The Aristotelian Argument for the Existence of God

Change is inevitable, and there are many examples all around us. A cup of coffee becomes colder, and a leaf falls from the tree outside a window. As the rain continues, the puddle gets bigger. When we smack a fly, it dies. These examples demonstrate four types of change: qualitative change (the coffee cools down); location change (the leaf falls from the tree); quantitative change (the puddle expands in size); and substantial change (the fly dies – a living thing gives way to dead matter). Our sensory experience of the world outside our mind demonstrates that such alterations occur.

However, suppose our sensations are deceptive. Assume that our whole existence has been a continuous dream or hallucination of the kind Descartes described in his ‘Meditations‘ portrayed in science fiction films such as The Matrix. Even in this unlikely situation, there would be little question that change happens. We have one experience followed by another. We ponder whether we are dreaming or hallucinating, then reject the notion as too trivial to deal with, only to discover that the arguments in Descartes continue to annoy us and make us question if they may have any validity after all. That is a kind of transformation—a transformation of our ideas and experiences.


However, might even such modifications be an illusion? After all, the Greek philosopher Parmenides famously said that if we thoroughly examine what every change would entail, we would discover that it is impossible. Consider our coffee once again, which begins hot and becomes cold after sitting on our desk for a long time. We might argue that the coolness of the coffee, which does not exist while it is hot, manifests itself. However, as Parmenides points out, we now have a dilemma. For if the coffee’s coolness was initially non-existent, it was nothing; but when it manifests itself, it becomes something. However, nothing can arise from nothing. As a result, the coldness of the coffee cannot exist, and therefore the coffee cannot get cold. The same argument, made for every alleged instance of change—all of them would need something to emerge from nothing, which is impossible. As a result, Parmenides concludes, genuine transformation can never occur.

Perhaps we believe this reasoning is questionable, and we would be correct. One issue is that no one could reasonably accept it logically. Consider attempting to persuade someone, even if it is just ourselves, that change is an illusion—whether via Parmenides’ or another argument. We go through each stage until either we or our audience is persuaded. Nevertheless, the fact that our mind entertains each premise in turn and eventually reaches a conclusion is an example of the transformation the argument rejects. Casting doubt on whether or not change happens presupposes that it does. There is an additional flaw in Parmenides’ reasoning. As the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle pointed out, it is a fallacy to believe that change requires the emergence of anything. Return to the coffee. While the coffee is hot, the cold is not present. Nonetheless, it is there in a manner that other qualities are not. After all, the coffee does not possess the ability to power a gasoline engine, nor does it possess the ability to transform into chicken soup, nor does it possess the ability to morph into a five-headed fowl and begin squawking. However, it can become chilly and have various other properties—to increase our alertness if we drink it, stain the floor if we drop it, and so on. The fact that it can become cold despite the absence of specific other potentials indicates that the coldness is not insignificant, even if it is not yet real.

Thus, Aristotle views change as the actualization of a potential. After being out for a time, the coffee has the potential to turn chilly. However, this is not an instance of anything emerging from nothing — which, as Aristotle acknowledges, is impossible — since, as previously said, a possibility is not anything. As a result, change happens. Daily experience demonstrates that it happens, and a little philosophical thought confirms this conclusion and clarifies what change entails. However, how does transformation take place? That, of course, is conditional on the change. The coffee becoming cold is not like a leaf dropping, a puddle increasing in size, or a swatting fly. Regardless matter the kind of change in issue, something or someone will bring it about. Change requires a change agent. We see examples everywhere in our daily lives. The cold air in the room helps bring the coffee’s temperature down. With a flick of the wrist, the flyswatter is brought down on the fly.

However, the notion that change requires a change agent is not simply a generalization based on these examples. Therefore, this is consistent with the definition of change as the actualization of a potential. Although the coffee is still hot, its coolness is not insignificant since it is present in the coffee that other characteristics are not. However, it is still present in theory and not in practice; otherwise, the coffee would be cold already, even if it is hot, which it is not. New potential coldness is unable to accomplish much precisely because it is potential. Only what is real is capable of action. In particular, the coffee’s potential for coolness cannot materialize. That can only be accomplished by something already present—the coldness of the surrounding air, or maybe some ice cubes dropped into the coffee. In general, only anything that is already real may actualize a mere possibility. In that sense, every change necessitates the presence of a changer of some kind.

Thus, change happens, and all changes need a cause; alternatively, to put it less colloquially but more accurately, specific potentials are actualized, and when they are, they must be actualized by something already actual. Now observe that often, what is true of the object being altered is also true of the object altering it. The room’s chilly air keeps the coffee cold. However, the coolness of the air was just potential until the air conditioner activated it. With a flick of our wrist, the flyswatter comes down forcefully, killing the fly. However, the flick of our wrist was simply prospective until specific motor neurons were activated. Henceforth, anything producing a change is experiencing a change of its own, and when this is the case, the resulting change will also need a changer. Or, once again, to put things less colloquially but more precisely, sometimes when a potential is being actualized, what actualizes it is itself something which has gone from potential to actual; when that is the case, there must have been some further thing which made that happened.

Hence, we are not stating that anything that produces change must also experience change. That is not consistent with what has been stated so far, and as we shall discover, it is not accurate. The idea is that if anything that produces a change is itself changing, then that change needs its changer. As a result, we sometimes have a sequence of changes, and things shift. The coffee was made cold by the coolness in the surrounding air, produced by the air conditioner switching on when the appropriate button was pushed. Therefore, the fly was killed by the impact of the flyswatter, which was triggered by our flick of the wrist, which was triggered by the activation of specific motor neurons, which was triggered by our irritation with the fly buzzing about the room. One possibility was realized by another, which was realized by another, which was realized by another, which was realized by still another.
Thus far, everything of this has been common sense augmented by some semi-technical language. However, the jargon will assist us in moving beyond common sense—not to oppose it but to pursue its implications. Consider next that sequences of changes of the kind described above usually stretch backward in time in a linear manner. The coffee is cold because the room’s air conditioner chilled it, the air conditioner was chilly because we pushed a particular button, and so on. Now, for argument, let us assume that this sequence continues indefinitely into the past, without starting. We pushed the button, our desire to cool down the room prompted that action, the impact of the room’s heat on our skin prompted that action, the sun produced that heat, and so forth without any temporally initial member of this sequence of changes.

In produced that heat, and so forth, without any temporally initiating member of this sequence of modifications and changes. We are assuming that the material world has always existed and has permanently changed. That is what Aristotle believed.
It is often assumed that the Big Bang hypothesis imploded or that our world split off from another parallel universe. Additionally, it is sometimes argued that the series of such previous worlds are endless, implying that even if our particular universe began, the series as a whole did not. Therefore, this is all very questionable, but whether or not it is accurate is irrelevant for our purposes. Again, for argument, let us assume that the cosmos, or a “multiverse” that includes our world and other universes, had no origin but has always been. Even while such a linear series of changes and changers may theoretically stretch indefinitely backward without a first member, there is another kind of series—let us call it the hierarchical type—that must have a first member. Remember that we were thinking of a linear series stretching backward in time—the coffee became cold because the room was chilly, the room was cool because we had turned on the air conditioner to avoid the heat, the heat was produced by the sun, and so on. To comprehend, what a hierarchical series is, it is helpful to consider what could exist at a particular point in time. Therefore, this is not required for a hierarchical series, but it effectively explains the concept.

Therefore, examine the coffee cup while it rests on our desk once again. It is about three feet above the floor. Why? Naturally, since the desk is supporting it. However, what supports the desk? Naturally, the floor. The floor, in turn, is supported by the house’s foundation, which is in turn supported by the ground. Unlike the coffee, which is cooled by surrounding air, which is chilled by the air conditioner, and so on, this is not a sequence that must be conceived of in terms of temporal progression. Of course, the cup may have sat on the desk for hours. However, even if we examine the cup as it sits at a specific instant, it is sitting there only because the desk is supporting it at that moment, and the desk is supporting it at that moment only because the floor is supporting it at that exact moment. When we consider the light over our head, which is suspended by a chain, which is itself suspended by the fixture put into the ceiling, these are referred, as a hierarchical sequence of causes; tracking down to the ground as the first example, and upward to the ceiling in the second.

Now, since each of these hierarchical series exists at a certain point in time rather than over minutes or hours, it may seem strange to conceive them as involving change. However, examining the nature of change prompted us to introduce the concept of actualizing a potential, which each series accomplishes. The desk actualizes the cup’s potential to be three feet above the ground, and the floor actualizes the desk’s ability to hold the cup aloft, and so forth. Similarly, the chain actualizes the light’s potential to be seven feet above the ground, and the fixture put into the ceiling actualizes the chain’s ability to keep the lamp aloft.

However, what makes these series hierarchical in the essential sense is not that they are concurrent but that the later members are dependent on the earlier ones. The cup cannot be three feet above the ground on its own; it will only be three feet above the ground if something else supports it, such as the desk. However, the desk cannot keep the cup in place on its own. The desk, too, would collapse to the ground unless the floor supported it, and the floor, in turn, can support the desk only because it is supported by the house’s foundation, which is supported by the soil. Similarly, the light can hang seven feet above the ground only because of the chain, which is kept up by the fixture and the fixture by the ceiling. On the other hand, the ceiling can support the fixture only because it is supported by the walls, which are likewise supported by the foundation, which is supported by the ground. Thus, one might argue that the ground supports both the cup and the light, although via these intermediates. Except since they draw their strength from the ground, the desk, chain, walls, and floor cannot support anything. In that regard, they resemble instruments. Just as it is not the brush that paints the image but the painter who employs the brush as an instrument that paints it, the earth supports the cup and light, with the floor, walls, desk, chair, and acting as its instruments.

What therefore distinguishes a hierarchical sequence of causes is the instrumental or derived nature of the subsequent members of the series. The desk will support the cup only as long as the desk is itself supported by the floor. If the floor falls, the desk will collapse along with it, and the cup will fall. A linear series’s members are not like that. The air conditioner is on as a result of your activation. Even if we leave home or die, the air conditioner will continue to chill the space. This distinction explains why a hierarchical series of causes must include a beginning member while a linear series does not. However, it is critical to grasp what “first” implies in this situation. As previously stated, the concept of hierarchical series is best introduced by considering a sequence whose components exist in unison at a single point in time, such as the cup supported by the desk that is supported by the floor. Thus, such a series must have a starting member, and it is not asserted that the series must be traced back to some time in the past (at the Big Bang, say). Rather than that, the concept is as follows. Because the desk, the floor, and the foundation cannot keep the cup aloft on their own, the series could not exist unless something could hold up these intermediates and the cup via them without needing to be held up. We might argue that if the desk, floor, and walls all function as instruments of some kind, there must be something whose instruments they are. Or, to put it another way, if they have merely derivative power to hold things up, they must derive it from something, something that does not need to derive it from anything else in turn but has it “built-in.” Thus, the kind of “first” cause that a hierarchical series must possess can produce its consequences in a wow derivative and non-instrumental manner. In the instance of the cup, where the desk keeps it up only on the strength of the floor, and the floor on the strength of the foundation, none of these things could hold anything up unless something held them up without needing to be held up.

It was proposed that we consider the earth as the “first” cause in this sequence since it supports the floor, walls, desk, cup, and light, but nothing supports the earth itself. Indeed, even the planet is not a “primary” cause in the strictest sense, but we will return to that point. For the time being, the point to emphasize is that it is the fact that something possesses non-derived causal power—that it is capable of actualizing a potential without itself having to be actualized—that qualifies something as a “first” cause in a sense relevant to comprehending a hierarchical series of causes. As previously said, being “first” in a temporal sense, in the sense of arriving at some starting point in time, is irrelevant. However, even the concept of a finitely long sequence of causes is not necessary for the concept of a hierarchical causal chain. Hence, a paintbrush cannot move and would stay so even if its handle were endlessly long. Thus, even if an indefinitely long brush handle exists, if it is to move, something external to it must possess the “built-in” ability to force it to move. A desk has no inherent ability to support the cup, and therefore an endless sequence of desks, if such a thing exists, would be just as impotent to do so as a single desk. Thus, even if such a series existed, something external to it would have to provide it with the ability to support the cup. When we state that a hierarchical sequence of causes must have a first member, we do not mean “first” in the conventional sense of preceding the second, third, fourth, and fifth. We mean that it is the first cause because it has inherent or built-in causal power, while the others do not. The fact that they possess only derivative causal power renders the other members secondary rather than main.

Allow us to stop for a moment of reflection since things have become rather vague. We began by observing that there can be no question that change happens and that change only occurs when objects possess actualize potentials. Additionally, we observed that every change needs a changer because anytime a potential is actualized, it must be actualized by something already actual. After establishing this difference between potential and real, we distinguished two types of series in which another actualizes one potential. The first kind, which we refer to as a linear series, is what most people envision when they think about change. Coffee was chilled by the room’s surrounding air, which was cooled by the air conditioner, which was switched on due to us pressing a particular button, and so forth. Each member of this kind of series has its causal power. After switching on the air conditioner, it may continue to chill the room even if we leave the room. Even when the air conditioner is switched off, the air will stay cold and therefore maintain the ability to cool the coffee. What we referred to as a hierarchical sequence of causes is very distinct. Every cause saves the first has causal power solely in a derivative manner. Thus, the desk, floor, and foundation all cannot lift the coffee cup except to the extent that they draw it from the soil upon which this whole series is built. Therefore, this goes beyond what we normally consider change since we consider the sequence of the cup, desk, floor, foundation, and earth to be simultaneous. However, what is essential is that we still have the concept of actualization of potentials, which was established to help make sense of change. The desk actualizes the cup’s potential to be three feet above the ground, and the floor actualizes the desk’s ability to hold the cup aloft, and so forth. This second hierarchical series interests us since it is even more essential to reality than the other linear type.

To be accurate, the linear kind of series is initially simpler for us to recognize and comprehend since the types of change it entails are known to us from daily experience. By contrast, teaching the concept of a hierarchical sequence requires us to abstract the concept of actualizing a potential from this daily experience and then apply it to a situation in which the passage of time is irrelevant. However, once this is accomplished, we can observe that any series of the linear sort implies a series of the hierarchical kind. We can see that to comprehend the changes we see in daily life—coffee becoming cold, a fly being swatted, and so on—we must first grasp how hierarchical series trackback to their initial causes. Indeed, to a single initial cause.
How is this so? Return our attention to the cup of coffee. It can only become cold or be supported by the desk if it exists; non-existent coffee cannot do either, or indeed anything else. Now, what justifies coffee’s existence? It was produced by pouring hot water over coffee grounds, but that is not the point of our inquiry. That is, what establishes that coffee occurs here and now and at any specific moment? What sustains its existence?

For one thing, coffee will remain only as long as the water that makes up most of it does, so let us examine that. What maintains the presence of water at any given time? After all, given the chemistry of water, the stuff that composes it might alternatively exist as separate amounts of oxygen and hydrogen. However, it is not that potential that is being realized at the moment; instead, it is the matter’s potential to exist as water that is being realized. Why? It is irrelevant to respond that such-and-such a procedure happened in the past to precisely mix hydrogen and oxygen. That explains how the water got here, but that is not the point of our inquiry. It is likewise pointless to remind out that no technology exists to separate hydrogen and oxygen. That explains how the water could eventually vanish, but that is not what we are asking. Again, what we are enquiring about is what maintains the presence of water at any given moment. We might argue that it has to do with chemical bonding between atoms, but it simply rephrases the issue rather than explaining it. For atoms can be linked in other ways, but they are not. It is their capacity to be linked in such a manner that water results are realized. Once again, why? On the other hand, appealing to the atomic structure does not resolve the issue but rather puts it back a step. Why are the subatomic particles united in the manner they are today rather than in another manner? What is it that brings one potential to fruition rather than another?

As we may have observed, what we have here is akin to the cup supported by the desk, which is supported by the floor. Only in this instance, it is the thing’s fundamental existence that is at stake, not its specific position. The coffee’s potential to exist in the present is partially actualized by water, which exists only due to a specific potential of the atoms actualized. The atoms themselves exist only as a result of a specific potential of the subatomic particles being actualized. Therefore, this is a hierarchical series—one that, as previously stated, must begin with a single member. Additionally, we have seen that what it means for such a series to have a first member is that there is something that can impart causal power to the other members of the series without requiring that power to be imparted to it—something that possesses causal power in a “built-in” or nonderivative manner. Now, since what is described in this instance is the actualization of a thing’s potential for existence, the kind of “first” cause we are discussing can actualize other things’ potential without requiring anything to realize its existence.

Therefore, this means that this cause does not have any inherent potential for existence that requires actualization in the first place. As it were, it is simply tangible, constantly, and already actual. Indeed, we might argue that it does not possess reality in the same sense that the objects it actualizes possess actually, but that it is pure actuality in and of itself. It is not just that it lacks a self-contained cause, but it could not have had or required one in principle. Due to its lack of potentiality, it contains nothing that might have required actualization in how other things do. Therefore, this is what an uncaused cause is, or, to borrow Aristotle’s famous phrase, an Unmoved Mover. To be more exact, we might refer to it as an unactualized actualizer. Please note, this conclusion starts with commonplace individual items and processes, such as a coffee cup and the cooling of the coffee contained inside. We cannot begin inquiring about the origins of the universe as a whole, and we do not need to begin with any assertion about the universe to arrive at an unactualized actualizer. However, what we have stated has ramifications for the whole universe. The water in the coffee is also true of every other material object—the leaf that fell from the tree, the insect we swatted. Each material object is constructed so that it may exist at any point in time only if specific potentials are realized. Thus, like the water in coffee, it is ultimately such that it can exist since it is made to exist by an unactualized actualizer.

As previously said, we arrived at this conclusion by considering daily occurrences. However, things have become more abstract, so let us quickly retrace our ways. We began with the observation that change happens and demonstrated that this could not be rejected logically. We then observed that change could occur if the changing objects had actualized potentials—the potential to be cooled, increase in size—because change is just the actualization of a potential. Furthermore, we saw that change necessitates a changer in the same way that a prospective can only be actualized by something already actual. Therefore, observing on the one hand, sequence of changes of linear nature; shown by the coffee which was air-cooled, chilled by the air conditioner, activated when a button pushed. Such a series
does not need a founding member. However, we observed that another kind of series exists when one potential is actualized by another, which in turn is actualized by another, and in which a first member is required. In this hierarchical arrangement of series, the first component is “first” because it can create other events without being caused. It has fundamental, inherent, or “built-in” causal power, while the other members of the series possess only secondary, derivative causal power.

Following that, we observed that linear series of change are less basic than hierarchical series. For things can change, if they exist—coffee, for example, cannot get cold unless it exists—and for anything to exist at any given time, it must be actualized at that moment, at least if it is the kind of object that can exist or not exist. Therefore, this, in turn, is conceivable only if there is a cause of a thing’s existence that is capable of actualizing its potential for existence without itself being actualized—a purely actual actualized of the thing’s existence.

Furthermore, we saw that this result is generalizable because whatever is true of the coffee in our case is also true of any other material object. As a result of the fact that change happens, we may deduce an unactualized actualizer or Unmoved Mover.

Categories: atheism, Behold The Man, christianity, english

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