument runs thus:
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. (Summa Theologica, I.2.3.Resp.)In other words, there is order to the world. Things act and react in specific ways under specific circumstances. For example, when potassium comes in contact with water, an explosion results as the potassium unites with the water to form KOH. This reaction generates a substantial amount of heat, which reacts with the hydrogen atoms that are released during the chemical reaction, and the oxygen in the atmosphere. (The formula for this reaction is 2K + 2H2O = 2KOH + H2.) Now, this reaction always happens. It's a testable, repeatable fact of nature. It's a scientific fact. Any other particular scientific fact will do to illustrate the first premise of St. Thomas' argument, whether it be water boiling at 100° Celsius, or metals conducting electricity. The fact that things always act a certain way shows that they are specifically ordered to that end.
Now, the above example of potassium reacting with water is an example of an inanimate object, a thing with no intellect, always acting in a specific way. The potassium does not choose to react with the water, igniting the hydrogen. It cannot decide instead to simply dissolve in the water, or to float upon it lazily. It must react with the water to produce the explosive results. It is ordered to such an end. It is intrinsic to what it means to be potassium that it reacts with water. If there were no water for the potassium to react with, it would still contain this predisposition. But since a relation can only exist where both parts exist, how could a predisposition be present in potassium to react with water, if there is no water present? The only way is if such a relation existed in a mind prior to its existence in reality. In other words, order implies intelligence. Since potassium and water, and the like, don't have minds, they must have received their order from somewhere else, from a supreme Intelligence.
We cannot simply account this to random, blind chance, because it always occurs. Neither can we simply say, "That's just the way it is," because that simply ignores the very interesting fact that it is. No, there is an order to the world—if there wasn't, we couldn't have science at all! There are scientific laws, such as laws of chemistry, that govern how things behave in the world. But the question must then be asked, where did these laws come from? A law is itself the result of a mind, of an intelligence.
The intelligence that orders potassium to react with water, must be an infinite intelligence—not simply because of how many other things it has ordered in this vast universe, but because if it were a finite intelligence, such as yours or mine, it would contain potentiality. It would be subject to change. It would itself require a cause and an order. As we've seen from the previous arguments, this would involve a greater intelligence to form the limited intelligence, and we return to the problem of an infinite regress, or of a supreme intelligence—that is, to a being that does not possess intelligence, but which is intelligence, an unchanging, all-knowing, ordering intelligence—and this is God.
Before we leave off, let us be perfectly clear about St. Thomas' Fifth Way. It has often been considered as the same as the modern concept of Intelligent Design—that is, that it looks as though the world was designed in all its intricacy, and design implies a designer. Where the argument from the appearance of design in something like an eye could theoretically be the result of blind chance over millions of years, and thus only lends probability to the existence of God, St. Thomas' argument from design undercuts the possibility of blind chance and millions of years, for potassium did not evolve to react with water, even if a fish once grew legs and crawled out of the water to escape the explosion resulting from the potassium reaction. The design referred to in the Fifth Way was present from the foundations of the world, inherent in the very existence of the things ordered by it. If it's true that the creatures of this world are simply the result of millions of years of blind chance evolving through the struggle for survival, this evolutionary process could itself have only been possible because of an ordering in nature towards evolution, that itself was not the result of evolutionary processes, because that would mean again the absurdity of a potentiality causing its own actuality—that is, that the evolutionary process caused the evolutionary process. If such a process exists (and it's beyond the scope of this article to address that question), it could only exist because an infinite Intelligence designed it into the fabric of the universe.
No matter how you look at it, the fact that we can study the world, predict results, and formulate laws of nature proves that there is a God. Because, science!
(Category: Theology Proper: God in general.)
Wednesday, November 27, 2013
Argument 4: I Imperfectly Understand this Argument—Therefore GodWe come now to St. Thomas Aquinas' Fourth Way, the argument from goodness, or perfection, or degrees—however you want to sum it up! Here is the argument in St. Thomas' own words:
The fourth way is taken from the gradation to be found in things. Among beings there are some more and some less good, true, noble and the like. But "more" and "less" are predicated of different things, according as they resemble in their different ways something which is the maximum, as a thing is said to be hotter according as it more nearly resembles that which is hottest; so that there is something which is truest, something best, something noblest and, consequently, something which is uttermost being; for those things that are greatest in truth are greatest in being, as it is written in Metaph. ii. Now the maximum in any genus is the cause of all in that genus; as fire, which is the maximum heat, is the cause of all hot things. Therefore there must also be something which is to all beings the cause of their being, goodness, and every other perfection; and this we call God. (Summa Theologica, I.2.3.Resp.)I'll admit from the get-go that this argument is the one that I understand the least, and is the one that seems to be least understood by most people. Some think it's a variation on the ontological argument, but St. Thomas rejects the validity of the ontological argument because it is an a priori argument, essentially arguing for God's self-evidence. St. Thomas rejects the idea that God is self-evident and that we can have any a priori knowledge of God. His Five Ways are specifically a posteriori arguments for precisely this reason. People who criticise the fourth way as a species of the ontological argument, then, have simply misunderstood it. Others try to refute or dismiss it because they think that it is based on a notion of Plato's "forms", or because St. Thomas' example of fire being the maximum form of heat is bad science—in other words, it's based on a bad cosmology and therefore irrelevant. In fact, Thomas' limited Mediaeval understanding of the natural sciences is irrelevant to the argument, as are Plato's forms (which St. Thomas didn't even believe in). A final criticism is foisted by those who wish to claim that perfection is a subjective term that exists only in the eyes of the beholder. I wish I could simply dismiss this critique as patently false, but unfortunately it has the current fashion of the world behind it, and thus actually needs a reply. Of course, even the most postmodern of math professors will still mark you wrong if he asks you, if you have five apples, and you eat two of them, how many do you have left, and you answer with, "My perception of the quantity of remaining apples may be different than yours, and we cannot determine it with certainty, because everything is subjective." I believe, after grappling with this argument, that its difficulty lies in the fact that it requires a bit of lateral thinking to really grasp, rather than the more direct, linear arguments of the first, second, third, and fifth ways.
Like the first three arguments, the fourth argues from the real world back to God, but unlike the first three, which deal with realities experienced by the senses, the fourth deals with realities as experienced by our intellect (which is why it is so often conflated with the ontological arguments for God). There are real things in this world that are not objects, that are not physical, but they are just as real: things like love, justice, truth, beauty, life, etc. It is with regard to these things that the fourth way is formulated.
That is, there are certain qualities of perfection that things possess. These qualities can be divided into "limited perfections" and "unlimited perfections". For example, all animals possess the quality of "animality"—that characteristic that makes all animals, animals, be they ants or dogs or elephants or humans. All animals possess "animality" in its fullness, and nothing that is not an animal possesses animality. This is why it's called a "limited" perfection. It is limited to those things which possess it. Moreover, one cannot possess it in part. Something either is an animal or it isn't. Something is either a plant or it isn't. The particular quality is intrinsic to the thing that possesses it.
On the other hand, there are qualities that are unlimited—that is, they are shared across the different types of things in varying ways. These qualities include goodness, truth, beauty, existence, life, etc. While they are possessed by different types of things, they are not possessed in the same way by all things. In other words, a tree, a car, a bird, and a man can all be "good", but a tree is not good in the same way that a bird or a car is. As well, they are not possessed to the same degree by all things, or even by things of the same kind. One man can be healthy and robust, while another frail and sickly. These men possess the unlimited perfection of Life to varying degrees. Moreover, over the course of his life, a man may grow more and more in goodness, or wane in the same.
Now, if something can be possessed in varying degrees, and if things of different kinds can possess these qualities, it shows that qualities such as life, goodness, and truth are not intrinsic to the thing itself. A man possesses his humanity intrinsically, but he possesses goodness extrinsically—in other words, the unlimited quality does not belong to him, but he has received it from somewhere.
The recognition of degrees of unlimited perfections points to the fullness of that perfection somewhere. We realise that insofar as something has a limited degree of a particular perfection, there is a corresponding degree of potential perfection. As such, there must be a fullness of that perfection, otherwise it isn't a perfection. These unlimited perfections must be possessed in their fullness, so that everything that possesses these perfections extrinsically and partially may receive them from somewhere, otherwise we come to the same absurdity which we saw in the last article—that of a potentiality causing its own actuality. An absence of perfection cannot cause actual perfection, any more than the acorn can simultaneously be the oak tree. If in created things these perfections are only extrinsic, received from somewhere else, they can only be received from where they are possessed in their fullness. There must be some entity that does not have a degree of goodness, a degree of beauty, a degree of truth, a degree of life, a degree of existence—but which intrinsically is goodness, is beauty, is truth, is life, is existence itself. Moreover, where each unlimited perfection is possessed in their fullness, goodness is beauty is truth is life is existence. That which is intrinsically perfect is intrinsically simple, not composed of parts, but simply is. This being of absolute perfection is what we call God.
(I owe a great debt in writing this article, and finally coming to even a meagre understanding of the Fourth Way, to the late Thomistic scholar, Fr. Walter Farrell, OP, and his explanation in the first volume of his Companion to the Summa. New York: Sheed & Ward, 1945.)
(Category: Theology Proper: God in general.)
Tuesday, November 26, 2013
Arguments 1-3: Hey Look! Stuff! Where'd It Come From?At the end of the introduction, I mentioned that St. Thomas bases his arguments upon facts of the world around us—facts that are undisputed by modern science. There are a number of websites out there that try to dispute with Thomas claiming that his Five Ways are mired in an Aristotelian concept of the universe, and therefore aren't valid because of the advances of modern science. However, the very genius of Thomas' arguments are their very simplicity. The principles espoused in them are not dependent upon a particular understanding of the universe, be it Aristotelian, Cartesian, Newtonian, or that of contemporary physics. Things still move and change, they still cause effects, they still depend on other things, they still vary in degrees of perfection, and they still act toward definite ends. Our understanding of how these things occur may be more developed and nuanced, but the philosophical conclusions that result from them are just as inescapable.
The first three arguments, or ways that St. Thomas puts forward, are the argument from motion or change, the argument from causation, and the argument from contingency. Their formulation is very similar, so that they are often viewed as being the same argument phrased differently. This isn't entirely accurate, because each one begins with a different starting point. They do dovetail, however, and so we will treat them together.
The arguments run essentially thus:
1) When we look at the world around us, we see that things a) move or change, b) have a cause, and c) are contingent, that is, not inherently necessary.Clear as mud?
2) Something else must be responsible for the effects listed in #1.
i) There must be a) a reason for a change, b) a cause for an effect, and c) something necessary to be contingent upon.
ii) A thing cannot a) move itself, b) cause itself, or c) be contingent upon itself.
iii) There cannot be an infinite regress of a) movers, b) causes, or c) necessary things.
3) There must be therefore a) an unmoved mover, b) an uncaused cause, and c) a truly necessary being. This we call God.
Let's look at it a little more closely—specifically the notion of motion (or change). What do we mean when we say that a thing doesn't move itself? I moved myself to type this up, didn't I? Well, no, not exactly. Typing this article is the result of a long process of different things acting upon me, and my acting in response. I could hardly detail the myriad chain of events that lies between my fingers pressing keys and the letters instantaneously appearing on the screen. And my fingers move because of the muscles that pull them, which are linked to my nervous system, which receives signals from my brain in response to my mind telling it to type as I try to find ways to express St. Thomas' arguments in a convincing and compelling way. This act of thinking came about because I realised I had a lot to write and a deadline to have it written by. This deadline was imposed by the fine owners of Catholic Chapter House, namely Theresa, after a series of conversations about when best to run the series, which was prompted by my proposal to write such a series, which was prompted by my reading a couple of good books on the subject, such as, for example, Fr. Thomas Crean, OP's God Is No Delusion. I read that book because I bought it from Catholic Chapter House the day I volunteered with David selling books at a local parish. I was prompted to buy and read that book because of conversations with my brother and a good friend of mine, both of whom are atheists. And on and on the chain of causality goes. Every action, every movement, every change requires an explanation. It requires a cause, a mover. Something prompted me to talk to my friend about why he doesn't believe in God. Something prompted him to stop believing in God. Every change is precipitated by another change. Every effect is precipitated by a cause, which is itself an effect of another cause. Every thing in this universe is somehow dependent upon something else for its existence. If we had the time, the ability, and the attention span, we could trace each cause back to the ones before. In doing so, there are two possibilities: 1) the chain of causality would go on forever into eternity past; or 2) we would come at last to a First Cause, an Unmoved Mover, and a Truly Necessary Being.
When reading rebuttals of St. Thomas' Five Ways in preparation for this article, the most common was simply, "Why can't we have an infinite regression?" Apparently, many suppose that the denial of infinite regression is predicated upon our inability to comprehend infinity, and therefore we, and St. Thomas, concluded that it must not be true. This objection is baseless for two reasons: First, St. Thomas (and all Christians) are advocating for an infinite God, so clearly our issue isn't with the concept of infinity. Second, it's not about our inability to comprehend infinity. The problem with an infinite regression is simply that nothing would actually happen. For an infinite regression to work, a thing would have to cause itself. In fact, everything would have had to cause itself and everything else caused by it, all the way down the chain of events. In technical terms, a thing would have to be both potential and actual at the same time. Consider the case of the acorn and the oak tree. The acorn will grow up to be a mighty oak, but while it is but an acorn, it is only potentially an oak tree. It is actually an acorn. Only when it is an oak tree will it actually be an oak tree, but then it will no longer be an acorn. That's what change is. If infinite regression is posited, it is the same as saying that the acorn is the oak tree, that it essentially causes itself to be the oak tree—that there is no distinction between the potential and the actual. This is manifestly absurd. In the chain of cause and effect, there must be a cause that was itself not caused, a mover that was itself not moved, a truly Necessary Being.
This is why, in part 1, I stressed that God is not a thing like every other thing. The Unmoved Mover, the Uncaused Cause, the Necessary Being, is unlike every other thing in that there is no potentiality in God. He is entirely and eternally Actual, and is, indeed, pure Act. He does not change, because He is always acting, always moving, always causing, always Necessary. This is why the flippant question, "What caused God?" has no meaning, because God has no potentiality. Nothing caused God. God is. As we saw last time, He is the very ground of existence. He is existence itself. He is not simply the beginning of a long line of cause and effect, either, but is immediately and unchangingly the efficient cause of every effect. He is the One Necessity upon which every contingent thing depends.
(Category: Theology Proper: God in general.)