bookmark_borderFeser’s Case for God – Part 8: Actualization of a Potential

FESER’S ANALYSIS OF CHANGE
A key idea in Chunk #1 of Feser’s Aristotelian argument is his analysis or understanding of change:

A. The occurrence of any change C presupposes the actualization of a potential of some thing or substance S which changes.

There are three phrases that constitute the key components of Feser’s analysis of change:

the actualization of…
…a potential of…
…some thing or substance

To understand Feser’s analysis of change, we need to understand the meaning of each of these key phrases.
 
“SOME THING OR SUBSTANCE”
In Part 7 of this series I pointed out that there are at least four different possible meanings of “substance”.  It is unclear whether the word “thing” represents an additional category (that includes non-substances) or is simply a clarification of the word “substance”.
In the ordinary use of the word  “substance” , this word means a KIND of stuff (like water, gold, salt, alcohol, glass, wood, plastic, etc.), as in the phrase “substance abuse”.  But in philosophy, the word “substance” means, roughly, a particular entity or object.  The word “thing” thus might well be a hint pointing to the philosophical use of the word “substance”, as opposed to the ordinary use of the word “substance”.  In that case, “thing” would NOT refer to something in addition to “substance”, but would simply be a rough synonym of “substance” that is an attempt to disambiguate that term and that points towards the philosophical use of the term. The philosophical use of the term “substance”, however, is itself ambiguous between various different concepts, as I pointed out in Part 7.
 
“A POTENTIAL OF”
A hot cup of coffee has the potential to become a cold cup of coffee;  it does not have the potential to become chicken soup or gasoline.  An acorn has the potential to become an oak tree; it does not have the potential to become a pine tree or a tomato plant.   A green banana has the potential to become a yellow banana; it does not have the potential to become a peach.
Having a potential is NOT, in general, a sufficient condition for the realization of that potential.  One can have the potential to become a famous movie star and yet fail to realize this potential.  A green banana could ripen and become a yellow banana, but it could also be incinerated before becoming ripe and thus fail to become a yellow banana.
It also seems that “having the potential to become X” is NOT a necessary condition of becoming X.
One might not “have the potential to become a famous movie star” and yet, by a matter of sheer luck and coincidence, become a movie star.  When we say that someone “has the potential to become a famous movie star” we mean that they have natural talent and natural good looks that would help them to be a very good and very appealing actor.  But sometimes people who are lacking in natural talent and natural good looks still manage to become very good and very appealing actors.  And sometimes people who are NOT very good and NOT very appealing actors still manage to become movie stars.  If I am correct on these points, then someone who does NOT “have the potential to become a famous movie star” might nevertheless become a famous movie star.
Having the potential to become X, thus seems to mean having some sort of natural tendency towards becoming X.  Having a natural tendency to become X is NOT, however, a necessary condition for becoming X.  Something that lacks a natural tendency towards becoming X might, nevertheless, become X.  A boy does not have a natural tendency to become a woman; however, that is not a necessary condition for becoming a woman.  A boy can undergo sex change procedures and over time become a woman.  Such a boy did NOT have “the potential to become a woman”, and yet he actually did become a woman, by means of surgery, hormone therapy, and psychological counseling.
In many cases, the properties of a thing are the result of a combination of its natural tendencies and particular circumstances.   A hot cup of coffee has the potential to become cold, but only if the air or environment near the coffee becomes cold.  Similarly, a cold cup of coffee has the potential to become hot, but only if the air or environment near the coffee becomes hot.  The coffee has the potential to become boiling hot, or freezing cold, or various temperatures between those two extremes, but which of these potential temperatures is realized depends on the temperature of the air or environment near the coffee.
The potential of the coffee to become cold could be stated in terms of the natural tendency of the coffee to become cold in circumstances where the surrounding air or environment was cold.  It would be unnatural for a hot cup of coffee to remain hot if it was left outside on a cold winter’s day.  It would be natural for a hot cup of coffee that was left outside on a cold winter’s day to become a cold cup of coffee after being outside in the cold for half an hour or so.  It would be unnatural for an acorn to develop into a pine tree, or for a green banana to develop into a peach, and it would be natural for an acorn to develop into an oak tree, and for a green banana to ripen and become a yellow banana.
Here is an attempt to capture this understanding of the phrase “a potential of”:

It is a potential of X to become Y

IF AND ONLY IF

(a) X has a natural tendency to become Y under circumstances C 

AND 

(b) circumstances C are ordinary or common circumstances.

A boy has a natural tendency to become a woman, but only under very specific circumstances that are not ordinary or common.  To make this happen there must be deliberate human intervention:  sex change surgery,  hormone therapy, and psychological counseling.  Under ordinary or common circumstances a boy has a natural tendency to develop into a man, into an adult male.
Natural tendencies are typically associated with KINDS of things, as opposed to particular individual objects or entities.  Acorns, coffee, and boys are KINDS of things, and these KINDS of things have natural tendencies.  A particular acorn, cup of coffee, or boy may also have natural tendencies, but these tendencies are usually derived from (are inferred from) the KIND of thing(s) that the particular entity is/are, from the categories to which that object or entity belong.
The phrase “become Y” is intentionally ambiguous.  This phrase can be used of either a change in an accidental attribute or of a change in an essential attribute, i.e. a change from one thing into a different kind of thing.  A cup of coffee can change from being hot to being cold; it can “become cold”.  Alternatively, a cup of coffee can be changed into a cup of water by separating the water in the coffee from the liquids and particles that turned it into coffee; a cup of coffee can “become a cup of water” under the right circumstances.
 
“THE ACTUALIZATION OF”
The phrase “the actualization of…” must be understood in relation to the phrase “…a potential of”.  The basic idea is that of truth or reality.  Some possibility is described, and then we can talk about “the actualization of…” that possibility, meaning that the described possibility is true or real.  We can describe the possibility of a cup of coffee being cold: “This cup of coffee is cold”.  This description could be FALSE; it could be a possibility that is not yet true or real.   If a cup of coffee is hot, then this possibility is not (at that time) true or real.  If the hot coffee cools down and becomes cold, then the possibility “This cup of coffee is cold” becomes true or real.
But in Feser’s analysis of change, we are NOT dealing with all logical possibilities concerning X; rather, we are focused only on “a potential of X to become Y”.  Since “a potential of X” is something narrower and more specific than all of the logical possibilities concerning X, Feser’s analysis of change limits the scope of events to those in which there is some NATURAL TENDENCY for “X to become Y”.  Only in such cases can there be a change, according to Feser.
 
OBJECTION TO FESER’S ANALYSIS OF CHANGE
Having clarified the meaning of Feser’s analysis of “change”, it seems to me that my original objection to Feser’s analysis of change holds true.   There are changes that are NOT based in a “a potential of X to become Y”.
If a boy becomes a woman, then that is a change, but it is NOT a change based on a potential of that boy to become a woman.  If an ugly and untalented actor becomes a famous movie star, that is a change, but it is NOT a change based on a potential of that actor to become a famous movie star.  Not every change happens in accordance with “a potential for X to become Y”, so Feser’s analysis of change is wrong.
Feser’s analysis of change illogically excludes some logically possible changes by limiting the scope of this concept to events which are based on the realization of a NATURAL TENDENCY in the context of some ORDINARY or COMMON CIRCUMSTANCES.  But some logically possible events and some logically possible changes occur outside of this boundary.
Because Feser’s analysis of change is wrong, a basic premise of Chunk #1 is FALSE:
A. The occurrence of any change C presupposes the actualization of a potential of some thing or substance S which changes.
Thus Feser’s first argument for the existence of God is UNSOUND.
Feser could reply to this objection by rejecting my clarification of his analysis of “change”, but to do so with any degree of credibility, he would have to offer an alternative way of understanding his analysis of “change”, and given that he makes no real effort to clarify this fundamental aspect of his thinking in his presentation of his Aristotelian argument for God, I doubt that he is up to this task.  If Feser was clear in his own mind about this basic concept in his argument, then he would have already provided adequate clarification in presenting this first argument of his case for God.

bookmark_borderHinman’s ABEAN & REMEC Arguments: INDEX

1. Joe Hinman’s ABEAN Argument for God
http://metacrock.blogspot.com/2017/07/opening-argument-resolved-that-belief.html
2. My Criticism of Hinman’s ABEAN Argument for God
https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2017/07/04/hinmans-abean-argument-part-2-objections-11-1/
https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2017/07/06/hinmans-abean-argument-part-3-objections/
3. Joe Hinman’s Responses to My Criticism of His ABEAN Argument
http://metacrock.blogspot.com/2017/07/first-defense-of-god-argument-1.html
http://metacrock.blogspot.com/2017/07/bowen-hinman-debate-existence-of-god.html
4. Joe Hinman’s REMEC Argument for God
http://christiancadre.blogspot.com/2017/07/bowen-hinman-debate-existence-of-god-my.html
5. My Criticism of Hinman’s REMEC Argument for God
https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2017/07/21/hinmans-remec-argument/
6. Joe Hinman’s Responses to My Criticism of His REMEC Argument
http://christiancadre.blogspot.com/2017/07/debate-existence-of-god-round-ii.html
7. My Rebuttal to Hinman’s Replies to My Objections about ABEAN and REMEC arguments
https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2017/08/05/hinmans-replies-objections-abean-remec/

bookmark_borderGeisler’s Five Ways – Part 5: The Gap Between Phase 1 and Phase 2

Here is my version of Geisler’s first argument in Phase 2 of his case for God:
 

ARGUMENT #1 OF PHASE 2
 

10a. Only a being with great power could create the whole universe by itself, and only a being with great power could sustain the existence of the whole universe by itself  (for even just one moment).
 
11a. There is a being that both (a) created the whole universe by itself (in the distant past), and that (b) sustains the existence of the whole universe by itself (right now).
 
THEREFORE:
 
12a. There is a being that created the whole universe by itself (in the distant past), and that being both (a) had great power (in the distant past) and (b) has great power (right now).

Premise (10a) has some initial plausibility, so I can understand why Geisler does not provide an argument in support of that premise.  
Premise (11a), however, is clearly a controversial and questionable claim, so he needs to provide reasosns or arguments to support (11a).  But NONE of Geisler’s five initial arguments proves that (11a) is true.  However, premise (11a) presupposes the following two claims:
 

13. There is a being that created the whole universe by itself (in the distant past).
 
14. There is a being that sustains the existence of the whole universe by itself (right now).
 
Geisler would presumably claim that his first argument from Phase 1 can be used to prove (13) and that his second argument from Phase 1 can be used to prove (14).  But if we take a closer look at those two arguments, it will become clear that they do not show that (13) is true, nor that (14) is true.
 

Let’s take a look at the first argument that Geisler presents in Phase 1 of his case (WSA, p.16) :
 

ARGUMENT #1 OF PHASE 1
 

16. The universe had a beginning (in the distant past).

17. Anything that has a beginning must have been caused to begin to exist by something else.
 

THEREFORE:

1. The universe was caused to begin to exist (in the distant past) by something else.
 

Premise (17) is ambiguous in terms of the quantification implied by the phrase “caused by something else”. Here are two different interpretations of premise (17):

17a.  Anything that has a beginning must have been caused to begin to exist by exactly one other thing or being.
 

17b. Anything that has a beginning must have been caused to begin to exist by at least one other thing or being.
 

I am something that had a beginning, and my beginning was caused by TWO other beings: my mother and my father.  So, it appears that (17a) is a FALSE generalization.  If Geisler had intended premise (17) to refer to “exactly one” being, as spelled out in (17a), then the second premise of his first argument is FALSE, and that argument is thus UNSOUND.

However, we can be charitable and assume that what Geisler had in mind was (17b), which is not subject to the counterexample that I just gave.  If we interpret premise (17) to mean what is stated in (17b), then we need to also revise the conclusion, so that it follows logically from the combination of (16) and (17b):
 

ARGUMENT #1 OF PHASE 1 – Revised
 

16. The universe had a beginning (in the distant past).
 
17b. Anything that has a beginning must have been caused to begin to exist by at least one other thing or being.
 
THEREFORE:
 
1a. The universe was caused to begin to exist (in the distant past) by at least one thing or being other than the universe. 
 

This conclusion, however, falls short of showing the truth of the assumption that Geisler needed to prove:
 

13. There is a being that created the whole universe by itself (in the distant past).
 

The conclusion (1a) does not imply claim (13),  because (1a) does NOT say that the universe was caused to begin to exist by exactly one thing or being, so (1b) leaves open the possibility that many beings caused the universe to begin to exist.  If many beings caused the universe to begin to exist, then it would be false to say that some particular being created the whole universe by itself.  Thus,  Geisler’s first argument in Phase 1 FAILS to provide needed support for premise (13), so it also FAILS to provide needed support for premise (11a) in the first argument of Phase 2.
 

Furthermore, (1b) talks about the cause of the universe; it does not talk about what created the universe.  If a being “created” the universe by itself, then that being also caused the universe to come into existence, but the reverse is not necessarily the case.  If a thing or  being “caused” the universe to come into existence, that thing or being might not be the creator of the universe.
 

We can, for example, imagine one being causing the basic matter of the universe to come into existence, and another being orgainzing that matter into stars and planets, and solar systems and galaxies.  The being who caused the matter of the univese to come into existence would not be the creator of our universe, in that the major astronomical components of our universe were not brought into existence by that being.  The being who took the raw materials provided by the frst being and organized that matter into stars, planets, solar systems, and galaxies, might, however, be justifiably called the “creator” of our universe.  

Or, possibly, neither of these beings would be accurately described by the term “the creator of the universe”, because they might both be considered “partially responsible” for the origin of our universe, in which case it seems misleading to call either being “the creator”.  In any case, the cause of the beginning of the universe need not be “the creator” of the universe, so we cannot legitimately infer (13) from (1b).

The first argument from Geisler’s Phase 1 fails to support premise (11b) in the first argument of Phase 2 of his case for God. There is clearly a logical gap between the conclusion of the first argument of Phase 1 and the premise (11b) of the first argument of Phase 2. The former argument FAILS to establish the truth of claim (13), and thus FAILS to provide support for premise (11b). What about claim (14)?  Does the second argument in Phase 1 of Geisler’s case show that claim (14) is true?  Let’s take a closer look at the second argument in Phase 1 of Geisler’s case (WSA, p.18-19):


ARGUMENT #2 OF PHASE 1

18. Finite, changing things exist.
19. Every finite, changing thing must be caused by something else.
20. There cannot be an infinite regress of these causes.
THEREFORE:
2. There is a first uncaused cause of every finite, changing thing that exists.
 
Here is my (partially) clarified version of this argument:
ARGUMENT #2 OF PHASE 1 – Rev. A
18a. Finite, changing things exist (right now).
19a. The current existence of every finite, changing thing that exists (right now) must be caused by something else that exists (right now).
20a. There cannot be an infinite regress of these causes (of current existence).
THEREFORE:
2a. There is a first uncaused cause that exists (right now) of the current existence of every finite, changing thing that exists (right now).
I have previously stated that the conclusion of this second argument in Phase 1 of Geisler’s case is ambiguous and has two different meanings.  But in fact, it has at least four different meanings, because there are two different ambiguities in the conclusion (2a).  
Here are the four different interpretations of the conclusion (2a):
2b. There is exactly one first uncaused cause that exists (right now) for the current existence of each finite, changing thing that exists (right now).
2c. There is exactly one first uncaused cause that exists (right now) for the current existence of all finite, changing things that exist (right now).
2d. There is at least one first uncaused cause that exists (right now) for the current existence of each finite, changing thing that exists (right now).
2e. There is at least one first uncaused cause that exists (right now) for the current existence of all finite, changing things that exist (right now).
The interpretations that speak of “exactly one” uncaused cause, should be rejected, because the argument cannot plausibly support such strong conclusions.  For premise (19a) to be plausible, it must leave open the possibility that two or more things could work together to cause the current existence of a finite, changing thing.  If one were to interpret (19a) as implying that there can only be exactly one being that is the uncaused cause of a particular finite, changing being that exists (right now), then (19a) should be rejected as an implausible claim, and thus this second argument should be rejected as well.  
The Argument #2 of Phase 1 only has a hope of being acceptable if we interpret (19a) as leaving open the possibility that two or more things or beings could work together to cause the current existence of a finite, changing thing.  Therefore, since the conclusions (2b) and (2c) do NOT logically follow from this argument, given that interpretation of (19a), we should reject interpretations (2b) and (2c).  
That leaves us with interpretations (2d) and (2e).   Interpretation (2e) should be rejected for the same sort of reason that we rejected interpretations (2b) and (2c), namely, that this would require an understanding of the meaning of (19a) that would make that premise implausible:
19b. The current existence of all finite, changing things that exist (right now) must be caused by at least one other thing or being that exists (right now).
This premise asserts that ALL of the trillions of trillions of bits of finite, changing matter that make up the universe (right now) are being caused to continue to exist by at least one thing or being.  But it is clearly conceivable and logically possible that SOME  of the trillions of bits of finite, changing matter that make up the universe (right now) are being caused to continue to exist by one thing, let’s call it “Thing 1” and that OTHER bits of finite, changing matter that make up the universe (right now) are being caused to continue to exist by some different thing, let’s call it “Thing 2”.  Geisler has given us no reason whatsoever to reject this scenario as logically impossible, and there is no obvious reason to think it is logically impossible, so we should reject (19b) as a dubious and probably false claim, and thus reject Argument #2 of Phase 1, if premise (19) is interpreted as meaning what is stated in (19b).  Thus, Argument #2 of Phase 1 cannot be used to provide solid support for conclusion (2e).  
That leaves us with just one possible interpretation of the conclusion: (2d).  Here is my best and final clarification of this argument:
ARGUMENT #2 OF PHASE 1 – Rev. B
18a. Finite, changing things exist (right now).
19c. The current existence of each finite, changing thing that exists (right now) must be caused by at least one other thing or being that exists (right now).
20a. There cannot be an infinite regress of these causes (of current existence).
THEREFORE:
2d. There is at least one first uncaused cause that exists (right now) for the current existence of each finite, changing thing that exists (right now).  
One could still object to (19c) as being in need of a supporting reason or argument, but it is at least a bit more plausible than the other interpretations of premise (19) that we have considered.  Given this interpretation of premise (19), the conclusion that is logically entailed by Argument #2 of Phase 1 leaves open the possibility that there are MANY (perhaps even trillions) of first uncaused causes of the current existence of the trillions of trillions of bits of finite, changing matter that make up the universe (right now).  Becuase conclusion (2d) FAILS to rule out this possibility, it also FAILS to provide proof of claim (14):
14. There is a being that sustains the existence of the whole universe by itself (right now).  
In conclusion, ARGUMENT #1 of Phase 1 FAILS to prove (13), and ARGUMENT #2 of Phase 1 FAILS to prove (14), so neither of these arguments help to prove premise (11a) of ARGUMENT #1 of Phase 2.  Therefore, there is a serious logical GAP between Geisler’s arguments in Phase 1, and a key controversial premise of a key argument in Phase 2 of Geisler’s case for the existence of God.  
Geisler believes that the first two arguments of Phase 1 support this key premise of the first argument of Phase 2, but he is wrong. Once we clarify the meanings of the premises and conclusions of these various arguments, it becomes obvious that Geisler’s case for the existence of God is logically invalid.  (2d) does NOT imply (14), and (1a) does NOT imply (13).  Geisler’s case for God thus rests on a questionable premise for which he has FAILED to provide a good reason or sound argument, namely premise (11a) in ARGUMENT #1 of Phase 2.
Part of Geislers Case for God
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
NOTE:
Premise (15) is a placeholder for one or more claims that when taken together show that a being that created the whole universe by itself (in the distant past) and a being that sustains the current existence of the whole universe by itself (right now) must be the same being.  Geisler does not give us any reason to believe these beings are the same being.  
Later on, he does argue that there can be only ONE being of infinite power and infinite knowledge, but that argument presupposes the truth of (11a) and (12a) and thus is of no help in proving the truth of (11a) at this earlier stage of his case.