Sunday, May 18, 2014

Why God Exists - A Rational Proof

Anthony here again. With all the discussion about evolution I've been having here and elsewhere, I thought it might be useful to actually show what I mean when I say, "Hit 'em with St. Thomas."

I created this comic to try to explain St. Thomas Aquinas' cosmological argument for the existence of God in a way that might be a little easier to follow, or at least easier to read without your eyes crossing.

This proof stands whether evolution is true or not. This is what we need to be focusing on, not trying to prove evolution wrong.





















69 comments:

  1. I like this! Great job!
    Kristoff

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    1. This is an incredibly clear explanation! And fun to read, too! By the way, I went to TMC with your Aunt Abby! :)

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  2. If you can publish this in dead tree form, please do. I'll order a hundred*.

    * "Hundred" here denotes a large number, but quite possibly less than a full hundred.

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    1. Or if you can assemble these into one big honkin' PDF, I'll kill my own trees.

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  3. I recently read another comic that is put out by Catholic Answers. It was excellent!
    http://shop.catholic.com/the-truth-is-out-there-brendan-erc-in-exile.html

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  4. Hey Nick,

    I gave a talk on this to a CCD class a couple months ago and I actually did have a dozen copies printed by Ka-Blam to give to the kids. It turned out really well, and I think it worked out to something like $3.00 a copy. If you are serious about wanting a print version I could send you the high quality images and you could order prints from them.

    Anonymous, I've heard before that that comic is good. As soon as I can spare the money I'll order a copy.

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    1. If you publish this please notify me, or if your offer of the high q images is available to others I would like to be included.

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  5. Well done.
    Science/Materialism/Rationalism... is indeed the "worldview" of many modern scientific atheists. And such a worldview is shrunken, because rationality is itself a partial use of human reason. Their universe is a much smaller and incomplete universe than the universe of the believer in I Am Who Am (whose worldview includes legitimate scientific fact within a greater fullness of truth). The person who relies solely upon the faculties of logic and rationality to explain existence is an incomplete and unbalanced thinker. There is more to the human mind than logic and more to human existence than logic can explain away. You'd think a logical person would understand that the vast portion of life is unanswerable through logic alone. We are not Vulcans. Two quotes from Chesterton come to mind:
    "I do not feel any contempt for an atheist, who is often a man limited and constrained by his own logic to a very sad simplification."
    "There are arguments for atheism, and they do not depend, and never did depend, upon science. They are arguable enough, as far as they go, upon a general survey of life; only it happens to be a superficial survey of life."

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  6. Excellent! Just excellent! This will help me simplify why I returned to the Church in a project I'm working on. A comic book would be awesome. We need a Catholic Kickstarter.

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  7. Very well done! Thank you for your outstanding work!

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  8. An objection (you guessed it, from science). That this objection is based on relatively recent science (recent in the scale of history, that is) means that it avoids having to congratulate myself that I have seen through some fundamental hole in the cosmological argument that thousands of years of philosophers have been unable to see.

    The cosmological argument depends on the inductive inference that since everything we can observe depends on other things for its existence, it must be a universally applicable rule that every thing that exists depends on something else for its existence. It occurs to me that the atomic theory of matter, the law of conservation of energy, and mass-energy equivalence (e=mc^2) cut the legs from under this premise. If all things are really just different rearrangements of fundamental particles, which particles are equivalent to all other particles, and which can in theory be converted into one gigantic sum of energy (or mass) which can never increase or decrease but is eternally immutable, than in a very real sense there is only one "thing": the universe itself as a whole. Now, of course, you cannot establish a trend with only one data point, so the inference from induction falls apart. We cannot make an inference from this single example of a thing whether or not things depend on their existence from something outside them. A priori, it is just as likely that "things" are self-sufficient as contingent.

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    1. Ben, one thing to consider is that the medieval arguments for first cause, etc. did not always have to refer to temporal causes. Thomas Aquinas made such proofs that were in fact compatible with the idea of a universe of infinite duration, because his notion of causality was not limited to temporal causality. you also had formal, final, efficient (some of these have a temporal aspect, but others like formal and final, do not). I'm not the best at explaining it, but there should be some good resources out there/

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    2. Your objection fails because of a loose bit of logic. In order for the universe, considered as a certain quantity of energy (or mass) to really qualify as one thing, not many, there would have to be something qualitatively different between the sum total and said total less some exceedingly small amount.

      Or, to put it another way, one familiar to readers of Aristotle, a pile is not one thing (i.e., a substance).

      Suppose that you have 800 units of energy. Suppose that you separate one unit of energy from the other 799 units. Now you have 799 units here, and one unit there. There is a quantitative difference between the present collection of 799 units of energy and the previous collection of 800 units of energy. There is, however, no qualitative difference.

      That remains true even if the total energy of the universe is exactly 800 units.

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    3. " ... it must be a universally applicable rule that every thing that exists depends on something else for its existence."
      But this sounds like the infinite causal regression which logic tells us is impossible. The solution is that every being BUT ONE has contingent existence.

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    4. FB, I'm sorry, I guess I could have been more clear. Yes, in that sentence I was describing the infinite regress the uncaused cause is supposed to provide a solution to. The alternate solution I suggest is that instead of reality being like a chain of contingent things with a being at the end of it, perhaps it is more like a single thing (the universe itself) as a single entity which may for all we know may not be contingent.

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    5. "...perhaps it is more like a single thing (the universe itself) as a single entity which may for all we know may not be contingent."

      Hi, Ben P,

      Ok-- that is well-stated. That is certainly a state of affairs that one can imagine, especially given the principles of conservation of matter and energy.

      Assuming the conservation of M&E can be used in the fashion you are using it (which I have reservations about), I think it still leaves unanswered the ancient question: WHY is there something rather than nothing? That question is worth stopping and thinking about. Calling the existence of matter & energy "necessary" is a rather unsatisfactory explanation, because in the sphere of everyday observation AND in the most sophisticated science, we have never found an individual thing (i.e., matter or energy) that was demonstrably the cause of its own existence. So the necessity of M&E is OK as a conjecture, but it is certainly counterintuitive, and -- for me, anyway -- not an explanation for the existence of M&E. The only way I could accept that as an explanation would be if you were asserting (or defining) that the universe IS God (i.e., pantheism).

      PS: Assuming you're not a pantheist... finally, I would assert that it is a universal mental principle from the simplest person to the most intelligent and sophisticated, to look for the cause of a thing by asking "what came BEFORE this thing that might plausibly be the cause of its existence?" This a bedrock principle of science and logic, because in all human observations, the reason for a thing precedes it in time. Eventually, the modern person runs into the question, "why was there a 'big bang'"?

      Thanks for reading this far!

      Pax

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    6. Hi Ben. I'd like to address some of your points in your comments and as above. I will argue below for contingency being a necessary property of the universe.

      I can imagine a universe without matter or energy. I can describe it. In fact I could describe a different universe with matter and energy without Ben P. This universe would be very similar to ours, but without you. Just because we can describe such a universe, doesn't mean we know that it exists or not (unless there is some extra guarantee it exists). So if you knew nothing about the universe with Ben P except a description of it (and no guarantee of its existence), would you conclude it existed?

      If so, then on what basis would you conclude that? Here's some objections and my response overall to them / more specific comments about the ideas I described above:

      Objection 1: The description of our universe does include existence
      Objection 2: The description of our universe is very simple, and this makes it more likely to exist
      On the contrary, existence cannot be a part of a material description of a thing, unless we assume that we have known rules for all things that could ever exist. I answer that the description of things will be useless for knowing they exist, assuming that we have only 1 data point as to what could exist or not (eg one universe).
      Reply to Objection 1: The universe does exist, but what aspects of our universe lead to that quality? Could one not change the physical constants like the speed of light and still have a possible universe? If all possible universes exist, then we have the problem that Ben P - free universe exists, and so does Ben P - containing universe. But this is absurd. Ben P exists as we know. So there must be something else besides the simple description of our universe that allows us to rationally infer its existence.
      Reply to Objection 2: The problem with Occam's razor is that it assumes only simple universes consistent with the data exist. But if this is true, then consider a universe whose description doesn't include Occam's razor in its description. Again how do we know that it exists from this description alone? Moreover, judging by Occam's razor the description with no mention of Occam's razor itself is simpler than one which mentions that it is true. Thus according to Occam's razor the universe which exists according to Occam's razor does not exist. So one cannot assume Occam's Razor without yielding to paradox.

      So it seems difficult to argue that our universe is anything but contingent, eg something which we know exists only because we are told it exists.

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    7. Sorry, the last sentence should read "So it seems difficult to argue that our universe isn't itself contingent, eg something which we know exists only because we are told it exists."

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    8. Problem is, the classical cosmological arguments don't depend on the premise that "all things that exist are contingent". They only depend on the premise that "all contingent things have their existence from something else".

      So if you can identify something that exists that is not contingent (e.g., the number three), you haven't touched the classical cosmological argument.

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  9. Anonymous (consider selecting a screen name, for ease of participating in comment threads), I don't really see how Aristotle's four causes are relevant here.

    Hidden One, it all depends on how you define "thing", of course. The cosmological argument depends on things "coming into existence". Did the one joule of light "come into existence" when you separated it from the other 799? In the sense that you can now consider it separately, yes, but ontologically, no. It had always existed. That's the crux of my objection: since all matter/energy is identical and uniform and can neither be created nor destroyed, in one very real sense nothing has ever "come into existence". All that happens is pre-existing matter being re-arranged into different forms.

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    1. This presumes materialism, though - that nothing like, off the top of my head, the ability to actually form thought, for a particular person, ever came into existence.

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    2. Your answer sounds tricky, but you have a problem: You're presuming materialism in advance.

      Your answer might make sense if *only* material things exist. I don't know enough about science to rebut it and I'm not smart enough to cut holes in it philosophically, so maybe you're on the right track there.

      BUT - Matter is not the only thing in the universe that exists...or at least we can't just assume that in advance. To establish that things like intellect, consciousness, et cetera either don't exist or are somehow only material in nature is going to take quite a bit of legwork. Alternatively, you can try and establish that somehow intellect is just rearranged and there are no new intellects, but even then you run into a whole host of other problems.

      And until any of that that is established, your objection is useless...and if it is established your objection is actually pretty much useless anyway, since proving materialism disproves God almost by definition.

      So, good effort. But not quite.

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    3. The cosmological argument does not depend on things "coming into existence," that's a common confusion made even by some relying on the argument. It depends on things existing that don't have to exist. The observation that, say, I didn't used to exist is meant to show this contingency. The argument still works, though, if I had existed for all time, because my existence would still be contingent, as there is nothing in what makes me "me" that requires that I exist.

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    4. Alexander is right. And what Ben brings up is actually that's not as new an objection as one might think. Even without knowing as many of the details as we now have about how the universe works, the ancients nonetheless thought of the universe as its own self-contained unit, so to speak. Aristotle did not believe that the universe had a beginning or will have an end. And yet Aristotle was the first person to formulate this argument. Aquinas did not think that reason could demonstrate that the universe had a beginning (he took it on faith), and yet Aquinas held that reason could demonstrate the existence of an Uncaused Cause, even if the universe were eternal.

      Ironically, it is modern science that has given us the first evidence that the universe is not eternal, with the discovery of cosmic background radiation and stellar redshift validating the theory of the Big Bang. Now, of course, atheists are trying to come up with a system in which the Big Bang was not a true beginning, but even if they succeeded that wouldn't matter for this argument. It’s an argument for the fact that causal chains of dependence exist that must necessarily terminate in something uncaused. These chains exist for everything, at every moment. You can start with anything in the universe (which is a really a set, not a thing) and reason from it to something on which it ultimately depends but which depends on nothing else. That thing that is of such a type that it can’t be the universe, because it is necessary being, with its nature identical to its existence, and it is therefore perfectly simple, immutable, with no parts, being pure actuality, etc. etc.

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    5. Malcomthecynic, the cosmological argument is an argument from material things, so an objection from material things is perfectly appropriate. That's all. Materialism is an interesting topic, but I don't see how it's relevant here.

      Alexander and Anthony, thanks for the rejoinders. I was expecting a response along those lines at some point.

      So a contingent being is something that does not necessarily have to exist, and a necessary (non-contingent) being is something that must exist--that could not not exist. Now, nothing that we observe has to exist; we can pick anything at all and easily imagine a world in which it doesn't exist. So no non-contingent things are observed. But since contingent beings do exist, there must exist a non-contingent being to explain the existence of contingent things. This is more or less how the argument goes, right?

      Alexander, you say that even if you had existed from all time, you would still be a contingent being, for it still would not be necessary for you to exist. One can just as easily imagine a universe without an Alexander as one with an eternal Alexander. But I think my objection still holds: can you imagine a universe without a universe? No, that doesn't make sense. So it seems necessary for a universe to exist.

      I anticipate an objection that one can in fact imagine a universe without a universe; just nothingness. If you can truly imagine nothingness, devoid even of dimensions for nothingness to extend in, I am truly impressed by your imagination. But even granting that objection, I think my original objection still holds. The weak point in the cosmological argument (at least as I outlined it above), is the premise that since contingent beings do not contain within themselves the principle of their own existence, their existence can only be ultimately explained by the existence of a necessary being. But why the leap from "things don't HAVE to exist" to "things COULDN'T exist"? This leap seems reasonable enough prime facie, since we do not observe anything that does not rely on something else for its existence. But if this is an illusion and in fact there is really only one thing (the universe as a whole--and Alexander, I see you object to this, but bear with me), than there is no logical reason to presume this leap, since in fact we have not ever observed anything come into existence. There is no reason to presume that something that does not have to exist could not just happen to exist.

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    6. Necessary vs. contingent being involves more than whether things MIGHT exist. It involves whether things have the capacity to exist in themselves, or not. If not, if they are contingent, then they rely on something else for their existence. This reliance is not necessarily temporal. In the comic I used the example of things coming into existence to illustrate this, because it is a way of talking about contingency without using the word (the comic is meant for a particular audience). But contingency involves more than a temporal sequence of things coming into being or going out of being.

      Think of a contingent being as a being that exists because the conditions for existence have been fulfilled. I am a conditioned existent: for me to exist there are many conditions that both must have been fulfilled in the past (parents, etc), but also many conditions that must be fulfilled right now (everything from the operation of my heart to the strong nuclear force in the molecules of my body to the resonance of carbon atoms).

      Atheists want to say we can have an infinite chain of conditioned existents all fulfilling each other’s conditions, whether you think of that as a chain extending infinitely back in time or as a circular chain within a self-contained universe. But if the chain is infinite then nothing's conditions would ultimately be fulfilled, and so nothing could exist.

      I saw a good analogy not long ago. Suppose you go to a movie theater. You go up to the ticket window, and order a ticket. You start to go inside, and the teller stops you and says, "Hey, you need to pay!" You say, "Why?" The teller says, "That's the condition needed to let you in the theater." So you shrug and point to the guy standing behind you in line and say, "I don't have any money, but he'll pay for my ticket." And you step aside to wait for him to do so.

      Then the second guy comes up to the window, points to the third guy, and says "He'll pay for both of us, and then we'll go in."

      The third guys comes up the the window and points at the fourth guy and say, "He's got this. He'll pay for all three of us." Then the fifth, sixth, twelfth, twenty-fifth, five hundredth, two thousandth, and ten millionth customer do the same.

      So far no one has entered the theater. And if this goes on infinitely, no one ever will. Everyone is depending on someone else to let them in. Now, if the theater stands for existence, and the tickets are the conditions needed for existence, and the people going to the movie stand for conditioned existents who need something else to fulfill the conditions for their existence, then nothing would exist, because the conditions for existence would be deferred infinitely, and never actually be fulfilled!

      The only possible way that this can end is if we finally reach someone who does not need someone else to pay for his ticket. And that poor guy better have a really deep wallet, because every single person in front of him is depending on him for the money to fulfill the condition that will let them into the theater.

      Theists say that since we are all in the theater, someone ultimately must have fulfilled the conditions needed to let us in. That someone must be of a particular kind of being — he has the money itself and doesn’t receive it from anyone. The line of people waiting to go in in the theater does not collectively qualify as this someone, even if they have been there an infinitely long time.

      Keep in mind that the temporal nature of the chain is irrelevant to the argument for God’s existence. What is relevant is the nature of things as needing conditions to be fulfilled for them to exist, or not.

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    7. Even in science, the principal of entropy means we will ultimately reach a state of thermodynamic equilibrium, in which nothing moves or acts upon anything else. So why do we right now not have a universe like that? Why is there motion — change — within the universe? When something changes something else, it in turn was changed by something else, and so on and so forth. But where did the very power to change things come from? From something that can change things but does not receive that power to change things from anything else, something that is itself unchanged. Something that moves and yet is not moved. The Unmoved Mover.

      And now unfortunately I’ve just spent a half hour on this blog that I should have spent on prepping for the four hour class on Tolkien that I teach tomorrow. If you want more, I would direct you to Dr. Ed Feser’s excellent blog. He deals with the impossibility of an infinite causal series here: http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2010/08/edwards-on-infinite-causal-series.html. And he explains the cosmological argument here: http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2012/07/cosmological-argument-roundup.html

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    8. Good luck with the Tolkien class, Anthony! I hope you've shut off the "new comment" reminders in the meantime. :)

      I'm pretty sure I've seen those Feser posts before, but I'll check them out again. In the meantime...

      I get the ticket/theater analogy. It works for things within the universe, but it breaks down when talking about the universe itself. We can figure out what the conditions for existence are for any particular thing within the universe, such as the example you gave of yourself. But what are the conditions for existence for matter/energy at all? What are the conditions for existence for the universe itself? It's an impossible question. Yes, this is the "why is there something rather than nothing" question. That question, when asked by a deist, assumes that nothingness is the default, but that's just an assumption. There is no way to tell whether nothingness or somethingness is the default. We only have one universe--one data point--and you can't extrapolate from one data point.

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    9. But nothingness does not require an explanation, while somethingness does. This is true in science as well.

      You can start with any contingent thing in the universe (which is a set of contingent things) and reason to the existence of something non-contingent. In other words, instead of asking "why is there something rather than nothing" (still a valid question, though!) you can ask why is there THIS thing. Ultimately in order for there to be this contingent thing, there must be some non-contingent thing.

      To be non-contingent, this non-contingent thing must have a nature of a particular sort, which incidentally rules out it being the universe itself. It can't be a composite, for instance. It can't have parts. It can't undergo change.

      The question of why we have matter and energy at all is exactly the right question.

      Yes, do please take a look at Ed Feser's stuff. It's awesome.

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    10. Malcomthecynic, the cosmological argument is an argument from material things, so an objection from material things is perfectly appropriate. That's all. Materialism is an interesting topic, but I don't see how it's relevant here.

      It's an argument from "things", period. You can't just say that nothing new is created when in fact we observe new intellects being created all the time.

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    11. Perhaps the explanation for somethingness is just "that's how it happens to be". I'm beginning to think the whole division of things into two kinds of things, contingent and necessary, is a bit of an ad hoc red herring. The cosmological argument presumes that ultimately, nothing CAN be unless there is something that MUST be. But what is the basis of this premise? Why is it impossible for something to exist just because it could have not been?

      Sure, intuitively it seems impossible if you look at the things within the universe. No-one has ever seen something that doesn't rely on something else for its existence. But I still hold that with our understanding of the fundamental unity of matter/energy, this is just an illusion, and there is only one thing, and so there is no reason to make this inductive inference.

      Perhaps the universe is like a giant glob of playdoh that has been formed into many different figures. Each figure came from some other bit of playdoh, and so it seems that each figure relies on something outside of itself to explain its existence. But does this observation extrapolate to the playdoh itself relying on something outside itself to explain its existence? No. It's a different question. The playdoh may or may not rely on something else for its existence, but that's not a question that we can answer by looking at the figures that are formed out of it.

      Like the universe, you can speak of the glob of playdoh as a set of things. You can divide the playdoh into smaller and smaller bits of itself, and speak of the glob as the set of the smallest bits that you can divide it into. But since each bit is identical to the next, and neither be created nor destroyed, and can all be smushed together into one giant unified glob, it is also perfectly appropriate to speak of it as one single thing.

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    12. Malcomthecynic, that we observe new intellects coming into existence does not establish the cosmological argument, neither does it destroy my objection to the argument. So I don't see how it's relevant.

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    13. You said this:

      Like the universe, you can speak of the glob of playdoh as a set of things. You can divide the playdoh into smaller and smaller bits of itself, and speak of the glob as the set of the smallest bits that you can divide it into. But since each bit is identical to the next, and neither be created nor destroyed, and can all be smushed together into one giant unified glob, it is also perfectly appropriate to speak of it as one single thing.

      But this is observably false. New INTELLECTS are being created all of the time. Or at least, we can't assume that they're NOT new. We have every reason to believe that nobody else has had the intellect of Malcolm the Cynic. My intellect was created.

      Your objection fails because even if we accept your premise that all we're doing is rearranging matter there's still more to the universe than matter. Things ARE being "caused". Minds are, among others.

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    14. More directly:

      But I still hold that with our understanding of the fundamental unity of matter/energy, this is just an illusion, and there is only one thing

      This is not true, because we are having a discussion. We are most assuredly separate people in some way.

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  10. I would like to say that although this is one of the excellent demonstrations for the existence of God, the aesthetic argument (I can not remember which of the 5 it is called) is the best of all. A Dominican metaphysics professor taught us that this is the best, but it is the hardest, The modern scientific mentality which dominates thought in the western world can not seem to grasp the deep significance of the harmony in nature (not just causality) that humans experience. How could one possibly believe, as materialists do, that music is simply an accident, or that color is the same?
    Even John Lennon, hardly a Christian but a marvelously creative artist, could see that materialist explanations of life and the universe were absurd.
    Beauty is the best demonstration of God's existence, but it is the hardest for the hard of heart to see.

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    1. I agree. This argument excites me because of its perfect, systematic rationality, but the argument from beauty MOVES me, and convinces my heart as well as my head. But if you don't see or don't want meaning in things beyond what the reductionist recognizes, then it'll go right past you. The heart needs to be ready.

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  11. Hey all. Great comic, but one possible problem here.

    Are you sure you have the right principle in the comic? You seem to be going with 'whatever begins to exist has a cause'. But that sounds like Kalam, and Aquinas didn't do Kalam. It sounds like you're talking (with the train example) about immanent causation - but that's about the argument from motion/change.

    It's worth pointing out too that Aquinas' arguments were pretty famous for not being concerned with a finite past. Assume an infinite past and an eternally existing substratum (put aside Kalam objections for the moment) and you still haven't evaded the First Cause.

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    1. Well, I’m trying to introduce this argument, and this way of thinking about things in general, to an audience that is unfamiliar with it, in terms that they might understand, via analogy. I’m trying to get them to see that at infinite regress of essential causes is impossible, and then realize what must be true if this is the case. Talking about things beginning to exist is a way of talking about contingency without using a word like contingency. Ditto the train and momentum analogy. I tried to stress dependence at each step.

      Your distinction is absolutely correct, though. That’s why Ben P’s argument above does not get us out of the need for a transcendent cause.

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    2. If you're the one responsible for the comic, I just want to say well done. We need more of that kind of thing. Please don't take my criticisms the wrong way - I understand you have your work cut out for you with the audience you're going for and the information you're using. Just throwing in observations in case they're of use.

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  12. Anthony, I too am one of those who think your comic book is brilliant. But not perfect. This is intended as constructive criticism .
    First, get this copyrighted if you haven't already. It could be a good thing to sell
    .
    Second there is still a typo, 8th panel down, ( defining the term "metaphysics'):
    "people who don't know that is has"-- "is" needs to be "it"

    Third might mean a whole new comic book to create which I hope you will do. Best done, I should think in a 3-part argument.
    A) the impossibility of time-travel even in theory because kids hear about time being a 4th dimension in reality, which it cannot be. It is an analogy, because mathematicians and physicists in quantum theory always refer to their work being limited to "under certain defined conditions only." and
    B) The Big Bang theory also has its limits (behind the Bang Bang it demands assumed gasses etc and cannot get them out of the infinite regress of causes that science can't reach even in theory. and
    C) and a fuller explanation why to ask "who caused the uncaused" cause is a nonsense question. It is like asking why an omnipotent god can't make a rock so heavy he can't lift it, Ultimately it is asking that God be God and not be god at the same time.
    I hope you aren't insulted by my urging you to copyright your work. It is really a magnificent achievement simplifying without oversimplifying very complex issues. You were quite right to not go into modern philosophy's issues with Thomas's proofs. Today's "scientific" atheists are philosophical babes in arms with their blend of 18th century venom and pseudo-understanding of the limits of scientific knowledge. The heyday of their argument would put them into Logical Positivism, now pretty-much shrinking to little, if not nothing -- a process beginning with Ludwig Wittgenstein, one of its founding fathers, when he decided he had been all wrong and that the logical consequences of his own movement could only result in making language impossible of meaning anything at all: the word "should" would be meaningless. Peace be with you, Ludwig, for my my oversimplification.

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  13. Great comic book. I like how it addresses a number of questions and objections at the same time. Here is a "cartoon" joke that gets at a similar point:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3IzYtiw52CI

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  14. This is the best exposition of this argument that I've ever seen. Great job guys.

    Anyway, an Irishman is told that Adam and Eve were tempted by a snake to disobey God. He asks two questions, what's a snake, and who's God?

    To the first question, a snake is an reptile without any legs that slithers around on its belly like a worm. The Irishman understands that there are animals, and worms, and will accept the idea provisionally if you promise to take him to India one day to see a cobra fighting a mongoose.

    To the second question, God is uncontingent being.

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  15. This is not a new argument, this is exactly the same argument as most other slightly more sophisticated theists use, The idea that everything needs a cause therefore in the beginning there needed to be something that does not require anything else to exist is simply not a valid argument that can be demonstrated to be true, even if we were to compromise that this idea was correct, that does not allow you to make any assumptions about the nature of that 'being', and to extrapolate that that being is the christian god is kinda outrageous. The truth is that that beginning of the universe as we know it is a big scary unknown, maybe there are many beings in higher states of existence that create universes of their own. Maybe there is one great god of all energy in all forms, maybe universes pop in and out of existence as a result of laws that can also change. Maybe your consciousness is the dream state of another being or entity, this argument tries to assert 100 % answers to things we may never know for sure, For any person to claim they have a superior intellect and therefor ideals is dishonest, be they Theist or Atheist. Our ancient humanity and our logical and scientific faculties often come into conflict, it is always interesting to hear peoples explorations of these dumbfounding and mind bending concepts, and some of these explorations can advance the wellbeing of humanity overall. A harmless belief in a great incomprehensible power is not something anyone can construe as malignant, however ideals about humans being born rotten and sinful, threats of hell and torture and an idea that the world as we know it will come to an end and our salvation will be forthcoming to those of righteousness are beliefs that I personally find saddening, and while I don't claim all religious people have them I still find it to be important to teach people that at least those concepts are silly. Also faith in things for no reason isn't just something that allows religious con artists to get away with immoral things, it allows advertisers, politicians and others with power to take advantage of people, that's why you find a lot of people trying to persuade people that religiosity is harmful. Anyway sorry for rambling, not really sure why I bothered writing all this, and certainly don't claim I have the best angle or understanding of this insane world, just putting my opinion out there.

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    1. Gibber, the argument does not say that everything needs a cause. And in fact you have not refuted the argument, but only asserted that it is not valid. As to whether it demonstrates the existence of the Christian God, we can make some very good rational deductions (not assumptions) about what must be true of this being that equate with traditional attributes of the Christian God. I’ll show only three here: the others you can look up if you want. Try Ed Feser’s blog, or Peter Kreeft’s Summa of the Summa.

      If there exists an Ultimate Cause, Being Itself, which depends on nothing but on which everything else depends, then it is also:

      - Good. Being = goodness. Evil is not a thing in itself, but a lack in something, like a hole. A disease is a lack of something proper to an organism, for instance, and, similarly, a moral evil is a lack as well. This is why we call evil people inhuman. Their behavior puts a hole, so to speak, in their nature as it is intended to be. Existence, being, is good. All that is, all that exists, is therefore good. S Being Itself is also Goodness Itself.

      - Perfect. Perfection is completeness of being. There is nothing incomplete about Being Itself. If it were incomplete, it would not be the most fundamental thing. it would have a lack, and therefore not be the final explanation, since it would itself require a cause.

      - Omnipotent. This Being is all powerful, because everything that is and everything that happens (every single natural cause and effect included) relies on it for its existence. Nothing happens without this Being. So whatever power there is, this Being has it, and whatever power other things have came from it.

      Regarding your other comments, I think you are oversimplifying religion, or at least confining yourself to an idea of it shared by the New Atheists and the Westboro Baptist Church. I think that if you delved into the actual teachings of Catholicism you might find something a little more robust. Catholicism is, to me, a far more sensible response to the problem of evil than asserting a meaningless universe, or one in which we create our own meaning. Also, your definition of faith is not what Catholics hold.

      You have reduced both the argument for God’s existence and religion to a caricature. But they can’t be refuted by refuting a caricature, anymore than I could refute evolution by saying it means monkeys had human babies (and just to be clear, I believe in evolution. That’s just an example of a caricature).

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  16. I find it ironic that you tried to prove idea of God isn't medieval with a medieval philosophy. This cosmological argument works with an assumption that infinity is imposible. Under the same ussumption you can prove with the Zenon's paradox that Achilles can never catch up a turtle. Anybody can catch a turtle we know that. Logical conclusion is that the ussumption is wrong. Infinities are possible. Infinite series can be added up and paradox is solved. I think is about time you catch up with 17th century math, especialy if you want to claim you are not holding medieval ideas.

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    1. But the argument does not claim that an infinity is impossible. It claims that an infinite regress of explanatory, essential causes is impossible.

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    2. If you except that math can solve Zenon's paradox, then you accept infinite regress of explanatory, essential causes is a possibility.

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    3. Oh for heaven's sake Mr. Svoboda, if you want a valid solution to Zeno's paradoxes go read some Bertrand Russell, an atheist who worked with the great mathematician A. N. Whitehead, who can clearly explain what is wrong about them without irrelevant recourse to mathematics. I am a Christian but I would suggest to any atheist that you read Russell's History of Western Philosophy so you can keep issues reasonably straight.

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  17. If you are trying to solve Zeno’s paradox by positing that an infinite number of steps actually exists between Achilles and the tortoise and that Achilles covers that infinite amount of steps, because math . . . well, I've never seen anyone actually accept that premise before. Usually people conclude that since Achilles can catch the turtle, there must not be an infinity separating them. That seems to be the "logical conclusion.”

    Regardless, the argument does not say anything about any kind of infinity except an infinite regress of explanatory, essential causes. I don't think you yet understand what that means. This might help: http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2010/08/edwards-on-infinite-causal-series.html

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    1. As I said you might want to catch up on that math. Math can work with infinities. Infinite number of things can sum up into finite quatities. Physics uses this routinely. Actually virtualy all physics since Newton is based on this. Any continuous motion is described by infinite amount of steps. This idea can grasped by math to give finite anwers, so it has explanatory power. It's has to be decribed that way unless you would be satisfied with starting point and final point only, so infinite amount of steps is esential. That's what I understand by that words.That article you gave me doesn't explain what explanatory and essential is supposed to mean.

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    2. The question at issue is not whether math can deal with infinities, whether math can explain certain things, nor even whether an infinite causal chain can exist in fact. (Aristotle believed that the universe was eternal, yet he still held this proof to work.) It's is about the fact that an infinite causal chain of explanatory causes hasn't explained anything at all. I suggest that you make sure you DO understand what explanatory and essential mean in this context. You're not talking about the same thing we are.

      From the article I linked to above: "He seems to think that what Aquinas was concerned to show is that if you lay out a series of causes ordered per se in a straight line, the line will necessarily have a beginning. But that is not what he was concerned to show. As Thomists sometimes point out, it wouldn’t change things in the least if we granted for the sake of argument that a series of causes orderedper se might loop around back on itself in a circle, or even that it might extend forward and backward infinitely. For the point is that as long as the members of such a circular or infinite chain of causes have no independent causal power of their own, there will have to be something outside the series which imparts to them their causal efficacy. (As the Thomist A. D. Sertillanges once put it, a paint brush can’t move itself even if it has a very long handle. And it still couldn’t move itself even if it had an infinitely long handle.) Moreover, if that which imparts causal power to the members of the circular or infinitely long series itself had no independent causal power, then it too would of necessity also require a principal cause of its own, relative to which it is an instrument. This explanatory regress cannot possibly terminate in anything other than something which has absolutely independent causal power, which can cause or “actualize” without itself having to be actualized in any way, and only what is purely actual can fit the bill."

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    3. See, the commological argument as any other formal argument has certain premises or assumptions and uses logic to arrive at certain conclusion. In order to attack any argument one might either show a flaw in the logic or point out that at least one premise is untrue, that's what I am doing. I did point out that infinite regress is in fact possible. Fact that mathematics can grasp infinite regress without giving nonsensical results is suficient, but I can even give you example of infinite regress of causal interactions with great explanatory power, Newton's mathematical solution for movement of planets.

      Objection to this from the article is invalid for the other reason, flawed logic. That paragraph can be condensed into: "Even if infinite regresion of causes could exist then it could not." That does not follow. Moreover if we do assume that every causal chain has to has a primal cause then we reduce the cosmological argument to worthless tautology, If A then A.

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  18. As a strong agnostic, I find nothing here that is meaningful. While the cosmological argument has a certain charm, the claim that there must be something is largely irrelevant. Whatever the something was (if anything), it may have removed itself from existence, or even if it remains in existencs, there's no reason to believe that once the mechanism of the universe was launched, it has any interest or involvement.

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    1. If you believe that the "something" can remove itself from existence or that anything that is contingent can exist right now without that "something" grounding its being in this very moment, then you have not understood what the argument is saying.

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    2. Not that I blame you, of course. This comic is not as rigorous as, say, Ed Feser's ten step description of the act/potency approach to this argument. But basically, the argument does not just presuppose that this being has certain attributes, but rather shows that it necessarily MUST be a certain kind of being which necessarily must be both in existence (never coming into nor ever leaving existence) and immanent to every single cause and effect in the natural world (and therefore not a distant deistic watchmaker), among many other things. If you want to really understand the argument in more depth this is a great place to start: http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2012/07/cosmological-argument-roundup.html

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  19. Anthony - Thank you for this. This assisted my ten year old greatly and fostered great conversation. An essential first cause from the train analogy made tremendous sense to him, but Jackie Chan's "response" is where he stands in trying to comprehend an "uncaused" or "non-contingent" being. The desire is to understand the cause of that being. I welcomed him to the club.

    It was a great connection to point out as well that the "Glory be" is a restatement of God's nature as existence.

    Peace of Christ.

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    1. Thanks; that's encouraging to hear.

      Hey, that's true about the "Glory Be," isn't it? Funny that I only got that when you pointed it out. :)

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  20. I completely agree with what is said above but why do we immediately jump to the conclusion of the christian God as the being of beings? Could it not be something else?

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    1. That's a very good question, and thank you for asking that and not "What caused God." :)

      Though the scope of the comic was only to introduce the fact that this uncaused cause must exist, we can extrapolate from what must be true of this being, and those things end up also being traditional attributes of the Christian God. Aquinas developed this in great depth, and others do a better job than I can, but here’s a quick and dirty rundown:

      If there exists is the Ultimate Cause, Being Itself, who depends on nothing but on whom everything else depends, then this being is also:

      - One. There can only be one Final Cause, because you can’t have two Ultimate, Final explanations for all things.

      - Simple. God must be absolutely unified or simple; He can’t have parts. If He had parts, he would have to do things by having one part move the other, in which case in which case he would not be free from causation. An Aristotelian or Thomist would say that if God had parts he would have potentiality (one part potentially and then actually moving another), and if He had potentiality He would not be uncaused. (It might be worth finding and reading an explanation of what is meant by potentiality and actuality. But make sure it's by someone who understands it, not someone trying to dismiss it. Maybe Ed Feser's blog. Or Peter Kreeft.) God can’t have parts if he is going to be the Unmoved Mover. So God is an absolute unity with no parts whatsoever. This is what simplicity means.

      - Immutable. For the same reason as the above, God does not and cannot change. This is also why He is:

      - Pure Act. Being Itself must be pure actuality, with no potentiality, or it would not be Being Itself. God's very essence, His very nature, is the same as His existence. Existence Itself is always actual, never potential.

      - Infinite. God is unbounded and unlimited (infinite), because if there were anything that bound or limited God in any respect He would not be the Ultimate and Uncaused Being.

      - Necessary. God is necessary, that is, He HAS to be. If it were possible that God not be, then there would be a reason why He is rather than is not, which would mean He wouldn’t be the Ultimate Explanation: instead, whatever made Him be rather than not be would.

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    2. - Omnipresent. As the Ultimate Cause causing all things and all change, God is intimately present to every part of the universe at every moment. He is omnipresent in His power, for instance, because nothing exists without His making it be. So His power is intimately present in everything that exists and happens. This, incidentally, rules out Deism (the belief that God made the universe, but it is self-sufficient and carries on without Him).

      - Omnipotent. God is all powerful, because everything that is and everything that happens (every single natural cause and effect included) relies on Him for its existence. Nothing happens without Him. So whatever power there is, God has it, and whatever power other things have came from Him.

      - Good. God is omnibenevolent: all good. Being = goodness. Evil is not a thing in itself, but a lack in something, like a hole. A disease is a lack of something proper to an organism, for instance, and, similarly, a moral evil is a lack as well. This is why we call evil people inhuman. Their behavior puts a hole, so to speak, in their nature as it is intended to be. Existence, being, is good. All that is, all that exists, is therefore good. So God, being Being Himself, is also Goodness Himself.

      - Perfect. Perfection is completeness of being. There is nothing incomplete about God. If He were incomplete, he would not be the most fundamental thing.

      - Eternal. God is independent of time. His actions don’t take place in time: they happen all at once. Not simultaneously, but wholly and completely realized with no coming to be and no going away. It is not as if God didn’t act, came to act, and then had acted. No, he just acts. God is outside of time.

      - Independent. Everything depends on God, but nothing He depends on nothing (or else He would not be Absolute Cause).

      - Transcendent. God is beyond nature and totally separate and different from it. This is what distinguishes Theism from pantheism (the belief that God is identical to the universe). God permeates the universe, making not only the universe as a whole be, but making every part of it be. But God is independent of it, as well.

      Others can explain these things better than I can. Try Ed Feser's blog. Or try Peter Kreeft's "Summa of the Summa."

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  21. I was able to convert your comic to both a Word document and a Adobe document. Do I have your permission to use them for ministry?

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  22. this is fabulous! so clear and so fun to read!

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  23. There is a major issue surrounding this whole argument. The comic never properly answers the question "why does that thing have to be God?" More to the point, it never explains why the Christian God is the the true one. THe application of a single Bible quote does not prove that it has to be the CHristian God. If anything, the argument that this comic seems to be suggesting right the way through is that it's probably the Buddhist concept of energy that is most likely to be true. In Buddhism, there is no defined deity, merely the essence of the universe (essentially, the unconscious universe in and of itself is God). It is pure existence, a state of absolute understanding and being. That seems to be the far more sensible answer to this comic's point

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  24. Great blog. Keep that good stuff coming

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  25. This stuff is great! I'm going to put a link on my site to your blog it's http://www.masterscience.webs.com you will find it in the links page. I know my visitors will love your work. Keep them coming!

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