Fifth in a series of essays on the existence/
Contributing Editor Susan Humphreys.
An alternative view of Fester's
Rationalist Case for God in his book:
"Five Proofs of the Existence of God."
This argument starts with the position that everything has a reason for its existence. Feser calls this the principle of sufficient reason or "PSR." He then goes on to claim that there is a difference between the principle of causality and this principle of sufficient reason.
One difference between the two principles is that a cause must be distinct from its effect. Then he says “there need not be a distinction between a sufficient reason and that for which it is a sufficient reason.” The qualifier in the sentence “need not be” is important to consider.
A cause can’t be the cause of itself so this is why he claims a cause must be distinct from its effect. He says, “The principle of causality does not entail that everything has a cause, PSR does entail that everything has a sufficient reason.”
So how do we determine what is or is not a sufficient reason! He never tells us. He gives a few examples to illustrate his point but none get down to the real “meat” of the issue. One example is you might find a pair of sunglasses in your house that don’t belong to anyone in the house and with
a few questions you are able to determine that they belong to a visitor to your house.
I can give hundreds of other trivial examples: you are walking down a trail in the woods and you trip. If you turn around and look back you see the twig that you tripped over. When a pot boils over on my stove you can realize that it happened because you took a phone call instead of paying attention to what you have cooking on the stove.
When you start looking at more complex questions—global warming, storms, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, the existence of the Universe it gets more difficult to discern what is a superficial or secondary effect/reason and what is really the sufficient reason or cause or what is
just an influence and neither cause or sufficient reason.
Is God a sufficient reason to explain why things exist? Feser thinks so. In the outline he gives for his argument the first seven lead to the conclusion in eight that the principle of sufficient reason is true. Everything has a sufficient reason. Line 9-13 address the difference between contingent things and necessary things and concludes with line 14:
“But that there are any contingent things at all must have some explanation, given PSR; and the only remaining explanation is in terms of a necessary being as cause.”
Here he does what I call a bait and switch. He starts talking about “things” and ends with the conclusion that “a necessary being” is the cause. You can’t go from “things” to “a being” without some explanation for how you get there.
The word “being” is used in two different ways in a philosophical discussion. One way uses the word as a verb and it means the action of existing. When that little “a” is placed in front of the word the word changes to a noun and refers to a specific type of thing, a living entity of some
sort. We don’t call a rock (inanimate object) “a being” we call it “a thing”. We call animate objects “a being” . Even here we don’t call a dog “a being”, though it is an animate object. We use “a being” to refer to a specific type of animate object, human beings.
The “a” in “a being” shows that you are referring to something different from “thing”, and implies that it is a living entity of some sort and more specifically a humanoid type entity.
The PSR for things may be and probably is another THING not a being. Such a thing just might be and probably are those sub-atomic particles that Physicists have identified that are the building blocks of all matter and the Universe. Those sub-atomic particles are sufficient to
explain how everything else forms. They have no self-awareness, no conscience, no will, none of the attributes that Feser says his God must have to exist.
Feser does this bait and switch with each of the other arguments. He makes an argument for a THING and then switches to claiming this thing is a being, we call God.
For example: In the first of the arguments, in lines 15 to 47 he argues for the characteristics of the purely actual actualizer (AA). The first characteristics obviously apply to things: there is one: it is immutable or incapable of change, eternal existing outside of time, is immaterial, is
incorporeal, perfect. None of the above characteristics imply self-awareness, will, intent. They can describe something purely mechanical such as those subatomic particles Physicists have identified.
In line 30 he switches to characteristics that we associate with living entities, not things. The purely actual actualizer is fully good. Goodness is a characteristic that requires a degree of awareness, of self and of other entities and of things. Goodness requires judgment. Things don’t make judgments, they are mechanical, living entities make judgments.
In the next 3 lines he is back to describing a characteristic that applies to mechanical things,
such as sub-atomic particles as well as living entities—all power derives from the AA.
Then back to living entity characteristics, omnipotent that people naturally associate with God, since they have heard from child that God is omnipotent.
Then back to cause of all things which can refer to a thing and to a living entity.
Then to intellect or intelligence which obviously rules out things. Feser states that things exist in the thoughts they don’t exist as random chance, or as mechanical consequence (such as something that is programmed to perform in one way). Obviously only a living entity of some
sort would have thoughts.
The last three lines are that the AA is omniscient. Feser has gone from listing characteristics that can apply to things to inserting characteristics that apply to a living entity with consciousness, self-awareness, etc. These particular characteristics are not possible or necessary for the mechanical AA but they are necessary IF the AA is a living entity!
Feser does the same thing with the Neo-Platonic argument the Augustinian argument and in the Thomistic argument going from some thing that is Subsistence Existent Itself to this some
thing being a living being, God.
Those sub-atomic particles fulfill all the necessary requirements of an Actual Actualizer, simple and non-composite, sufficient reason, unchanged changer, first cause that is itself uncaused because as Feser argues you can’t have an infinite regress of causes. The “buck” as they say has
to stop somewhere!
They have no need of omnipotence, omniscience, good, intellect or intelligence. They simply are what they are the building blocks of the Universe and do the only thing they can do, join up with other particles to form nuclei and then atoms, empowering the Universe and all that we can
see, touch, hear, smell and taste.
The following information source was used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlink is not necessarily still active today.
- 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.
Originally posted: 2018-JUN-04
Author: Contributing Editor Susan Humphreys