Sunday, July 01, 2007

Secularism's growing cloud - refuting secularist arguments - Part II

As I said in my last post I'll be looking at a snippet from Dawkins on Thomas Aquinas.

I think it's important that we engage to some degree with critics such as Dawkins and not merely dismiss it, noting as we do that he would struggle to pass philosophy 101 however arguable that is. In any case, as mentioned in the comments by one of my co-bloggers, secularism is the fastest growing "religion" in Australia. Of course this actually represents the growth of irreligion. As people become increasingly irreligious it is possible that they will turn to the more militant secularists such as Dawkins to provide a justification for their lifestyle. Only possible however. I would not put it past a great many to not even care that much. I'm mostly going by the fact that a great many copies of his book have been sold leading people to read and be willingly convinced by its contents.

Dawkins' summary of the first way which he subsequently attempts to "refute" is "Whatever moves has a prior mover." At this point we know one thing, which is that, whatever Dawkins follows this with, he will not be refuting the first way as it is stated in the Summa. He will be refuting something else for the simple reason that this is a completely botched presentation of the argument. Without wanting to get Dawkins off the hook I have to admit that this is actually a common mistaken presentation of this argument and even theists make it from time to time.

A note on the first way before we continue to look at exactly what has been mucked up. Modern ears are generally not attuned to this argument which is commonly called the argument from motion. Motion to us generally means locomotion. In the first way it is means any kind of movement from potency to act. It is in fact what might be better called the argument from change. Personally it's one of my favorites so I am always on the look out for how people present it.

Back to Dawkins: the argument is not "Whatever moves has a prior mover." It is rather "whatever undergoes motion is moved by another" or "whatever is moved is moved by another." There is a crucial difference between the two. I don't intend to provide in this post a full presentation of the argument. However it would be wrong from the point of view of the argument to assert that whatever moves needs a prior mover. The first mover, God, moves after all, yet we do not say that He has a prior mover. That is to say, He moves, puts into motion, something else. What is important to the argument is that He does not himself undergo motion. For anything that undergoes motion (is moved not just moves) is in a state of progression from potency to act. Given that something isn't what it is yet to become (1) it needs some sort of "outside help" to "lift it" from one state to the other.

So in summary it is not that which moves that has need of a prior mover but whatever undergoes motion.

Dawkins also has issues related to infinite regresses but I think I will examine that topic in its own right and in general, not necessarily as related to Dawkins although it will help answer him.

One other objection I'll mention here that Dawkins makes. He asks whether, given God is omniscient (knows all things), can he in his omnipotence change his mind? That is, does he have the power to change his mind? If he can't change his mind does that not limit his almighty status? Of course this is simply the old "can God make a rock so heavy that he can't lift it" question dressed up differently. The ability to change one's mind is not a strength but a weakness. It is really no power at all. An omniscient being that could change it's mind is as much a contradiction as a square circle (or a rock an almighty being cannot lift for that matter). Omnipotence is the power to do all things. A contradiction is not a thing but a nothing. The terms cancel one another out. Remember: nothing is impossible to God - literally.

(1) This is simply a rephrasing of the "golden rule". The principle of non-contradiction which can be stated in a variety of ways. It is the main self evident premise on which the argument rests.

Next post: answering an atheistic article that appeared some time ago in the national daily The Australian

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