In this article, we want to present in an accessible way the proof for the existence of God formulated by philosopher Ed Feser in his new book “Five proofs for the existence of God”. We will briefly show that a composite reality has to find its conditions of existence in an ultimate non-composite reality.
In “part 2” of the article we will show how the reasonings present here in “part 1” will lead us into seeing how this ultimate reality possesses the attributes of the theistic God. Because the nature of this article is popular and not academic we ask the reader to realize that it is not our intention to treat comprehensively the subject.
This proof is rooted in the insights of the philosopher Plotinus which developed the natural theology of his predecessor Plato and lays upon the premise that “everything which is composite has a cause” (which points to the fact that the ultimate cause that accounts for the composite thing is non-composite).
Observation shows us that things are composite, that is, made of parts. A composite thing, that is a “whole” is “subordinated” by its parts in the sense that without them and without their correct assemblance it wouldn’t exist (es. a phone would stop to be a phone if its parts were displayed in a fundamentally different way). We could say that the existence of the whole is conditioned by the parts. Being conditioned by the parts doesn’t necessarily depend on the fact that once in time the whole didn’t exist because the parts weren’t properly combined or didn’t exist. Even if the parts were eternally assembled in the whole, the whole would be ontologically (i.e. existentially) conditioned by the parts. Such status of dependence of the whole brings Ed Feser to state “At any particular moment, a composite thing’s existence will presuppose that its parts exist and are put together in the right way at that moment” (Edward Feser, Five Proofs of the Existence of God, Kindle Locations 1082-1083, Kindle Edition).
Given this state of dependence lets now see how we can account for the existence of this conditioned whole. Here we are looking for the sustaining cause of the whole, that is, what explains the current state of the whole in its parts at this moment. The whole itself cannot explain itself (that is, cannot explain why its parts are assembled in such a way that the specific whole is formed) for two reasons:
a) the explanation lacks explanatory power: it would entail that the existence of the parts and their assemblance are explained by the existence of the whole, and the existence of the whole is explained by the existence and arrangement of the parts. This circular account of causality amounts to no causality, so clearly the whole doesn’t explain itself.
b) the explanation is contradicted by observation: we see that it is not the whole that explains the existence and arrangement of the part as a whole but rather other things like even more fundamental parts. For example, the parts of a phone are assembled in such a way and remain that way because of certain screws. The screw themselves are such because of the existence and arrangement of the molecules which compose the parts, such molecules found their existence on the existence of atoms and their arrangement. The existence of the whole is then conditioned by other external factors. The existence of the phone, for example, depends on the fact that the temperature of the space in which the phone is situated will not melt the phone hence making it lose the status of phone.
Hence a series of combined elements lays the foundation for the conditions of existence of the whole. As we just saw we can conclude that a composite thing is continuously kept into existence by its conditions of existence (such as other composite structures). That is to say that the phone is a phone at this moment because the glue is keeping its parts attached in a specific position. The glue is fulfilling its purpose because certain molecules are made and disposed in a certain way etc.
We can therefore state, as anticipated at the beginning of the article that “everything which is composite has a cause“.
There can be other composite things which explain why the object in question is in its current state of existence, but these things themselves would require an explanation for their “current state of existence”. A series of composite causes wouldn’t explain the actual state of existence of the final object which is trying to be explained if such series were not grounded in something which doesn’t itself have to derive its existence from something else. A series of only composite causes can be in fact infinite or finite, if the series of composite causes is finite, the last cause of the series would be a composite cause which is uncaused (otherwise it wouldn’t be the last), but that would contradict the premise that every composite thing has a cause. If the series of non-composite causes were infinite there wouldn’t be anything by which existence is truly derived. It would be like a series of infinite books one of top of the other standing in the air. Without something by which stableness is truly and ultimately derived all the books would fall. Hence, even if the series were infinite there would have to be something outside that infinite series by which that infinite series could derive its existence.
In conclusion, there has to be an ultimate cause which does not derive its existence (and that cause has to be a non-composite being).
Hence the ultimate cause of a composite being is an uncaused cause which is non-composite, that is, absolutely simple.
In the second part we will see how an absolutely simple cause possesses the attributes of the Christian God.
1) This argument can be futher strengthened if different metaphysical systems are shown to be true. For example, if the Aristotelian view that all physical substances are a composite of form and matter is defended, it would be shown that everything physical is presently conditioned and dependent on something outside the object itself to account for the union of this form and matter (because form and matter are existentially dependent on each other in the physical object). If the Thomistic view of concrete reality, which is considered a conjunction of essence and existence, were shown to be true, such conjunction would require a more fundamental cause which unites such essence and such existence (because essence and existence are reciprocally dependent in a concrete thing).
2) The emphasis on the present/simultaneous/contemporaneous conditioned existence of composite objects is to underline that the Neo-Platonic argument doesn’t presuppose the temporal finite existence of an object. At this present moment, the composite object is being caused, even if it always existed.
3) For a longer treatment of the impossibility of an infinite regress of instrumental and simultaneous causes or a circular dependence of the causes themselves I advise reading my article https://apologeticaecreazione.wordpress.com/2017/05/01/come-il-cambiamento-prova-lesistenza-di-dio/ or Robert J Spitzer’s book “New Proofs for the Existence of God” chapter 3, “step 1”.
Ed and Amedeo Da Pra