Monday, 31 March 2008

Unmoved by the unmoved mover

It's funny how in philosophy everything seems to begin with Aristotle. Even the most basic philosophical distinction, that between physics and metaphysics or essentially between science and philosophy dates back to his book 'the Physics' -- everything that didn't make it into that book forms the basis of what we call metaphysics.

When it came to the origins of the universe Aristotle wasn't so advanced as to predict the big bang theory however he posited the idea of a first cause, a cause that was itself not the effect of a prior cause but a first cause. Aristotle argued that there is movement in the universe and this movement had an origin, this is the unmoved mover

“The rule of many is not good; one ruler let there be."

Thomas Aquinas took this argument further with his Quinquae viae or 'Five Ways' in his Summa Theologiae as he used this Aristotelian concept as an argument for the existence of God. The argument takes this format:

  1. There is movement in the universe
  2. Everything that moves is moved by a mover
  3. It is impossible for there to be infinite regress
  4. Therefore there must be a first mover, an unmoved mover from which all other movement is generated
  5. We call this mover God
This is, of course, clearly bollocks. First of all there are very big and unprovable assumptions like 'everything that moves is moved by a mover' and 'it is impossible for there to be infinite regress'...why? But I'm feeling very generous so lets move beyond that to 'we call this mover God'. One of the most basic precepts of semiotics is that the naming of concepts is arbitrary so by calling anything 'God' what magic did Aquinas wish to impart? Why not call lamppost or how about Tarquin Fin-tim-lin-bin-whin-bim-lim-bus-stop-F'tang-F'tang-Olé-Biscuitbarrel?

My generosity knows no bounds and lets even look past the arbitrary name relationship and call it, as Aquinas wished, God but what do we 'know' (and I emphasise know here in the platonic: justified true belief sense) about this God...well sod all actually, that he is a first movement and that's it. Even if you ignored the logical problems all this argument supports is a Thomas Paine type Deism where God features merely as a first cause and not as an all powerful hands on deity. But still one step further, lets assume that the God is an all powerful hands on God...why would that make him good? I think the good/bad dichotomy is drivel and a hangover of our binary underdeveloped brains, but lets suppose there is a God, and for all I know there might be as I can't disprove one in the way that I cannot disprove Russell's teapot or the flying spaghetti monster, but even if there is then what possible grounds could I have for believing him peaceful rather than malign because if it's the bible then Yahweh is not a God I wish to know.


Heather said...

Happy Belated Easter, eh. For a real pick-me-up this holiday season, why not watch Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ?

You remind me of Mulder: "I want to believe." Wish I could be of some assistance in that area.

Paolo said...

Thanks Heather, although I think I might give that particular film a miss.

I think the general theme of this post is one I haven't developed very well, it's the idea that whilst the cause of the beginnings are constantly under debate, the potential motives, if any, are as more interesting and unknowable.

Thomas Paine was interesting in this regard and his Deism focused entirely on the former. He dismissed the idea of an active or personal God and any claims to miracles or revelation and I wholly support that position. I consider myself a decent person but I would never turn to the Bible for any kind of moral instruction and I've never needed to.