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If God does physical things, those physical things presumably have preceding physical causes. Eventually, one of those physical causes will have a non physical cause that will be God Themselves or will eventually lead up to God at the beginning. But there will be nothing before God in this causal chain.

Why not cut this entire non physical chain off and assume the chain just starts from the physical? It seems more parsimonious especially since the actual “work” being done to create the physical effect seems to be physical itself.

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    "become unneeded" is maybe not the best phrasing as it implies there was a time when "He" was needed. Could be stated in the present tense... "if "God" is non-physical, is "He" therefore unneeded as a cause?" Commented Mar 10 at 5:04
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    The “reasons” not to cut off the chain are well known- consider the varieties of cosmological argument, in particular that from contingency or motion. Whether or not one accepts them is a different question however
    – emesupap
    Commented Mar 10 at 6:12
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    But the claim is that God is magical and that without magic we can't have reality. It isn't a coherent claim (the cosmological argument is not coherent) but it is the claim.
    – philosodad
    Commented Mar 10 at 7:11
  • Ideas are (arguably) non-physical yet they can be part of a causal chain. Commented Mar 10 at 15:49
  • @IdiosyncraticSoul Pretty sure ideas being part of a causal chain is debated. Secondly, our ideas seem to be coupled with brain chemistry Commented Mar 10 at 15:54

7 Answers 7

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I would agree that invoking a non-physical, immaterial God is an unnecessary and unparsimonius explanation for the origin of the universe.

The core issue, as you rightly point out, is that if God is conceived as a non-physical entity, then God cannot directly cause or interact with the physical universe. Any effects God has on the physical world would require intermediate physical causes and processes to transmit that causal force. So at some point, we are still left with a purely physicl causal chain that needs to be accounted for.

From scientific perspective, it seems more straightforward and logically economical to simply accept that the physical causal chain is all there is, without trying to tack on a non-physical, unobserved entity like God at the beginning. We can study and try to understand the inherent physical laws and properties that govern the univerce, without needing to posit a prime mover or first cause outside of the physical realm.

Inserting a non-physical God as the original cause doesn't really solve or explain anything - it just kicks the existential question back one step to "What caused God?" Or if God is considered a necessarily existing, uncaused entity, we are still left with the question of why the universe itself can't be regarded as a brute, uncaused fact. Introducing a non-physical, immaterial layer seems to multiply explanatory entities beyond what is parsimoniously needed.

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    This phrase is unsupported, and appears to be key to your thinking: "if God is conceived as a non-physical entity, then God cannot directly cause or interact with the physical universe". But there is no constraint on causation that would make this a necessary truth. This point is true: "Inserting a non-physical God as the original cause doesn't really solve or explain anything - it just kicks the existential question back one step to "What caused God?"', but is also true of any other step in an explanatory chain, physical or non-physical. The real issue isn't parsimony but explanatory power.
    – Dcleve
    Commented Mar 10 at 18:32
  • @Dcleve Agreed on the issue being explanatory power but asserting that the universe just exists without cause is arguably also not explanatory. This is where parsimony comes in: do you choose God as the stopping point or the universe? Without parsimony, there is no good reason to prefer one over the other. But arguably, there is Commented Mar 10 at 19:50
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    @Dcleve: I have seen arguments of this form in the past, and I think the usual unstated assumption there is something along the lines of "If it were possible for non-physical causes to have physical effects, then science should have figured that out by now." IMHO that is a somewhat defensible position to take, but our understanding of the early universe is sufficiently poor that I'm not sure it's great to rely on it in this specific case.
    – Kevin
    Commented Mar 11 at 1:24
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    "if God is conceived as a non-physical entity, then God cannot directly cause or interact with the physical universe" - if a computer programmer is conceived as a non-digital entity, residing outside of the memory of the computer, then the programmer cannot directly cause or interact with the digital world of the program, or with the characters in a computer game, etc. Do you see the contradiction between the above logic and what we can observe in the real world of computer programmers and their programs?
    – vsz
    Commented Mar 11 at 6:48
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    @Dreamer Imagine, just imagine, a computer programmer who writes a game. They define the game world and all the physics within it. They define what objects may exist within the game world. Finally they say World* gameWorld = new World();, and the worlds starts existing. Now ask yourself, how much sense it would make for a character within this game world to say "if the programmer is conceived as not being part of the world, then the programmer cannot directly cause or interact with this world". Forget about digital/non-digital, the programmer is not part of the game but all-powerful within. Commented Mar 11 at 20:29
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No, you have got it the wrong way around. The need for something like god arises precisely because natural physical effects- of the kind we observe everyday- seem always to need natural physical causes. If you introduce the idea of god, it allows you to dodge the necessity to explain an endless chain of earlier causes and effects, since you can claim god lies outside of everything and is exempt from the kinds of cause-and-effect constraints that encumber theories about the physical.

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    It's god of the gaps principle, we can't explain therefore god (or gods). In fact it doesn't explain anything, it's just a psychological walking stick for our mind that needs answers. We fell better when we fool ourselves than when we say "We do not know".
    – Groovy
    Commented Mar 10 at 8:52
  • @Groovy That of which we say "We do not know"—like why there is matter or how one is conscious—is therefore indeterminate and we cannot say anything about it. This is why Heidegger says of "Being" [the indeterminate source] that it "cannot be derived from higher concepts by definition, nor can it be presented through lower ones." (B&T 1.2). By Kant's definition of objective existence, something that cannot be got hold of conceptually cannot exist, i.e. "Logically, [existence] is merely the copula of a judgement." ... Commented Mar 10 at 11:44
  • ... from The Critique of Pure Reason A598/B626 (at page centre). So objectively the indeterminate source appears as nothing. Hence Heidegger says "The nothing is the "not" of beings, and is thus being, experienced from the perspective of beings." from On the Essence of Ground, and "the clearing [that which presents appearances] itself is being." from Letter on “Humanism” (1946) page 252. (I.e. as the noumenon from which phenomena like atoms and quarks appear.) Commented Mar 10 at 11:49
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    Doesn't answer the question. Commented Mar 10 at 12:33
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    @Groovy agreed. Saying that God created the Universe is another way of saying we really have no idea how the Universe came about. Commented Mar 10 at 12:53
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To derive the existence of God from the argument of the first cause in the chain of causes was considered a valid argument by many theologians in medieval time, see Aquinas five ways.

The argument has been criticized and rejected exactly as you propose in your question: The God-concept as start for the causal chain is superfluous and no explanation. It only prompts the question for the cause of God. To answer “he does not need a cause” is no solution but would be an immunization of the God concept, see also this question and answer.

In the history of philosophy the question of the chain of causation is a hot topic - also on this platform StackExchange. The question sometimes even polarizes.

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Part of the reason we don't just make the start of the chain physical is because of observed information; physical causes always have preceding physical causes, as you said.

We have no evidence to suggest that a physical cause can itself be uncaused. As such, where would we find a likely candidate for an uncaused physical cause?

In God, we propose something non-physical (transcendent) is capable of enacting physical causes.

I'm sure I'll get some response around evidence for God, and that's fair and a whole other discussion.

But I'll say this; we have an overwhelming mountain of evidence that suggests physical causes cannot be uncaused, in our own daily reality.

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Picture an immense "Rube Goldberg" type machine. A line of dominoes triggers a mousetrap, which punctures a balloon, which triggers a pulley and so forth.

Now picture yourself viewing the machine after everything has been triggered. Starting most places, you can see a clear cause for each observed effect. But at some point you get to that first fallen domino. You might then ask yourself two questions:

a) who or what pushed over that first domino?
b) how was this whole machinery created in the first place?

The idea that the physical universe requires God to put it in motion is in the spirit of questions like these, and while you may not find that line of argument compelling, it isn't as easily dismissed as you propose. Shaving a domino or two off the beginning of the machine doesn't significantly change our understanding of the machine as a whole, but proposing that no one needed either to build the machine nor to put it in motion is a bigger bridge to cross.

One of the other answers suggests we take the existence of the machine and the fact that the first domino fell as a "brute, uncaused fact." We can certainly do that, but is it satisfying?

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This is known as the pantheistic option; in this case, you would be divine yourself (in which case you would never need any help including help answering this question).

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Short Answer

According to Edward Feser's book Five Proofs of the Existence of God, the ultimate cause of reality cannot be physical because physical things exhibit parts and potentiality, whereas the ultimate cause must be simple and purely actual. In fact, Edward Feser argues that the ultimate cause of reality must possess multiple attributes that turn out to be the divine attributes of classical theism, such as unity, simplicity, eternity, omnipotence, omniscience, perfect goodness, immateriality and incorporeality, and so forth, so there is no way that the ultimate cause can be physical.

EDIT. Someone in the comments requested a succinct summary and justification of the concepts of parts, simplicity, potentiality, and actuality. The short answer is that potentiality and actuality are key concepts in the Aristotelean Proof (chapter 1), whereas parts and simplicity are key concepts in the Neo-Platonic Proof (chapter 2). I provide relevant quotes from these chapters at the end of this answer in Appendix A and B.

Longer Answer

I think it's absolutely relevant here to cite Edward Feser's book Five Proofs of the Existence of God:

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This book provides a detailed, updated exposition and defense of five of the historically most important (but in recent years largely neglected) philosophical proofs of God’s existence: the Aristotelian, the Neo-Platonic, the Augustinian, the Thomistic, and the Rationalist.

It also offers a thorough treatment of each of the key divine attributes—unity, simplicity, eternity, omnipotence, omniscience, perfect goodness, and so forth—showing that they must be possessed by the God whose existence is demonstrated by the proofs. Finally, it answers at length all of the objections that have been leveled against these proofs.

This work provides as ambitious and complete a defense of traditional natural theology as is currently in print. Its aim is to vindicate the view of the greatest philosophers of the past— thinkers like Aristotle, Plotinus, Augustine, Aquinas, Leibniz, and many others— that the existence of God can be established with certainty by way of purely rational arguments. It thereby serves as a refutation both of atheism and of the fideism that gives aid and comfort to atheism.

Editorial Reviews

Review

"A watershed book. Feser has completely severed the intellectual legs upon which modern atheism had hoped to stand." — Matthew Levering, James N. and Mary D. Perry Jr. Chair of Theology, Mundelein Seminary

"A powerful and important book. The concluding chapter, where Feser replies to possible objections to his arguments, is a gem; it alone is worth the price of this excellent work." — Stephen T. Davis, Russell K. Pitzer Professor of Philosophy, Claremont McKenna College

"Edward Feser is widely recognized as a top scholar in the history of philosophy in general, and in Thomistic and Aristotelian philosophy in particular. This book is a must-read for anyone interested in natural theology. I happily and highly recommend it." — J. P. Moreland, Distinguished Professor of Philosophy, Biola University

"Refutes with devastating effect the standard objections to theistic proofs, from David Hume to the New Atheists." — Robert C. Koons, Professor of Philosophy, University of Texas at Austin

"Yet another fine book by Edward Feser. He replies to (literally) all of the objections and shows convincingly how the most popular objections (the kind one hears in Introduction to Philosophy courses) are very often completely beside the point and, even when they're not, are 'staggeringly feeble and overrated'." — Alfred J. Freddoso, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, University of Notre Dame

About the Author

Edward Feser, Ph.D., is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Pasadena City College in Pasadena, California. Called by National Review "one of the best contemporary writers on philosophy", he is the author of The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism, Aquinas, Scholastic Meta- physics, By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed, and many other books and articles.


With respect to the OP's question at hand

If God is non physical, doesn’t He then become unneeded as a cause?

If God does physical things, those physical things presumably have preceding physical causes. Eventually, one of those physical causes will have a non physical cause that will be God Himself or will eventually lead up to God at the beginning. But there will be nothing before God in this causal chain.

Why not cut this entire non physical chain off and assume the chain just starts from the physical? It seems more parsimonious especially since the actual “work” being done to create the physical effect seems to be physical itself.

chapter 6 The Nature of God and of His Relationship to the World is probably the most relevant. In short, God has to be non-physical because it can be argued from first principles that the ultimate cause of reality must necessarily posses several attributes that turn out to coincide with the divine attributes of classical theism, including immateriality, incorporeality, and eternity, among other divine attributes. Thus, this effectively rules out the OP's suggestion that the ultimate cause of reality could very well be physical in nature (no, it cannot be physical, Feser argues). Below a few excerpts from chapter 6:

We have now examined five arguments for the existence of God, which can be summarized briefly as follows. The Aristotelian proof begins with the fact that there are potentialities that are actualized and argues that we cannot make sense of this unless we affirm the existence of something which can actualize the potential existence of things without itself being actualized, a purely actual actualizer. The Neo-Platonic proof begins with the fact that the things of our experience are composed of parts and argues that such things could not exist unless they have an absolutely simple or noncomposite cause. The Augustinian proof begins with the fact that there are abstract objects like universals, propositions, numbers, and possible worlds, and argues that these must exist as ideas in a divine intellect. The Thomistic proof begins with the real distinction, in each of the things of our experience, between its essence and its existence, and argues that the ultimate cause of such things must be something which is subsistent existence itself. The rationalist proof begins with the principle of sufficient reason and argues that the ultimate explanation of things can only lie in an absolutely necessary being.

Our focus so far has been on the existence of God, though we have also said something about his nature, and about the nature of his causal relationship to the world. This chapter will address the latter two topics in greater detail. Investigating these particular issues will require application of several more general philosophical principles, so let us set those out first. After doing so, we can deploy them to infer from the nature of the world, considered as an effect, to the nature of God as its cause.

...

Immateriality and incorporeality

That God does not have a body, and indeed is entirely immaterial, follows straightaway from his pure actuality and absolute simplicity. This is clear whether we think of matter and material objects in the Aristotelian terms favored by classical theists like Aquinas, or instead in less philosophically controversial terms. From an Aristotelian point of view, any material object is a composite of substantial form and prime matter. Since God is absolutely simple or noncomposite, and thus lacks parts like substantial form and prime matter, he cannot have a body but must instead be incorporeal. Also, from an Aristotelian point of view, matter is, essentially, the potentiality to take on form. Matter all by itself (“prime matter”, to use the technical jargon) is pure potentiality. Naturally, then, what is pure actuality and utterly devoid of potentiality cannot be in any way material.

Even apart from a specifically Aristotelian view of matter, though, it is obvious that what is pure actuality and absolutely simple cannot be corporeal or material. By anyone’s reckoning, material things have parts—not only parts of the sort evident to our senses (the wood, plastic, or metal parts that make up a piece of furniture, the body parts of an animal, and so forth), but microscopic parts like molecules, atoms, and subatomic particles. These parts are capable of being arranged and rearranged in various ways, which entails that anything made up of them has potentiality. Even the fundamental particles—fermions and bosons—though they are not composed of other particles, still have parts in the sense that they have distinctive attributes. Furthermore, they exhibit potentiality insofar as they come into being and pass away. Hence, again, since God is devoid of potentiality and without parts, he cannot be material.

Eternity

It is clear from what has been said in the preceding chapters that God neither comes into being nor passes away. What comes into being has parts that need to be combined—most fundamentally, its essence and existence—is merely potential until they are combined, and exists contingently rather than necessarily. Accordingly, what comes into being requires a cause. But as we have seen, God is without parts, without potentiality, is absolutely necessary, and just is existence itself rather than something in need of deriving existence from something else. Accordingly, he not only need not have a cause but could not have had one. Hence, he does not come into being, but has always existed. What passes away has parts that can be separated—most fundamentally, its essence can fail to be conjoined with existence—is potentially nonexistent, and is, accordingly, contingent rather than necessary. Since God is without parts, without potentiality, is absolutely necessary, and just is existence itself (and thus can hardly lose existence), he cannot pass away. Now what neither comes into being nor passes away is eternal. Hence, God is eternal.

But God’s eternity amounts to more than this. It is not mere longevity, but strict timelessness. That is to say, it is not merely that God has existed throughout all past time, and will continue to exist throughout all future time. Rather, he exists outside of time altogether. This follows from both his immutability and his simplicity. If God existed within time, he would constantly be adding new seconds, days, and years to his life; would be acting at one moment in a way that differs from the way he acts at another moment; and (given that, as we will see below, God can be said to have knowledge) would constantly be acquiring new pieces of knowledge, such as the knowledge that it is now time tz, the knowledge that it is now time t2, and so forth. But all of this would involve change, and God is immutable. Hence, he does not exist within time, but rather timelessly.36 Furthermore, if God were in time, then there would be different stages of his life, each of which would be distinct from the others. In that case, he would have distinct parts. But God is simple or noncomposite, and thus without parts. Hence, he is timeless.

Now, I have argued in earlier chapters that the existence of anything at any moment is ultimately caused by God. It might seem that that claim is incompatible with the claim that God is timeless. For if the existence of something at time t1 is caused by God, and the existence of something at time t2 is caused by God, doesn’t that entail that God is acting at time t1 and also acting at the later time t2? And doesn’t that in turn entail that God is in time?

However, this does not follow. In particular, from the proposition that God causes it to be the case that such-and-such exists at time tz, it does not follow that at time tz, God causes it to be the case that such-and-such exists.38 It is not that at time t1 God causes some object to exist, then at a later time t2 carries out a second action of causing that thing to remain in existence, then at some yet later time t3 carries out a third action of causing it to remain in existence for a while longer, and so forth. It is rather that God, from outside of time, in a single act causes to exist a temporal world in which the object exists at times t1, t2, t3, and so on. You might compare his action to that of an author who comes up with an entire story in a single flash of insight. He determines, all at the same moment, what the beginning, middle, and end of the story will be. From the point of view of the characters in the story, what happens in the middle of the story follows what happened at the beginning and precedes what happens at the end. But the author himself did not first come up with the beginning, and then later the middle, and then later still the ending. Rather, he did it all at once.

But this brings us to another objection sometimes raised against the claim that God is timeless. If God causes Socrates to exist in 469 B.C., then Socrates’ existing then must be simultaneous with God’s eternity. And if God causes Barack Obama to exist in A.D. 1961, then Obama’s existing then must be simultaneous with God’s eternity. But if some time t1 is simultaneous with some time t2, and t2 is simultaneous with t3, then t1 must be simultaneous with t3. And in that case, it would follow that Socrates’ existence is simultaneous with Obama’s existence. But obviously that is absurd. So (the objection concludes), the claim that God is timeless leads to absurdity.

The problem with this objection, though, is that it misses the point. It treats timeless eternity as if it were a point in time, for only if it were a point in time could it be simultaneous with some point in time. But the whole idea that God exists timelessly is precisely that he does not exist at some point in time, but rather outside of time altogether.


Appendix A - Quotes from Chapter 1: The Aristotelean Proof

What change involves, then, is for Aristotle the actualization of a potential. The coffee has the potential to become cold, and after sitting out for a while that potential is made actual. This is not a case of something coming from nothing—which, Aristotle agrees, is impossible—because, again, a potential is not nothing.

So, change occurs. Everyday experience shows that it does, and a little philosophical reflection not only reinforces this judgment but explains what change involves. But how does change occur? That depends on the change, of course. The coffee’s getting cold is not the same kind of process as the falling of the leaf, the puddle’s growing large, or the fly’s being swatted. Still, whatever sort of change is in question, there will be something or other that brings it about.

Change requires a changer. We find examples all around us in everyday experience. The cool air in the room brings the temperature of the coffee down. A flick of your wrist brings the flyswatter down on the fly. But the thesis that change requires a changer is not merely a generalization from instances like these. It follows from what change is: the actualization of a potential. We saw that while the coffee is still hot, the coldness of the coffee is not exactly nothing, since it is there potentially in the coffee in a way other qualities are not. But it is still there merely potentially and not actually, otherwise the coffee would be cold already, even while it is hot, which of course it isn’t. Now potential coldness can hardly do anything, precisely because it is merely potential. Only what is actual can do anything. In particular, the potential coldness of the coffee cannot make itself actual. Only something already actual can do that—the coolness in the surrounding surrounding air, or perhaps some ice cubes you might drop into the coffee. In general, any mere potential can only be actualized by something that is already actual. In that sense, any change requires a changer of some sort or other.

So, change occurs, and any change requires a cause; or to put it less colloquially but more precisely, some potentials are actualized, and when they are, there must be something already actual which actualizes them. Now, notice that often what is true of the thing being changed is also true of the thing changing it. The coolness of the air in the room makes the coffee cold. But the coolness of the air was itself merely potential until the air conditioner actualized it. The flick of your wrist causes the flyswatter to come down hard, and its impact in turn kills the fly. But the flick of your wrist was itself merely potential until the firing of certain motor neurons actualized it. So, when something causes a change, that is sometimes because it is undergoing a change itself; and when that is the case, that change too requires a changer. Or, once again to put things less colloquially but more precisely, sometimes when a potential is being actualized, what actualizes it is itself something which has gone from potential to actual; and when that is the case, there must have been some further thing which made that happen.

...

So far, I have stated the argument in an informal and unhurried way so as to facilitate understanding, especially among readers not used to the technicalities of academic philosophy. But now that the overall thrust of the reasoning is clear, it will be useful to have a summary presented in a somewhat more formal way. It might be stated as follows:

  1. Change is a real feature of the world.
  2. But change is the actualization of a potential.
  3. So, the actualization of potential is a real feature of the world.
  4. No potential can be actualized unless something already actual actualizes it (the principle of causality).
  5. So, any change is caused by something already actual.
  6. The occurrence of any change C presupposes some thing or substance S which changes.
  7. The existence of S at any given moment itself presupposes the concurrent actualization of S’s potential for existence.
  8. So, any substance S has at any moment some actualizer A of its existence.
  9. A’s own existence at the moment it actualizes S itself presupposes either (a) the concurrent actualization of its own potential for existence or (b) A’s being purely actual.
  10. If A’s existence at the moment it actualizes S presupposes the concurrent actualization of its own potential for existence, then there exists a regress of concurrent actualizers that is either infinite or terminates in a purely actual actualizer.
  11. But such a regress of concurrent actualizers would constitute a hierarchical causal series, and such a series cannot regress infinitely.
  12. So, either A itself is a purely actual actualizer or there is a purely actual actualizer which terminates the regress that begins with the actualization of A.
  13. So, the occurrence of C and thus the existence of S at any given moment presupposes the existence of a purely actual actualizer.
  14. So, there is a purely actual actualizer.
  15. In order for there to be more than one purely actual actualizer, there would have to be some differentiating feature that one such actualizer has that the others lack.
  16. But there could be such a differentiating feature only if a purely actual actualizer had some unactualized potential, which, being purely actual, it does not have.
  17. So, there can be no such differentiating feature, and thus no way for there to be more than one purely actual actualizer.
  18. So, there is only one purely actual actualizer.
  19. In order for this purely actual actualizer to be capable of change, it would have to have potentials capable of actualization.
  20. But being purely actual, it lacks any such potentials.
  21. So, it is immutable or incapable of change.
  22. If this purely actual actualizer existed in time, then it would be capable of change, which it is not.
  23. So, this purely actual actualizer is eternal, existing outside of time.
  24. If the purely actual actualizer were material, then it would be changeable and exist in time, which it does not.
  25. So, the purely actual actualizer is immaterial.
  26. If the purely actual actualizer were corporeal, then it would be material, which it is not.
  27. So, the purely actual actualizer is incorporeal.
  28. If the purely actual actualizer were imperfect in any way, it would have some unactualized potential, which, being purely actual, it does not have.
  29. So, the purely actual actualizer is perfect.
  30. For something to be less than fully good is for it to have a privation—that is, to fail to actualize some feature proper to it.
  31. A purely actual actualizer, being purely actual, can have no such privation.
  32. So, the purely actual actualizer is fully good.
  33. To have power entails being able to actualize potentials.
  34. Any potential that is actualized is either actualized by the purely actual actualizer or by a series of actualizers which terminates in the purely actual actualizer.
  35. So, all power derives from the purely actual actualizer.
  36. But to be that from which all power derives is to be omnipotent.
  37. So, the purely actual actualizer is omnipotent.
  38. Whatever is in an effect is in its cause in some way, whether formally, virtually, or eminently (the principle of proportionate causality).
  39. The purely actual actualizer is the cause of all things.
  40. So, the forms or patterns manifest in all the things it causes must in some way be in the purely actual actualizer.
  41. These forms or patterns can exist either in the concrete way in which they exist in individual particular things, or in the abstract way in which they exist in the thoughts of an intellect.
  42. They cannot exist in the purely actual actualizer in the same way they exist in individual particular things.
  43. So, they must exist in the purely actual actualizer in the abstract way in which they exist in the thoughts of an intellect.
  44. So, the purely actual actualizer has intellect or intelligence.
  45. Since it is the forms or patterns of all things that are in the thoughts of this intellect, there is nothing that is outside the range of those thoughts.
  46. For there to be nothing outside the range of something’s thoughts is for that thing to be ominiscient.
  47. So, the purely actual actualizer is omniscient.
  48. So, there exists a purely actual cause of the existence of things, which is one, immutable, eternal, immaterial, incorporeal, perfect, fully good, omnipotent, intelligent, and omniscient.
  49. But for there to be such a cause of things is just what it is for God to exist.
  50. So, God exists.

Appendix B - Quotes from Chapter 2: The Neo-Platonic Proof

A more formal statement of the argument

With the overall thrust of the reasoning of this second argument for God’s existence having now been made clear, it will be useful to have a summary presented in a somewhat more formal way. It might be stated as follows:

  1. The things of our experience are composite.
  2. A composite exists at any moment only insofar as its parts are combined at that moment.
  3. This composition of parts requires a concurrent cause.
  4. So, any composite has a cause of its existence at any moment at which it exists.
  5. So, each of the things of our experience has a cause at any moment at which it exists.
  6. If the cause of a composite thing’s existence at any moment is itself composite, then it will in turn require a cause of its own existence at that moment.
  7. The regress of causes this entails is hierarchical in nature, and such a regress must have a first member.
  8. Only something absolutely simple or noncomposite could be the first member of such a series.
  9. So, the existence of each of the things of our experience presupposes an absolutely simple or noncomposite cause.
  10. In order for there to be more than absolutely one simple or noncomposite cause, each would have to have some differentiating feature that the others lacked.
  11. But for a cause to have such a feature would be for it to have parts, in which case it would not really be simple or noncomposite.
  12. So, no absolutely simple or noncomposite cause can have such a differentiating feature.
  13. So, there cannot be more than one absolutely simple or non-composite cause.
  14. If the absolutely simple or noncomposite cause were changeable, then it would have parts which it gains or loses—which, being simple or non-composite, it does not have.
  15. So, the absolutely simple or noncomposite cause is changeless or immutable.
  16. If the absolutely simple or noncomposite cause had a beginning or an end, it would have parts which could either be combined or broken apart.
  17. So, since it has no such parts, the absolutely simple or non-composite cause is beginningless and endless.
  18. Whatever is immutable, beginningless, and endless is eternal.
  19. So, the absolutely simple or noncomposite cause is eternal.
  20. If something is caused, then it has parts which need to be combined.
  21. So, the absolutely simple or noncomposite cause, since it has no parts, is uncaused.
  22. Everything is either a mind, or a mental content, or a material entity, or an abstract entity.
  23. An abstract entity is causally inert.
  24. So, the absolutely simple or noncomposite cause, since it is not causally inert, is not an abstract entity.
  25. A material entity has parts and is changeable.
  26. So, the absolutely simple or noncomposite cause, since it is without parts and changeless, is not a material entity.
  27. A mental content presupposes the existence of a mind, and so cannot be the ultimate cause of anything.
  28. So, the absolutely simple or noncomposite cause, being the ultimate cause of things, cannot be a mental content.
  29. So, the absolutely simple or noncomposite cause must be a mind.
  30. Since the absolutely simple or noncomposite cause is unique, everything other than it is composite.
  31. Every composite has the absolutely simple or noncomposite cause as its ultimate cause.
  32. So, the absolutely simple or noncomposite cause is the ultimate cause of everything other than itself.
  33. If the absolutely simple or noncomposite cause had potentialities as well as actualities, it would have parts.
  34. So, since it has no parts, it must have no potentialities but be purely actual.
  35. A purely actual cause must be perfect, omnipotent, fully good, and omniscient.
  36. So, there exists a cause which is simple or noncomposite, unique, immutable, eternal, immaterial, a mind or intellect, the uncaused ultimate cause of everything other than itself, purely actual, perfect, omnipotent, fully good, and omniscient.
  37. But for there to be such a cause is just what it is for God to exist.
  38. So, God exists.

Appendix C - Videos

For those interested, here are a few recorded debates between Edward Feser and Graham Oppy:

Other discussions that may be of interest:

4
  • 1
    Comments have been moved to chat; please do not continue the discussion here. Before posting a comment below this one, please review the purposes of comments. Comments that do not request clarification or suggest improvements usually belong as an answer, on Philosophy Meta, or in Philosophy Chat. Comments continuing discussion may be removed.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Commented Mar 11 at 16:18
  • 2
    You've clearly put in a lot of work, thanks, but the length of the answer (much of which is quotation) diminishes its impact. Could you cut back to the short answer, with a reference to (rather than reproduction of) the extra detail? I've reason to believe other users would find this helpful. Best - Geoffrey.
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Commented Mar 11 at 18:13
  • @GeoffreyThomas Then I won't be able to address the criticism laid out in chat (see above). If you don't want to read the long answer, then just read the short answer.
    – Mark
    Commented Mar 11 at 18:50
  • As you please. It is not a matter of what I will read or not. I was responding to a user's comment, which seemed to me pertinent. Again, I appreciate the thought you have packed into your answer.
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Commented Mar 12 at 11:36

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