Eschatological Extinction

Christians believe that death is a definitive divine judgment on a species-wide alienation from God (or a “punishment for original sin”) and so death must be eventually species-wide, i.e humanity must go extinct. Christ does not return as an interruption of daily life, coming like a sheriff into the everyday world to set things right, but to judge a race that has run its course some time after the last human being has been wiped from the cosmos. Human extinction is thus a definitive “sign of the times”.


Chicken -egg

(The point here isn’t criticism but just to clarify how we are supposed to understand causality when we think we could have a chicken-egg problem)

-Is the egg fertilized?

If so, it’s already a chicken, if not, it’s a part of one.

-Unfertilized eggs are just another animal cell, just another gamete. So are we asking whether the animal or its cells came first?

-Gametes are instruments and parts, given they only have half a genetic code. Here we get into a part-whole problem. A half of a dollar can be either fifty cents or half of a bill, and half a genetic code is more like the second than the first. A machine part (like an engine) is more like fifty cents than the half a bill.

-If we’re asking whether primitive or rudimentary stages precede fully developed ones, is this even open to question?

-If we want to speak of cyclical causality we are comparing it to something like the water cycle. So which came first, rain or evaporating groundwater? Isn’t this the same as asking where do you have to start drawing the circle? You can’t exactly say “nowhere”, but there is no point in particular (so is there a point in general?) Where circles start is a Buridan’s Ass problem.

-If I give you a bag of five Oreos, then there has to be a fifth one, and something can’t be fifth if nothing is first. But it doesn’t matter which Oreo is the fifth or first, which is why I could hand them out one at a time by reaching in at random.

-Cyclical causality needs something to break the Buridans Ass problem of getting the process started, and so it would make sense that there is some intentional mechanism to induce randomness.

WLC frustrations

To read WLC on timelessness is a strange proposition for one who sees rational theology as the development of an argument for why one would believe God exists at all. Page after page of what seem like plausible reasons for why God must have a real relation to the world or that divine simplicity is incoherent become arguments for how act depends on potency, that it is necessary that there only be the contingent, that perfection is a comparative with no superlative, that a “biblical” God was already so like a creature that the Incarnation was almost a redundancy, etc.

In what is the WLC God divided from the universe? How does his Kalam argument give us a divinity, and not simply a creation with one more being (a being, moreover, that has to be proved – but who would prove the existence of a cosmic being? We would just point to it, or to some experimental proxy for it. Does Craig’s god show up like this?)

First Way Variant

All physical movers involved in a motion are interactive.

Some mover involved in a motion is not interactive.

“Interactive” substitutes for “moved mover”. The first premise is a variant of Newton’s Third Law.

In other words, the interaction problem generalizes to any non-physical agency. What Princess Elizabeth wondered about Cartesian souls is a problem for any non-physical action.

Interaction is reversibility, or an indifference of direction in action. Giving action value makes it no longer reversible. Value plays no role in the physical world as such – the intelligible directions in which physical processes develop do not involve a better and worse. With life, however, value is unmistakable and so the source of life is the first non-interactive mover. Soul is thus the first answer to the interaction problem: to the question “how does it act upon the body?” the answer is not that it shoves parts around with mystical power but that is gives a substantial unity to the body, therefore making it a locus of value for itself and for valuing other things, and  making what would be otherwise reversible physical motions into things with a definite direction toward or away from value.

The extent to which anything is a source of substance and unity is therefore the measure to which it is a cause of value and therefore of motion.



clock time

Time as a clock reading is an angle measured in sexagesimal or base 12. Fifteen seconds is a right angle, as is three hours.

If time is an angle, what time is it now? You look at the clock and it gives you two or three angular distances from twelve. Why twelve? It’s arbitrary with some reason. We could have picked any position of the sun and any number, but 12 has lots of factors and the sun is easiest to measure at its its zenith. Comparisons to space-measurements suggest themselves. What counts as a starting point or unit will always be arbitrary with some reason. Absent any relation to an origin, all you can say is “this is here” or “it is now”, but this is not a location or a time.

But this isn’t quite right. “Now” involves a sort of totality that “here” doesn’t. I can make sense of a theory of time that says that all there is are “nows”, but I can’t make any sense of a theory of space that says there is only “here” with no “there”. Both A-theory and Julian Barbour’s Platonia are intelligible even if wrong, but there is no sense at all to a here with no there, or a location with no referent. But the main difference is that we need the “Now” (or at least the “simultaneous”) in order to measure parts of distance, since distance measurement presupposes that all the parts exist at once.

Clock time therefore has two or three distinct steps: (1) we start with the simultaneity of the angle and then (2) we use this to measure distance in space and then (3) we interpret it as a distance as time. What I mean by (1) is that we can’t just use any occasion when the short hand is at 3 and the long hand at 12 to get three o’clock, they have to be there simultaneously.

Thomistic realism and the Cartesian critique

STA saw knowledge as the form of another. The objection that proved most influential against this is first intimated by Ockham’s theory of God causing intuitions and later made canonical by Descartes: we can have knowledge where the form was not of another since dreams consist in the awareness that is not the form of something other than ourselves and God/ a malicious deceiver/ mad scientist could cause knowledge in us even when there is no “other” corresponding to what we understand.

My claim is that both the Cartesian problem and its solution arise from the fact that all our judgments about the real start from the principle of contradiction. We only form judgments about what is by simultaneously having knowledge of what is not. Reality, however, does not come to us with post-it notes specifying whether it is real or not, and so what is real is not a given but a problem to be figured out. Said another way, in order to judge X your mind has to simultaneously have a non-X, which creates the immediate problem of which one is the real one. This is why our notion of being transcends both being in the mind and real being, and why STA’s claim that the first thing the mind knows is being means that its first object is one we experience as capable of being either real or unreal. Witches and sunrises are objects of experience in the same immediate way as sheep and stones.

But the inability to know what is real in being as first known does not rule out the necessity that there must be something real in it, and the same principle of contradiction that makes what is objective a problem to be solved also requires one side of the contradiction to be objective. And so while all the Cartesian arguments make an illicit move from our inability to know what is objective to the claim we cannot know that there is something of the kind, they also do the very important work of showing us that thomistic realism cannot consist in some supposedly commonsensical grasp of the objective world.

While this might look like a critique of Cartesianism it is more a contextualization of it. The principle of contradiction demands that “Realism” mean two things: (1) Realism that we know something objective and that this is the basis of all else we know is logically necessary and knowable from the start. (2) Realism what is objective is a problem to be solved, and we have no way at all of knowing in advance how extensive the problem is or even whether we have the resources to solve it at the moment. The cash value of the evil deceiver argument or a Matrix thought experiment is not as a defense of Idealism but as proofs that realism (2) gives us objectivity as a problem to be solved.

Neoplatonic eschatology

The Neoplatonic definition of time is the state where all goods cannot be had. Because all cannot be had it is possible to have the wrong good, and so time makes evil possible.

One limit to time is Hell, or the state where only evil is possible, i.e. the only goods one can reach for are the wrong ones. The only states on offer are ones more degrading. Hell is infinite in the sense that any achievement or fulfillment is a telos or finis. Hell is the limit case of time as a modality of existence making evil possible.

Earth-Purgatory (EP) is all time apart from this limit case. While in Hell only evil is possible, in EP evil is only possible. One can grab both right and wrong goods. The metaphor of EP as “a trial” is therefore appropriate. In the absence of any desire to reach for wrong goods, EP ceases to exist and one enters into the way of union.

The consummation of union ends time. Infinite good is the actuality of the created mind and will, giving it the possession of all goods at once. The soul leaves time not in the stupid and childish sense of becoming ignorant of history or the events of earth or the sense of “stepping into the resurrection” but of no longer being divided between perfections now and perfections later. In the consummation of union the divine mind replaces the finite ideas of the creature and therefore enters not just as knowledge-of-the-universe but as the practical know-how and power to create one. The intercession of the saints is the presence of this know-how and power as communicated to the saint, meaning that there is no practical difference between appealing to God and appealing to his saint.

MLK, now and then

Public school raised me in the veneration of Martin Luther King, but I’m now either too politically informed or cynically corrupted to miss that public veneration is always a melange of promoting the saint and promoting the parts of his message that advance our own ends, regardless of what we leave off or even distort.

Two crucial elements of MLK’s appeal were his defense of a colorblind society and his framing of liberation in Americano-Christian structures. These were foregrounded in his “I Have a Dream” speech, which we watched repeatedly, displayed on walls, and could invoke for sacred effect.

Both elements died. Colorblindness was replaced with diversity and the Enlightenment-Constitutionalism was dropped for a structuralist false consciousness theory (e.g. “oppression” or “privilege”). This creates difficulties in understanding what sort of continuity we can claim with MLK. For us, skin color is a principle for judging personal worth, even if the judgment is a ready-made “celebrate!” Diversity ends segregation in one important sense (no separate drinking fountains) but it preserves the fundamental apartness of races, even if they are now all in the same room together.  The structuralism makes any evaluation of success or historical continuity difficult: we know what ending segregated drinking fountains or lunch counters would look like, but ending privilege?   We are pretty good at figuring out what is unjust in a sign saying “Whites Only”, but it is a good deal harder to make determinations about justice or injustice when the relevant moral information can’t be summarized on a two-word sign, say, in a police shooting.

In fact, the focus on police actions in the last ten years complicates the question of racial justice by locating it in a place where relations are designed in advance to be asymmetrical. Police have sovereign or governmental immunity from tort claims. What would count as negligence or brutality for a man on the street doesn’t count as brutality for a cop, and this isn’t due to some oversight or desire to create oppressor-oppressed structures.

Interpreting an aporia of creation

BV gives an aporia of creation:

a.) A creature is the continual terminus of a mental act.

b.) The terminus of a mental act is an object.

c.) A creature is a subject, not an object.

The sense of “subject is not entirely clear. If “subject” means existing of-itself, even to the exclusion of any further ontological ground, then (c) is false. This is an uninteresting resolution and so an uninteresting paradox. But BV seems to be leaning toward another, more proper account of subject and object, so that the aporia is…

a1.) A creature is the continual terminus of a mental act.

b1.) The terminus of a mental act is an intentional being as opposed to a physical one.

c1.) A creature is a physical being as opposed to an intentional one.

or maybe…

a2.) A creature in itself is a relation to divinity

b2.) A relation is not a substance.

c2.) A creature in itself is a substance.

The last aporia is the one where Thomists have the most to contribute. Premise b2 can’t be true on the Thomistic account of relation, and if it is taken as meaning “relations cannot be substantial”. Relations taken formally are not accidents and so are not divided on the substance-accident opposition of existing in se vs. existing by another. Making creation a relation does not require seeing it as standing to God as though he were a substance in the sense of existing in se. A created relation can exist in se while still being relative.

The middle aporia is very difficult to understand on the post-Brentano understanding of the opposition between intentional and physical objects. On this account, the intentional has an “aboutness” that the physical does not have, and so the two are different kinds of form. For STA, however, the intentional as object is what is apt to be the form of another. The opposition between the intentional and physical is whether its form is taken as actualizing the self or another but it is one and the same form in both cases. 

Against PAGs

1a.) All parsimony arguments against the existence of God (PAG) consist in placing some putative divine causality in a genus with some non-divine causes and then ruling it out as one cause too many.

1b.) No divine action is homogenous with a non-divine action.

2a.) We prove the existence of God only though his causality of creatures in such a way that he is not made homogenous with non-divine causality.

2b.) All PAGs require that divine causality be homogenous with non-divine causality.


Both “a” premises are variants of the principle of remotion. If the divine activity one proved by an inference from creatures were in the same genus as creaturely activities it would be created, which is impossible. Every PAG is therefore a violation of remotion.

Naturalism is often based on a PAG (e.g. the causal closure hypothesis, the success of the methodological naturalism, etc.) This foundation is lazy and hopeless. Better to argue for the incoherence of remotion than to refute a God that isn’t the object of either the cosmological or ontological argument, and whose claims to divinity would be severely compromised by sharing a genus with non-divine things.



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