Something New Under the Sun?

Bob Drury

In contrast to science, which depends for its advancement upon the gradual temporal development of the technology of instrumentation, philosophy depends upon common human experience had by all throughout the ages.

St. Thomas presents five ways of proving the existence of God in the Summa Theologica, Q2, Article 3. He writes within the tradition of western philosophy, which recognizes the true, the good and the existent as only logically, not really, distinct. His five ways are logical perspectives of one argument, the singular conclusion of which is that there is a being whose nature and act of existing are identical. That Being, beyond our experience, must exist, in order to explain the existence of those beings which we do experience.

Western philosophy is based on two principles. The first is: Things exist. The second can be expressed in many ways. Examples: Everything makes sense; Everything has an explanation; Things are intelligible.

The essential argument for the existence of God is that everything within our experience is limited in existence because it is explicable by its nature up to a point. Its nature explains its being in act, except for its very act of existence. There must be a being, beyond our experience, which does not have this fatal flaw. Its nature must be to exist, thereby explaining its own existence and the existence of the things within our experience.

St. Thomas’ five ways are:
1) Motion: At the level of existence, there is motion from potentiality to actuality of the things within our experience.
2) The nature of the efficient cause: Nothing in our experience is the efficient cause of its own existence.
3) From possibility and necessity: The things we know are merely possible and as such are indifferent to existence.
4) There is gradation in the true and the good within our experience.
5) There is governance or purposefulness in things, even in inanimate things. Things move with purpose, i.e. toward the good. Purpose requires intelligence, which is lacking as a power in inanimate things even though they are intelligible.

The first three ways refer directly to existence; the fourth refers to existence via the true and the good; the fifth refers to existence via the good and the true under the aspect of purpose.

Recently, there are said to be new proofs of the existence of God. One of these is the argument that, because of the existence of conditioned realities within our experience, there must exist at least one unconditioned reality in all of reality (i.e., a reality that does not depend on conditions being fulfilled in order to exist but exists in and through itself).

Is this a new and valid argument?

The first of the five ways above argues there must be an entity of pure act because the entities within our experience contain potency.

If conditioned means having potency to exist, then the argument is not new.
If conditioned means not being the efficient cause of its existence, then the proof is not new.
If conditioned means contingent on another for its existence, then the proof is not new.
If conditioned means not explaining within itself its own degree of goodness and truth, then the proof is not new.
If conditioned means not being its own purpose of its existence, then the proof is not new.

What does conditioned mean? Its meaning can be inferred from the cited examples of conditionality. Among these are: A cat is a conditioned reality because it is dependent upon the cells of its body in order to exist. A mammalian cell is a conditioned reality because it depends upon its proteins in order to exist. A protein molecule is a conditioned reality because it depends upon amino acids in order to exist. It would seem that being composed of parts is what is meant by conditioned, but this understanding is unsatisfactory.

Having parts is not an adequate meaning of conditioned in the context of a new proof of the existence of God, because:

If having parts implies having potency to exist, the argument is not new.
If having parts implies not being the efficient cause of its own existence, the argument is not new.
If having parts implies not being contingent in its existence, the argument is not new.
If having parts implies not explaining its own degree of goodness and truth, the argument is not new.
If having parts implies not being its own purpose of existence, the argument is not new.

The primary reason that the argument from the conditioned to the unconditioned is invalid, though new in the specific conditions it cites, is that the relationship of the conditioned to the unconditioned relates to form, not to existence. Even the fact of having parts alludes to form, not existence.

This cat is this individual cat because of its particulars, its conditions. These conditions are its obvious properties such as its size and color, but also all of its more subtle properties, such as its cells and their protein and DNA complements.

The unconditioned cat is the abstract, universal cat, which is not specified by a myriad of conditions, but as an abstract, logical universal comprises all such conditions including all the conditions of this house cat and that lion. The conditions are the particular properties of this cat as the composite of matter and form.

The conditioned cat (or conditioned reality) does indeed require the unconditional, universal, abstract form of cat (or unconditional form), which does not exist in itself as does this cat. The unconditioned, i.e. the universal form persists as a fully valid and unchangeable concept, even if all real, particular cats should become extinct.

The fact that a conditioned form really exists in this conditioned reality (such as this cat) does indeed imply the unconditioned, universal form, both as a principle in this cat and as a concept in logic. However, this is no proof of the real, actual existence of the universal form in itself, let alone the existence of God.

Even in the logic of mathematics, the conditioned form presupposes the unconditioned form. For example a triangle, as conditioned, may have three equal angles and a side length of 10 units. As conditioned, another may be an isosceles, right triangle with a hypotenuse having a length of 4 units. The unconditioned form, which is a three-sided polygon, includes both of these conditioned triangles and all other conditioned triangles. The unconditioned form is logical, just as the conditioned triangles are logical. With respect, both to logical concepts and to material entities, the relationship of the conditioned to the unconditioned is a relationship of form not of existence.

We do not experience reality as conditioned reality. We experience entities by means of their conditions, i.e. the particulars of their forms. We experience entities as conditioned in form, not as conditioned in existence. It takes the old arguments to recognize that the unconditioned form of an entity explains the conditions of its form, but not its existence.

If the argument from the conditioned to the unconditioned is valid, it is not new. If it is new, it is of relationships within form, not relationships within existence and, therefore, not valid.

Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on google
Google+
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on linkedin
LinkedIn
Share on pinterest
Pinterest

7 thoughts on “Something New Under the Sun?”

  1. Pingback: Feast of the Holy Family | St. John

  2. Pingback: Persecuted Christians: Their Struggle Is Also Ours - Big Pulpit

  3. “A protein molecule is a conditioned reality because it depends upon amino acids in order to exist. It would seem that being composed of parts is what is meant by conditioned, but this understanding is unsatisfactory.”

    I don’t think this example was taken far enough. Of course, we lack the pending science that is waiting in the future to continue. For example, the amino acids depend upon quarks (?) in order to exist which in turn depends on energy which emanates from a universe which depends upon a source heretofore to be known as God. In the Hindu concept all material bodies are part of God’s gross ENERGY. At some point this logical pyramid must convert to an inverted form from which the immaterial flows.

    1. The referenced author did take the example to quarks. If I get the gist of your comment, my view is the other way round from yours. It in no way denigrates science to note that scientific analysis, from the more integral, more intelligible and the more perfect to the less so, does not lead to God. Scientific analysis does not lead to ultimate reality, but to the current limit of instrumental measurement of the properties of material reality, which includes energy. Philosophical synthesis toward the more perfect does lead to God. This is the fifth way of St. Thomas. The vegetative is more integral, more intelligible and more perfect than the inanimate. A vegetative entity has a definite purpose. It is able to act for its own good or the good of another of its own kind by assimilation and reproduction. Animals are more integral, being able to act for their good directed by sense knowledge and appetite. Humans are even more integral, intelligible and perfect, being able to act for their own good directed by intelligence and will. Yet, none of these can truly be its own end, because none can sustain itself in existence. There must be a being whose purpose is fulfilled in its own existence and who is the ultimate purpose of mutable entities as well. Its nature must be to exist.

    2. ” Scientific analysis does not lead to ultimate reality, …” but it is concrete when
      accepted by the scientific community employing intelligence and will..

      ” Philosophical synthesis toward the more perfect does lead to God.” Whose God ?
      And not every human necessarily believes this is so, it is not a unanimous consensus integrating intelligence and will.

      ” There must be a being …” and science will not stop until it runs into a singularity –
      the tip of one pyramid resting on the tip of the other. When it does, I believe it will concede the point about God’s “nature to exist”

    3. Science is the mathematics of comparing material properties by size, i.e. by quantity. Because its fundamental focus is a comparison of two as a measurement, science cannot reach an ultimate singularity. It can only express relationships of size, such as the algebraic expression equating mass and energy. I would concede that the speed of light is the ultimate measuring stick. Even so, the physical units expressing speed are evidence that speed itself is a comparison of size rather than an ultimate singularity.

    4. I probably shouldn’t have used that term as an adjective. Since science is a finite branch of knowledge with finite minds driving it, can you see a day in the
      far distant future when science will not be able to compute any further data on
      physical reality, mass or energy ? I think if they run into that wall they would
      have to concede defeat in their attempt to disprove the Divine.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.