Sunday, September 3, 2017

Thomism Can't Even Stay Consistent With Its Own Principles

I've been embroiled in several comment threads over at Strange Notions, a Catholic apologetic site, on a variety of issues related to metaphysical first principles and brute facts. There, I've tested out my argument that brute facts are unavoidable to the many Catholic apologists on the site, including Dr. Dennis Bonnette, a retired professor of philosophy who now teaches free classes at the Aquinas School of Philosophy, and is contributing author on the site.

As a reminder, that argument is:

  1. The traditional notion of god in classical theism is that of a timeless, changeless, immaterial mind, who also must be infinitely good, infinitely wise, and can do anything logically possible.
  2. All of god's will and desires must exist timelessly and eternally in an unchanging, frozen state.
  3. That would mean that god timelessly and eternally had the desire to create our particular universe, and not some other universe, or no universe.
  4. Our universe is not logically necessary; it didn't have to exist, and god didn't have to create it.
  5. The theist would have to show that it was logically necessary for god to create our particular universe in order to avoid eventually coming to a brute fact.
  6. There is no way to answer this question, even in principle, with something logically necessary.
  7. Thus at least one brute fact must exist even if god exists.

I think my argument is irrefutable, but I'm not so cocky that I'm unwilling to debate it. In fact, debating it is exactly what I need. I wish to put it up against the best minds in Thomism to see how they respond. And after a week of debating the argument back and forth with Dr. Bonnette, I basically got him to tacitly admit that god's eternal desire to create our particular universe, and not any other universe, or no universe, is a brute fact. He didn't acknowledge it's a brute fact of course, and he denied that it was, but he had to ground his explanation in circular reasoning.

First, one of the metaphysical first principles that Thomists like Dr. Bonnette argue cannot be denied is the principle of sufficient reason, which states that everything must have a reason, cause, or ground for its existence. Furthermore, this reason will either have to be contingent or necessary. That is, it's either going to be dependent on something else for its explanation, or its explanation will be contained within itself, meaning, it's logically necessary.

Dr. Bonnette's view is that god's substance is identical to his will. This means that a god with a different will is a god with a different substance, and in effect, is a different god. So god with eternal desire A is a different god than god with eternal desire B. For simplicity I said let's just call them god A and god B.

There is no logically necessary reason why god A exists, rather than god B, since both are logically possible and neither is logically impossible (assuming god is not incoherent). So Dr. Bonnette's metaphysics (if granted) only covers one aspect of this: that there needs to be a god. But it doesn't demonstrate why there needs to be god A vs god B, or any other god with a different eternal and unchanging will (which again, will be a different god).

Since there is no logically necessary reason why god A has to exist, the reason why god A exists and not god B/C/D/E... etc, cannot be based on a logically necessary reason. Hence his metaphysics fails to explain why we have the particular god we have. Given this, only non-necessary, contingent reasons can explain why. They will all necessarily be reasons that could have been otherwise, and ultimately when drilling down to why any particular answer explains a non-necessary aspect of god's will (and therefore his substance) he must terminate in a brute fact at some point since there is no logically necessary reason available to him.

A few comments later he says,

The reason why God A exists and not God B is because God A does exist and God B never did. God B was never a real possibility because the only God that exists is God A. You are again trying to go back in time and think of two possibilities. God is outside of time and there never was an actual possibility of any God but him.

The explanation in his first sentence isn't a logically necessary one, and so he's admitting god A is not logically necessary. And saying that god A exists simply because god A does, can be applied to the eternal universe: The reason why our eternal universe exists and not another eternal universe is because our eternal universe does exist and another eternal universe never did.

It makes the logical grounding of god A no more justified than the atheist's grounding for the universe. The Thomistic theist in this sense has no edge over the atheist.

The Thomist's god is contradictory

Another commenter going by the name of Richard Morley realizes the apparent contradiction in god's nature that the Thomists like Dr. Bonnette are failing to grapple with properly. Paraphrasing his comment, he makes an argument showing so:

(1) God's nature is necessary
(2) the choice to create this universe is part of God's nature
(3) the choice to create this particular universe is not necessary

So God's nature is both necessary and not necessary.

Since Thomists like Dr. Bonnette argue that god's will is identical to his substance, it's therefore identical to his essence. And since they claim god's essence is necessary, and yet it isn't necessary for god to will this particular universe, god's nature entails a contradiction for being both necessary and not necessary.

Dr. Bonnette responds to Morley's comment saying,

God is his own eternal choice to create this unique world. Just because he is the Necessary Being, that does not mean that he necessarily had to (note the human past tense) create this and only this world. Since he did, in fact, make this unique world, it follows that his eternal choice was to make this world. But being entirely free in his nature, his eternal free choice can be identical to his nature without that meaning that his nature was “forced” to make this world. 
You claim to drive your point home by saying,” If a different God, one whose nature involved not creating a universe or making flamingos blue, were possible instead of this one, any one particular God would not be necessary.” 
Now you are bewitching yourself with words. The “different” God you hypothesize as a logical alternative may sound like a logical alternative, but it is not an ontological alternative – which means it is not a real possibility. The one and only God that actually exists is the one whose free nature eternally chose to make this unique world. No other possible God has ever actually existed or even been actually possible to exist, since the one and only real God is eternally identified with the choice to make this particular creation – even if your bewitching logic hypothesizes a "different" God. You logic is invalid, since your logical possibility is not a real one.

But the whole point is that the Thomist cannot continually assert that god is the necessary being if his nature entails a contradiction of both necessary and non-necessary properties. And Dr. Bonnette's comment does nothing to absolve him from the contradiction. In fact, he just reasserts that "God is his own sufficient reason" while ignoring the contradiction that shows god isn't.

First, a god whose will could not have been different ontologically speaking has no free will. It makes no sense to say a will is "free" if there isn't an actual ontological possibility of it having been different. If all of your choices had zero ontological possibility of being different, you don't have free will. 

Second, since it is not logically necessary for god to have eternally willed A rather than B, or anything else, the principle of sufficient reason requires that it's existence be explained by something contingent (which will lead to either an infinite regress of contingent explanations) or something else that is logically necessary. And since the logically necessary option is not available to the Thomist, the only two realistic options are an infinite regress of contingent explanations, or a brute fact. See the flow chart below.


Asserting that god's will is free is not only false, but even if it was free, it still wouldn't get Thomists out of the dilemma. His will will either have to be explained by necessity, or something contingent. Since necessity is not an option, you only have contingency, and contingency will lead you to only two options: either an infinite regress of contingent explanations or a brute fact. To avoid denying the principle of sufficient reason the theist must choose the infinite regress option. That is his only available option.

Of course, all the Thomists over at Strange Notions are in denial. Getting this through to them is harder than convincing a climate change denier that the earth is getting warmer. I hope through persistence, some of them will be honest and realize there's a problem with their philosophy. But doing so will shatter their metaphysical first principles that their whole justification for god and worldview rests on, and the magnitude of this is enough to ensure many of them will continually deny it.

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