Modified First Way

For both Atheists and Theists of good will, the biggest impediments to understanding the First Way are (a) why the being it proves the existence of can be called a god and (b) how per se ordered causes are simultaneous. One can sidestep both of these concerns with a modified version of the First Way:

Everything in motion is moved by another

Every candidate for a first mover in nature is in motion.

The premises thus conclude to a mover that is (a) beyond nature and (b) joined immediately to whatever we understand to be the first mover in nature (Aristotle’s celestial sphere, Newton’s force, our mass-energy, etc.) We thus conclude to a supernatural mover that is causing motion in nature immediately and not at the end of a causal series. Because we’ve done away with the causal regress, we don’t have to deal with any of the distinctions or clarifications one has to make about causal regresses (e.g. the difference between a per se and per accidens series, the difference between being simultaneous and instantaneous, or the dizzying denial of infinity that so many get hung up on.)



  1. December 7, 2015 at 10:41 am

    It seems to me that there may be one or more premises missing.

  2. robalspaugh said,

    December 7, 2015 at 10:59 am

    The only concern is the “wait for it” objection, a bit similar to his handling simplicity in Q3. Answering that objection puts you right back into the regress issue, doesn’t it?

    • December 7, 2015 at 1:51 pm

      Say more. I’m missing something in your claim.

      • robalspaugh said,

        December 7, 2015 at 2:12 pm

        Sure. Premise 2, while universal in form, carries the hidden rider “that we know of.” That every candidate known to us right now is in motion does not rule out the possibility of a natural unmoved mover in principle. It doesn’t break the argument, but it weakens its conclusion and makes it provisional. Why not continue to search for this missing unmoved mover in nature?

        It puts me in mind of Q3 a7, where he rules out that God is composed in any way. His first reason for this in the respondeo is “because he’s not composed in all the previous ways I covered.” Surely that’s the weakest of reasons he gives, since there could be an unconsidered kind of composition that does apply to God. Of course Aquinas closes this loop in the remainder of the respondeo–there are other, principled reasons that God is not composed in any way.

        But your argument above seems like the opening lines of the Q3 a7 respondeo. Even if there are no unmoved movers in the list of all known natural movers we have, that does not in principle rule out that there is one still to be discovered. It may even be the direction of a research program.

      • December 7, 2015 at 3:26 pm

        Why not continue to search for this missing unmoved mover in nature?

        This isn’t a peculiar problem with my #2, it’s a denial that any version of the First Way gets to a god. No version of the First Way entertains the possibility that an unmoved mover is natural. I only try to be more explicit about why this is so.

  3. Curio said,

    December 7, 2015 at 12:53 pm

    Premise 2 is likely to be challenged. How do we know force or mass-energy are in motion?

    • December 7, 2015 at 1:50 pm

      Energy changes states, it goes from one body (and therefore location) to another, it needs to be acquired by things and so has to be both within things and outside of them, etc. Similar things can e said about force (we can change it by changing mass or acceleration, for example). Neither energy nor mass can be moved by some other physical quantity, any more than Aristotle’s last heaven could be pushed by some body outside of it, but energy and force obviously change just as much as Aristotle’s last heaven changes.

  4. Paulo Juarez said,

    December 10, 2015 at 10:43 pm

    Dr. Chastek,

    I have been developing a cosmological argument, which, it seems to me, can get to God from both change and causality considered together. I wonder what you may make of it?

    Consider some effect belonging to A, where “effect” signifies either a process going on in A – such as change – or A’s coming-to-be. Because an effect is something of which we can ask ‘why?,’ it is something which we take to require a cause; and that it must have a cause is readily seen by the fact that nothing can cause itself, that is, that nothing can be its own cause. So, an effect is something that requires a cause distinct from itself. This cause does not have to be temporally prior, but it must be logically prior to the effect it produces.

    It seems clear, then, that there must be some logically prior cause B responsible for the production of the effect in A. Now, either B is responsible for the production of the effect in A in a proximate way, or in an ultimate way. In the former case, B turns out to be no different than A. For although B is the cause of the effect in A, the same effect present in A is also present in B – that is, B is subject to change as much as A is, and B has come into existence just as much as A has. B’s power to cause the effect in A turns out in the end to be wholly derivative. In the latter case, however, B is the cause of the effect in A while in no way sharing the same effect as A. B’s power to cause the effect in A is absolute, that is, non-derivative. No further cause is need – nor can be given – to explain the effect in A. We have reached the end of our explanation.

    But suppose that B is responsible for the production of the effect in A only in a proximate sense. This means that there must be some logically prior cause C responsible for the effect in B; and suppose that C stands in explanation of the effect in B also as a proximate cause. Here, too, there must be some logically prior cause D responsible for the effect in C; and so on and on…to infinity.

    It should be clear that, although we have, in one sense, adequately explained what accounts, not only for the effect in A, but also for the effect in B, C, and so on – namely, in terms of immediate (or proximate) causes – there is a more fundamental sense in which we haven’t explained much at all. In other words, we may have explained why the effect in question belongs to this-or-that particular member; but we have not explained why the effect, as such, exists. At every step we have posited a cause for the effect in A that is itself subject to the same effect, and hence in need of a cause just as much as A is. It would be no good simply to say that A undergoes change because of something that itself undergoes change; or that A’s coming-to-be is explained by something which itself comes-to-be. And it would be insult to injury to further insist that it suffices to carry out this mode of explanation into infinity.

    To see this point more clearly, let’s lump together the whole nexus of cause/effect composites (A, B, C…) into a single collection (call it X). Since every member of X stands in need of a cause, we can say that every member of X is, in a sense, an effect. But then X is an effect also, since if you take a group of things that are all effects, the collection itself will be an effect. Hence X requires a cause. Now the cause of X cannot itself be an effect. For if it were, it would be a *member* of X, and would thus be the equivalent of saying that X causes itself, which is impossible. Hence the cause of X must be a cause that is not itself an effect.

    Throughout the argument “effect” can be seen as synonymous with change and efficient causation. So, if the argument works, it gives us the Unchanged Changer, and the Uncaused Cause in one swipe. We could also say Necessary Being, since the cause of X, by virtue of being uncaused, must be necessary.

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