We interrupt your regularly scheduled quiet time on the Counter Apologist Blog to bring you an actual post!
I've been doing some thinking about apologetic arguments, and that leads me to
thinking about metaphysical arguments in general. Part of this post is to
help me document some ideas I’ve had about fundamental issues regarding
of this is triggered by reading posts by Catholic apologists and
theologians. Catholics are unique in
that they tend to be Thomists, and so ascribe to a kind of Aristotelian metaphysics
that was endorsed by Thomas Aquinas. Aquinas is the official philosopher of the
Catholic Church, and much of their theology is based on his work.
the name Aquinas rings some bells, it’s because he’s the guy who has the “Five
Ways” or rather five arguments that supposedly prove the existence of a god. One of the most famous of these arguments is
one for a “prime mover” or an “unmoved mover”.
argument itself isn’t really important per-se, it’s actually air tight in terms
of premises following to their conclusions.
The issue is the Aristotelian metaphysics it assumes and is based
on. Suffice it to say, if you’re using
the kind of neo-Aristotelian metaphysics favored by modern day Thomists, the
conclusion readily follows.
atheists disagree with in terms of the Thomists is the metaphysics they assume.
problem with metaphysical assumptions, especially ones that try to get to the
base of fundamental reality, is that proving or disproving them is either
trivially easy or impossible. The
trivial ones are easy to disprove because they assume something we can show not
to be the case, and the others are so well crafted so as to be immune to
disproof – though that also leaves these principles underdetermined. We can’t actually prove or disprove these kinds
it was this tweet
by one of my favorite contemporary atheists, Sean Carroll, discussing an objection to his book “The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning, and the Universe Itself”.
objection comes from a writer/apologist named Brandon Vogt who writes at http://www.strangenotions.com
the book, it appears (I’ve not yet read the book) that Sean directly goes after
the Aristotelian metaphysical assumption that “Everything in motion must be
moved by something” and as Brandon helpfully clarifies, by motion he means any
points out that the conservation of momentum casts doubt on that assumption,
using the example of “objects on frictionless surfaces moving at constant
velocity do not need a cause to keep moving”.
counters that at best this shows we don’t need a sustaining cause to keep an object moving, it wouldn’t show we don’t
need an initial cause to start said
continues to say that by failing to distinguish between types of causes, Sean
misses the point of the argument, and so fails to refute it.
more I think about it these underlying issues, the more I have to agree that
Sean hasn’t, and in fact can’t, disprove Aristotle’s premise. However at the same time I don’t believe
Brandon or anyone else can establish the premise either.
assumption of the naturalist is that physical stuff that makes up our universe has
always existed. Right now we think the most basic form of physical stuff is
what is described by quantum mechanics (QM). The idea we get from QM is that this “stuff” has
and will always operate according to these QM laws. There is no “cause” of it to have started,
and it doesn’t require anything to sustain it either. It just exists and it
does its thing.
theist will disagree with that, but that’s our position.
Thomist says that all changes require some kind of cause, which is backed up by
our intuitions and our everyday experience. The problem comes from example that Carroll
brings up, and from another famous example, that of radioactive decay. Eventually radioactive elements will decay.
It’s completely random, and as far as we can tell it simply happens. There’s no
physical cause of it, not apparently anyway, and the best we can do is predict
a range in which the decay will happen (this is the half-life of a radioactive
might think this would disprove the Aristotelean metaphysic, but they will
respond that just because our best theory doesn’t show that there is some kind
of cause for the decay, it doesn’t mean there isn’t one. Perhaps there’s a
better theory out there that will come about once we solve other problems in
issue is that while it’s true we can’t definitively say there is “no cause”, it
certainly appears as if there isn’t one give our best information and
the key metaphysical principle at stake in the argument gets put in this kind
of perpetual underdetermined status, never to be resolved.
this stuff long enough and you’ll notice that this is a very common theme for nearly any major topic in metaphysics. Metaphysical
principles are relegated to metaphysics, instead of just physics, because the
principles themselves are so general and crafted in a way that they can’t in
principle be proved or disproven.
in the end, atheists will point to things like the conservation of energy or what
Sean refers to as the Quantum Eternity Theorem
which says either time is infinite or it is not fundamental. Either way,
looking at our best description of the physical stuff (ie. quantum mechanics)
the physical stuff has “always existed”.
theist can counter even that evidence by saying, somewhat like Young Earth
Creationists, that god still created the universe a finite time ago and made it
look as if it has always existed, but there isn’t evidence of this.
the end, the theist holds to their metaphysical principle which is based on our
intuitive “every day” experience of how the world works, and the atheist points
to findings from science which undermines those intuitions and principles.
theist can say that our evidence doesn’t truly undermine their principles, but
they can’t exactly prove that we must accept those principles either. So round and round we go, with neither side
able to prove the other wrong, because of the very nature of the question being