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Second in a series of essays on the
existence/non-existence of God
donated by Contributing Editor
Susan Humphreys.

An alternative view of Edward Fester's
Neo-Platonic Case for God in his book:
"Five Proofs of the Existence of God."

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The second argument in Feser’s book "Five Proofs of the Existence of God" 1 is the Neo-Platonic proof. It is also called the argument of the First Cause.

This argument also ignores the reality of the world: the problem of Theodicy that I mentioned about his earlier Aristotelian argument. The characteristics that Theists ascribe to God create the problem of Theodicy.

There are also problems with assumptions and logic. But here I will focus on another problem: what is meant by "simple and noncomposite."

Wikipedia, in an article titled "Five Ways (Acquinas)," 2 lays out the argument in a simpler, easier to grasp manner than Feser does in his book. The Wikipedia article states:

"In the world we can see that things are caused. But it is not possible for something to be the cause of itself, because this would entail that it exists prior to itself, which is a contradiction. If that by which it is caused is itself caused, then it too must have a cause. But this cannot be an infinitely long chain, so therefore there must be a cause which is not itself caused by anything further. This everyone understands to be God."

The main problem encountered with this argument is that the conclusion doesn’t lead to a conception of God with the characteristics that Theists want God to possess. Such characteristics were defined by Feser in his earlier argument: God is perfect, fully good, all powerful and all power derives from it, omnipotent, has intellect or intelligence, is omniscient.

In line 8 of his diagram of the argument he states:

"Only something absolutely simple or noncomposite could be the first member of such a series." The first cause.

That "something simple or noncomposite" could be the subatomic particles identified by Physicists that have neither will, intent, intellect, omniscience, or omnipotence. Their only power is the ability to join with other particles to form all those atomic elements of the Table of Elements we learned about in High School Science class that form all matter.

In lines 9-12 Feser argues there can be only One simple and noncomposite cause and concludes: " So, no absolutely simple or noncomposite cause can have such differentiating feature."

In the rest of the argument he goes on to describe the differentiating features of his first cause, God.

  • Line 35: "A purely actual cause must be perfect, omnipotent, fully good and omniscient."

  • Line 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."

In the larger discussion of the argument (p. 77) he does try to claim that these aren’t differentiating features, they are different attributes of the One!

He attempts to address the question/objection:

"For aren’t omnipotence, intellect and the like different attributes, and thus different parts of the One?"

He goes on to say:

"The intellect, omnipotence, eternity, immateriality, and so forth of the One are really all one and the same thing, just conceived of or described in different ways."  

Now omniscience and omnipotence are not one and the same thing. One thing may hold both of those attributes, but the terms refer to different abilities, not to identical abilities!

And it is clear that he is indeed trying to use these "attributes" to differentiate between his God with these features and the subatomic particles of the Physicists that lack these features!

The argument hinges on what is meant by "simple and noncomposite"! It seems to me that something "simple and noncomposite" would have either one feature/attribute or no features/attributes.

I think that early Islamic scholars/theologians realized this dilemma and came up with the idea that Allah has only one attribute: pure Will! Though, there is nothing simple about that attribute!

The "no features/attributes understanding" of the words "simple" and "noncomposite" point to those subatomic particles that the Physicists have identified, not to the God Feser is trying to prove exists.

References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. book cover Edward Feser, "Five Proofs of the Existence of God," Ignatius Press (2017). Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store Available in the U.S.: in Kindle format for $11.78, and in Paperback for $14.22.
  2. "Five Ways (Aquinas)," Wikipedia, as on 2018-APR-18, at: https://en.wikipedia.org/

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Originally posted: 2018-MAY-08
Author: Contributing Editor Susan Humphreys

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