# Feser's Fifth: Why his up-to-date version of Aquinas' Fifth Way fails as a proof, and how to make it work

 Above: Ludwig van Beethoven in 1804. Below: The opening of Beethoven's Fifth.

Among St. Thomas Aquinas' celebrated five proofs of the existence of God, the Fifth Way holds a special place: it is the only one which explicitly attempts to show that the cosmos is dependent on some Intelligent Being, Who directs all natural objects towards their built-in ends. In this post, I'm going to critically analyze Aquinas' Fifth Way - or more specifically, Professor Edward Feser's reconstructed version of this argument by Aquinas. On Feser's account, the argument proceeds from a set of very simple facts about the natural world, and then demonstrates that the only way to explain these facts is by positing an intelligent being (or beings) guiding the behavior of natural objects towards their characteristic effects. But Feser doesn't stop there: he maintains that the conclusion of the Fifth Way is not merely that there is an intelligent being guiding Nature, but rather, an Intelligence Who sustains Nature in being. Moreover, this guiding Intelligence can only be a Being Whose essence is identical with its very act of existence - in other words, an Intelligence Who is Being itself, and Who can therefore be identified with the God of classical theism. And there can only be one such God: an Intelligence Who is Being itself is necessarily unique. Feser contends that Aquinas' argument (when properly understood) is a valid proof, which can provide us with absolute certitude that God exists, making Intelligent Design theory redundant. On Feser's view, the existence of an Intelligent Creator of Nature can be rationally demonstrated without arguing that the cosmos had a beginning, or that its laws are fine-tuned, or that neo-Darwinism is false.

I would like to say at the outset that Professor Feser's reconstructed version of the Fifth Way is by far the most detailed formulation of Aquinas' argument that has been put forward by any Thomist scholar. Feser has done an excellent job of attempting to elucidate the underlying logic of the Fifth Way - and in this regard, he has (I believe) gone further than any other Thomist scholar. I think Feser deserves to be commended for this noble effort, even though I happen to think that the argument he puts forward doesn't work.

Whereas Professor Feser sees the Fifth Way as the jewel in the crown when it comes to proofs of God's existence, I regard it as more of a rough diamond, which needs a lot of cutting and polishing in order to bring out its hidden beauty. What I intend to argue in this post is that the basic thrust of Aquinas' Fifth Way is correct, but that the argument requires substantial revision: key premises of the argument need to be amended, and several steps in the argument's logic need to be filled in. I shall also contend that while Feser's reconstructed version of the Fifth Way is an exegetically plausible account of Aquinas' argument, it fails if it is taken as an argument that is meant to convince 21st century atheists of the existence of God. In a nutshell, the reason why I think Feser's argument cannot succeed against 21st century atheism is that it is too metaphysically top-heavy, relying as it does on no less than twenty-one metaphysical assumptions, some of which (I shall argue) are either wrong or highly contentious. Most modern-day skeptics are very leery of metaphysical claims, full stop. If someone wishes to try and convince modern skeptics of God's existence on philosophical grounds, then they had better make sure that their metaphysical assumptions are so airtight that they cannot be intelligibly denied, and in addition, they had better limit those assumption to no more than a handful. The reason why I added the latter condition is that the modern-day skeptics I have debated tend to be highly distrustful of the reliability of human thought processes regarding matters metaphysical. While they might be prepared to concede that each of the premises in a metaphysical argument for God's existence appears unassailable when taken singly, they will argue that the truth of the entire set of premises in such an argument is open to doubt - especially when there are twenty-one of them. Perhaps, they will suggest, a "metaphysical blind-spot" on our part prevents us from recognizing what's wrong with one or other of these premises. On this view of human reason, any argument with a large number of metaphysical premises is inherently dubious.

Professor Feser has made a laudable attempt to "flesh out" the unstated premises in Aquinas' (very brief) Fifth Way. Nevertheless, I would maintain that even Feser's reconstructed version of the argument still contains major logical and metaphysical gaps that need to be plugged.

## EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: What's wrong with Feser's argument - and how to fix it

A brief exposition of Feser's argument

Feser provides a handy eight-step summary of his argument in his article, "Existential Inertia and the Five Ways" (Australian Catholic Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 85, No. 2, 2011):

1. That unintelligent natural causes regularly generate certain specific effects or ranges of effects is evident from sensory experience.

2. Such regularities are intelligible only on the assumption that these efficient causes inherently "point to" or are "directed at" their effects as to an end or final cause.

3. So there are final causes or ends immanent to the natural order.

4. But unintelligent natural causes can "point to" or be "directed at" such ends only if guided by an intelligence.

5. So there is such an intelligence.

6. But since the ends or final causes in question are inherent in things by virtue of their natures or essence, the intelligence in question must be the cause also of natural things having the natures or essences they do.

7. This entails its being that which conjoins their essences to an act of existence, and only that in which essence and existence are identical can ultimately accomplish this.

8. So the intelligence in question is something in which essence and existence are identical. (2011, p. 254.)

I should point out that the foregoing syllogism is meant to be a summary only; steps 2, 4, 6 and 7 require further elaboration, which Feser provides in his article.

A short summary of the logical gaps in Feser's argument

Surprisingly, nowhere in his article does Feser explicitly enumerate the background metaphysical assumptions required for his version of the Fifth Way to work. When I attempted to do so, I was shocked to find that Feser's argument relies on 21 underlying metaphysical assumptions, most of which Feser explicitly invokes at various points in the article cited above and also in his book Aquinas (Oneworld, Oxford, 2009), which contains a very useful exposition of Aquinas' Fifth Way. I have listed these assumptions in Part Two, below. Unfortunately, not all of these assumptions are adequately defended by Feser.

Additionally, Feser's argument, as it currently stands, suffers from the following logical deficiencies:

1. The argument, if successful, proves too much. Taken to its logical conclusion, it would appear to preclude natural objects from having active powers. For if natural objects need to be guided by an Intelligence to their respective ends, then it is hard to see how they can be said to possess an active tendency to reach those ends.

2. The key premise upon which the argument bases its claim that there is an Intelligent Being guiding Nature is that the behavior of natural objects is not only oriented towards the production of certain effects, but also that it is oriented towards future effects, at a fundamental level. This premise is questionable on scientific and philosophical grounds. To establish his case, Feser needs to rebut the claim that the apparently future-oriented behavior of objects can be explained more simply, in terms of their present-oriented tendencies.

3. Contrary to what Feser claims, his argument does not succeed in establishing that the intelligent being (or beings) guiding natural objects towards their built-in goals (or "ends") also endows them with their very natures. In his article, "Existential Inertia and the Five Ways," Feser argues that "since the ends or final causes in question are inherent in things by virtue of their natures or essence, the intelligence in question must be the cause also of natural things having the natures or essences they do" (2009, p. 254), which implies that an object's built-in ends are a consequence of its nature. However, it does not follow from this fact that anything which causes a natural object to have those ends must therefore cause it to have the nature it has. To establish this conclusion, one would need to argue for the reverse: that an object's ends determine its nature. Feser attempts to do this in his book Aquinas (Oneworld, Oxford, 2009), where he asserts (p. 18) that an object's final causes (ends) determine its form and matter, but all his argument shows is that the form of an object must be compatible with its ends, which is quite different from saying that it's uniquely determined by those ends.

4. Feser's argument also fails in its attempt to prove that the intelligent being who endows the various kinds of natural objects with their finality and form, which distinguish them from other kinds of objects, also endows these objects with their prime matter (the formless, featureless substrate underlying a substantial change, where an object of one kind changes into an object of another kind). Thus Feser is unable to establish that the intelligent being is anything more than a mere Demiurge, who generates forms but is not responsible for the existence of matter.

5. Feser's argument fails to demonstrate that the intelligent being who endows natural objects with their matter, form and finality (i.e. the being who is the author of these objects' essences), also sustains those objects in existence. For if (as Feser maintains) there is a real distinction between an object's essence (or nature) and its existence, then the activity of defining an object's formal, material, final and efficient causality - and thereby giving it an essence - is quite distinct from the activity of endowing that essence with existence - or as Feser puts it, conjoining that essence with its own act of existence. Hence, if we grant Feser's essence-existence distinction, it no longer follows that the Intelligence which guides things towards their built-in ends and endows them with their natures (or essences) must also be responsible for keeping them in existence.

6. Feser's argument leaves open the theoretical possibility that the intelligent being who maintains objects in existence might itself be maintained in existence by another Being Whose essence and existence are identical (the God of classical theism). In that case, it would need to be established that this latter Being is also intelligent. Unfortunately, Feser makes no attempt to do this. Thus Feser's argument fails to show that God is intelligent.

I'd now like to review each of these points in turn.

First, I would contend that Feser's conception of final causality - and in particular, the immanent finality of natural objects - is inadequate, as it stands. On Feser's account, the term "immanent finality" refers to the inherent tendency of the parts of a natural object to function together as a whole, and to bring about certain characteristic effects. But because these effects are not realized immediately, natural objects tending towards these future effects need to be guided by some Intelligence, in whose Mind these effects already exist. The problem I have with this account is that the fact that natural objects need to be intelligently guided towards their characteristic effects - "led along by the nose" towards their built-in goals, as it were - seems to render them purely passive in their attainment of those goals. And yet it is a fact (as Feser himself would readily acknowledge) that natural objects do possess active tendencies - think of a lodestone's tendency to pick up magnetic objects, for instance. This defect in Feser's argument could be remedied by redefining immanent finality as the inherent tendency of a natural object to conform to certain rules, in its behavior - rules which define the very nature of that object. On this account, the rules to which objects conform are not conceived as extrinsic to natural objects, but as intrinsic to their very being, which means that objects have a built-in active tendency to conform to them. Thus in order to account for the agency of natural objects, it is not enough to say that their ends are built into them, as Feser does; it is also necessary to say that the rules which these objects follow in attaining their built-in ends are part of their natures, too. (In Part Five below, I go further, and postulate that each natural object is endowed by its Creator with the built-in power to interact with its Creator, which would certainly make it an active power; however, my argument for God's existence does not require this assumption.) This active tendency of natural objects to conform to built-in rules (or prescriptions) still leaves room for a Mind governing Nature, since only an intelligent being can define a rule, or prescribe anything in the first place. Additionally, since rules define the very "warp and woof" of natural objects, making them concrete instantiations of these rules, it follows that to speak of objects as continually conforming to rules implies that the Author of the objects obeying these rules is continually sustaining them in being. I would also add that Feser's account of immanent finality, as the inherent tendency of the parts of a natural object to function together as a whole, fails to explain how elementary particles (such as the electron) which are not composed of physical parts, can still be said to possess immanent finality, as his definition only applies to composite physical objects. (And what about angels, which aren't even material objects?) But if immanent finality were more broadly defined as the inherent tendency of a natural object to conform to certain rules or norms, in its behavior, then such a definition would apply equally to all natural objects, be they material or immaterial, composite or indivisible. (Of course, I am in full agreement with Feser that in the case of objects composed of multiple physical parts, the parts must also have an inherent tendency to function together as a whole.)

Second, the key premise upon which the argument bases its claim that there is an Intelligent Being guiding Nature - namely, that natural objects display future-oriented behavior - is one which most contemporary scientists would reject at the outset, for two reasons. The first (and by far the less important) reason is that most physicists now subscribe to a B-theory of time, according to which the flow of time is not an objective feature of reality, but merely a feature of our subjective experience. On this account, we cannot speak of objects as having future-oriented tendencies, because the term "future" merely reflects our perception of reality. Now, Feser may reply that the B-theory of time is metaphysically absurd (and on this point, I fully agree with him); but many scientists and philosophers have argued (mistakenly, in my view - see here, here and here) that Einstein's theory of Special Relativity requires it, and unfortunately, this view continues to be the dominant one in scientific circles. The second and far more important reason why most scientists would deny that natural objects display future-oriented tendencies is that on the "modern" scientific worldview, the apparently future-oriented behavior of objects actually supervenes upon - and can be explained in terms of - the present-oriented tendencies of objects. Nature, in other words, does not really point ahead to the future, and therefore requires no guiding Intelligence to get it there. Thus in its current form, Feser's argument fails to establish the existence of an Intelligent Being guiding the behavior of natural objects. In my view, this problem with Feser's version of the argument could be avoided by characterizing immanent finality at the outset in terms of conformity to rules, rather than in terms of orientations towards (future) effects. For it is certainly evident that it takes an intelligent being to make an object that lacks awareness and intelligence conform to a rule. On this revised definition, it no longer matters whether Nature "looks ahead" or not.

Third, Feser's argument doesn't succeed in demonstrating that the intelligent being (or beings) guiding natural objects towards their built-in goals (or "ends") also endows them with their very natures. Feser puts forward two distinct arguments in support of this conclusion: one in his article, "Existential Inertia and the Five Ways" (Australian Catholic Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 85, No. 2, 2011), and the other in his book, Aquinas (Oneworld, Oxford, 2009). Neither of these arguments work. In his article, "Existential Inertia and the Five Ways," Feser argues that "since the ends or final causes in question are inherent in things by virtue of their natures or essence, the intelligence in question must be the cause also of natural things having the natures or essences they do" (2009, p. 254, italics mine). If Feser is correct here, then an object's built-in ends must be a consequence of its nature. However, it doesn't follow that anything which causes a natural object to have those ends must therefore cause it to have the nature it has. To establish this conclusion, one would need to argue for the reverse: that an object's ends determine its nature. In his book Aquinas (Oneworld, Oxford, 2009), Feser attempts to do precisely this, where he asserts (p. 18) that the final cause is the "cause of causes," which determines an object's form and hence its essence. However, the axiom that finality determines form is simply false, as I'll argue below: even a complete specification of a natural object's built-in goals tells us very little about its form; and several radically different forms could all have the same ends or goals. In reality, all Feser's argument shows is that the form of an object must be compatible with its built-in goals, which is quite different from saying that it is uniquely determined by those goals. By contrast, on the account of finality which I am proposing, it is easy to show that the intelligent being who guides things towards their built-in goals also endows them with their natures. For if finality consists in conformity to rules, and if things are characterized by "rules all the way down," then we can define an object's substantial form as the most basic set of rules which explains (and grounds) all the other rules that an object conforms to. On this account, form and finality are indeed inseparable.

Fourth, Feser's argument fails to properly establish that the intelligent being who endows natural objects with their finality and form, also endows them with their prime matter. (Prime matter can be defined as the formless substrate which underlies even the most fundamental physical changes, such as the change from one kind of substance into another.) To Feser, it may seem obvious that the intelligent being who endows natural objects with their forms also endows them with their matter, as prime matter (which Thomists define as pure passive potency) could not exist even for a moment without some (substantial) form, making it a thing of a certain kind. However, one and the same piece of prime matter may be successively united with many different forms, over the course of time. Hence it does not follow that the being who endows things with the forms that they currently possess also endows them with the matter underlying those forms, whose existence may well have preceded those forms. This difficulty can only be resolved if we jettison the Thomistic doctrine that prime matter is pure passive potency underlying an object's form, and acknowledge (as did the late Scholastic philosopher Suarez) that even prime matter has a form of some sort. What I am maintaining is that even in natural objects undergoing substantial change, whatever potency they possess is always posterior to some actuality. For we cannot say what something is able to do or able to become, unless we first know what kind of thing it is. Thus instead of regarding prime matter as a purely passive recipient of the various substantial forms to which it is united over the course of time, we need to recognize that the ultimate substrate of change is not matter alone, but rather, matter under some fundamental form. What I am proposing here is not new: many medieval philosophers defended the view that everything in the cosmos has at least two substantial forms: one (a form of corporeity) which makes it a body (and hence subject to the laws of physics), and another, overlying form which makes it a thing of a certain kind. On this account, since there is no longer any "pure passive potency" underlying every form, we no longer have to worry about whether the intelligent being that endows natural objects with their finality and form, also endows them with their prime matter.

Fifth, as I'll explain below, Feser's argument fails to demonstrate that the intelligent being that endows natural objects with their matter, form and finality, also sustains those objects in being. In other words, the argument fails to show that the Intelligence giving things their essences also conserves those things in existence. However, this problem with Feser's version of the the Fifth Way only arises because he (like most Thomists) posits a real distinction between a thing's essence and its act of existence. But if (as many Scholastic philosophers in the Middle Ages maintained) there isn't a real distinction between a thing's nature and its existence, but only a logical one, then it necessarily follows that the Intelligence which endows things with their natures (or essences) must also be responsible for keeping them in existence.

Sixth and finally, after showing that the intelligent Author of Nature who maintains it in existence must either be a Being Whose own essence and existence are identical, or must be maintained in existence by some Being Whose essence and existence are identical (and Who could therefore be equated with the God of classical theism), Feser fails to "close the deal" and prove that God Himself is intelligent. In his argument, Feser allows that the intelligent being who gives things their natures and conserves them in being might not be the same as the Being Whose essence and existence are identical, but he argues that the former being would still depend on the latter. If this is the case, then it still needs to be shown that the latter Being is intelligent. Thus Feser's argument fails to show that if there is a Being whose essence and existence are identical, that Being must be intelligent. This difficulty could have been resolved if Feser simply had adopted Aquinas' argument (Summa Theologica I, q. 45, art. 5) that no creature can keep a thing in being, and that only a Being Whose essence and existence are identical could accomplish such a feat. Thus the intelligent being who maintains things in existence must be one and the same being as the Being Whose essence and existence are identical.

The flawed metaphysical assumptions in Feser's reconstructed version of the Fifth Way

Feser's argument suffers from several metaphysical flaws, which I'll briefly enumerate. I shall discuss this in further detail in Part Three, below.

First, Feser's whole case that natural causes require an Intelligent Being to direct them to their future ends rests on a highly questionable assumption: that it is a fundamental feature of natural causes that they are oriented towards future effects. However, as I'll show, we can explain the behavior of natural causes in the inorganic world more simply, by assuming that they are oriented towards their present effects. There is no need to invoke orientation towards long-term future effects, at the inorganic level. And even on the organic level, a skeptic might argue that the future-oriented behavior of organisms can be adequately explained in terms of the present-oriented behavior of organisms' physical and chemical constituents. If that is the case, then Feser's case for an Intelligent Being Who guides natural causes towards their built-in ends collapses. This is a deficiency that needs to be remedied, for it is absolutely fatal to the Fifth Way.

Second, Feser's argument that the Intelligent Being Who directs natural causes towards their built-in ends is also responsible for endowing these causes with their natures, rests on what I'll demonstrate below to be a false assumption (which was also made by Aquinas and Aristotle): the assumption that an object's ends determine its entire nature - in particular, that an object's final causes determine its formal and material causes. Feser needs to formulate a new argument in order to show why the Intelligent Being Who guides things towards their ends is also the Author of their natures.

Third, Feser's argument that the Intelligent Being Who directs natural objects towards their built-in ends is also responsible for endowing these objects with their very existence, rests on the false assumption that things composed of multiple physical parts (such as a salt crystal) require an external cause to hold them together. As I'll argue below, internal causes can do the job. To complete his proof, Feser also needs to be able to show that natural objects' ultimate constituents (elementary particles) require an external cause, to keep them in existence.

Fourth, Feser's (and Aquinas') metaphysical assumption that matter and form are two parts of one thing, actually hampers their argument that the Intelligent Being Who directs things towards their ends is not a mere "guide on the side," but the Creator and conserver of matter, by making it impossible to demonstrate that prime matter requires a Creator.

Fifth, Feser's (and probably Aquinas') assumption that there's a real distinction between a creature's essence and its existence, hampers their argument that the Intelligent Being Who endows things with their natures (or essences) is also responsible for keeping them in existence. For all we know, the Intelligent Being Who endows things with their natures (or essences) might be a different entity from the Being Who breathes these essences into existence.

As I wrote earlier, Feser has made a commendable effort to articulate the logic of the Fifth Way, in his article, "Existential Inertia and the Five Ways" (Australian Catholic Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 85, No. 2, 2011). I shall provide a detailed critique Feser's argument in Part Four, below.

There are thus several serious defects in Feser's reconstructed version of Aquinas' Fifth Way, and for that reason, I believe that to expose the Fifth Way in its present form to the critical scrutiny of atheists is to invite scorn and ridicule from them. However, I also believe that the metaphysical assumptions underlying Aquinas' Fifth Way are capable of being suitably modified at not too great a cost, and that the argument can also be re-framed in a way which is scientifically unexceptionable.

A sketch of how a revamped Fifth Way might work

As I stated above, when arguing with 21st century skeptics, it's a good idea to keep one's metaphysical assumptions to a bare minimum. Feser's argument presupposes 21 metaphysical assumptions: mine contains just half a dozen. A more complete exposition of my argument can be found in Part Five, below.

1. All natural objects - and their parts - exhibit certain built-in, fixed tendencies, which can be said to characterize these objects and circumscribe the ways in which they are capable of acting.
(Note: Although this premise refers to objects and their tendencies and activities, it refrains from saying anything about substance vs. accidents, matter vs. form, or essence vs. existence. Thus it is metaphysically neutral.)

2. In order to properly ground scientific inferences and everyday inductive knowledge, the tendencies exhibited by natural objects must be construed not merely as properties which describe these objects, but as properties which prescribe the behavior of those objects: in other words, they are rules, which define the natures of those objects. What's more, the rules go all the way down: they are not superimposed on pre-existing objects, but actually constitute those objects, in their very being.
(This step is a crucial premise, which I'll defend at further length in Part Five, below. The reader should note that in making the claim that rules constitute the nature of objects, I am not saying that objects are "nothing but" rules; all I'm saying is that rules are part of the nature of a natural object.)

3. By definition, rules presuppose a rule-maker. Thus the existence of rules in the natural world can only be explained by an intelligent being or beings who has defined those rules. Hence the rule-governed behavior of natural objects presupposes the existence of an intelligent being or beings who has defined their natures - and hence their very being.

4. Only an actually existing being can explain an actual state of affairs; hence only an actually existing intelligent being or beings can explain the ongoing rule-governed behavior of natural objects, which defines their very natures and which constitutes them as beings. (Hence, this intelligent being or beings cannot be merely a watchmaker or absentee landlord. Rather, the intelligent being or beings must actually exist, and must continually conserve natural objects in being.)

5. An infinite regress of explanations is impossible; all explanations must come to an end somewhere. Hence the intelligent being (or beings) who defines the rules which govern the behavior of natural objects and their parts, must not exhibit any built-in, fixed tendencies, which constrain its mode of acting. Additionally, this intelligent being (or beings) must not be composed of any parts exhibiting such fixed tendencies. We are left, then, with an intelligent being (or beings), whose mode of acting is totally unconstrained by any fixed tendencies of its own, or of any underlying parts.

6. Beings are distinguished from one another according to their different mode of acting. Hence there can only be one intelligent being whose nature is totally unconstrained. Moreover, such a being must be supernatural, for all natural objects have a constrained mode of acting. Finally, such a being must be infinite, as nothing constrains its mode of acting. Thus we arrive at an Intelligent Author of Nature, Who is one, simple, supernatural and infinite.

The foregoing pared-down argument has much in common with Feser's argument, especially in steps 4 to 6. But it's considerably simpler, and much lighter on metaphysics. I also believe that Intelligent Design theory can strengthen the argument, by buttressing step 3. Not only do we find rules in Nature, which point to an Intelligent Designer; we also find codes and programs, which point in an even more obvious way to a Designer. Thus although Intelligent Design theory, by itself, is incapable of showing us the nature and identity of the Designer of life and the cosmos, I believe it can render a valuable service to proponents of Aquinas' Fifth Way, by supplying additional empirical criteria for identifying a Designer of Nature, and thereby strengthening the teleological argument for the existence of God.

Thus when Professor Feser declares that Aquinas' Fifth Way renders Intelligent Design arguments redundant, he displays a dangerous lack of awareness of the outstanding weaknesses in his attempted proof of God. He is also spurning assistance from an ally - for there are many people in the Intelligent Design movement who are in strong sympathy with his aims.

## PART ONE: Different Assessments of Aquinas' Fifth Way: Is it a knockdown demonstration, a powerful but inconclusive argument, or the ultimate hat trick?

A top hat, often used in magic tricks. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

### 1.1 How did St. Thomas Aquinas intend his Fifth Way to be understood?

In his book Aquinas (Oneworld, Oxford, 2009), Professor Feser insists that the Fifth Way was intended to be a knockdown demonstration of the existence of God, rather than a merely suasive account:

[W]hile Paley and his contemporary successors claim only that the existence of a designer is probable, Aquinas takes the Fifth Way conclusively to establish the truth of its conclusion. Related to this, whereas the design argument is typically presented as a kind of quasi-scientific empirical hypothesis, Aquinas' argument is intended as a metaphysical demonstration. His claim is not that the existence of God is onepossible explanation among others (albeit the best) of the order that exists in the universe (which is how "God of the gaps" arguments proceed) but rather that it can be seen on analysis to be the only possible explanation even in principle. (2009, pp. 111-112)

Feser makes the same point in a recent article, when discussing what differentiates Aquinas' Fifth Way from other teleological arguments:

Aquinas ... regards teleology as immanent to the natural order, as manifest even in the simplest causal processes rather than only in complex phenomena, and as something that leads us conclusively to the existence of a supreme intellect rather than merely as a matter of probability.
("Existential Inertia and the Five Ways", Australian Catholic Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 85, No. 2, 2011, p. 251.)

Although I would vigorously contest Feser's claims about Paley's arguments for the existence of God (which, as I showed in a recent post, were actually intended as deductive proofs rather than inductive arguments), I would acknowledge that Feser is absolutely correct in declaring that St. Thomas Aquinas viewed his arguments for God's existence as both conclusive and demonstrative. Aquinas himself explicitly says so: in his Summa Theologica, I, q. 2, art. 2, reply to objection 3, he writes that "from every effect the existence of the cause can be clearly demonstrated, and so we can demonstrate the existence of God from His effects," and in his Summa Theologica, I, q. 2, art. 3, he asserts that "The existence of God can be proved in five ways." In his Summa Contra Gentiles, Book 1, chapter 12, paragraph 9, Aquinas adds that "although God transcends all sensible things and the sense itself, His effects, on which the demonstration proving His existence is based, are nevertheless sensible things."

The late Professor Ralph McInerny (1929-2010), an eminent Thomist scholar, was of the same view as Feser. In his article, Aquinas in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, he wrote:

There is no reason to deny that Aquinas thinks the Five Ways are proofs or demonstrations in the most robust sense, namely that which he appeals to as set out by Aristotle in the Posterior Analytics.

### 1.2 What does the Catholic Church teach regarding the possibility of proving God's existence?

If we look at the teaching of the Catholic Church, however, we find that it takes a somewhat more nuanced view of proofs of the existence of God. Part One, Section One, Chapter One of The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes the proofs of the existence of God in the following terms (emphases mine - VJT):

31 Created in God's image and called to know and love him, the person who seeks God discovers certain ways of coming to know him. These are also called proofs for the existence of God, not in the sense of proofs in the natural sciences, but rather in the sense of "converging and convincing arguments", which allow us to attain certainty about the truth. These "ways" of approaching God from creation have a twofold point of departure: the physical world, and the human person.

32 The world: starting from movement, becoming, contingency, and the world's order and beauty, one can come to a knowledge of God as the origin and the end of the universe...

33 The human person: with his openness to truth and beauty, his sense of moral goodness, his freedom and the voice of his conscience, with his longings for the infinite and for happiness, man questions himself about God's existence. In all this he discerns signs of his spiritual soul. The soul, the "seed of eternity we bear in ourselves, irreducible to the merely material", can have its origin only in God.

34 The world, and man, attest that they contain within themselves neither their first principle nor their final end, but rather that they participate in Being itself, which alone is without origin or end. Thus, in different ways, man can come to know that there exists a reality which is the first cause and final end of all things, a reality "that everyone calls God".

36 "Our holy mother, the Church, holds and teaches that God, the first principle and last end of all things, can be known with certainty from the created world by the natural light of human reason." Without this capacity, man would not be able to welcome God's revelation. Man has this capacity because he is created "in the image of God".

According to the Catholic Church, then, the proofs of God's existence are converging and convincing arguments which enable us to know with certainty that there is a God. The term "certainty" here means: certainty beyond reasonable doubt, which would suffice to convince a sincere seeker after truth. In recent times, some theistic philosophers have attempted to argue for God's existence on probabilistic grounds. Feser regards such an approach as philosophically defective, and he is perfectly entitled to that view. However, the Catholic Church does not rule out arguments for God's existence which are probabilistic rather than demonstrative, so long as the probability is sufficiently high as to make God's existence certain beyond reasonable doubt.

Additionally, the Church does not go so far as to teach that any of the arguments for God's existence constitutes a "metaphysical demonstration," which provides "the only possible explanation even in principle" of the natural world. That may have been Aquinas' view of his proofs of the existence of God; but it is not defined as Church teaching. Nor has the Church ever declared which of the various arguments put forward for God's existence actually succeed, as proofs. What it does teach is that human beings, "in different ways ... can come to know that there exists a reality which is the first cause and final end of all things, a reality 'that everyone calls God'."

### 1.3 Two teleological arguments by Aquinas?

Not many people know that there are actually two teleological arguments for the existence of a Supreme Intelligence guiding Nature, in the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas. The first argument (which is also the fifth of Aquinas' famous Five Ways) takes as its starting point the fact that things in the natural world have a fixed tendency to produce certain results, or characteristic effects, which Aquinas calls "ends." The argument makes its first appearance in Aquinas' Summa Contra Gentiles, Book I, chapter 44, paragraph 7 (That God Is Intelligent) and goes as follows:

[7] Again, that which tends determinately to some end either has set itself that end or the end has been set for it by another. Otherwise, it would tend no more to this end than to that. Now, natural things tend to determinate ends. They do not fulfill their natural needs by chance, since they would not do so always or for the most part, but rarely, which is the domain of chance. Since, then, things do not set for themselves an end, because they have no notion of what an end is, the end must be set for them by another, who is the author of nature. He it is who gives being to all things and is through Himself the necessary being. We call Him God, as is clear from what we have said. But God could not set an end for nature unless He had understanding. God is, therefore, intelligent.

In his more mature years, Aquinas re-stated the argument in the fifth of his famous Five Ways, in his Summa Theologica I, q. 2, art. 3 (Whether God Exists):

The fifth way is taken from the governance of the world. We see that things which lack intelligence, such as natural bodies, act for an end, and this is evident from their acting always, or nearly always, in the same way, so as to obtain the best result. Hence it is plain that not fortuitously, but designedly, do they achieve their end. Now whatever lacks intelligence cannot move towards an end, unless it be directed by some being endowed with knowledge and intelligence; as the arrow is shot to its mark by the archer. Therefore some intelligent being exists by whom all natural things are directed to their end; and this being we call God.

This is the argument I propose to address in today's post.

However, readers may be interested to know that there is a second teleological argument in Aquinas' writings, which can be found in his Summa Contra Gentiles, Book I, chapter 13, paragraph 35 (Arguments in Proof of the Existence of God). This argument is subtly different from the first: it takes as its starting point not the regularity of Nature, but the harmony of Nature. The argument is very brief, and proceeds as follows:

[35] [St. John] Damascene proposes another argument for the same conclusion taken from the government of the world [De fide orthodoxa I, 3]. Averroes likewise hints at it [In II Physicorum]. The argument runs thus. Contrary and discordant things cannot, always or for the most part, be parts of one order except under someone's government, which enables all and each to tend to a definite end. But in the world we find that things of diverse natures come together under one order, and this not rarely or by chance, but always or for the most part. There must therefore be some being by whose providence the world is governed. This we call God.

For my part, I prefer this teleological argument to Aquinas' Fifth Way, as I would contend that the harmony between the different kinds of objects making up the cosmos is a much better indicator that there is an Intelligence directing Nature than the regularity in the behavior of natural objects.

Even more suggestive of an Intelligent Creator, in my view, is the Cosmic Fine-Tuning Argument, as it shows that the cosmos possesses a trait - specified complexity - which is a hallmark of an intelligence at work. Only intelligent beings can reliably generate this kind of complexity. Of course, one also needs to make some metaphysical assumptions, in order to get from an Intelligent Designer of the cosmos to a cosmic Creator who maintains it in existence, and from a cosmic Creator to the God of classical theism.

But the point I would like to make here is that Catholics are not bound to accept any particular version of the teleological argument for the existence of God. They are perfectly free to accept all of the foregoing arguments, or some of them, or none of them. With regard to teleological arguments, all that they are required to believe is that "starting from ... the world's order and beauty, one can come to a knowledge of God as the origin and the end of the universe...," in the words of The Catechism of the Catholic Church.

### 1.4 Feser's version of Aquinas' Fifth Way: a metaphysical hat trick?

If we look at Professor Feser's article, "Existential Inertia and the Five Ways" (Australian Catholic Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 85, No. 2, 2011, pp. 237-267), which contains his reconstructed version of Aquinas' Fifth Way, we see that the assumptions that the argument makes about natural objects are minimal. Briefly, the argument assumes that the causes we observe in the natural world:

(i) lack intelligence;;
(ii) display regular tendencies to produce certain specific effects; and
(iii) are composed of parts.

And that's it. Given these three very modest empirical assumptions, coupled with some metaphysical assumptions which he considers to be rationally knowable, Feser claims he can establish that there is an Infinite Intelligent Being Who governs and guides Nature, Who keeps it in existence, and Who is Being Itself.

To some readers, the enterprise of establishing the existence of an Infinite Creator of the world from the mere fact that there exist objects in Nature which are composite and have regular tendencies, may seem like the the metaphysical equivalent of a magician's hat trick. It sounds too good to be true. I shall argue below that reason can establish the existence of an Infinite Creator, but that it needs to proceed from a more secure empirical foundation.

### 1.5 Aquinas' Fifth Way: what do other Thomists think of it?

So, is Aquinas' Fifth Way really a knockdown demonstration? It turns out that not even all Thomist philosophers think that Aquinas' Fifth Way works as a proof (although of course, most of them do). One Thomist philosopher who doesn't think it succeeds as a proof is Professor Christopher F. J. Martin, author of Thomas Aquinas: God and Explanations (Edinburgh University Press, 1998), whom Professor Feser cited favorably in his online post, The trouble with William Paley (November 4, 2009) and in his recent article, "Existential Inertia and the Five Ways" (Australian Catholic Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 85, No. 2, 2011, pp. 237-267). Here is what Christopher Martin has to say about Aquinas' Fifth Way in his chapter, The Fifth Way:

Let me just say that as far as I can make out by far the hardest move in the Fifth Way is the move from unconscious to conscious teleology, and, for my part, I am not sure that St Thomas gives us conclusive reasons for making that move. I regard them as strong, but not conclusive, and the impression I have is that others regard them as not very strong at all...

St Thomas seems to put before us a stark choice: either the world requires an explanation in terms of what it's for, or nothing in the world in fact has any point, though it may seem to. The problem with this choice is that people may very well take the alternative St Thomas rejects. It is not uncommon for people to say that they regard the world as having no point, and regard any appearance that anything in the world has a point as purely delusive...

"But things which have no knowledge do not have a tendency to an end unless they are directed by something that does have knowledge and understanding. An example is an arrow directed by an archer." [Here, Professor Martin is quoting from Aquinas's Fifth Way - VJT]

This is the crucial claim of the Fifth Way, the step that takes us to God: and it is a little curious. It can be paraphrased as: every unconscious teleology, every case of something being for something without awareness of what it's for, is dependent on some conscious teleology, on some mind which is aware what that thing is for. It seems obvious to me that just in so far as one is disposed to admit the existence of unconscious teleology, one will be disposed to deny this claim... I feel rather friendless when I admit that to me the evidence for the existence of unconscious teleology seems overwhelming, but I cannot at first sight see any reason for holding the claim that it must in general depend on conscious teleology...

"Therefore there is some being with understanding which directs all things to their end, and this, we say, is God." [Here, Professor Martin is quoting from Aquinas's Fifth Way - VJT]

I can never quite make up my mind as to whether or not I find this argument convincing...

As I have said, I don't know whether or not the Fifth Way is a good proof. The alternative is pretty dreadful — that there's no point to anything — but just because a thing is pretty dreadful doesn't have to make it false.

I ask: if this is what a leading Thomist philosopher says about Aquinas' Fifth Way, then how on earth are atheists supposed to find it convincing?

To be fair, I should say that Martin wrote his book, Thomas Aquinas: God and Explanations, back in 1998, and that Professor Feser, in his more recent book, Aquinas (Oneworld, Oxford, 2009), does an admirable job of addressing Martin's concerns. Nevertheless, it seems to me that Feser's reconstructed version of Aquinas' Fifth Way is neither valid nor sound. Several of the key premises are open to doubt; and even when supplemented by Feser's helpful elucidations, they still fail to establish the existence of an Infinite Creator. The Fifth Way remains a "work in progress."

## PART TWO: The 21 background metaphysical assumptions underlying Aquinas' Fifth Way

A house of cards. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Aquinas' Fifth Way rests upon a number of background metaphysical assumptions. Without these assumptions, the argument simply cannot stand; it collapses like a house of cards. In the interests of clarity, it would therefore be advisable to set down these assumptions and subject them to careful scrutiny. Since the argument was intended by Aquinas to be a knockdown demonstration, the assumptions on which it is based should at least be certain beyond reasonable doubt. But are they?

To the best of my knowledge, no Thomist scholar has ever attempted to enumerate the background metaphysical assumptions which are presupposed by Aquinas' Fifth Way. This, I have to say, is an appalling oversight. I have therefore put together the following list of twenty-one background assumptions required for the Fifth Way to work, based on Professor Feser's helpful clarifying remarks in his book, Aquinas (Oneworld, Oxford, 2009) and in his essay, "Existential Inertia and the Five Ways" (Australian Catholic Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 85, No. 2, 2011, pp. 237-267).

It needs to be borne in mind that Feser's reconstructed version of Aquinas' Fifth Way is logically valid only if most or all of these twenty-one metaphysical assumptions are correct, and as I'll argue, five of them are not.

For those wanting to brush up on their Aristotelian-Thomistic metaphysics, here's a very brief glossary:

 Substance: A thing-in-itself, as distinct from its properties. Accident or accidental form: A property of a thing. Properties are always properties of something; that's why accidents cannot naturally exist without an underlying substance. Substantial form: A thing's substantial form is simply that by virtue of which it is the kind of thing it is. For instance, a lion's substantial form is what makes it a lion, rather than a tiger or a cheetah; water's substantial form is whatever it is that makes it water, rather than ethanol or hydrogen peroxide. In natural objects, substantial form is an actualization (or realization) of the prime matter underlying it. Prime Matter: Matter devoid of any form. For Thomists, prime matter is pure passive potency, without any positive features of its own. Prime matter is the ultimate substrate of change. It can never exist on its own; it is always tied to some form. Essence: The nature of a thing. For natural objects, a thing's essence consists of its prime matter and its substantial form. Existence: A thing's act of existence, which for Aquinas is really distinct from its essence, and not merely logically distinct.

And now, without further ado, here is my list of the twenty-one background metaphysical assumptions whose truth is presupposed by Aquinas' Fifth Way:

#### THE 21 BACKGROUND METAPHYSICAL ASSUMPTIONS UNDERLYING AQUINAS' FIFTH WAY

Principles relating to time

1. The A-Theory Principle: Change is an objective feature of reality: time is inherently tensed.

Without this premise, the argument cannot proceed. Aquinas himself regards the premise is indubitable: he declares that "It is certain, and evident to our senses, that in the world some things are in motion" (Summa Theologica I, q. 2, art. 3). Likewise, Professor Feser relies on the A-Theory Principle when he asserts that unintelligent natural objects are incapable, by themselves, of reliably attaining future ends, since these ends don't exist yet. As he puts it in his 2009 post, Teleology Revisited (September 24, 2009), "the whole point is that the coldness that the ice will produce, or the oak that the acorn will grow into, have not yet come about but are initially merely 'pointed' to by the ice or the acorn," adding that "the causal relations in question are totally unintelligent: ice and acorns do not have intellects." And in Aquinas (Oneworld, Oxford, 2009), he writes that "it is impossible for anything to be directed towards an end unless that end exists in an intellect that directs the thing in question towards it" (p. 117). But if the distinction between past, present and future is not an objective feature of reality, then Feser's assertion that unintelligent natural objects are incapable of attaining future ends without intelligent direction becomes irrelevant.

In a more recent post entitled, Maudlin on the philosophy of cosmology (January 23, 2012), Feser seems to backpedal on this point, arguing that "even if there were no real change or actualization of potency within an Einsteinian four-dimensional block universe, the sheer existence of that universe as a whole would involve the actualization of potency, and thus something like change in the Aristotelian sense (and thus in turn an actualizer or 'changer' distinct from the world itself, though that's a subject of its own)." But in order to argue for an intelligent actualizer or 'changer', Feser needs to show that there is something the actualizer or 'changer' does, which only an intelligent being could do. And the only thing he has ever nominated is: guiding things towards future goals, which in turn presupposes a metaphysical commitment to the objectivity of physical change.

Principles relating to immanent finality, or the innate dispositions of natural objects

2. The Immanent Finality Principle: There exist objects in the natural world, which have built-in tendencies (or innate dispositions) to produce certain characteristic effects. Objects which possess such innate dispositions are commonly called natural objects, and their characteristic effects are referred to as "ends" by Aristotle and Aquinas. It is important to realize that Aristotle and Aquinas are not saying that natural objects are consciously aware of their "ends"; indeed, the whole point of Aquinas' Fifth Way is that they're not aware of anything. Here are some examples:

Example (a): A lodestone has a natural tendency to point towards the Earth's North magnetic pole (which is actually a south pole), when suspended. This is because a lodestone tends to align itself with the Earth's magnetic field.

Example (b): Common table salt, or sodium chloride, has an innate natural tendency to dissolve in water.

The Immanent Finality Principle is the starting point of Aquinas' Fifth Way: "We see that things which lack intelligence, such as natural bodies, act for an end, and this is evident from their acting always, or nearly always, in the same way..." (Summa Theologica I, q. 2, art. 3).

Professor Feser clarifies Aquinas' point in a blog post entitled, Teleology Revisited (Septermber 24, 2009):

The core of the A-T [Aristotelian-Thomistic] "principle of finality" can be illustrated with the simplest sort of cause and effect relation you might care to take. As Aquinas sums it up: "Every agent acts for an end: otherwise one thing would not follow more than another from the action of the agent, unless it were by chance" (Summa Theologiae I.44.4). By "agent" he doesn't mean only conscious rational actors like ourselves, but anything that serves as an efficient cause. For example, insofar as a chunk of ice floating in the North Atlantic tends, all things being equal, to cause the water surrounding it to grow colder, it is an "agent" in the relevant sense. And what Aquinas is saying is that given that the ice will, unless impeded, cause the surrounding water to grow colder specifically – rather than to boil, to turn into Coca Cola, or to catch fire, and rather than having no effect at all – we have to suppose that there is in the ice a potency, power, or disposition which inherently "points to" the generation of that specific effect.

Feser lists some more examples of goal-directed activity in his book, Aquinas (Oneworld, Oxford, 2009):

A struck match generates fire and heat rather than frost and cold; an acorn always grows into an oak rather than a rosebush or dog; the moon goes around the earth in a smooth elliptical orbit rather than zigzagging erratically; the heart pumps blood continuously and doesn't stop and start several times a day; condensation results in precipitation which results in collection which results in evaporation which in turn results in condensation; and so forth. (p. 116)

3. The Future Orientation Principle: (i) The specific effects (or "ends") which these natural objects are disposed to produce, are never generated instantaneously; they always require a certain amount of time to produce. (ii) In other words, the innate dispositions of natural objects are future-oriented. Here are some examples that might be used to illustrate the principle:

Example (a): A lodestone, when suspended, does not instantaneously swing round and point north; rather, it requires a short period of time to do so. During that time, it is tending toward a future state of alignment with the earth's magnetic field.

Example (b): A salt crystal takes time to dissolve in water; it does not dissolve instantaneously. While it is dissolving, it is tending toward a future state of chemical equilibrium.

Feser relies on the Future Orientation Principle when he argues that unintelligent natural objects are incapable, by themselves, of reliably attaining future ends, and that an intelligent being is required to guide them toward those ends. As he puts it in a post entitled, Teleology Revisited (September 24, 2009):

For a cause to be efficacious – including a final cause – it has actually to exist in some way. It's not just that for A to be the efficient cause of B, A must exist – as it obviously must – but also that for B to be the final cause of A, B must also exist, in some sense, otherwise, being nonexistent, it could not be efficacious. Hence for the "coldness" that the ice generates to function as a final cause, it has to exist in some way; for an oak to function as the final cause of an acorn, it too has to exist in some way; and so forth.

Now there are only three options here: B must exist either in the natural world; or in some Platonic heaven, as a Form; or in an intellect which "directs" A towards B as A’s natural end or goal (as a carpenter has the table in his intellect as the end or goal of his hammering and sawing). Now by hypothesis, B does not exist in the natural world: the whole point is that the coldness that the ice will produce, or the oak that the acorn will grow into, have not yet come about but are initially merely "pointed" to by the ice or the acorn. Nor does B exist as a Platonic Form – at least not if, like Aquinas, one endorses moderate (or Aristotelian) realism about universals, instead of Platonic realism. The only place left for B to exist, then, is in an intellect...

In his book Aquinas (Oneworld, Oxford, 2009), Feser elaborates, using the example of an oak tree to illustrate his point:

One of the common objections to the very idea of final causality is that it seems to entail that a thing can produce an effect even before that thing exists. Hence to say that an oak tree is the final cause of an acorn seems to entail that the oak tree - which doesn't exist yet - in some sense causes the acorn to pass through every stage it must reach on the way to becoming an oak, since the oak is the goal or natural end of the acorn. But how can this be?

...But given what was said above, it is impossible for anything to be directed towards an end unless that end exists in an intellect that directs the thing in question towards it" (pp. 116-117).

St. Thomas Aquinas appears to uphold the Future Orientation Principle in his Fifth Way when he writes that "whatever lacks intelligence cannot move towards an end, unless it be directed by some being endowed with knowledge and intelligence" (Summa Theologica I, q. 2, art. 3).

Principles relating to the nature, or essence, of natural objects

4. The Essence Principle: All natural objects have determinate essences, which ground their built-in tendencies or innate dispositions. Here are some examples:

Example (a): A lodestone's natural tendency to point north, when suspended, is explained by the fact that it is a naturally magnetized piece of magnetite (chemical formula Fe3O4). Magnetite is the most magnetic of all the minerals found on Earth.

Example (b): The tendency of common table salt to dissolve in water is grounded in its nature, or essence, which is reflected by its chemical name: sodium chloride.

Feser's reconstruction of Aquinas' Fifth Way requires the Essence Principle, for two reasons: (i) he needs to argue that the goal-directed tendencies of objects, which are the starting point of the Fifth Way, are grounded in their essences, so that he can show that the Intelligent Being guiding things to their built-in goals is also the Author of their very being; and (ii) Feser's argument must assume that the essence of a natural object is distinct from its act of existence, in order to demonstrate that the Intelligent Being who guides things to their built-in ends is a supernatural Being Whose essence and existence are identical.

5. The Four Causes Principle: A thing's nature or essence is exhausted by describing the four kinds of causality which characterize it: its efficient causality (what it is capable of generating), its formal cause (its form, which makes it the kind of thing it is), its material cause (the ultimate substrate underlying any changes it undergoes) and its final cause (the characteristic effects that it naturally tends to produce). No other kinds of causality are required to understand an object. Some examples:

Example (a): A lodestone acts as an efficient cause (e.g. when it picks up nails, or when it is used to magnetize other objects), and it also has a formal cause (as expressed by its chemical formula, Fe3O4), a material cause (it's made out of protons, neutrons and electrons) and a final cause (as shown by its natural tendency to point north).

Example (b): Common table salt acts as an efficient cause (e.g. when it makes water taste brackish, after being dissolved in it), and it also has a formal cause (reflected by its chemical name, sodium chloride), a material cause (it's made out of protons, neutrons and electrons) and a final cause (as shown by its natural tendency to dissolve in water).

Feser's reconstruction of Aquinas' Fifth Way requires the Four Causes Principle, because in his book Aquinas (Oneworld, Oxford, 2009, pp. 18-19) he argues that an object's final cause(s), or built-in end(s), determine its formal and material causes, and he adds that we cannot make sense of efficient causality without final causality. He goes on to say that the final cause is "that which determines all of the other causes" - an assumption which he requires in order to show that the Intelligent Agent who guides things to their built-in ends also maintains them in existence.

6. The Fundamentality of Finality Principle: A thing's final cause is prior to or more fundamental than all of the other causes, as it determines all of the other causes in a natural object, and thereby determines the very nature of that object.

The Fundamentality of Finality Principle is a vital premise in Feser's reconstruction of Aquinas' Fifth Way, as he uses it to show that the Intelligent Being who guides things towards their natural ends is not merely a cosmic tinkerer, but the Author of their very existence.

In his book, Aquinas (Oneworld, Oxford, 2009), Feser cites Aquinas in support of the principle, later going on to explain its relevance for the Fifth Way:

..[J]ust as form is ultimately prior to matter (and, more generally, act prior to potency), final causes are prior to or more fundamental than efficient causes, insofar as they make efficient causes intelligible (DPN 4.25). Indeed, for Aquinas the final cause is "the cause of causes" (In Phys II.5.186), that which determines all of the other causes. (p. 18)

...[F]or a thing to have a certain final cause entails that it has a certain formal and material cause and thus a certain nature or essence. (p. 118)

Principles relating to composites, and their need for an external cause

7. The External Cause of Composites Principle: Anything which is composed of parts - be they material or metaphysical - requires an external cause to explain its continuation in existence. An internal explanation (e.g. mutual attraction) will not suffice, since if part A depends on part B and part B depends on part A, then we have a vicious explanatory circle. Moreover, we can treat any natural object having a set of characteristic properties as a composite (of essence and properties), and we can legitimately demand an external explanation for why an object of that kind has precisely those characteristic properties. Some examples:

Example (a): Because a lodestone is a piece of magnetite, it has physical parts, which need to be held together somehow. According to the above principle, these parts alone cannot hold each other together; they also require an external cause to maintain them in existence as a single object.

Example (b): A salt crystal is an atomic lattice; thus it is composed of parts. According to the above principle, these parts require an external cause to hold them together. A purely internal explanation won't do, according to Feser: to say that the atoms in the lattice depend on each other to stay together is viciously circular. Hence he would argue that there must be something outside the crystal which holds it together and explains its continuation in existence.

St. Thomas Aquinas argues that "every composite is posterior to its component parts, and is dependent on them," and that "every composite has a cause, for things in themselves different cannot unite unless something causes them to unite" (Summa Theologica, I, q. 3, art. 7). Aquinas concludes that since God is the First Cause, he must be "altogether simple."

In his elucidation of Aquinas' Fifth Way, Feser is especially concerned to show that the Intelligent Being Who guides things towards their natural ends is altogether simple and devoid of parts; otherwise, He cannot be identified with the God of classical theism. In his essay, "Existential Inertia and the Five Ways" (Australian Catholic Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 85, No. 2, 2011, pp. 237-267), Professor Feser argues that an absolutely simple being does not require a causal explanation: "For if there really is something that just is Pure Act, Subsistent Being Itself, absolute simplicity, and so forth, then there is no mystery about why this something requires no further explanation" (p. 261). Other beings, being composites, require a cause. Feser helpfully spells out the logic in a comment of his, attached to a blog post entitled, William Lane Craig (November 11, 2009):

Indeed, for classical theism, anything that is less than absolutely simple could not be God. For if it had parts, those parts would be ontologically prior to it, in which case it would have an explanation in terms of the composition of its parts and it would therefore not be the first principle of all things (which God is supposed to be).

8. The Substance-Accident Composite Principle: Since a natural object is ontologically prior to the properties of that object, we can legitimately regard any natural object as a composite of a substance (i.e. the object itself) and its accidents (i.e. its properties). A natural substance and its accidents are therefore distinct parts of the same object. Any object which is a composite of substance and accidents therefore requires an external cause, which maintains it in existence and which explains why the substance has those properties.

Example (a): A lodestone possesses certain properties: for example, its size, shape, color and hardness. According to Feser, a lodestone's possession of properties (or accidents) shows that that it is a composite of substance and accident, requiring an external cause to keep it together.

Example (b): A sodium chloride crystal possesses certain properties: for example, its size, shape and degree of solubility in water. According to Feser, a salt crystal's possession of properties (or accidents) shows that that it is a composite of substance and accident, requiring an external cause to keep it together.

Feser needs this principle, in order to show that the Uncaused Intelligent Being Who guides all creatures to their built-in natural ends is not a composite of substance and accident.

St. Thomas Aquinas argues that there are no accidents in God, in his Summa Theologica, I, q. 3, art. 6, where he writes that "what is essential is prior to what is accidental. Whence as God is absolute primal being, there can be in Him nothing accidental."

In a blog post entitled, William Lane Craig (November 11, 2009), Feser carefully distinguishes (following Peter Geach) between real properties, which are intrinsic to the thing itself (such as a person's height) and mere "Cambridge properties," which are purely relational (such as a person's being taller than Socrates). Feser then goes on to say that the Catholic doctrine of Divine simplicity, God has no real accidental properties, although He can have relational ones: "The doctrine of divine simplicity does not entail that God has no accidental properties of any sort; He can have accidental Cambridge properties."

In his essay, "Existential Inertia and the Five Ways" (Australian Catholic Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 85, No. 2, 2011, pp. 237-267), Professor Feser argues that the Intelligent Being Who guides things towards their natural ends must be absolutely simple, and he writes: "For if there really is something that just is Pure Act, Subsistent Being Itself, absolute simplicity, and so forth, then there is no mystery about why this something requires no further explanation" (p. 261). It follows from this that on Feser's account, God cannot be composed of substance and accident.

9. The Matter-Form Composite Principle: Any natural object can be regarded as a composite of its prime matter (i.e. the underlying substrate of physical change, which is just pure passive potency) and its substantial form (i.e. that which makes it the kind of thing it is). Matter and form are therefore distinct parts of an object. Any object which is a composite of matter and form therefore requires an external cause, to explain its continuation in existence, and to keep its form conjoined to its underlying matter.

Feser needs this principle, in order to demonstrate that the Intelligent Being Who guides things to their built-in ends is not a composite of matter and form.

Aquinas argues in his Summa Theologica, I, q. 3, art. 2 that "because everything composed of matter and form owes its perfection and goodness to its form; therefore its goodness is participated, inasmuch as matter participates the form." Hence God, Who is essentially good, cannot be composed of matter and form.

In his essay, "Existential Inertia and the Five Ways" (Australian Catholic Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 85, No. 2, 2011), Professor Feser writes:

In an Aristotelian vein, one might hold that any natural substance S must be a composite of prime matter and substantial form, and that since prime matter is of itself purely potential, S cannot exist unless some actualizer A conjoins (and keeps conjoined) to its prime matter the substantial form of S... (p. 242)

Nor will it do to suggest that any particular form/matter composite might have its necessity of itself, even apart from the fact that such composites have an inherent tendency to go out of existence. For since in purely material substances matter depends on form and form depends on matter, we would have a vicious explanatory circle unless there was something outside the form/matter composite which accounts for its existence. (p. 247)

But matter of itself is pure potency and material forms of themselves are mere abstractions, so that neither can exist apart from the other; and even when existing together they cannot depend on each other alone on pain of vicious circularity. (p. 248)

Note that prime matter cannot at any moment exist without form and a material form cannot at any moment exist without prime matter; they depend on each other at every moment in which they are conjoined together in a material substance. Hence the circularity inherent in explaining the existence of a material substance's form in terms of its matter and the existence of its matter in terms of its form holds at any moment at which the substance exists, so that they require an external cause of their conjunction at any moment it exists. (p. 248)

Feser goes on to argue that the Uncaused Intelligent Being Who guides things towards their natural ends cannot be composed of matter and form (for if it did then it would require a cause), and therefore cannot be identified with any material object.

10. The Essence-Existence Composite Principle: Anything whose essence can be grasped by a mind, without knowing whether or not it actually exists, must be composed of two distinct parts: its essence and its existence. Such a composite therefore requires an external cause, to explain its continuation in existence. Here are some examples which serve to illustrate this principle:

Example (a): A person who has lived a very sheltered life, owing to infirmities suffered during childhood, might understand perfectly well what magnetite is, from reading a textbook and learning about its chemical structure. However, this person might not happen to know whether there is any magnetite naturally occurring on Earth, because she has never heard about lodestones.

Example (b): An alien scientist on a faraway planet could understand what sodium chloride is, without knowing whether there is any sodium chloride in the universe.

Feser needs this principle, in order to demonstrate that the Intelligent Being Who guides things to their built-in ends is not a composite of essence and existence, but Pure Existence Itself.

In his Summa Theologica I, q. 3, article 4, St. Thomas Aquinas writes:

Therefore, if the existence of a thing differs from its essence, this existence must be caused either by some exterior agent or by its essential principles. Now it is impossible for a thing's existence to be caused by its essential constituent principles, for nothing can be the sufficient cause of its own existence, if its existence is caused. Therefore that thing, whose existence differs from its essence, must have its existence caused by another.

In his book Aquinas (Oneworld, Oxford, 2009), Feser upholds a real distinction between essence and existence:

...[I]f it is possible to understand the essence of a thing without knowing whether it exists, its act of existing (if it has one) must be distinct from its essence, as a metaphysically separate component of the thing. (p. 29)

Likewise, in his essay, "Existential Inertia and the Five Ways" (Australian Catholic Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 85, No. 2, 2011), Professor Feser argues that a being whose essence is distinct from its existence requires a cause for its existence:

Or, in a more distinctively Thomistic vein, one might hold that any natural substance S must be a composite of an essence and an act of existence, and that since an essence is of itself purely potential, S cannot exist unless some actualizer A conjoins (and keeps conjoined) to its essence S's act of existence... (p. 242)

The argument for an Uncaused Cause, as I have interpreted it, essentially makes a separate argument of this second more concrete conceptualization of the actualizing of S. It holds that S's essence, and thus S itself, is merely potential until that essence is conjoined with an act of existence. But if S or S's essence did this conjoining, then S would be the cause of itself, which is impossible. Hence the conjoining must be done by some cause C distinct from S... (p. 245)

Material substances are also composites of essence and existence, as are non-divine necessary beings like angels, and any such composite must have its essence and existence conjoined by something distinct from it. (p. 248)

11. The Potency-Act Composite Principle: Any being whose nature contains a mixture of potentialities and actualizations is a composite being, whose potentialities and actualizations are distinct parts of it. Thus any being which is a composite of potency and act requires an external cause to keep it in existence.

Example (a): A lodestone is potentially capable of swinging in many different directions, depending on the strength of nearby fields affecting it (accidental change), or of being dissolved by acid (substantial change). According to Feser, a lodestone's capability of undergoing accidental and substantial change shows that that it is a composite of potency and act, requiring an external cause to keep it together.

Example (b): A sodium chloride crystal is potentially capable of being heated (an accidental change) or of being dissolved in water (substantial change). According to Feser, a salt crystal's capability of undergoing accidental and substantial change shows that that it is a composite of potency and act, requiring an external cause to keep it together.

Feser needs this principle, in order to demonstrate that the Intelligent Being Who guides things to their built-in ends is not a composite in any way, and therefore does not require an external cause to keep it together.

In his Summa Theologica I, q. 3, article 7, St. Thomas Aquinas writes: "[E]very composite is posterior to its component parts, and is dependent on them... [E]very composite has a cause, for things in themselves different cannot unite unless something causes them to unite."

In his essay, "Existential Inertia and the Five Ways" (Australian Catholic Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 85, No. 2, 2011), Professor Feser writes:

...[T]he existence, even for an instant, of composites of act and potency presupposes the simultaneous existence of that which is pure act... (p. 240)

In the first argument, the idea was that the existence of any natural substance S at any given moment presupposes the actualization at that moment of a potency, and that whatever does the actualizing must itself already be actual. (p. 245)

Principles relating to the notion of participation

12. The Participatory Principle: Any positive actualization which a thing does not possess of itself, it must receive from another thing. In that case, we say that the first object participates in the actualization of the second. (The second object does not need to possess the same actualization as the first; it simply needs to be able to produce that actualization in the first object.)

In his Summa Theologica I, q. 3, article 4, St. Thomas Aquinas writes: "...[W]hatever a thing has besides its essence must be caused either by the constituent principles of that essence (like a property that necessarily accompanies the species - as the faculty of laughing is proper to a man - and is caused by the constituent principles of the species), or by some exterior agent - as heat is caused in water by fire."

The Participatory Principle is often used by Thomistic philosophers to argue that the Intelligent Being and Ultimate Cause Who maintains things in existence and guides them to their ends, must possess its actualizations per se, and not per accidens. In other words, its actualizations are uncaused.

Again, in his Summa Theologica I, q. 44, article 1, St. Thomas Aquinas writes: "For whatever is found in anything by participation, must be caused in it by that to which it belongs essentially, as iron becomes ignited by fire."

Feser acknowledges this principle in his article, ("Existential Inertia and the Five Ways", Australian Catholic Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 85, No. 2, 2011), when he states that "A cause cannot give what it does not have to give" (p. 258).

13. The Participatory Existence Principle: The fact that we can know what a natural object is, without knowing whether it exists, shows that the natural object owes its existence to some outside source.

In his De Ente et Essentia, chapter 4, St. Thomas Aquinas writes:

Whatever is not in the concept of the essence or the quiddity comes from beyond the essence and makes a composition with the essence, because no essence can be understood without the things that are its parts. But every essence or quiddity can be understood without understanding anything about its existence: I can understand what a man is or what a phoenix is and nevertheless not know whether either has existence in reality. Therefore, it is clear that existence is something other than the essence or quiddity, unless perhaps there is something whose quiddity is its very own existence, and this thing must be one and primary...

The Participatory Principle is often used by Thomistic philosophers to argue that the Intelligent Being and Ultimate Cause Who maintains things in existence and guides them to their ends, cannot be a composite of essence and existence, but must instead be Pure Unlimited Existence.

Everything that pertains to a thing, however, either is caused by the principles of its own nature, as risibility in man, or else comes from some extrinsic principle, as light in the air from the influence of the sun. Now, it cannot be that existence itself is caused by the very form or quiddity of the thing (I mean as by an efficient cause), because then the thing would be its own efficient cause, and the thing would produce itself in existence, which is impossible. Therefore, everything the existence of which is other than its own nature has existence from another.

In his essay, "Existential Inertia and the Five Ways" (Australian Catholic Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 85, No. 2, 2011), Professor Feser writes:

...any natural substance S must be a composite of an essence and an act of existence, and that since an essence is of itself purely potential, S cannot exist unless some actualizer A conjoins (and keeps conjoined) to its essence S's act of existence... (p. 242)

The argument for an Uncaused Cause, as I have interpreted it,... holds that S's essence, and thus S itself, is merely potential until that essence is conjoined with an act of existence. But if S or S's essence did this conjoining, then S would be the cause of itself, which is impossible. Hence the conjoining must be done by some cause C distinct from S. (p. 245)

Principles relating to ways in which a thing can exist

14. The Three Ways Principle: At most, there are only three ways in which a thing could possibly exist: in reality, in someone's mind, and in a Platonic "third realm," as an independent abstract form.

Feser invokes this principle in his 2011 essay, "Existential Inertia and the Five Ways", when he argues that the whole notion of future-directed unintelligent natural causes makes no sense, unless these causes are guided by an Intelligent Being:

The basic idea is this. A cause cannot be efficacious unless it acts in some way. But in the case of the final cause of some unintelligent natural process, the cause in question does not exist in the natural order. For instance, the oak is the end or final cause of the acorn, and yet until the acorn develops into the oak, the oak does not actually exist in the natural world. Now with artifacts, the final cause can be efficacious because it exists (or rather its form exists) in the mind of the artificer. For example, a building is the final cause of the actions of the builder, and it serves as a genuine cause despite its not yet existing in the natural order by existing at least as an idea in the builder's intellect. Now unless there is some third alternative, this is how final causes operative in the order of unintelligent natural things must exist, for they have to exist somehow in order to be efficacious. But there is no third alternative, given Aquinas' rejection of Platonism. If the oak does not exist in a Platonic third realm and it does not yet exist either in the natural world, the only place left for it to exist, as it must if it is to have any efficacy vis-a-vis the acorn, is as a form or idea in an intellect. And the same thing is true of all the other final causes operative in the order of unintelligent natural processes, which means it is true of the entire order of efficient causes making up the natural world, since all efficient causality presupposes final causality.

So there must be an intellect outside the natural order directing things to their ends, where these ends pre-exist as ideas in said intellect.
("Existential Inertia and the Five Ways", Australian Catholic Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 85, No. 2, 2011, p. 252.)

15. The Anti-Platonic Principle: Abstract forms are incapable of agency, and therefore have no power to influence events.

Feser needs to appeal to this principle, in order to rule out Platonism as an explanation of the order we find in Nature. Whatever it is that guides things to their built-in ends, it certainly isn't the number 42, an equilateral triangle, or the form of a phoenix.

Feser appeals to the Anti-Platonic principle in the quote above, when he writes:

"But there is no third alternative, given Aquinas' rejection of Platonism. If the oak does not exist in a Platonic third realm and it does not yet exist either in the natural world, the only place left for it to exist, as it must if it is to have any efficacy vis-a-vis the acorn, is as a form or idea in an intellect." ("Existential Inertia and the Five Ways", Australian Catholic Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 85, No. 2, 2011, p. 253.)

Principles relating to causal agency and causal explanations

16. The Causal Substantiality Principle: The cause of any state of affairs is always a thing or substance, not just an event.

Example (a): When a lodestone aligns itself with the Earth's magnetic field, it is an object, the Earth, which is responsible for moving the lodestone.

Example (b): When a sodium chloride crystal dissolves in an aqueous solution, it is a substance, water, which is responsible for dissolving the crystal.

In his book, The Last Superstition (St. Augustine's Press, South Bend, Indiana, 2008), Professor Feser sharply criticizes the philosophical view that characterizes causes as events rather than things, using the everyday illustration of a tossed brick smashing a window to argue that this philosophical way of speaking conflicts with both common sense and everyday usage:

Suppose you asked your uncle (or whomever) what caused the broken window. Unless he's a philosopher, he'd probably say, "The brick did" - the brick, not "the event of the brick's being thrown." In other words, for common sense it is ultimately things that are causes, not events. Aristotle would agree. (2008, p. 92)

The reason why Feser requires the Causal Substantiality Principle in his Fifth Way is that he needs to show that the Ultimate Cause of things attaining their built-in ends is not just an event, but an Intelligent Being - in fact, Pure Being Itself, as he argues later on.

17. The Simultaneous Agency Principle: In order for a cause to act upon something, the cause must exist simultaneously with the thing it acts upon.

Example (a): The action of a magnetic field (e.g. the Earth's magnetic field) upon a lodestone is simultaneous with the movement (or alignment, after it has finally reached equilibrium) of that lodestone.

Example (b): The action of water in dissolving the outside of a sodium chloride crystal is simultaneous with its coming into contact with that crystal.

Feser needs this principle, in order to show that the Intelligent Being directing things towards their ends is an actual entity, and not a watchmaker Deity who set up the universe in the distant past but no longer interacts with it.

In his Summa Theologica I, q. 46, art. 2, reply to objection 7, St. Thomas Aquinas distinguishes between two kinds of causal series - those in which each cause is "per se" required for a certain effect, and those in which each cause's contribution to its effect is an accidental one. St. Thomas uses the illustration of a hand moving a stick moving a stone as an illustration of a "per se" causal chain. In this example, it is quite clear - as Feser himself acknowledges - that Aquinas envisages the movements of the hand, stick and stone as being simultaneous with one another. "Per se" causal chains cannot be infinitely long, as each member is intrinsically dependent on its causal predecessor, and we can only explain the causal powers of each member with reference to its prior members. However, an infinite regress of explanations is no explanation at all; so there must be a terminus. Chains of accidental causes, on the other hand, could conceivably contain an infinite number of causes, going back forever in time: Jones is the son of his father, who is the son of his father, and so on ad infinitum. The reason is that for each member of an accidental series, its causal powers are independent of those of its predecessors: a man does not need his father to be alive, in order to reproduce:

In efficient causes it is impossible to proceed to infinity "per se"--thus, there cannot be an infinite number of causes that are "per se" required for a certain effect; for instance, that a stone be moved by a stick, the stick by the hand, and so on to infinity. But it is not impossible to proceed to infinity "accidentally" as regards efficient causes; for instance, if all the causes thus infinitely multiplied should have the order of only one cause, their multiplication being accidental... [I]t is accidental to this particular man as generator to be generated by another man; for he generates as a man, and not as the son of another man. For all men generating hold one grade in efficient causes--viz. the grade of a particular generator. Hence it is not impossible for a man to be generated by man to infinity; but such a thing would be impossible if the generation of this man depended upon this man, and on an elementary body, and on the sun, and so on to infinity.

In his book, The Last Superstition (St. Augustine's Press, South Bend, Indiana, 2008), Feser carefully elucidates the distinction drawn by Aquinas in the passage above, between an accidentally ordered causal series (whose members can stretch back indefinitely in time, as each member of the series is capable of operating independently of its predecessors) and an essentially ordered causal series (in which each member derives its causal powers from other members which are causally prior to it but temporally simultaneous with it, terminating in the uncaused first member):

He [Aristotle] would also say that the immediate cause of an effect, and the one most directly responsible for it, is simultaneous with the effect, not temporally prior to it. In the case of the broken window, the key point in the causal series would be something like the pushing of the brick into the glass and the glass's giving way. The events are simultaneous: indeed, Aristotle would say that the brick's pushing into the glass and the glass's giving way are really just the same event, considered under different descriptions. (p. 92)

But things are very different with essentially ordered causal series. These sorts of series paradigmatically trace, not backwards in time, but rather "downward" in the present moment, since they are series in which each member depends simultaneously on other members which simultaneously depend in turn on yet others, and so on. In this sort of series, the later members have no independent causal powers of their own, being mere instruments of a first member. Hence if there were no first member, such a series would not exist at all. (p. 93)

Finally, in his book Aquinas (Oneworld, Oxford, 2009), Feser explains why the simultaneity of cause and effect is crucial to the Fifth Way, when he argues that the Intelligent Being directing things towards their natural ends must exist now, because "true efficient causes" (i.e. per se causes) are simultaneous with their effects. If this were not so, for all we know, the Intelligent Being directing things to their built-in ends might be dead by now, making It no more relevant to the universe than the "watchmaker" God worshiped by some eighteenth and nineteenth century Deists:

Moreover, this intellect must exist here and now, and not merely at some beginning point in the past, because causes are here and now, and at any point at which they exist at all, directed towards certain ends (otherwise, for reasons examined already, they wouldn't on Aquinas' analysis be true efficient causes at all). As with Aquinas' other arguments, he is not concerned here with whether and how the universe might have begun, but rather with what keeps it as it is at any given moment, a question which must arise even if the universe had no beginning. Hence the Supreme Intelligence of the Fifth Way is not the deistic god that seems to be the most Paley can argue for. (pp. 117-118)

Can the Simultaneous Agency Principle be grounded in an even more fundamental principle: the Agent-Instrument Principle?

Elsewhere in his book Aquinas (Oneworld, Oxford, 2009), Feser seems to downplay the importance of the simultaneity of cause and effect, arguing that what really matters for the purposes of his argument is not the simultaneity of "per se" causes with their effects, but the existence of a Transcendent Cause which is able to interact with all of the effects:

That the members of such a series exist simultaneously, and that the series does not regress to infinity, are of secondary importance. As Patterson Brown and John Wippel point out, even if a series of causes ordered per se could somehow be said to regress to infinity, it would remain the case, given that they are merely instrumental causes, that there must be something outside the entire infinite series that imparts to them their causal power.

On this account, the important thing is that the "per se" causes in a chain are instrumental causes, and instruments presuppose an Agent. We might refer to this Principle as the Agent-Instrument Principle. Does it offer a more secure grounding for the argument leading to an Ultimate Cause, as Feser apparently thinks?

In my view, the concession Feser makes in the passage above is fatal to his case. For if (per impossibile) a series of per se causes could go back forever, then Feser would have no good philosophical reason to posit the existence of a primary, non-instrumental cause. Feser tries to appeal to a more fundamental principle - as he sees it - that merely instrumental causes (whether finite or infinite in number) presuppose the existence of a primary agent. But it seems to me that this is a purely linguistic point: in describing the cause of a state of affairs as "instrumental," we are implicitly assuming the existence of a primary, non-instrumental explanation for that state of affairs. Fair enough; but no self-respecting skeptic is ever going to concede that the causes we observe in Nature are instrumental, in that sense of the word. Nor is it obvious why the skeptic should make such a concession.

To buttress his case, Feser cites a couple of intuitive illustrations: on page 95 of The Last Superstition he gives the examples of (i) a caboose being pulled by an infinite series of freight cars, without any locomotive, and (ii) a paint brush with an infinitely long handle, painting a fence without a painter holding it, to convey the utter absurdity of supposing that an infinite series of instrumental causes can do away with the need for a primary agent. However, it is not at all obvious that the causes in his examples are truly instrumental causes. The boxcar that pulls the caboose to which it is connected does so because it currently possesses momentum; how and when it acquired this momentum is irrelevant to its ability to pull the caboose. Thus it would be incorrect to speak of it as an instrument of the other boxcars to which it is connected. The same goes for the infinite paintbrush: only the molecules of the handle which are in direct contact with the brush itself can be described as per se causes of its movement, and these molecules move the brush by virtue of the momentum they possess. To speak of these molecules as "instruments" of the molecules further up the handle is question-begging.

Of course, if Feser wanted to argue that a brush without a painter cannot paint anything meaningful (e.g. a picture), then he would be perfectly correct, but the argument of the Fifth Way is not about meaning, but about goal-directed causality.

I am forced to conclude, then, that Feser cannot dispense with the Simultaneous Agency Principle without jeopardizing his Fifth Way.

In the interests of fairness, however, I would like to add that criticisms which have been made by various people (including myself, on previous occasions) of Feser's illustrations of per se causes on the grounds that these causes are not strictly speaking simultaneous, in no way undermine his main point, which is that only a Being whose existence is fully actualized can serve as an Ultimate Explanation of change and of other states of affairs requiring a cause. However, in my view, ditching the requirement that a per se cause must be simultaneous with its effects would be disastrous.

18. The Agency Explanatory Principle: Anything which serves as an ultimate causal explanation must be something capable of acting or operating. Since the laws of Nature as such are abstractions and hence incapable of acting, it follows that the laws of Nature cannot serve as an ultimate explanation of anything.

Example (a): The laws of Nature can tell us that lodestones point north, but they do note tell us why. They do not explain the behavior of lodestones.

Example (b): The laws of Nature can never serve as an ultimate, bedrock explanation for why sodium chloride has a disposition to dissolve in water. These laws only tell us that common salt does dissolve in water, without explaining the fact.

Feser needs this principle, in order to rebut skeptical arguments that the ultimate causal explanation of all the order we find in Nature might simply be the laws of Nature.

In his essay, "Existential Inertia and the Five Ways" (Australian Catholic Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 85, No. 2, 2011, pp. 237-267), Professor Feser approvingly quotes the following passage from Wittgenstein's Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus 6.371 and 6.372 (translation D. F. Pears and F. F. McGuinness, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1961):

The whole modern conception of the world is founded on the illusion that the so-called laws of nature are the explanations of natural phenomena.

Thus people today stop at the laws of nature, treating them as something inviolable, just as God or Fate were treated in past ages.

And in fact both are right and both wrong; though the view of the ancients is clearer in so far as they have a clear and acknowledged terminus, while the modern system tries to make it look as though everything were explained.

Feser goes on to endorse Wittgenstein's point about laws of nature, and he also cites an article by two recent philosophers, Jonathan Kvanvig and Hugh McCann, entitled, "Divine Conservation and the Persistence of the World" (in Divine and Human Action: Essays in the Metaphysics of Theism, ed. Thomas V. Morris, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, pp. 13-49):

As Kvanvig and McCann emphasize, "laws, after all, are descriptive in import. They do not operate at all, despite our figures of speech, and they do not do anything in or to the world. If they are true, it is because things themselves have features the laws describe." (p. 34)

19. The Ultimate Causal Explanation Principle: Anything which requires an external causal explanation, must have an ultimate explanation. All explanations must terminate somewhere; or they fail to explain anything at all. Thus an infinite regress of explanatory causes could never explain anything. Neither could a circle of explanatory causes, for such a circle would involve a thing being causally explained by itself (A is causally explained by B, which is causally explained by C, which is causally explained by A), which would make it causally prior to itself.

Feser needs this principle in order to rule out an infinite regress of per se causes, or causal explanations, as opposed to mere causal conditions (per accidens causes). NOTE: In my discussion of the Simultaneous Agency Principle above [number 17], I pointed out that in his recent work, Feser has suggested that the Agent Instrument Principle (which says that the "per se" causes in a chain are instrumental causes, and that instruments presuppose an Agent) may be what grounds the Ultimate Causal Explanation Principle. However, I went on to argue that this revision wouldn't work, as the skeptic is never likely to concede that the "per se" causes in a chain are instrumental causes: to do so would be to give the game away. Putting it another way: the Agent Instrument Principle is a linguistic one, which tells us nothing about reality.

In his Summa Theologica I, q. 46, article 2, Reply to objection 7, St. Thomas Aquinas explains why an infinite regress of "per se" causes (where each member of the chain is intrinsically dependent on its predecessors) is impossible:

In efficient causes it is impossible to proceed to infinity "per se" - thus, there cannot be an infinite number of causes that are "per se" required for a certain effect; for instance, that a stone be moved by a stick, the stick by the hand, and so on to infinity. But it is not impossible to proceed to infinity "accidentally" as regards efficient causes; for instance, if all the causes thus infinitely multiplied should have the order of only one cause, their multiplication being accidental, as an artificer acts by means of many hammers accidentally, because one after the other may be broken. It is accidental, therefore, that one particular hammer acts after the action of another; and likewise it is accidental to this particular man as generator to be generated by another man; for he generates as a man, and not as the son of another man. For all men generating hold one grade in efficient causes - viz. the grade of a particular generator. Hence it is not impossible for a man to be generated by man to infinity; but such a thing would be impossible if the generation of this man depended upon this man, and on an elementary body, and on the sun, and so on to infinity.

Likewise, in his essay, "Existential Inertia and the Five Ways" (Australian Catholic Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 85, No. 2, 2011, pp. 237-267), Professor Feser refers to "a causal series ordered per se, which of its nature cannot regress infinitely" (p. 248). Feser, like Aquinas, believes that a chain of causes which are intrinsically dependent on one another must eventually come to an explanatory terminus.

Principles regarding what makes a thing finite

20. The Finitude from Determinacy Principle: Anything which is finite is limited by virtue of the fact that its nature is in some way determinate. The nature of a determinate being limits its existence: the "what-ness" (or essence) and existence of such a being are really distinct. Hence anything which is finite participates in being: its being is received from another.

Feser needs this principle in order to show that God is infinite.

In his Summa Theologica I, q. 7, article 1, St. Thomas Aquinas writes:

...[F]orm is not made perfect by matter, but rather is contracted by matter; and hence the infinite, regarded on the part of the form not determined by matter, has the nature of something perfect. Now being is the most formal of all things, as appears from what is shown above (4, 1, Objection 3). Since therefore the divine being is not a being received in anything, but He is His own subsistent being as was shown above (Question 3, Article 4), it is clear that God Himself is infinite and perfect.

In his book Aquinas (Oneworld, Oxford, 2009), Feser alludes to this line of thinking when he quotes Aquinas's argument that God is infinitely powerful: "'the more actual a thing is the more it abounds in active power,' so that as Pure Act, God must be infinite in power (QDP 1.2; cf. ST I.25.2)" (p. 123).

Principles regarding what makes a thing unique

21. The Identity of Essences Principle: If entities A and B have the same essence, and there are no material differences between them that might serve to individuate them, then A and B are necessarily identical.

In his Summa Theologica I, q. 11, article 3, St. Thomas Aquinas advances the following argument for God's unity:

Secondly, this is proved from the infinity of His perfection. For it was shown above (Question 4, Article 2) that God comprehends in Himself the whole perfection of being. If then many gods existed, they would necessarily differ from each other. Something therefore would belong to one which did not belong to another. And if this were a privation, one of them would not be absolutely perfect; but if a perfection, one of them would be without it. So it is impossible for many gods to exist.

In his book Aquinas (Oneworld, Oxford, 2009), Feser uses the Identity of Essences Principle to argue (following Aquinas) that there can only be one Being Whose essence is pure, unbounded existence - for if there were two such entities, there would be nothing to differentiate them:

Aquinas also gives ... other reasons for holding that the being whose existence is argued for in the Five Ways is necessarily unique. For there to be more than one such being, there would have to be some way to distinguish one from another, and this could only be in terms of some perfection or privation that one has but the other lacks. But as Pure Act, ... there can be no way in principle to distinguish one such being from another, and thus there could not possibly be more than one (ST I.11.3). (2009, p. 121)

## PART THREE: What's wrong with the background metaphysical assumptions underlying Aquinas' Fifth Way?

Before I address the more substantive problems with Professor Feser's background metaphysical assumptions in his reconstructed version of Aquinas' Fifth Way, I would like to dispense with one objection which I would anticipate from modern-day skeptics, but which Feser could easily rebut. Darwinists will be inclined to find fault with Feser's Essence Principle (which says that all natural objects have determinate essences that ground their built-in tendencies), since they maintain that one biological species can gradually evolve into another, over time, without there being a clear-cut boundary between the two species. Feser would reply that Darwinists' objections can be met, so long as we keep in mind that "essence" and "biological species" are not necessarily equivalent. Only when a lineage of evolving creatures acquires a new innate physical or behavioral disposition (i.e. a new causal power), we can say that those creatures possessing the new disposition have a different essence from that of their forebears. Regarding powers, Feser could then argue that an organism either has a particular power or it doesn't. Hence even in the biological realm, we can still speak of things having clear-cut essences.

Darwinists might still object that some powers are not a black-and-white affair: for instance, an animal's power or capacity to interbreed with other members of its species depends on which members we are talking about (think of ring species, for instance). But the possession of a power by an organism does not necessarily imply that it can be exercised on all possible occasions. In the example given, for instance, it is sufficient that an individual animal can interbreed with some members of the species to which it belongs - or, if it is sterile, that its body was formed by the same genetic program which normally gives other animals of its species the capacity to reproduce. (I might add that for Thomists, the capacity to interbreed with others of the same kind is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for membership of a given natural kind; in addition, the individual in question has to share the same built-in ends as other members of that kind.)

While the Darwinist challenge to Aquinas' Fifth Way can be met, I shall argue below that the following five metaphysical assumptions create real problems for the Fifth Way, as reconstructed by Professor Feser:

 THE FIVE MAIN METAPHYSICAL PROBLEMS WITH AQUINAS' FIFTH WAY 1. Aquinas' (and Feser's) whole case that natural causes require an Intelligent Being to direct them to their future ends rests on the assumption that change (from the past to the present to the future) is an objective feature of the world, and that time is inherently tensed (the A-theory Principle). However, many scientists argue - wrongly, in my view - that the A-theory Principle has been the A-theory of time conflicts with special relativity - or at the very least, that it is difficult to reconcile with special relativity. Feser needs to address this point. More controversially, Feser's argument assumes that natural causes are oriented towards future effects (the Future Orientation Principle). However, we can explain the behavior of natural causes in the inorganic world more simply, by assuming that they are oriented towards their present effects. Living organisms are another matter: they display future-oriented behavior, as they develop towards maturity. But even this behavior supervenes upon the present-oriented behavior of organisms' physical and chemical constituents: anything with the same chemical composition as a bacterium will develop in the same way as a bacterium, when placed in a hospitable environment. So it seems that we can explain the behavior of natural causes perfectly well, without needing to ascribe any mysterious "future orientations" to these causes. By Ockham's razor, we can therefore dispense with the Future Orientation Principle. Once we jettison it, however, Aquinas' whole case for an Intelligent Being Who guides natural causes towards their ends collapses. 2. Feser's argument that the Intelligent Being Who directs natural causes towards their built-in ends is also responsible for endowing these causes with their natures, rests on the false assumption (also made by Aquinas and Aristotle) that an object's ends determine its entire nature - in particular, that an object's final causes determine its formal and material causes (the Fundamentality of Finality Principle). In fact, it can easily be shown that even the complete specification of an object's final causes (or ends) fails to determine its formal and material causes, since a variety of different forms and materials are capable of realizing the same ends. This is true for both natural objects and artifacts. In that case, Feser needs to formulate a new argument, in order to show that the Intelligent Being Who guides things towards their ends also endows these things with their natures. 3. Feser's argument that the Intelligent Being Who directs natural objects towards their built-in ends is also responsible for endowing these objects with their very existence, rests on the critical assumption that things composed of parts require an external cause to hold them together (the External Cause of Composites Principle). But if the constituent parts in question are both independent of external causes, then there is no circularity involved in simply supposing that each part has the power to attract the other, and that mutual attraction is what keeps the two parts together. Thus in order to show that the Intelligent Being Who guides things towards their ends also endows these things with their existence, Feser needs to be able to show that natural objects' ultimate constituents are also dependent on an external cause, to keep them in existence. 4. Aquinas' (and Feser's) metaphysical assumption (the Matter-Form Composite Principle) that matter and form are two parts of one thing, actually hampers their argument that the Intelligent Being Who directs things towards their ends is not a mere "guide on the side," but the Creator and conserver of matter. For if matter and form are two distinct parts of one thing, then even if we could demonstrate that a thing's form needs an external cause to maintain it in existence, it would not necessarily follow that its underlying matter also needs an external cause to keep it in existence. Thus a being who gives natural objects their forms might not be the Creator of their matter: it might be merely a Demiurge, instead. The Thomist claim (based on the Fundamentality of Finality Principle discussed in point 2 above), that an object's final causes determine both its formal and material causes would certainly circumvent this difficulty, if it were correct. But since this claim has turned out to be false, it no longer follows that the Intelligent Being Who directs natural objects towards their built-in ends is also the Creator and Conserver of matter. 5. Feser's (and probably Aquinas') assumption (the Essence-Existence Composite Principle) that there's a real distinction between a creature's essence and its existence, actually hampers their argument that the Intelligent Being Who endows things with their natures (or essences) is also responsible for keeping them in existence. For if there is a real distinction between a thing's nature and its existence, then the Intelligent Being Who endows things with their natures (or essences) might be a different entity from the Being Who breathes these essences into existence. Putting it another way: we might envisage a world which would be completely formless and featureless (and hence, devoid of things with essences) without the activity of the Intelligent Being, but which would still exist, even in the absence of this Being.

 MY PROPOSED SOLUTIONS TO THE FIVE PROBLEMS FACING AQUINAS' FIFTH WAY 1. Instead of basing the case for an Intelligent Author of Nature on the contentious claim that natural causes are oriented towards future effects, I would propose basing it on the more defensible claim that natural objects which tend to behave in a regular fashion are in fact behaving in accordance with rules. The point that needs to be argued here is that we cannot give an account of the regularities we observe in Nature which guarantees their reliability at all - or even most - times and places, without assuming that these regularities are somehow normative, and that we live in a world where "ought" is just as fundamental as "is." Things which behave in a regular, reliable fashion are behaving as they ought to behave. In other words, a purely descriptive account of Nature is impossible; prescriptions go "all the way down," and are part of the very "warp and woof" of reality. We can then argue that these prescriptions are rules which define the form and finality of natural objects, and that rules presuppose the existence of a Mind. 2. In order to show that the Intelligent Being Who guides things towards their ends also endows these things with their natures, we need to argue that the rules we find in Nature are constitutive of natural objects, and of the cosmos as a whole. 3. In order to show that natural objects' ultimate constituents are also dependent on an external cause, to keep them in existence, we need to argue that natural objects, at all levels of reality, are defined by rules. 4. In order to show that the Intelligent Being Who directs things towards their ends is not a mere Demiurge, but the Creator of matter, we need to jettison the notion that there is some pure passive potency, devoid of all positive features (a.k.a. prime matter), which underlies the forms of things. (I should mention that some Scholastic philosophers, such as Suarez, taught that prime matter has some positive features of its own.) If the Thomist conception of prime matter as "pure passive potency" were true, then it would be impossible to demonstrate that prime matter needs to be maintained in existence by God. But in fact we find that matter, at all levels, is subject to scientific laws and is also quantifiable, so it must have positive features of its own. We also find that there are certain fundamental laws of physics which continue to hold across all transformations in Nature, whether accidental (e.g. an object's changing shape) or substantial (e.g. a chemical reaction). There is therefore no reason to suppose that there exists some metaphysical component of natural objects which is totally featureless and lawless, when considered in and of itself. Matter, even at its most fundamental level, is specified by the laws it obeys, as well as having quantitative properties. This suffices to refute the notion of a Demiurge, which rests on a faulty conception of matter. 5. All we need to do, in order to show that the Intelligent Being Who endows things with their natures (or essences) is also responsible for keeping them in existence, is to jettison the notion of there being a real distinction between a creature's essence and its existence. If the distinction between essence and existence is a merely logical one, then the problem of demonstrating that the Author of things' natures is also the Cause of their existence is automatically solved.

I would now like to address each of the five problems listed above, in detail.

### Problem Number One: Most natural causes are only present-directed, and even future-directed causes supervene on present-directed causal processes

 The problem in a nutshell: The Future Orientation Principle (which says that the innate dispositions of natural objects are future-oriented) is open to doubt. First, at least some natural objects have present-oriented dispositions: they interact instantaneously with the objects they are in immediate contact with. For instance, a sodium ion on the outer edge of a salt crystal will immediately break away from the crystal, when it encounters some water. Not all dispositions, then, are future-oriented. Second, it is quite possible that all of the future-oriented dispositions we find in Nature (and especially in living things) supervene upon lower-level, present-oriented dispositions, which would not seem to require a guiding Intelligence, according to Feser's argument. Third, Feser fails to address the neo-Darwinist objection that the apparently future-directed teleology we find in living things is really nothing more than a gradual accumulation of multiple (present-oriented) patterns of efficient causality, each of which evolved in organisms' ancestors and each of which happened to help those ancestors to replicate - in other words, teleonomy rather than teleology. Without the Future Orientation Principle, Feser's entire argument collapses: if it is false, then he cannot show that there is an Intelligent Being, Who guides natural objects to their built-in ends.

The first problem is the most fundamental one. One of the argument's key premises – that natural causes are directed at the production of future effects – is highly contentious, as far as inanimate natural causes are concerned. Now, it is obvious enough that natural causes are directed at the production of the effects that they regularly produce; but the claim that these effects are future effects is by no means evident. Indeed, it is doubtful whether there exists a single clearcut case of future-directedness, among in the inorganic world. Instead, we see causes which are oriented towards their present effects – like a ball breaking a window.

Certainly, in living things, we do see natural causes which are oriented towards future effects. But for Feser's argument to work, the future-directedness of natural causes must apply everywhere in Nature, and not just among living organisms. The reason is that although the teleology we find in living organisms is fundamental and irreducible, it nevertheless supervenes upon the underlying physicochemical properties of those organisms. (Put simply: any entity with the same atomic composition and structure as an E. coli bacterium, is an E. coli bacterium.) Hence if we can fully account for the movement of the atoms and molecules out of which living things are composed without invoking future effects, then the future-directedness of organisms at a holistic level can be viewed as simply being a consequence of the present-directed behavior of their constituent atoms and molecules. Thus once we grant that supervenience is true for living things, then the future-directedness of organisms becomes a derivative fact, rather than a fundamental fact.

However, Feser needs to establish the future-directedness of (at least some) natural causes as a fundamental fact, in order to demonstrate the existence of an Intelligence guiding these causes towards the production of their characteristic effects. Granting that premise, Feser's demonstration could then proceed as follows: the only way in which a future goal can be present now (as it would need to be, in order to exercise causal efficacy in the present) is if it already exists in the Mind of an Intelligence which guides natural causes towards their characteristic effects.

I conclude that unless future-directedness holds throughout the cosmos at the physicochemical level, and not just in the organic world, Feser's entire argument collapses.

Matches, ice and the moon: Why Feser's own examples of future-directedness fail

Left: An igniting match. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.
Right: Ice melting in water. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

In his book, Aquinas (Oneworld, Oxford, 2009), Feser enumerates some examples of what he regards as goal-directed activity in Nature:

A struck match generates fire and heat rather than frost and cold; an acorn always grows into an oak rather than a rosebush or dog; the moon goes around the earth in a smooth elliptical orbit rather than zigzagging erratically; the heart pumps blood continuously and doesn't stop and start several times a day; condensation results in precipitation which results in collection which results in evaporation which in turn results in condensation; and so forth. (p. 116)

In a post entitled, Teleology Revisited (September 24, 2009), Feser elaborates, using the illustration of ice cooling water:

For example, insofar as a chunk of ice floating in the North Atlantic tends, all things being equal, to cause the water surrounding it to grow colder, it is an "agent" in the relevant sense. And what Aquinas is saying is that given that the ice will, unless impeded, cause the surrounding water to grow colder specifically – rather than to boil, to turn into Coca Cola, or to catch fire, and rather than having no effect at all – we have to suppose that there is in the ice a potency, power, or disposition which inherently "points to" the generation of that specific effect. That the ice is an efficient cause of coldness entails that generating coldness is the final cause of ice. And in general, if there is a regular efficient causal connection between a cause A and an effect B, then generating B is the final cause of A...

For a cause to be efficacious – including a final cause – it has actually to exist in some way. It's not just that for A to be the efficient cause of B, A must exist – as it obviously must – but also that for B to be the final cause of A, B must also exist, in some sense, otherwise, being nonexistent, it could not be efficacious. Hence for the "coldness" that the ice generates to function as a final cause, it has to exist in some way; for an oak to function as the final cause of an acorn, it too has to exist in some way; and so forth.

Now there are only three options here: B must exist either in the natural world; or in some Platonic heaven, as a Form; or in an intellect which "directs" A towards B as A’s natural end or goal (as a carpenter has the table in his intellect as the end or goal of his hammering and sawing). Now by hypothesis, B does not exist in the natural world: the whole point is that the coldness that the ice will produce, or the oak that the acorn will grow into, have not yet come about but are initially merely "pointed" to by the ice or the acorn. Nor does B exist as a Platonic Form – at least not if, like Aquinas, one endorses moderate (or Aristotelian) realism about universals, instead of Platonic realism. The only place left for B to exist, then, is in an intellect; and it must be an intellect that exists outside the natural order altogether. For the causal relations in question are totally unintelligent: ice and acorns do not have intellects, nor is there any intelligence at the level of the even more fundamental causal processes studied by basic physics and chemistry. And all the intelligence that does exist within the material world – in us, for example – presupposes the operation of these unintelligent causal processes (since the existence of our bodies, and thus of us, presupposes them). So, there is no place left for the intellect in question to be than outside the natural order. That is to say, all the causal relations that exist in the natural order exist at all only because there is an intellect outside the natural order which "directs" causes to their effects.

While Feser's reconstruction version of Aquinas' Fifth Way is a philosophically interesting argument, it hangs by a rather fine thread. What it assumes is that the effects produced by natural causes typically lie in the future. Now, if we consider an oak tree for instance, it is easy to see that this is indeed the case: the genetic instructions in the acorn do indeed point towards the future oak tree that it develops into. The same holds for other biological organisms as well. But if we examine natural causes operating in the inorganic world, it is doubtful whether there is a single case of genuine future-directedess. An alternative, "spoilsport" interpretation of their causal agency, in terms of present-directedness rather than future-directedess, is always possible. To take one of Feser's examples, what happens when a match is lit? The answer, and I'm quoting from an Wikipedia here, is as follows:

A typical modern match is made of a small wooden stick or stiff paper. One end is coated with a material that can be ignited by frictional heat generated by striking the match against a suitable surface... The striking surface on modern matchboxes is typically composed of 25% powdered glass or other abrasive material, 50% red phosphorus, 5% neutralizer, 4% carbon black and 16% binder; and the match head is typically composed of 45–55% potassium chlorate, with a little sulfur and starch, a neutralizer (ZnO or CaCO3), 20–40% of siliceous filler, diatomite and glue. Some heads contain antimony(III) sulfide to make them burn more vigorously. Safety matches ignite due to the extreme reactivity of phosphorus with the potassium chlorate in the match head. When the match is struck the phosphorus and chlorate mix in a small amount forming something similar to the explosive Armstrong's mixture which ignites due to the friction.

It seems to me that in this example, the phosphorus on the matchbox, when struck, is "pointed at" the potassium perchlorate on the match, which it is currently reacting with. There is no need to impute any forward-directedness to it.

Melting ice, to use another of Feser's examples, cools water because heat has a (presently existing) tendency to flow from warmer body to a cooler one, and also because heat supplied from the water is what causes the bonds holding the molecules in an ice cube together to break. Once again, there is no need to say that the ice is "pointed at" future coldness of the water; rather, we should say that the heat of the water is "pointed at" the cooler ice and also at the bonds in the ice crystal. Currently existing tendencies are enough to explain the process.

The same goes for the moon orbiting the earth, to use another of Feser's examples: the moon is simply following the currently existing warp in the fabric of space-time caused by the presence of the earth, which it orbits. Matter changes the geometry of space-time, this (curved) geometry being what we call gravity. In other words, the moon is not "pointed at" following an elliptical orbit in the future; rather, the warp in space-time caused by the presence of the earth guarantees that it will do so, both now and in the future.

What about my own examples: the lodestone and the solubility of salt in water?

Left: The direction of magnetic field lines represented by the alignment of iron filings sprinkled on paper placed above a bar magnet. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.
Right: Water-NaCl phase diagram. Lide, CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics, 86th edition (2005-2006), CRC pages 8-71, 8-116. Image courtesy of Materialscientist and Wikipedia.

The fact that a lodestone points towards magnetic North, and that it takes some time to orient itself in alignment with the Earth's magnetic field, might seem to lend support to the idea that its behavior is future-oriented, and that while it is orienting itself, it is tending towards a future state of perfect alignment with the Earth's magnetic field. But a more parsimonious explanation is that the lodestone is not tending towards some future state of alignment, but continuously interacting with the Earth's magnetic field as it moves. On this account, then, the lodestone's behavior is present-oriented, rather than future-oriented. Which account is correct?

In order to resolve the matter, let us consider the behavior of a magnetic compass, which is similar to that of a lodestone. A compass needle often swings backwards and forwards until it finally aligns itself with the Earth's magnetic field and points towards magnetic North. If the compass's behavior were future-oriented, we would expect the needle to head towards magnetic North (its goal) and stay there. Instead, it swings backwards and forwards for some time, before a state of equilibrium is reached. If, on the other hand, the compass's behavior is present-oriented, we can readily explain this fact: the compass needle is swinging with a certain angular velocity, and its continual interactions with the Earth's magnetic field take time to slow it down to a stop. At first, it "overshoots the mark," and then swings back again; gradually, the swings get smaller and smaller as it converges on magnetic North.

The same goes for the behavior of common table salt (sodium chloride) dissolving in water. On a future-oriented account of solubility, we would expect the salt to simply keep dissolving until the water has reached saturation point. After all, is this not the final goal towards which the salt is tending? Instead we find that even a saturated solution of salt is not a static one: it simply represents a balance between two opposing processes. Suppose that we take a container of water, and then add so much salt that the solution becomes saturated, and some salt is deposited on the bottom of the container. A state of chemical equilibrium is reached. In this state, we find that salt continues to dissolve in water, as fast as it is deposited on the bottom of the container. The equilibrium is a dynamic one: it is the product of two present-oriented tendencies on the part of the salt (the tendency to dissolve and the tendency to deposit) which cancel each other out. Thus a present-oriented account of solubility is not only more parsimonious; it is more scientifically accurate as well.

Long-term natural cycles and the long-term evolution of stars don't exhibit future-directedness, either

Left: The rock cycle. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.
Right: The water cycle. Image courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey and Wikipedia.

Long-term natural cycles, such as the rock cycle, present more of a challenge to the spoilsport's claim that causal agency can be interpreted in terms of present-directedness rather than future-directedess. For as the philosopher David Oderberg has pointed out, some causal chains are relevant to the rock cycle, while other closely related causal chains are not: sedimentation might happen to block the flow of water to some region, but if it did, we would not refer to this effect as being a part of the rock cycle. Even if we confine ourselves to processes occurring within the rock, it is a puzzle why some (e.g. conversion into magma) are said to be part of the rock cycle, while others (e.g. changes in the color of the rock) are not. It seems that only if we look at the overall goal of the rock cycle can we decide which causal processes form part of the rock cycle proper and which do not. For instance, as Feser writes on page 48 of his book Aquinas (Oneworld, Oxford, 2009), "the role of pressure is in the rock cycle is, in conjunction with heat, to contribute to generating magma, and in the absence of heat, to contribute to generating sedimentary rock; and so forth." And in looking at overall goals, we need to adopt a future-directed stance.

But even here, it is doubtful whether we need to invoke future effects in order to determine which causal processes belong in the rock cycle and which do not. It is enough to say that some currently occurring processes (involving heat and pressure) transform the rock in a way which helps it move from A to B, while other changes (e.g. changes in the rock's color) are not, by virtue of their definition, related to the movement of rocks as such. Moreover, if we track the currently occurring processes related to the movement of rocks, we find that their overall effect is to conserve the total amount of rock in the earth's crust, which is why we can legitimately refer to the set of all these changes as a cycle.

In any case, it really does seem rather odd to speak of rock as having an in-built tendency to not only melt when heated (a current disposition), but also a future-directed tendency to go round in a cycle: to turn from igneous rock into sediments, and then into sedimentary rock, and after that into metamorphic rock, which is transformed into magma, and finally back into igneous rock – as if rock had a "life cycle" of its own. To begin with, the very circularity of the cycle means that we cannot speak of it as future-directed as such: past, present and future are all contained within it. But it gets worse: the rock cycle doesn't go in one direction, but in multiple directions. Both igneous rock and metamorphic rock have a tendency to melt into magma when heated. Both igneous rock and sedimentary rock have a tendency to turn into metamorphic rock when subjected to heat and pressure. Thus the rock cycle contains arrows that point both forwards and backwards. Where, I ask, is the future-directedness here?

Similar considerations hold for the water cycle. There is no need to invoke future effects in order to determine which causal processes belong in the water cycle and which do not. Briefly: the processes which belong in the water cycle are those processes which transform the chemical state of water from solid (ice) to liquid to gas (vapor), coupled with those processes which move water from one reservoir to another. If we track the currently occurring processes related to the movement of water, we find that their overall effect is to roughly conserve the total amount of water on, above and below the earth's surface, so we are justified in using the term "water cycle" to describe this ensemble of changes.

The long-term evolution over time of bodies such as stars admits of a similar analysis. There is no need to assume that our Sun is "pointed at" becoming a red giant or a white dwarf in the future; all the Sun is "pointed" at is burning its hydrogen into helium now. Its subsequent evolution is simply the product of the chemical processes currently occurring inside it.

What about the future-directedness in living things?

A chestnut-leaved oak tree, Quercus castaneifolia. Picture taken at Kew Gardens (London, UK). Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

It is true that there are unmistakable signs of future-directedness in the world of living things. But it is also true that the future-directed biological properties of living things, which are indeed irreducibly teleological, nevertheless supervene upon their underlying physical and chemical properties: to recall the illustration I cited above, anything that has the same chemical make-up as an E. coli bacterium (atom for atom) necessarily is an E. coli bacterium. If the physical and chemical changes occurring in a living organism are not future-directed but merely present-directed, and if the concurrent (future-directed) biological changes occurring in that organism supervene upon those physical and chemical changes, then a metaphysical spoilsport could argue that even future-directed biological changes, such as the growth of an E. coli bacterium until it is ready to divide, or the development of an acorn into an oak, do not necessarily point to an Intelligence guiding Nature, after all. And if there were physical and chemical processes which could naturally generate a living thing, then it is hard to see what would remain of Feser's argument for a Guiding Intelligence, once its basic premise – that the built-in tendencies of all things, from sodium to salmonella to sea-lions, are future-directed – is thrown into doubt.

### Problem Number Two: The assumption that an object's final causes (or ends) determine its formal and material causes as well

 The problem in a nutshell The Fundamentality of Finality Principle (which says that a thing's final cause (or end) determines all of the other causes in a natural object, and thereby determines the very nature of that object) is false, as a thing's final cause is simply incapable of determining its formal and material causes, for both natural objects and artifacts. But if this principle is in error, than Feser can no longer argue, as he does in his reconstructed version of Aquinas' Fifth Way, that the Intelligent Being Who directs unintelligent natural objects towards their built-in ends, must also be the cause of those objects having the natures or essences that they do. In other words, Feser's argument fails to establish that the Intelligent Being guiding objects to their natural ends is also the Author of Nature.

A drawing of a Venus fly trap by William Curtis (1746-1799). The goal or final cause of a Venus flytrap is to catch insects; but from a knowledge of this goal alone, we could never deduce the form of a Venus fly trap. Professor Feser maintains that the final cause is the "cause of causes" which determines all the other causes, including an objects's formal cause. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

In his essay, "Existential Inertia and the Five Ways," Feser asserts that the intelligence that directs unintelligent natural causes towards their ends, must also be the cause of them having the natures or essences they do:

Notice too that precisely because this finality or end-directedness is immanent, "built into" things given their natures or essences, that which directs natural things must be what gives them their natures or essences, and thus what conjoins their essences to an act of existence. Since for reasons already states this must be something in which essence and existence are identical, we are led by yet another route to the existence of God, and not merely to a finite designer (which Paley-style arguments cannot rule out).
("Existential Inertia and the Five Ways", Australian Catholic Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 85, No. 2, 2011, p. 253.)

No supporting argumentation is given here. However, if we look at Feser's work, Aquinas (Oneworld, Oxford, 2009) we find the following argument put forward by Feser:

...Aquinas regards the final cause as the "cause of causes" insofar as it determines the other causes. In particular, for a thing to have a certain final cause entails that it also has a certain formal and material cause and thus a certain nature or essence; otherwise its final cause would not be inherent in it, nor would it be capable of realizing it. (p. 118)

In chapter two of his book, Aquinas (Oneworld, Oxford, 2009), Feser elaborates:

His [Aquinas'] point is that unless a cause were inherently directed towards a certain effect or range of effects - that is to say, unless that effect or range of effects were the cause's own final cause - there would be no reason why it should bring about just that effect or range of effects. In other words, we cannot make sense of efficient causality without final causality...

..[J]ust as form is ultimately prior to matter (and, more generally, act prior to potency), final causes are prior to or more fundamental than efficient causes, insofar as they make efficient causes intelligible (DPN 4.25). Indeed, for Aquinas the final cause is "the cause of causes" (In Phys II.5.186), that which determines all of the other causes. For something to be directed at a certain end entails that it has a form appropriate to the realization of that end, and thus a material composition suitable for instantiating that form; a knife, for example, if it is to fulfill its function of cutting, must have a certain degree of sharpness and solidity, and thus be made of some material capable of maintaining that degree of sharpness and solidity. Thus the existence of final causes entails the existence of formal and material causes too. More generally, for something to have some feature potentially entails a kind of directedness to the actualization of that potential... Hence the existence of final causes also entails the act/potency distinction. (2009, pp. 18-19)

For Aquinas, the final cause, or built-in end, of a natural object is not just a cause of that object being the way it is – the others being the material cause (or what the object is made of), the form (which makes it the kind of thing it is) and the efficient cause (which produced the object). Rather, the final cause has a certain pre-eminence over the other causes: it is the "cause of causes." The idea is that once you properly grasp an object's built-in ends, you should be able to automatically grasp everything there is to know about the essence of that object – including what it would have to be made of (material cause), what form it would need to have (formal cause), and what kinds of things would be capable of acting on it (efficient cause). Thus according to Thomists, the built-in ends of a thing are sufficient to specify its essence and determine everything about it. The underlying idea here is that is that if I had a perfect grasp of a thing's built-in ends, I would then know the kind of form and matter that it must have. If we grant this assumption, Feser can then argue that whatever guides things to their built-in ends must also be the cause of these things' continued existence as objects of a certain kind (or essence).

But as I shall argue below, the built-in ends of a thing are, by themselves, insufficient to specify the essence. Instead, I contend that it is impossible in principle to create a thing of a certain kind - be it an artifact, such as a knife, or a natural object, such as a rose - simply by trying to generate something with that thing's built-in ends. Rather, form and finality are equally fundamental: a focus on form as well as finality is absolutely essential, when making a thing. Unless we can show that the Intelligence that directs things towards their ends also produced their forms, we will not be able to establish that this Intelligence sustains those things in being, as the God of classical theism does.

A Bowie knife made by Tim Lively. According to Professor Feser, a knife's function of cutting dictates its form; but even if the form were radically different (e.g. one blade connected to a handle at each end, or an L- or D-shaped blade), it could still cut - although we would probably no longer call it a knife. Image courtesy of Tim Lively and Wikipedia.

In his book Aquinas (Oneworld, Oxford, 2009), Feser argues that "a knife, for example, if it is to fulfill its function of cutting, must have a certain degree of sharpness and solidity, and thus be made of some material capable of maintaining that degree of sharpness and solidity. Thus the existence of final causes entails the existence of formal and material causes too" (pp. 18-19).

But even Feser's knife example refutes his case: a knife is for cutting, but we would not refer to a blade connected to a handle at both ends as a knife, even if it cut just as well as a knife. (However, we would probably still refer to two or more blades connected to a single handle as a knife.) Again, an L-shaped blade or even a D-shaped blade attached to a handle could still cut well enough, but I don't think anyone would be inclined to call it a knife. The end alone, then, does not determine the form.

The parts of a flower. The structure of these parts cannot be deduced from the knowledge of a flower's final ends. Contrary to what Professor Feser claims, finality does not explain form. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

When we come to living things, the claim that a thing's built-in ends determine its form is even less plausible. A flower, for instance, has certain built-in ends: it needs to make its own food by photosynthesis, and it also needs to grow (usually in soil) and to reproduce (usually sexually). Those are the ends of a flower: nutrition, growth and reproduction, as Aristotle would have put it. Knowing these ends, however, does not tell me that a flower has a stalk, roots, leaves, petals, an ovary, anthers and so on. In other words, the final cause(s) of a flower do not dictate its form. Form and finality, I would argue, are equally basic, on an ontological level. Finality cannot be "boiled down to" form: teleology is a fundamental feature of living things. But equally, form cannot be subsumed under the aegis of finality.

How does this affect Feser's reconstruction of Aquinas' Fifth Way? On Feser's reconstruction, since the ends or final causes in question are inherent in things by virtue of their natures (or essences), it follows that the Intelligence which guides natural things towards their built-in ends must also be the cause of those things having the natures (or essences) that they do – in other words, it must actively sustain things in existence. At first, it might appear that this conclusion would still follow even if we allow that form and finality are equally basic, because it would still be true that a thing’s finality flows from its essence. However, it would not then follow that that which generates a thing’s built-in ends thereby generates the thing itself, in its entirety. For if form and finality are equally basic, on an ontological level, then you cannot generate a thing’s form simply by aiming to bring about (or realize) its built-in ends.

A chicken-and-egg problem for Feser: which comes first, form or finality?

A chicken hatching from an egg. Image courtesy of grendelkhan, Gveret Tered and Wikipedia.

The foregoing quotes from Feser's book, Aquinas, imply that a thing's final cause is logically prior to its formal cause. However, other passages in the same book suggest that he holds a contrary view.

For instance, on page 118, Feser quotes Aquinas as saying that "upon the form follows an inclination to the end... for everything, in so far as it is in act, acts and tends towards that which is in accordance with its form" (ST I.5.5), which suggests that form entails finality, rather than the other way round.

Feser also seems to suggest that form is ontologically prior to finality in his recent article, "Existential Inertia and the Five Ways" (Australian Catholic Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 85, No. 2, 2011, pp. 237-267), Feser attempts to spell out the logic of the Fifth Way. The crucial sixth step reads as follows:

6. But since the ends or final causes in question are inherent in things by virtue of their natures or essence, the intelligence in question must be the cause also of natural things having the natures or essences they do.

The problem with this premise is that the conclusion doesn't follow from the premises. If a thing's built-in ends are inherent in that thing by virtue of its nature or essence, then the ends are ontologically posterior to (or caused by) its nature. In that case, it does not follow that anything which causes a natural thing to have those ends must therefore cause it to have the nature it has. That conclusion would only follow if a thing's built-in ends were the determining cause of everything else in that thing's nature: namely, its form and its matter. But a determining cause is ontologically prior to what it determines. Only if a thing's final causes are ontologically prior to its form, does it follow that the intelligent being who guides things to their built-in ends is also the cause of their having the natures or essences they do.

This invites the question: which is prior to which? Is form prior to finality, or the other way round?

Professor Feser is a very busy man, but he kindly attempted to clarify his position in an email he sent to me, dated 5 July 2012. He wrote:

The relationship between formal and final cause is complicated, and a lot more could be said than I said there. But just to focus on a specific case, it is because of the form of the acorn that it is directed toward growing into an oak, specially, rather than into something else, but it is because of the end of growing into the form of oaks that acorns have that form in the first place. So the acorn and its directedness are temporally prior to the fully realized form of the oak, though that fully realized form is ontologically prior in the sense that it is that for the sake of which the acorn exists in the first place.

I have to say that after reading this, I am still confused. The question of temporal priority does not especially interest me; ontological priority is what is at stake here. And on this point, it seems, Feser contradicts himself. On the one hand, he writes that "it is because of the end of growing into the form of oaks that acorns have that form in the first place," which suggests that the end is ontologically prior to the form. But then he writes that "that fully realized form is ontologically prior in the sense that it is that for the sake of which the acorn exists in the first place."

This would be an insignificant quibble if there were an indissoluble between a thing's form and its finality. But as I have argued above, there isn't.

Based on the examples I adduced above from both natural and artificial objects, I am forced to conclude that both form and finality are equally fundamental in specifying the essence of an object. Neither is sufficient on its own to determine an object's essence; both are necessary.

### Problem Number Three: The assumption that things composed of parts require an external cause to hold them together

The structure of a sodium chloride crystal. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

 The problem in a nutshell 3. The External Cause of Composites Principle (which says that things composed of parts require an external cause to hold them together) is highly problematic, on three counts. First, Feser nowhere attempts to define the term "part." This, I have to say, is odd: good philosophers should define their terms, wherever possible. Most people, when they hear the word "part," are apt to think of either a component (e.g. one of the parts of a car engine) or a portion of a whole (e.g. a slice of pizza). The parts of a thing are typically envisaged as physically separable from one another. For Feser, however, the term "part" has a much broader application, as he uses it to refer variously to the distinction between substance and accidents (or in common parlance, between a thing and its properties), between matter and form (i.e. the underlying substrate of change, as opposed to the way in which it is currently realized), and between essence and existence (or the nature of a thing, as distinguished from its act of existing). In these cases, the separability is logical, rather than physical. But is logical separability a sufficient condition for being a part, and if so, why? Second, it is by no means evident that the parts of a natural object (as opposed to an artifact) require an external cause to hold them together. An internal cause (e.g. mutual attraction) seems adequate. Contrary to what Feser claims, there is no circularity here: instead of A depending on B and B on A, we can say that A is attracted to B because of B's power to attract A; while B is attracted to A because of A's power to attract B. (Think of the ions in a salt crystal, such as the one pictured above.) There is nothing circular about this account; all it presupposes is that A and B exist, and that each has an active power to attract oppositely charged objects. Third, at best, the claim that a composite object requires something external to hold its parts together only holds true when the parts of an object are separable. But if the parts of an object are incapable of being separated, then it makes no sense to ask what holds them together. Thus any essential properties of a natural object (such as its causal powers), which flow from (or are entailed by) its nature, don't require an external cause to conjoin them to their essence. For example, the face-centered cubic structure of rock salt crystals, which is entailed by the relative sizes of its constituent ions, doesn't require an external explanation; it's an intrinsic feature of rock salt. If the External Cause of Composites Principle is false, then Feser's proof that natural objects require an external cause for their continuation in existence fails.

The assumption that things composed of parts require an external cause to hold them together only makes sense if each of the parts requires an external cause to maintain it in existence. But if the parts require no outside cause to maintain them in existence, then there is no reason why we cannot say that we can say that part A is attracted to part B because of B's power to attract A; while B is attracted to A because of A's power to attract B.

Consider a sodium chloride crystal, such as the one shown above. If the sodium and chloride ions had no external cause of their existence, then mutual attraction - an internal cause - could account for what holds the crystal together.

But if we already know that each of the parts of a composite requires an external cause to maintain it in existence, then the demonstration that the whole also requires an external cause to keep it together is redundant. We can argue our way to an Uncaused Cause just by considering each of the parts. And the relevant characteristic which enables us to make such an inference is that even the parts of a thing conform to certain rules (which we call laws of Nature), and these rules, being prescriptive as well as descriptive, presuppose the existence of a Mind that is capable of defining rules for Nature.

### Problem Number Four: The assumption that matter and form are two parts of one thing

 The problem in a nutshell On the face of it, the Matter-Form Composite Principle (which states that matter and form are two distinct parts of one thing) sounds very odd. On Aristotle's account, a form (whether accidental or substantial) is simply the realization of some potency inherent in its underlying matter. Consider a gold statue of a man. It would seem strange to speak of the gold and its shape (the accidental form of a man) as two parts of one statue. Now let us consider the gold itself. Gold is a natural substance, with a substantial form that distinguishes it from other substances. It seems even stranger to regard gold and the underlying prime matter out of which it is made as two parts of one thing - particularly as prime matter is incapable of existing on its own. Nevertheless, it is undeniably true that Aristotle speaks of matter and form as two parts of one thing in his Metaphysics, Books VII and VIII - and on this point, Aquinas follows him. Professor Feser is therefore in keeping with Aristotle's and Aquinas' teaching when he declares that matter and form are two distinct parts of one thing. Feser evidently believes that he needs the Matter-Form Composite Principle, in order to prove that the Intelligent Being Who guides things to their natural ends and maintains them in being must be incorporeal, since any corporeal being composed of matter and form would require something else to maintain it in being. However, I would contend that the Matter-Form Composite Principle actually undermines the Fifth Way. For if matter and form are two distinct parts of one thing, then it no longer follows that the Intelligent Being Who endows natural objects with their forms is responsible for creating their matter as well. Matter might then turn out to be eternal and uncaused, on this account: only its union with a particular form would require a cause. That would turn the Intelligent Being Who guides Nature into a Demiurge - a conclusion that Aquinas (and Feser) would shun. Of course, Aquinas could have responded to this objection by arguing that a thing's final cause determines both its form and its matter (as the Fundamentality of Finality Principle states). If the Fundamentality of Finality Principle is correct, then of course the problem I have raised disappears. But if this principle is false, as I have argued (see Problem Two above), then the Demiurge problem reappears. If the Matter-Form Composite Principle is true, then Feser can no longer demonstrate that the Intelligent Being Who guides things to their natural ends is anything more than a Demiurge.

How Feser attempts to argue that an object's matter requires an external cause

In his discussion of Aquinas' Third Way (the argument for a Necessary Being) in his 2011 essay, "Existential Inertia and the Five Ways", Feser argues that both the matter and the form of a natural object require an external cause, by appealing to a background metaphysical assumption of the Fifth Way which I have chosen to call the External Cause of Composites Principle. This principle states that entities composed of parts (composites) require an external cause for their continuation in existence. Feser then applies this logic to entities composed of matter and form:

But matter of itself is pure potency and material forms of themselves are mere abstractions, so that neither can exist apart from the other, and even when existing together they cannot depend on each other alone under pain of vicious circularity.

So matter and form do not have their necessity of themselves but must derive it from something else...

Note that prime matter cannot at any moment exist without form and a material form cannot at any moment exist without prime matter; they depend on each other at every moment at which they are conjoined together in a material substance. Hence the circularity inherent in explaining the existence of a material substance's form in terms of its matter and the existence of its matter in terms of its form holds at any moment at which the substance exists, so that they require an external cause of their conjunction at any moment it exists.
("Existential Inertia and the Five Ways", Australian Catholic Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 85, No. 2, 2011, p. 248.)

As I see it, Feser's argument is flawed on three counts. First, the External Cause of Composites Principle merely establishes that composites require an external cause. It does not establish that their components require an external cause. Thus the fact that a composite of matter and form requires an external cause to keep its parts together does not imply that matter and form require an external cause, separately.

Second, Feser's point that the form and matter of a natural object are incapable of existing without each other merely shows that matter must always be united to some form. However, it does not show that a thing's matter needs to be maintained in existence - whether by the form it is united to or by something outside it.

Third, Feser's argument presupposes that matter and form are parts of one thing - an assumption I find bizarre, precisely because they are inseparable. I hope my readers will allow me to illustrate with the aid of three examples.

Why the notion that matter and form are parts of one thing is bizarre

Let us begin with the simple geometrical example of a circle, drawn on graph paper, which happens to be colored in red. If I were to ask why that circle was red, I think most people would regard that as a perfectly legitimate question. But if I were to ask why the circle was round, I'm sure most people would find my question extremely odd. "If it wasn't round, then it wouldn't be a circle," they would say, and they'd be right. And if I were to speak of the circle and its round shape as two parts of one whole (substance and accident), as Professor Feser seems to want to do, then brows would furrow. "What on earth do you mean?" people would ask.

Now let's consider an everyday object: a paraffin wax candle. Here, the wax is the matter. Because it's a natural substance (actually, a mixture of hydrocarbons known as alkanes), Scholastic philosophers would describe it as secondary matter. Because a candle has a characteristic cylindrical shape, Scholastics would say that the wax exists under the accidental form (i.e. the shape) of a candle. So far, so good. But if someone were to ask what conjoins the wax to its shape - as if the wax and its shape were two parts of the one candle - then I think most people would regard such a question as downright bizarre.

Now let's consider a material substance - say, a piece of copper. Since it is a material substance, Thomists would say that it consists of prime matter (or pure passive potency, devoid of any positive features) which is realized under a certain substantial form that makes it the kind of thing it is (e.g. a piece of copper, rather than a piece of iron, an E. coli bacterium or a box jellyfish). Here, the substantial form is a realization of the underlying prime matter: it is simply the way in which the matter exists - as copper. To ask what accounts for the "conjunction" of this form and the underlying prime matter, as Professor Feser does, strikes me as a very odd question indeed - nearly as odd as asking what conjoins a piece of candle wax to its cylindrical shape.

I am certainly not saying, however, that we should be content to regard the existence of a material substance as a brute, unexplained fact. Indeed, I think Feser's metaphysical claim that material substances (which consist of prime matter realized under a certain substantial form) require an external cause for their continued existence is entirely correct, although I would add that from a purely scientific standpoint, there are no grounds for such a claim. To return to our example of the candle: while a scientist might ask how the paraffin wax came to acquire the form of a candle, she would never ask what keeps it in that shape, and prevents it from dissolving into a shapeless mass. That's a question that would only occur to a metaphysician. My dispute with Feser does not concern the truth of his claim that material substances require an external cause for their continued existence, but the grounds for that claim. Feser maintains that it's because they are composites of matter and form; I maintain that it's because they are contingent realizations of matter, which conform to rules, even at the very lowest level of reality.

A modest suggestion

I would suggest that a more sensible metaphysical principle that provides better grounds for asking what keeps a material substance in existence is the following:

For any entity in which we can identify an underlying substrate which is contingently associated with a given (accidental or substantial) form, it is always legitimate to ask what keeps it under that form. Moreover, since the association between the substrate and the form is a contingent one, then the only adequate explanation must be an external cause.

Since the realization of a piece of prime matter under a given substantial form (say, the form of copper) is a contingent state of affairs (as the same matter could equally well exist under some other form such as iron), it is therefore legitimate to ask why the matter in question is realized under the form of copper, and to look for an outside cause to explain this fact.

### Problem Number Five: The assumption that there's a real distinction between a creature's essence and its existence

The Thylacine, or Tasmanian tiger, is actually a marsupial that bears an uncanny physical resemblance to a wolf. The last known specimen died in a zoo in 1936, but there have been claimed sightings since then. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

The fifth and final problem with the background metaphysical assumptions that Feser makes in his version of Aquinas' Fifth Way is that the Essence-Existence Composite Principle is false. Bizarrely, the principle asserts that there is a real distinction between a thing's essence (or nature) and its act of existence. To most of my readers, the notion that a thing's nature might be in some way distinct from its act of existence will sound very odd, so I shall illustrate the point with the aid of a concrete example: the Thylacine (pictured above), or marsupial wolf, commonly known as the Tasmanian tiger, because of the striped markings on its back.

I can understand what a thylacine is (i.e. its essence), without knowing whether any Tasmanian tigers still exist, or not. (The last one is believed to have died in captivity in 1936, but there have been claimed unofficial sightings since then.) But all this argument shows us is that "What is an X?" and "Are there any Xs?" are two quite different questions. What the argument establishes is not that there is a real distinction between a thing's essence and its existence, but rather, that there is a linguistic distinction between "what" and "whether." If we wish to postulate any kind of distinction between a thing's essence and its act of existence, the most economical supposition is that the distinction is merely a logical one - just as we say that there is a logical distinction between the morning star and the evening star, even though they are both one and the same thing (Venus). (In philosophical jargon, the two names for Venus have the same sense, but a different reference.) Indeed, many Scholastic philosophers in the Middle Ages took the view that there was merely a logical distinction between essence and existence, rather than a real one.

I should add that even if we needed to invoke a real distinction in order to explain the fact that I can know what a Thylacine is, without knowing whether it still exists, the distinction in question would not be an essence-existence distinction, but a form-matter distinction. According to Scholastic philosophy, whenever I grasp the concept of a Thylacine, my intellect receives its substantial form, abstracted from the matter of any particular entity that happens to instantiate the form in question. Because my intellect receives a form abstracted from matter, it cannot know, simply by understanding what this form is, whether or not anything exists in Nature which possesses this form. That alone is enough to explain how I can know what a thing is, without knowing whether it exists. There is no need to postulate an additional distinction between a thing's essence and its act of existence.

Finally, I would like to point out that if there were indeed a real distinction between essence and existence, it would be absolutely fatal to Feser's reconstructed version of Aquinas' Fifth Way. For Feser's argument, as we have seen, was that since the final cause is the "cause of causes," which ultimately explains everything about a thing's nature, it follows that whatever gives things their built-in ends (final causes) must also be responsible for giving them their natures or essences. But if there is a real distinction between a thing's nature and its existence, then it no longer follows that the Intelligence which guides things towards their built-in ends and endows them with their natures (or essences) must also be responsible for keeping them in existence.

In other words, if the Essence-Existence Composite Principle were true, it would actually prevent us from arguing that the Intelligent Being Who guides things to their natural ends is also the Ultimate Cause of the world's existence.

A proposed solution

But now, it seems, we face a conundrum. For if we forego the Essence-Existence Composite Principle, then we can no longer argue that any being which we can conceive of as non-existent must be composed of two really distinct parts - essence and existence - and that this being therefore requires an external cause to hold those parts together. But if this argument is illegitimate, then how can we possibly establish the existence of an Uncaused Being Whose essence and existence are identical and unbounded - in other words, God?

It might be argued that Scholastic philosophy provides an alternative path, which is lighter on metaphysical assumptions, that leads to the same conclusion. My list of Feser's twenty-one background metaphysical assumptions in Part Two above, also contains another principle, which I have called the Participatory Principle: that which a thing does not possess of itself, it receives from another. If we invoke this principle, there is no longer any need to posit a real distinction between essence and existence. All we need to argue is that a finite, determinate being does not possess existence in and of itself, since for such a being, it is always meaningful to ask: "Why does it exist?"

Another background metaphysical assumption listed above is the Participatory Existence Principle. According to this principle, the fact that we can know what a natural object is, without knowing whether it exists, is enough to show that the natural object owes its existence to some outside source. Thus there is no need to invoke the Essence-Existence Composite Principle

However, I would like to sound a note of caution against using the Participatory Principle and/or the Participatory Existence Principle, in order to reason one's way to an infinite or even a supernatural Deity. A clever skeptic might try to deflect the existential question, "Why does it exist?", which we might want to ask concerning a finite determinate being, by retorting, "Well, why shouldn't it exist?" The skeptic might also point out that the Participatory Existence Principle only establishes that anything whose nature we can understand, without knowing whether it exists or not, has a cause. But what if there are natural objects whose nature we are constitutionally incapable of understanding?

To circumvent this difficulty, I suggest we need to step back and ask ourselves what a natural object is, and what it means to be finite. I would argue (following Feser) that a natural object must exhibit certain built-in, fixed tendencies, which can be said to characterize that kind of object and circumscribe its ways of acting. I would also argue that objects exhibiting these tendencies are conforming to rules (defined by an Intelligent Rule-maker) which prescribe that object's behavior. So even if there are some natural objects whose nature we are incapable of understanding, we only need to ask ourselves: "Do these objects exhibit a circumscribed or determinate mode of acting?" Or in other words: "Do these objects conform to fixed rules, in their modus operandi?" If the answer is "Yes," then the objects are finite, and therefore require a cause (for rules presuppose a Rule-maker). On this account, then, to be infinite is simply to have a nature which is not circumscribed by rules relating to how it can and cannot act. Thus the reason why God must be both supernatural and infinite is that Nature is a giant system of rules (relating to interactions between various kinds of objects), and because the nature of the Ultimate Rule-maker cannot be defined by any rules.

## PART FOUR: My critique of Feser's reconstruction of Aquinas' Fifth Way

St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274). Painting by Fra Bartolomeo (1472–1517). Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

In a recent article entitled, "Existential Inertia and the Five Ways" (Australian Catholic Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 85, No. 2, 2011, pp. 237-267), Professor Feser put forward his version of Aquinas' Fifth Way, which I'd like to briefly discuss here.

In Feser's article, he has (commendably) taken the trouble to cast his argument in the form of an eight-step syllogism. I've highlighted the controversial premises, which require further justification (provided by Feser in his article):

1. That unintelligent natural causes regularly generate certain specific effects or ranges of effects is evident from sensory experience.

2. Such regularities are intelligible only on the assumption that these efficient causes inherently "point to" or are "directed at" their effects as to an end or final cause.

3. So there are final causes or ends immanent to the natural order.

4. But unintelligent natural causes can "point to" or be "directed at" such ends only if guided by an intelligence.

5. So there is such an intelligence.

6. But since the ends or final causes in question are inherent in things by virtue of their natures or essence, the intelligence in question must be the cause also of natural things having the natures or essences they do.

7. This entails its being that which conjoins their essences to an act of existence, and only that in which essence and existence are identical can ultimately accomplish this.

8. So the intelligence in question is something in which essence and existence are identical.
("Existential Inertia and the Five Ways", Australian Catholic Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 85, No. 2, 2011, p. 254.)

Now let's look at Professor Feser's justification for premises 2, 4, 6 and 7.

### Step 2: Why do causal regularities imply the existence of final causes, and how do efficient causes "point to" their effects?

The ignition of a match, in three stages. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

The claim in the second step of Feser's argument is a very modest one. As he puts it in a blog post entitled, Teleology revisited (September 24, 2009):

The claim so far is only that where there is an efficient causal connection between A and B, then generating B is the final cause of A in the sense that A inherently "points to" B or is "directed at" B as its natural effect. That's it.

In his essay, "Existential Inertia and the Five Ways," Feser provides the following justification of the second step of his argument:

Take a simple causal regularity, such as a match's tendency to generate flame and heat when struck, or ice's tendency to cool the air or liquid surrounding it, or some even more basic causal regularity at the micro level. Why is it that it is flame and heat specifically that a match will tend to generate when struck? It will not always actually generated it, of course, for it might be impeded in some way from doing so - for example, oxygen might be absent, or it might have been water damaged, or it might have simply gotten so old that the chemicals in the match head have lost their potency. But unless impeded in such ways, it will produce its characteristic effects, and only those effects, rather than generating frost and cold, say, or the smell of lilacs, or a thunderclap. Again, why? Aquinas' answer is that "every agent acts for an end, otherwise one thing would not follow more than another thing from the action of the agent, unless it were by chance." By "agent" here he means an efficient cause, and by "acting for an end" he means that such a cause is as it were "directed toward" the production of its characteristic effect or effects as to an end or goal. In this way, efficient causality presupposes final causality: If we do not suppose that some cause A of its nature "points to" or is "directed at" the generation of some effect or range of effects B specifically - rather than to C, D, or no effect at all - then we have no way of making intelligible why it does in fact generate B rather than these other effects.
("Existential Inertia and the Five Ways", Australian Catholic Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 85, No. 2, 2011, pp. 237-267. Reprinted in Metaphysics: Aristotelian, Scholastic, Analytic edited by Lukas Novak, Daniel D. Novotny, Prokop Sousedik and David Svoboda, Ontos Verlag, 2013, p. 155.)

Feser's point, in a nutshell, is that things have regular tendencies to produce certain characteristic effects, and that to have a tendency to produce an effect is to have an orientation towards the production of that effect. I have deliberately chosen the word "orientation," as I don't think it is very helpful to say that things are "directed at" or "point to" their effects, as Feser does. These terms strike me as rather vague. They are obviously not literally true; if they are used in a non-literal sense, then Feser should explain exactly what he means by them. But the statement that things have built-in orientations can be taken literally: it simply means that things have a tendency to change in a particular direction, under the right circumstances. This makes sense, so long as we can map the change in some sort of single- or multi-dimensional co-ordinate space. (We might, for instance, map ice's tendency to cool the air or liquid surrounding it by constructing a temperature scale, and using an arrow to illustrate the degree of cooling that takes place. A match's tendency to generate a flame could be mapped in a color space, by using an arrow to indicate the color of the flame resulting when a match is lit. And so on.)

We can now express Feser's argument more formally:

2(a) The fact that unintelligent, natural efficient causes regularly generate certain effects is only intelligible if we assume that these efficient causes have an inherent tendency to produce those changes.

2(b) The fact that these efficient causes have an inherent tendency to produce those changes is only intelligible if we assume that these causes have an orientation towards the production of those changes, when the changes are mapped in some suitable space.

Feser then goes on to make it clear that he is not claiming that everything has a function. What he is insisting, however, is that finality - understood broadly in the sense of causes being oriented towards their effects - is pervasive in Nature. Moreover, this finality is intrinsic to things: we can discover their causal orientations without needing to look inside the mind of their Designer (if they have one).

Notice that this does not involve attributing anything like a biological function to such causes - biological functions are, contrary to a common misconception, only one, relatively rare kind of finality in nature, and do not exhaust final causality - and that it has nothing to do with complexity. Furthermore, the end-directedness in question is inherent to causes, something that they have in virtue of their natures or essences. At least in the case of natural causes (such as ice's tendency to cool surrounding water or air) we can determine from the regularity of their behavior alone what their causal tendencies and thus "final causes" are, and do not need to advert to the intentions of a designer.
("Existential Inertia and the Five Ways", Australian Catholic Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 85, No. 2, 2011, pp. 237-267. Reprinted in Metaphysics: Aristotelian, Scholastic, Analytic edited by Lukas Novak, Daniel D. Novotny, Prokop Sousedik and David Svoboda, Ontos Verlag, 2013, p. 155.)

### Step 4: Why is an Intelligent Being required to direct unintelligent natural causes towards their effects?

Left: A sprouting acorn. Image courtesy of Amphis and Wikipedia.
Right: A chestnut-leaved oak tree, Quercus castaneifolia. Picture taken at Kew Gardens (London, UK). Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

As a leading Thomist philosopher, Professor Christopher Martin, has acknowledged in his book, Thomas Aquinas: God and Explanations (Edinburgh University Press, 1998), the most controversial step of Aquinas' Fifth way is his assertion that unintelligent natural causes cannot tend towards certain ends (or effects) unless they are guided by an intelligent being. This is the fourth step in Feser's reconstruction of Aquinas' argument, and in his essay, "Existential Inertia and the Five Ways", Feser provides the following justification of this step:

The basic idea is this. A cause cannot be efficacious unless it acts in some way. But in the case of the final cause of some unintelligent natural process, the cause in question does not exist in the natural order. For instance, the oak is the end or final cause of the acorn, and yet until the acorn develops into the oak, the oak does not actually exist in the natural world. Now with artefacts, the final cause can be efficacious because it exists (or rather its form exists) in the mind of the artificer. For example, a building is the final cause of the actions of the builder, and it serves as a genuine cause despite its not yet existing in the natural order by existing at least as an idea in the builder's intellect. Now unless there is some third alternative, this is how final causes operative in the order of unintelligent natural things must exist, for they have to exist somehow in order to be efficacious. But there is no third alternative, given Aquinas' rejection of Platonism. If the oak does not exist in a Platonic third realm and it does not yet exist either in the natural world, the only place left for it to exist, as it must if it is to have any efficacy vis-a-vis the acorn, is as a form or idea in an intellect. And the same thing is true of all the other final causes operative in the order of unintelligent natural processes, which means it is true of the entire order of efficient causes making up the natural world, since all efficient causality presupposes final causality.

So there must be an intellect outside the natural order directing things to their ends, where these ends pre-exist as ideas in said intellect. And notice that this must be the case at any moment at which natural substances exist at all, for they retain their inherent causal powers and thus their immanent finality or end-directedness at every moment at which they exist.
("Existential Inertia and the Five Ways", Australian Catholic Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 85, No. 2, 2011, p. 253.)

We can express Feser's reasoning more formally, as follows:

4(a) The production by unintelligent efficient causes of their characteristic effects (or "ends") is not an instantaneous process. It takes time. (The Future Orientation Principle, Part (i))

4(b) Thus the ends towards which these efficient causes are inherently oriented do not yet exist, in the natural order.

4(c) Hence unintelligent efficient causes are inherently oriented towards the production of future effects, or ends. (The Future Orientation Principle, Part (ii))

4(d) But since the efficient causes are inherently oriented towards these ends, the ends in question must be able to influence the behavior of the efficient causes that produce them.

4(e) But in order for these ends to be able to influence the behavior of the efficient causes that produce them, they must be capable of acting on those causes.

4(f) One thing cannot act upon another unless the two co-exist. (The Simultaneous Agency Principle)

4(g) Thus the future ends towards which unintelligent efficient causes tend must already exist, in the present, in some way.

4(h) There are only three ways in which an end could conceivably exist: (a) in reality; (b) in the mind of an intelligent being seeking to realize it; and (c) as a Platonic abstraction. (The Three Ways Principle)

4(i) Option (a) is ruled out, as the ends in question do not yet exist, in reality. They lie in the future.

4(j) Option (c) is metaphysically absurd: abstractions cannot act (the Anti-Platonic Principle), and therefore cannot influence anything.

4(k) That leaves option (b): the ends must already exist in the mind of an intelligent being seeking to realize them.

4(l) But the efficient causes in question are unintelligent: they lack minds.

4(m) Therefore the intelligent being in whose mind the ends of these efficient causes already exist, must be something external to those causes.

4(n) Therefore unintelligent efficient causes can only be inherently oriented towards the production of their future ends if they are being externally guided towards those ends by an intelligent being, in whose mind they already exist.

The conclusion in 4(n) might strike some readers as rather odd. The argument in Aquinas Fifth Way proceeded from the premise that there are things in the world (natural objects) that have their own built-in finality. Now, however, we are told that these same things need to be guided, or directed, to their ends. If, as Feser asserts in his book, Aquinas (Oneworld, Oxford, 2009), there is "a Supreme Intelligence or intellect outside the universe which directs things towards their ends" (p. 117), then in what sense can those ends be built-in or natural? Must they not be extrinsic?

Aquinas could reply, however, that we can still say of a given natural object that it has a built-in tendency to move towards its ends, even if it requires direction to reach those ends. The movement is not extrinsic to the natural object, but the knowledge of the end, as such, is. That knowledge lies in the Mind of God.

### Step 6: Why must the Intelligent Being that directs unintelligent natural causes towards their effects, also be the cause of their natures or essences?

In his essay, "Existential Inertia and the Five Ways," Feser explains why the intelligence that directs unintelligent natural causes towards their ends, must also be the cause of them having the natures or essences they do:

Notice too that precisely because this finality or end-directedness is immanent, "built into" things given their natures or essences, that which directs natural things must be what gives them their natures or essences, and thus what conjoins their essences to an act of existence. Since for reasons already states this must be something in which essence and existence are identical, we are led by yet another route to the existence of God, and not merely to a finite designer (which Paley-style arguments cannot rule out).
("Existential Inertia and the Five Ways", Australian Catholic Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 85, No. 2, 2011, p. 253.)

This, I have to say, is rather brief and cryptic. We can, however, find a much more informative explanation in Professor Feser's book, Aquinas (Oneworld, Oxford, 2009):

...[W]e cannot make sense of efficient causality without final causality. They go hand in hand, just as a thing's material and formal causes go hand in hand in the sense that matter cannot exist without form and form, in the ordinary case anyway, does not exist without matter.

At the same time, just as form is ultimately prior to matter (and, more generally, act prior to potency), final causes are prior to or more fundamental than efficient causes, insofar as they make efficient causes intelligible (DPN 4.25). Indeed, for Aquinas the final cause is "the cause of causes" (In Phys II.5.186), that which determines all of the other causes. For something to be directed at a certain end entails that it has a form appropriate to the realization of that end, and thus a material composition suitable for instantiating that form; a knife, for example, if it is to fulfill its function of cutting, must have a certain degree of sharpness and solidity, and thus be made of some material capable of maintaining that degree of sharpness and solidity. Thus the existence of final causes entails the existence of formal and material causes too. More generally, for something to have some feature potentially entails a kind of directedness to the actualization of that potential... Hence the existence of final causes also entails the act/potency distinction. (2009, pp. 18-19)

In a similar vein, Feser remarks on page 118, that "for a thing to have a certain final cause entails that it has a certain formal and material cause and thus a certain nature or essence."

This is more helpful, but it still lacks logical rigor. I would therefore propose the following reconstruction of Feser's argument at this point:

6(a) The Intelligence which guides a natural object towards its built-in ends, must also endow it with those ends. If it did not, the ends in question would be purely extrinsic to the thing itself; but natural objects, by definition, have built-in ends.

6(b) A thing's efficient causality cannot exist in the absence of final causality, because efficient causes are inherently oriented towards their effects as to an end or final cause.

6(c) A thing's formal causality cannot exist in the absence of final causality, because in order to be oriented towards a certain end, it must have a form appropriate to the realization of that end.

6(d) A thing's material causality cannot exist in the absence of final causality, because in order to be oriented towards a certain end, it must not only have a form appropriate to the realization of that end, but must also have a material composition suitable for instantiating that form.

6(e) Since a thing's efficient, formal and material causality cannot exist in the absence of final causality, the Intelligence which endows unintelligent natural causes with their built-in ends, has to at the same time endow them with their efficient, formal and material causality.

6(f) Since these four kinds of causality exhaust a thing's nature (the Four Causes Principle), it follows that the Intelligence which endows unintelligent natural causes with their built-in ends, has to endow them with their natures, or essences.

The problem with this argument, however, is that premises 6(c) and 6(d) both contain non sequiturs! The fact that in order to be oriented towards a certain end, a thing needs to have a form appropriate to the realization of that end, doesn't show that the thing's formal causality cannot exist in the absence of final causality. Rather, what it shows is the reverse: that the thing's final causality cannot exist in the absence of formal causality. Perhaps this defect could be remedied, however, by arguing that form and finality are mutually inseparable. Professor Feser seemed to suggest this in a personal email he wrote to me, dated 5 July 2012, where he clarified his position on form and finality:

The relationship between formal and final cause is complicated, and a lot more could be said than I said there. But just to focus on a specific case, it is because of the form of the acorn that it is directed toward growing into an oak, specially, rather than into something else, but it is because of the end of growing into the form of oaks that acorns have that form in the first place. So the acorn and its directedness are temporally prior to the fully realized form of the oak, though that fully realized form is ontologically prior in the sense that it is that for the sake of which the acorn exists in the first place.

Even if we leave aside the problems with step 6(c), however, we find another non sequitur in Step 6(d) of the argument. The fact that in order to be oriented towards a certain end, it must not only have a form appropriate to the realization of that end, but must also have a material composition suitable for instantiating that form, doesn't show that the thing's material causality cannot exist in the absence of final causality. All it shows is the reverse: that the thing's final causality cannot exist in the absence of material causality. In any case, we know that a thing's material causality can exist in the absence of final causality, because the prime matter of a thing remains even after its substantial form (which makes it the kind of thing it is) has gone - and the thing's built-in ends along with it! It therefore seems perfectly conceivable that the Intelligent Being(s) who endows things with their built-in ends does so by imposing forms on primary matter, rather than by maintaining the entire thing (form and matter) in existence.

I therefore conclude that Aquinas Fifth Way fails to demonstrate that the Intelligence which directs natural objects towards their built-in ends is also the Author of their natures. The Demiurge scenario has not been ruled out.

### Step 7: Why must the Intelligent Being that directs unintelligent natural causes towards their effects, also be responsible for endowing their essences with existence? And why must this Intelligence be a being whose essence and existence are identical?

Step 7 of Professor Feser's argument contains three moves, two of which are glossed over by Feser. The first move is from the conclusion of Step 6 - that there is an intelligent being who endows natural objects with their natures or essences - to the claim at the beginning of step 7, that this intelligent being also endows the essences of natural objects with existence. In the course of his argument, Feser simply asserts that this is the case, without bothering to explain why. The second move (which Feser argues for at some length in his 2011 essay, "Existential Inertia and the Five Ways") is to show that either this intelligent being's essence is identical with its act of existence, or that this intelligent being must ultimately be maintained in existence by some other Being, Whose essence and existence are identical (and Who could therefore be equated with the God of classical theism). The third move is to show that this Being - Who is Pure, Unbounded Existence - is intelligent. Surprisingly, Feser doesn't even attempt to argue for this conclusion. Having arrived at a Being Whose essence and existence are identical, he apparently forgets to inquire as to whether this Being is intelligent or not.

Feser's first "logical leap"

From the foregoing analysis, it is evident that Step 7 of Professor Feser's argument contains two gaping holes. The first logical gap in Step 7 is the giant leap from the conclusion of step 6 (that the intelligent being who guides all things to their built-in ends, also endows them with their natures or essences) to the unsupported assertion Feser makes at the beginning of step 7, that the Being who endows natural objects with their essences, must also endow these essences with existence. Let's look at steps 6 and 7 of Feser's argument:

6. But since the ends or final causes in question are inherent in things by virtue of their natures or essence, the intelligence in question must be the cause also of natural things having the natures or essences they do.

7. This entails its being that which conjoins their essences to an act of existence, and only that in which essence and existence are identical can ultimately accomplish this.

At the beginning of step 7, Feser states that the premise,

There is an intelligent being who is the cause of natural things having the natures or essences they do

entails the conclusion,

This intelligent being conjoins the essences of natural things with their acts of existence.

Logically, however, the conclusion doesn't follow from the premise. To see why, consider the following three sentences:

(1) Intelligent being X guides natural object Y to its built-in ends.
(2) Intelligent being X is the cause of object Y having the essence that it has.
(3) Intelligent being X conjoins Y's essence to Y's act of existence.

In step 6 of his argument, Professor Feser argued that 1 implies 2, and at the beginning of step 7, he is now claiming that 2 implies 3. But as we saw above, the essence of a natural object is defined by its formal cause, its material cause, its final causality (i.e. its built-in ends) and its efficient causality. The point I am making here is that the activity of defining a thing's formal, material, final and efficient causality - and thereby giving it an essence - is quite distinct from the activity of endowing that essence with existence - or as Feser puts it, conjoining that essence with its own act of existence. Recall that for Feser (and according to most commentators, for Aquinas as well), there is a real distinction between a thing's essence and its existence. It follows, then, that the act of defining a thing's essence is distinct from the act of endowing that essence with existence.

Feser's second "logical leap"

The second logical gap occurs at the conclusion of step 7, where Feser demonstrates that there must exist a Being Whose essence and existence are identical. Unfortunately, Feser fails to show that this Being is intelligent. It may be that the intelligent being (call it A) who guides all things to their built-in ends and endows them with their natures is maintained in existence by another Being (call it B) who endows A's essence with existence. The problem here is that the activity of maintaining a being in existence is not an activity that necessarily requires intelligence - even if the being you are maintaining in existence happens to be an intelligent being. In his essay, Feser goes to a lot of trouble to show that there must be a Being Who is Pure Existence - and Who is therefore identical with the God of classical theism. But Feser still needs to show that the God he worships is an Intelligent Being. It is a pity that he does not even attempt to do this.

Some people might feel tempted to argue that a Being Who is Pure, Unbounded Existence must be infinite, and therefore intelligent. However, there are three reasons why "being infinite" does not imply "being intelligent."

First, the term "infinite" can be said to have a "weak" meaning and a "strong" meaning, and something which is infinite in the weak sense may not be infinite in the strong sense. In the weak sense, the term "infinite" means: free from all external constraints. In this sense, a being is infinite if nothing fences it in. In the strong sense, the term "infinite" means: having some perfection to an unlimited degree. A Being Whose essence is identical with its own act of existence is infinite in the weak sense. However, it does not follow that such a being possesses the perfection of existence, within itself, to an unlimited degree. Additional argumentation is required to establish this conclusion.

Second, the term "intelligence" does not refer to being as such; rather, it refers to the ability to adapt means to ends. A being whose existence is unlimited is not necessarily the same thing as a being whose powers or abilities are unlimited.

Third, intelligence is an ability which can only be possessed explicitly - that is, by the bearer, and not by proxy. To understand what this means, let's consider the property of heat. Thomists would describe a being that can produce heat in other objects as virtually hot, even if it doesn't happen to be hot itself, since it has the power to make things hot. For instance, since God can make things hot, He is virtually hot, even though He has no body. In this respect, the property of heat stands in striking contrast with the property of intelligence. Nobody would call a being "virtually intelligent," simply because it had the power to generate other intelligent beings. Intelligence, by its very nature, is an ability that its possessor must be capable of demonstrating and exercising. An intelligent being must be able to show, if the occasion calls for it, that it is capable of adapting means to ends. Any being which is incapable of such a demonstration can't meaningfully be called intelligent.

Feser's demonstration that the intelligent being who endows natural things with existence must be a Being Whose essence and existence are identical - or must be ultimately caused by such a Being

In his 2011 essay, "Existential Inertia and the Five Ways", Feser considers a natural substance S, and explains why the intelligent being responsible for joining S's essence to its act of existence must either be a Being Whose essence is identical to its own act of existence, or must be causally dependent on such a Being. Here, at last, Feser puts forward an argument whose premises are clearly spelt out. It is also a valid argument, once we grant the metaphysical background assumptions that essence and existence are really distinct, and that an infinite regress of per se ordered causes is impossible.

First, Feser carefully explains why a natural object's essence and existence must be continually joined together by a being external to itself.

...S's essence, and thus S itself, is merely potential until that essence is conjoined with an act of existence. But if S or S's essence did this conjoining, then S would be the cause of itself, which is impossible. Hence the conjoining must be done by some cause C distinct from S. But the distinction between S's essence and existence that this presupposes is as real after S comes into existence as it was before; and for S or S's essence to conjoin S's essence to an act of existence even after S first comes into existence would be for S to cause itself, which is no less impossible for S after S already exists than before. Hence the conjoining of S's essence and existence by a cause distinct from S must be maintained at any moment S exists.
("Existential Inertia and the Five Ways", Australian Catholic Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 85, No. 2, 2011, p. 245.)

In my discussion above, I noted Feser's failure to show that the being who causes natural objects to exist is one and the same being as the intelligent being who endows them with their natures. But let us assume for argument's sake that Feser can remedy this defect in his argument. The next thing he needs to show is that there is a Being Whose essence and existence are identical. Feser does this in the course of his discussion of the Second Way, where he argues that the Intelligent Cause (call it C) which conjoins essences to their acts of existence must be a being whose essence and existence are identical (I've omitted the paragraph numbering in the essay and replaced it with my own, in order to avoid confusing readers):

7(a) C's own existence at the moment it conjoins S's essence to an act of existence presupposes either (a) that C's essence is concurrently being joined to an act of existence, or (b) that in C essence and existence are identical.

7(b) If C's existence at the moment it conjoins S's essence to an act of existence presupposes that C's own essence is concurrently being joined to an act of existence, then there exists a regress of concurrent conjoiners of essences and acts of existence that is either infinite or terminates in something whose essence and existence are identical.

7(c) But such a regress of concurrent conjoiners of essences and existence would constitute a causal series ordered per se, and such a series cannot regress infinitely.

7(d) So either C's own essence and existence are identical, or there is something else whose essence and existence are identical which terminates the regress of concurrent conjoiners of essences with acts of existence.

7(e) So the existence of S at any given moment presupposes the existence of something in which essence and existence are identical.
("Existential Inertia and the Five Ways", Australian Catholic Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 85, No. 2, 2011, p. 245.)

As I see it, the question of whether the argument is sound as well as valid (i.e. whether the premises are true, as well as logically implying their conclusion) hinges on whether the essence-existence distinction, presupposed by the argument, is a real one. But even if the distinction between essence and existence is purely logical instead of real, as Duns Scotus and some other medieval Scholastic philosophers maintained, then one might still attempt to argue that a being whose essence and existence are logically distinct requires a cause for its existence, by appealing to the Participatory Existence Principle, listed above in the basic metaphysical assumptions underlying Aquinas' Fifth Way:

The fact that we can know what a natural object is, without knowing whether it exists, shows that the natural object owes its existence to some outside source.

Applying this principle, we arrive at a Being Whose essence we cannot fathom, and Whose "what-ness" (could we but comprehend it) is logically inseparable from its own act of existence.

I critiqued the logic of this argument at the end of Part Three above, when I pointed out that there could well be natural objects whose natures we are incapable of understanding. I then went on to argue, however, that any object whose nature is defined by rules circumscribing its modus operandi requires an explanation - for rules presuppose the existence of a Rule-maker. Since Nature itself is one giant system of rules, we can be sure that any natural object depends for its existence on a Being whose modus operandi is utterly unbounded.

That's all I want to say about the middle part of Feser's Step 7. However, what Feser still needs to show is that the Being Whose essence and existence are identical is also intelligent, in order to reach the conclusion that he desires. The real problem here, as I wrote above, is that on Feser's account, it is not at all evident why the activity of maintaining a being in existence should be an activity that necessarily requires intelligence. But on my account, this is very easy to demonstrate: natural objects are embodiments or instantiations of rules, which in turn presuppose the existence of an Intelligent Rule-maker.

## PART FIVE: How I would revamp Aquinas' Fifth Way

In the Executive Summary above, I sketched an outline of how an alternative version of the teleological argument for God's existence might work. It went as follows:

1. All natural objects - and their parts - exhibit certain built-in, fixed tendencies, which can be said to characterize these objects and circumscribe the ways in which they are capable of acting.
(Note: Although this premise refers to objects and their tendencies and activities, it refrains from saying anything about substance vs. accidents, matter vs. form, or essence vs. existence.)

2. In order to properly ground scientific inferences and everyday inductive knowledge, the tendencies exhibited by natural objects must be construed not merely as properties which describe these objects, but as properties which prescribe the behavior of those objects: in other words, they are rules, which define the natures of those objects. What's more, the rules go all the way down: they are not superimposed on pre-existing objects, but actually constitute those objects, in their very being.

3. By definition, rules presuppose a rule-maker. Thus the existence of rules in the natural world can only be explained by an intelligent being or beings who has defined those rules. Hence the rule-governed behavior of natural objects presupposes the existence of an intelligent being or beings who has defined their natures - and hence their very being.

4. Only an actually existing being can explain an actual state of affairs; hence only an actually existing intelligent being or beings can explain the ongoing rule-governed behavior of natural objects, which defines their very natures and which constitutes them as beings. (Hence, this intelligent being or beings cannot be merely a watchmaker or absentee landlord. Rather, the intelligent being or beings must actually exist, and must continually conserve natural objects in being.)

5. An infinite regress of explanations is impossible; all explanations must come to an end somewhere. Hence the intelligent being (or beings) who defines the rules which govern the behavior of natural objects and their parts, must not exhibit any built-in, fixed tendencies, which constrain its mode of acting. Additionally, this intelligent being (or beings) must not be composed of any parts exhibiting such fixed tendencies. We are left, then, with an intelligent being (or beings), whose mode of acting is totally unconstrained by any fixed tendencies of its own, or of any underlying parts.

6. Beings are distinguished from one another according to their different modes of acting. Hence there can only be one intelligent being whose nature is totally unconstrained. Moreover, such a being must be supernatural, for all natural objects have a constrained mode of acting. Finally, such a being must be infinite, as nothing constrains its mode of acting. Thus we arrive an an Intelligent Author of Nature, Who is one, simple, supernatural and infinite.

The relationship between my metaphysical assumptions and Feser's

As I have indicated above, I personally agree with the majority of Feser's 21 metaphysical assumptions. The point I wish to make, however, is that a good argument for God's existence should contain as few metaphysical assumptions as possible, in order to render it as impregnable as possible. Nearly all of my assumptions find parallels in Feser's metaphysical assumptions, which are listed in Part Two above. Thus my first assumption, that all natural objects exhibit certain built-in, fixed tendencies, corresponds to Feser's Immanent Finality Principle (assumption number 2, in my list of Feser's 21 principles). My second assumption, that these tendencies are actually rules, which define the natures of those objects, and which constitute the very essence of objects, has no parallel in Feser's writings. Nor does my third assumption, that rules presuppose an intelligent rule-maker. However, my fourth assumption, that only an actually existing being can explain an actual state of affairs, is very similar to Feser's Simultaneous Agency Principle, which states that a per se cause must exist simultaneously with the thing it acts upon. (However, whereas Feser is apparently inclined to think that the Simultaneous Agency Principle is grounded in the more fundamental principle that instrumental causes presuppose the activity of a primary agent, I think that the latter principle is question-begging, as no skeptic is ever going to concede that a cause in a chain is an instrument of the causes preceding it. See my discussion of the Simultaneous Agency Principle [number 17] in Part Two above.) Likewise, my fifth assumption, that an infinite regress of explanations is impossible, is basically the same as Feser's Ultimate Causal Explanation Principle, which says that anything which requires an external causal explanation, must have an ultimate explanation. Finally, my sixth assumption, that Beings are distinguished from one another according to their different modes of acting, parallels Feser's Finitude from Determinacy Principle, which states that anything which is finite has a nature which is in some way determinate.

As I see it, these six assumptions are enough. There is no need to invoke metaphysical principles relating to potency and act, matter and form, substance and accident, essence and existence, and what have you.

Do causes need to be things?

A cricket ball going through a window. Professor Feser asserts that causes are not events but things: thus when a ball breaks a window, it is not the event of the ball's being thrown, but the ball itself, that is the cause of the broken window. Copyright Rob Wood of topendsports, who has stipulated that the image they may be copied for free and used for non-commercial uses.

As we have seen, Professor Feser maintains that in paradigm cases, causes are best construed as things, rather than events, as many philosophers prefer to describe them. In Part Two above, I referred to this principle of Feser's as the Causal Substantiality Principle. I am strongly inclined to agree with Feser on this point; however, I see no need to invoke the principle in my argument for God's existence. The reason is that my argument does not concern itself with the nature of causes, but with the rules that describe the way in which they operate. Causal explanations work by appealing to general tendencies that objects behave in accordance with, and as the second premise of my argument stipulates, these tendencies need to be construed as rules, in order to provide an adequate warrant for scientific inference. All that matters for the purposes of my argument is that rules require an intelligent rule-maker. I make no claims about the inner nature of things except that they are (to some degree) defined by rules. Thus, for the purposes of my argument, a thing can be simply envisaged as a locus or node, situated in space-time, that is capable of being characterized by a set of rules.

In a recent philosophy paper on Arxiv.org titled, New remarks on the Cosmological Argument, authors Gustavo E. Romero and Daniela Perez maintain that in modern physics, "Causation is a form of event generation," and deny that causes can be things. However, this assertion strikes me as a piece of unsupported dogma. In any case, the action of one thing upon another thing is undeniably an event, so I can see no problem here.

Is my argument Platonic, and does it reify the laws of Nature?

In his essay, "Existential Inertia and the Five Ways" (Australian Catholic Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 85, No. 2, 2011, pp. 237-267), Feser attacks what he describes as "the illusion that the so-called laws of nature are the explanations of natural phenomena," and approvingly quotes from two authors, Kvanvig and McCann, who write: "laws, after all, are descriptive in import. They do not operate at all, despite our figures of speech, and they do not do anything in or to the world. If they are true, it is because things themselves have features the laws describe."

In my argument for God's existence, I describe things as conforming to rules. However, I would like to make it clear that I do not envisage these rules as acting on things, in a Platonic sense, and I certainly do not view the laws of Nature as operating on things. Rather, I see these rules as being embedded within the very nature of things. And herein lies the real difference between my position and Feser's on the relation between things and rules (or prescriptions).

In my argument, I describe things as being constituted by rules, which are prescriptive. Thus I maintain that things in themselves have prescriptive properties, whereas Feser envisages things in themselves in descriptive terminology. Feser would of course add that God, who guides things to their built-in ends, is the Author of the prescriptions whereby He constrains them to behave in a certain way, but apparently he would locate these prescriptions outside things in themselves. The problem I have with this view is that if it is correct, then it is hard to see in what sense things could be said to have an active tendency to attain their built-in ends. If things have to be guided to their ends, then they are passive in relation to those ends; but if they are defined (in part) by rules which prescribe those ends for them, then in realizing those ends they could be said to be truly acting according to their natures.

Finally, I would like to make it clear that in saying rules constitute the very nature of the objects we observe around us, and that natural objects in some way instantiate rules, I am not claiming that objects consist of "nothing but" rules. That would indeed be Platonistic. Objects have other properties as well: they are also associated with quantitative (and qualitative) values, such as having a particular size, shape or color, as well as a spatio-temporal location. Additionally, objects are defined by their complex web of relationships with other natural objects - and, as I'll argue below, by their situation within the "cosmic story" written by God, their Maker.

### A transcendental argument for a timeless Intelligence guiding Nature

I would now like to elucidate the thinking that underlies Step 2 of my argument for God's existence, which is the critical step.

In Parts Three and Four above, I criticized the logic and the assumptions underlying Professor Feser's argument for the existence of an Overarching Intelligence guiding Nature. If I have been a trifle harsh, it is only because Feser promised so much: a knockdown demonstration that would confute the atheists, using the example of something as simple as two bodies attracting one another. That, as we have seen, is a highly inflated claim. Nevertheless, I am heavily sympathetic towards the enterprise of arguing for God's existence, on the basis of the mere existence of laws of Nature. For my part, I tend to favor the following argument, which is transcendental rather than strictly demonstrative: that is, its conclusion can only be denied at the cost of denying something which we all have a pre-existing commitment to, on a practical level. Readers will recognize that the argument below contains many metaphysical insights which I owe to Professor Feser, even though I differ from him on other points.

The whole point of a transcendental argument is that it can be denied only at a very heavy metaphysical price. In order to avoid the force of the argument below, one has to either deny that there are any rules in Nature, or deny that time is real, at some ultimate level of Nature. The first denial leaves you with the unsolved problem of induction, and it also leaves scientists without any assurance that their experiments will work. The second denial entails a Parmenidean view of reality, which is contradicted on an everyday basis by the simple fact that we make contingent choices which really matter, in the scheme of things. The future is not fixed: we can and do "make history."

### Rules are embedded in the very nature of things

A Newton's cradle demonstrates the conservation of momentum. Rules like the law of the conservation of momentum are embedded in the very nature of things. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

The argument proceeds from the premise that the laws of Nature are not merely descriptive (as many philosophers have claimed) but are also prescriptive: they not only tell us how things in the world actually behave, but how they ought to behave. In other words, the laws of Nature are statements expressing rules, which either define the various kinds of natural objects, or (in the case of general laws such as Newton's law of universal gravitation, the law of the conservation of momentum, the laws of thermodynamics or the laws of quantum mechanics) which apply to all natural objects. If the laws of Nature weren't rules of some sort, then we'd have no particular reason to trust that they will hold in the future (i.e. that things will behave in the same way tomorrow as they do today). Scientists would have absolutely no assurance that things will behave predictably, when performing their laboratory experiments. Since scientists do in fact rely on the laws of Nature holding as they go about their everyday work, they must implicitly suppose these laws to function as rules, constraining the future behavior of natural objects.

I expect some skeptical readers will be spluttering in protest at this point. For what I'm claiming is that without rules, there's absolutely no rational warrant for induction - e.g. for the belief that the Sun will rise tomorrow at the forecast time. Repeated observations of natural objects behaving regularly in the past provide us with no warrant for believing that they will do so in the future, and to think otherwise is to commit the reverse gambler's fallacy ("I've tossed four heads in a row with this coin, so the next coin toss will come up heads as well!") Regarding the regular behavior of objects: there are infinitely many ways in which objects can go "off the rails" and fail to behave in their usual fashion, but there's only one way in which they can stay "on the rails"; hence the expectation that natural objects will continue to behave regularly in the future is tantamount to a gigantic article of faith. Nor can appeals to simplicity provide belief in induction with a rational warrant, as we have no grounds for believing that the simplest explanation of past phenomena will be the explanation that hold true in the future. There are countless other, more complicated explanations that can account for the past regularities we have observed, but which also posit a violation of those regularities at some point in the future. To say that we should ignore these explanations (which are fully compatible with our observations to date) because they lack the virtue of simplicity is to project our desires onto the cosmos. We might like simple explanations; but that doesn't make them any more likely to be true. We are forced to conclude, then, that unless the tendencies we observe in Nature are rules which constrain and define the very nature of things, there is no good reason for scientists - or ordinary laypeople, for that matter - to believe that they will continue to hold in the future.

The view that laws of Nature are rules is additionally supported by the fact that the laws of Nature are all capable of being given a rigorous mathematical formulation: they can be written down as mathematical equations. In other words, they are formal statements. But a mathematical equation, per se, is not a prescriptive rule; what makes it a rule is that it prescribes the behavior of something. Platonic abstractions are defined by their forms, but they do not follow rules; only real things do that. Things behaving in accordance with a rule must have a built-in tendency, under the appropriate circumstances, to generate the effect that the rule states that they should. This built-in tendency of things to produce specific effects under specific circumstances is what Aristotelian philosophers refer to as immanent finality. Thus the rules we see holding in the natural world embody two fundamental features: formality and finality. Both are needed, in order to adequately describe reality.

The world, as we have seen, is not a world of facts alone, as the younger Wittgenstein believed; it is also a world of rules. Rules make up the very warp and woof of the natural world: without them, it would be nothing, as natural objects could no longer be said to possess a nature of their own, and a thing without a nature is not a thing at all. What’s more, these rules pervade all levels of reality: the domain of the lawless is nowhere to be found in Nature. Even at the quantum level, strict mathematical rules still apply. The pervasiveness of rules at all levels of reality ties in with what I wrote in a previous post of mine, where I argued that real things, unlike fictional entities (such as Harry Potter's house), had to be fully specified at all levels.

### Because things have essentially linguistic properties, which can only be described by rules, they thus require a Mind to generate them

 Kepler's 3rd Law: The square of the orbital time period T is proportional to the mean radius a: $T^2 = \frac{4\pi^2}{G \left ( m + M \right ) }r^3\,\!$ where M is the mass of the central body (i.e. star).

Kepler's third law of planetary motion. Rules like this, which constitute the very essence of things, can only be expressed in language, and highly mathematical language at that. The fact that the essence of natural objects can only be expressed in terms of language indicates that natural objects were generated by a Mind. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

The world thus appears to be made of mathematical rules, all the way down. How very, very odd. Where do these rules come from? To answer this question, we have to remember that rules are expressible only in some sort of language – and as we have seen, for the laws of Nature, this language will also have to embody mathematical concepts. Since rules can only be formulated in some sort of language, then by definition, the only place where rules can come from is a mind. We are forced, then, to assume the existence of a Mind (or minds) underlying Nature, which is responsible for establishing its laws.

A hard-nosed skeptic might object that even if the behavior of things can only be described by us in terms of rules (e.g. recipes), it doesn't follow that things in themselves are essentially characterized by rules. Rules might be an anthropomorphic projection that we impose on things. We can now see that this objection misses the point, as it presupposes that there are things for rules to be "imposed on" in the first place – in other words, that a thing possesses some underlying essence which is independent of any rules we might impose upon it. But as we've seen, it's "rules all the way down." There is not one positive characteristic that can be meaningfully ascribed to a natural object, which does not make reference to some rule, since all of a natural object’s essential characteristics are prescriptive. (And the only thing that these rules can be imposed on is some underlying passive potency, or what Scholastic philosophers refer to as prime matter) To make matters worse, the rules in question are mathematical: they need a special kind of language, even to formulate them. The universe, to quote Sir James Jeans, is "nearer to a great thought than to a great machine." However, the universe is more than just a thought, as we can see from its total specification at all levels of reality, its built-in finality and the ability of some natural agents (human beings, for instance) to exercise libertarian free will. The universe is thus maintained by a Mind, but at the same time, it is much more than a phantasy within that Mind, however elaborate. It has ex-istence.

The hard-nosed skeptic might still object that abstract objects require language to describe them properly. Does that mean that a mind created them? The answer is that abstract objects are either instantiated in the natural world (e.g. tetrahedra) or they are not (e.g. 999-sided regular polygons). If they are, then their existence is derivative upon that of the objects in the world instantiating them; if they are not (e.g. a regular 999-sided figure, to borrow one of Feser's examples), then they only exist in the minds of the people who think them up and/or talk about them.

### The Mind that creates the rules we find in Nature must be continually active in Nature - for if He wasn't, the rules would instantly break down, and time would break down too

Atomic Clock FOCS-1, in the Swiss Federal Office of Metrology METAS in Bern, Switzerland, is one of the most accurate devices for measuring time in the world. Since the very passage of time can only be measured by the rule-governed behavior of things found in the world, it follows that the Mind responsible for establishing the rules we call "laws of Nature" must be a Mind outside time, and not a Mind that merely set up Nature at the beginning of time. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Even though a skeptic might allow that natural objects are defined by rules which characterize them, he/she will surely want to ask how we can know that the Mind Who created natural objects still exists. The answer is that since the rules that define natural objects continue to hold over time, without breaking down, it follows that the Mind responsible for establishing the laws of Nature must be continually active in the world.

There is no way that this Mind could have wound up the world like a watch, because the world exists in time, and the mere fact that a rule applies now in no way guarantees that it will apply in the future. Indeed, the very passage of time can only be measured by the rule-governed behavior of things found in the world – cesium-133 atoms, for instance. Therefore the Mind responsible for establishing the laws of Nature must be a Mind outside time – and by the same token, outside space as well, since the very measurement of distances in space presupposes that the things occupying it – light, for instance – will behave in a rule-governed fashion. Such a Mind, if it exists, cannot fail to exist; hence it must be actual.

Moreover, since the rules that characterize different kinds of objects are constitutive of their very natures (or in the case of universal laws, the nature of a physical object in general), we can conclude that the Mind responsible for establishing these rules must be responsible for things having the natures that they do. (Putting it another way: a thing without a nature cannot be coherently described as a thing at all, so the Mind that gives things their natures must be responsible for giving things their very "thinghood.") And since (unlike Aquinas) I make no distinction between a thing's nature, or thinghood, and its existence, it therefore follows that this Mind must maintain things in existence.

A metaphysical aside: what kinds of rules are embedded in things? Why I reject both mathematical and teleological reductionism

I may have given the mistaken impression above that things can be characterized entirely by mathematical rules (let's call them M-rules for short). As appealing as this picture may be to mathematics-lovers, I do not think that it is philosophically coherent. I believe there must be at least three other kinds of rules that are required to characterize things.

First, things need to possess the built-in property of being responsive to the will of the Mind that maintains them in existence – otherwise they would not obey the will of their Maker when subject to His command. (By contrast, fictional entities like Harry Potter don't need to have any such rule built into them, as they have no life of their own outside their author's imagination, and are incapable of defying their maker. Such entities simply are whatever their author wants them to be.)

Second, things need to possess the built-in property of being able to cause God to be (timelessly) made aware of any changes they undergo. That, as I shall argue below, is how God knows what is happening in the world: not by determining it (as an author would), but by being determined by the world itself. Such a determination does not imply that God is a mixture of act and passive potency, as Professor Feser might argue. Here we must distinguish between God's essence (which is undivided and contains no passive potency) and God's knowledge of events occurring in the world. Since the events occurring in the world are contingent, whereas God is a necessary Being, God's knowledge of these events must also be a contingent state of affairs, and therefore not part of His essence. There is therefore no logical reason why God's knowledge of these events could not be conditional upon the free choices made by intelligent agents (such as ourselves) in the world God has created. And since these free choices alter the course of events not only for agents but also for the animate and inanimate objects they interact with, it follows that for God to be able to keep track of what is going on in the world, these objects must possess the built-in property of being able to make their Creator automatically aware of any changes they undergo.

Third, things need to possess built-in properties which will allow sentient agents (such as ourselves and other animals) to experience them on a qualitative level – i.e. as sights, sounds, smells, tastes and feelings. I find qualia profoundly mysterious, and not for a minute would I pretend that they can be boiled down to mathematical equations. I am quite happy to grant that there are laws of Nature relating certain quantitatively measurable properties of objects to the qualia we experience when we observe those objects. But this in no way explains what qualia are, or why we experience them in the way we do, or even why we experience them at all. Nor do I believe that qualia can be explained in teleological terms; indeed, I regard teleological reductionism as being just as pernicious as mathematical reductionism. The distinctive smell of a rose, for instance, is not explained by its telos. Granting that a rose needs to smell fragrant in order to attract pollinators such as insects, that fact alone does not tell us why roses smell this way, and why carnations smell that way. (And please don't tell me that "this way" means nothing more than "the way in which a human being smells a rose", as if that dispelled the mystery. It doesn't. For if that account were adequate, then that should be all that one could possibly say about the smell of a rose; but in fact, we can say quite a lot about it - for instance, we can compare different smells.) I am therefore forced to conclude that things have built-in qualitative properties that make them look, sound, smell, taste and feel they way they do.

So far, I haven't spoken about immaterial agents, such as angels. If one happens to believe (as I do) that angels exist, how do these immaterial beings know what is happening in the external world? There are only three possibilities, as far as I can see: (i) they're not immaterial after all - they just have very subtle bodies; (ii) God continually infuses their minds with as much knowledge of the world as He sees fit to provide them; (iii) things must have the built-in property of being able to make angels automatically aware of some or all of the changes they undergo. Option (i) flies in the face of the Church's constant insistence (e.g. at the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215) that God made both spiritual and corporeal creatures. Option (ii) is possible, but messy, and it would imply (rather oddly) that God is continually bringing Satan and his minions up-to-date with events in the world too - otherwise they would be unable to wreak havoc in it. The third option therefore seems to be the most reasonable. Angels (and demons) must be capable of being made aware of events happening in the world, by virtue of properties built into natural objects that enable them to inform spiritual agents of changes occurring in them. Thus we are impelled to attribute a further category of properties to natural objects, if spiritual agents are real.

All of these categories of properties are prescriptive, and can only be expressed in terms of rules. I'm going to refer to these additional categories of rules as O-rules, I-rules, Q-rules and S-rules respectively ("O" for obedience, "I" for inform, "Q" for qualia, or qualitative experiences, and "S" for spiritual agents, such as angels and demons). A natural object, then, is defined by the following sets of rules:

(i) mathematical M-rules that define its nature in relation to other objects;
(ii) O-rules that make it obedient to the will of its Creator;
(iii) I-rules that cause God to be (timelessly) informed of any changes occurring in the object;
(iv) Q-rules that allow other sentient agents (e.g. humans and animals) to experience it on some level; and
(v) S-rules that allow spiritual agents (e.g. angels and demons) to be informed of any changes occurring in the object.

All of the rules described above are not only formalistic but also finalistic, insofar as they are directed at their respective ends.

What accounts for the "thinginess" of things is their identity in the "cosmic story," written by God

However, things are not constituted by rules alone, otherwise we would be unable to account for their concreteness or particularity. Formal or mathematical objects are also defined by rules, but the natural objects we are speaking of here are material objects. How, then, do we account for the "thinginess" of things? How do we account for the individuality? How do we account for their ability to interact with each other?

The answer, I believe, is that things, unlike formal objects, are defined by their identity as entities in a story written by God: the story of the cosmos, which is also the human story. (We're the lead characters in this funny cosmic drama.) However, unlike a story written by a human author, God's story is an interactive one: the entities in the story are designed with the built-in ability to interact with their Creator, rendering Him (timelessly) aware of everything that befalls them. Things can be regarded as "nodes," in the Divine story, with the built-in ability to interact with their Creator, and that is what distinguishes them from Him. Things also have the built-in ability to interact with each other, and their network of relationships is what distinguishes them from one another. In the end, the identity of things is ultimately relational: a very strange concept, but perhaps not so strange to someone familiar with Trinitarian theology.

Thus, I believe there is no need to posit the existence of an underlying potency (which Scholastic philosophers refer to as prime matter), which is utterly devoid of positive characteristics, and which serves as an ultimate substrate of change, and grounds the individuality of material objects. Instead, the individuality and concreteness of material objects is grounded in their network of relationships with their Creator and with other objects, and also by their identity as entities in an interactive story written by the Creator.

An objection from Feser: what makes me real and a phoenix unreal?

Professor Feser, in a post titled, Are you for real? (May 8, 2011), objects to the foregoing proposal that we are characters in a story written by God, on the grounds that such an account fails to explain why phoenixes aren't real, while we are:

...[T]here is an obvious difference between us and fictional characters: we exist and they don't. Metaphysically speaking, we can understand the difference in terms of Aquinas's famous distinction between essence and existence. To borrow an example from his On Being and Essence, a phoenix, unlike a human being, has no "act of existence" conjoined with its essence (if there is such a thing as the essence of a phoenix). That's why there are no phoenixes – they are fictional creatures – while there are human beings. You exist because God conjoins your essence to an act of existence; phoenixes do not exist because God does not conjoin the essence of any phoenix with an act of existence. To regard ourselves as fictional characters in a story God has written would be to deny this obvious difference, and to make it mysterious what it could mean to say that God has created human beings but not phoenixes.

But there are several reasons why, on my proposed account, phoenixes are not real. First, a phoenix is the name of a kind of thing, not an individual. God would have to write a story in which there were individual phoenixes, to make them exist, and they would have to be fully specified. Second, a phoenix is not a genuine kind anyway, as the definition of a phoenix is not a proper definition. A phoenix's "whatness" is defined purely notionally ("bird that lives in Arabia for 500 years"), in terms of its proper accidents rather than its substantial form, and is not properly specified. The definition is too vague. How big is a phoenix? What color is it, and why? What kind of DNA does it have?

I would also propose that a thing genuinely exists only if: (i) its nature is completely specified; (ii) the way in which it is capable of relating to other kinds of things is fully specified; (iii) it is an individual; and (iv) it is necessarily distinct from all other individuals sharing its nature. The characters in our novels aren't fully specified and properly individualized, so they only exist in a Pickwickian sense. And phoenixes don't exist in God's story of the cosmos, because neither their natures nor their individualities have been fully specified by God, in the level of detail required.

There is thus no need to resort to Thomistic metaphysics, which invokes a real distinction between essence and existence, in order to explain why you and I exist and why phoenixes don't.

### The Mind that generates the rules we find in Nature has to be infinite

Why I regard "Pure Being" as an inadequate characterization of God

St. Augustine in prayer, by Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510). From a fresco in Ognissanti, Florence, circa 1480. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.
St. Augustine, who was heavily influenced by Neo-Platonic philosophy, was one of the first Christian theologians to speak of God as Being Itself (ipsum esse). For instance, in his work On the Trinity V.3, he writes that "God is the only unchangeable substance or essence, to whom certainly being itself, whence comes the name of essence, most especially and most truly belongs." I explain below why I regard "Being Itself" as an accurate but inadequate way of characterizing God.

Professor Feser, as a classical theist, holds that God is best characterized as Being Itself. For Feser, a finite being would not be Being Itself: it would be a composite of essence and existence. Composites require an explanation, so no finite being could be self-explanatory.

However, while I agree that it is theologically accurate to describe God as Being Itself, I don't think this description tells us anything positive about Him, except that He exists. To describe something simply as "a being" is completely uninformative, as it tells us nothing about the being's causal powers, or its ways of interacting with other beings. To describe something as Being Itself merely tells us that there are no restrictions on its ways of interacting with other beings. But that tells us nothing positive about what it can actually do.

I also think that "Being Itself" cannot possibly be the ultimate way of describing God, because if it were, it would lead to some very odd ways of talking about God. For if God's Nature is simply to be, then we should be able to substitute "Being" into statements about God and still make perfect sense. Now consider the following statements. "Being created the world." "Being is love." "Being loves you." "Being knows everything." "Being hates sin." "Being is tri-personal." None of these substitutions make sense. Why not? The answer, I would suggest, is that God is more than just "Being." We need to describe God in a more positive way, but one which does not circumscribe Him.

It is for that reason that I prefer to characterize God in more personal terms, as Unlimited Intelligence and Love.

Getting beyond the concept of being: what does it mean for something to exist?

The Anglo-Irish philosopher, Bishop George Berkeley (1685-1753) was famous for his declaration that Esse est percipi - to exist is to be perceived by a mind. What I am suggesting here is somewhat different: to exist is to be understood by a mind. Or as Plato would have put it: to be is to be intelligible. As I see it, the concept of "being," taken on its own, tells us nothing positive about God, or about anything or anyone else. What is ontologically fundamental is not being as such, but knowledge - and also love, as that which is knowable is also lovable.

How I would describe God, in personalistic terminology

John Wesley, by William Hamilton (died 1801), given to the National Portrait Gallery, London, in 1871. Wesley famously declared that love is God's primary attribute. His conception of God, like mine, was personalistic. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

By "personal being," I simply mean a being to whom intelligence can be ascribed. I should point out that as I use the term, to call someone a personal being is not to say that they merely possess intelligence, as a property; a personal being may actually be Intelligence, as I would affirm that God is. Thus to call God a Personal Being, as I use the term, is not to limit Him or put Him in a genus alongside creatures.

I define the term "intelligence" as follows. A being is intelligent if it is naturally capable of:

(i) directing things towards long-term ends (thereby requiring foresight on its part);
(ii) adapting means towards its ends (requiring the ability to reason on its part); and
(iii) communicating its reasons for acting to other intelligent beings, using language (requiring language and an awareness of other minds on its part).

As far as I can tell, there is nothing inherently anthropomorphic in saying that God can adapt means towards long-term ends, and that He can (if He wishes) tell us why He is doing so - in other words, reveal His plans to us.

Here, then, is how I would describe God: God is an uncaused personal being whose nature it is to know and consequently love in a perfect and unlimited way, thereby enabling Him to make anything He wishes to, which is consistent with His nature.

The reader will notice several differences between my description of God and the classical theist description of Him as Pure Being. First, I have described God as a personal Being and not merely as Pure Being. Second, I have highlighted knowledge and love as the two most fundamental attributes of God, from which all the others flow. Third, I directly stipulate that God's creativity is rooted in His perfect and unlimited knowledge and love.

Why do I insist on describing God as a personal being? As we saw above, it is the Mind of God which keeps all natural objects in being, by defining the rules that give them their identity. Defining a rule is a paradigmatically mental act.

Why do I focus on knowledge and love in particular, as the primary attributes of God? First, because they're necessary: a being that couldn't know or love wouldn't be a personal being and hence could not be called "God" in any meaningful sense; and second, because knowing and loving are the only activities which don't entail the existence of any limitations in the agent performing them. "Know" and "love" are not modal verbs and they are not scalar verbs either: that is, they contain no references to how one knows and loves, or to what extent one is capable of doing so.

At the end of Part Three above, I argued as follows for the infinity of God:

...[A] natural object must exhibit certain built-in, fixed tendencies, which can be said to characterize that kind of object and circumscribe its ways of acting. I would also argue that objects exhibiting these tendencies are conforming to rules (defined by an Intelligent Rule-maker) which prescribe that object's behavior. So even if there are some natural objects whose nature we are incapable of understanding, we only need to ask ourselves: "Do these objects exhibit a circumscribed or determinate mode of acting?" Or in other words: "Do these objects conform to fixed rules, in their modus operandi?" If the answer is "Yes," then the objects are finite, and therefore require a cause (for rules presuppose a Rule-maker). On this account, then, to be infinite is simply to have a nature which is not circumscribed by rules relating to how it can and cannot act. Thus the reason why God must be both supernatural and infinite is that Nature is a giant system of rules (relating to interactions between various kinds of objects), and because the nature of the Ultimate Rule-maker cannot be defined by any rules.

However, this characterization of God's infinity is still negative: it merely tells us that nothing bounds God or keeps God in check. We still need to address the question of what justifies us in ascribing a positive infinity to God - in particular, infinite knowledge and love.

If someone were to ask me how I know that God's knowledge and love are unlimited (i.e. Infinite), I would answer that a being whose knowledge and love were limited could not possibly be characterized by those two attributes alone, because as we've seen, knowledge and love are per se unlimited. A limited or finite being would therefore have to consist of knowledge, love and something else, making it a composite being. But since every composite requires an external explanation for its unity, a being with finite knowledge and love would require one also. Hence God's knowledge and love must be infinite. (Perceptive readers will notice that I am employing two key metaphysical insights here: the Aristotelian-Thomist insight that a composite being requires an external cause of its existence, and the Scotist insight that the verbs "know" and "love" have the same meaning in God as in human beings – the only differences being that in God, knowledge and love are unlimited in degree, and that God's way of knowing and loving is different from ours.)

Wouldn't a being characterized by the dual attributes of knowing and loving be composite too? No. In the description of God which I proposed above, I said that God's perfect love is consequent upon His perfect knowledge, which entails that God's knowledge and love, though distinct, are inseparable. This is because when a person has knowledge of some being, that person's knowledge can never leave that person wholly unmoved. Every being is fundamentally good, insofar as it possesses a rule-defined nature, and acts in accordance with the nature it has. Hence God, who has perfect knowledge of all beings, must also love them perfectly, in accordance with their natures. This means that even though God has the dual attributes of knowledge and love, God is not composite, and therefore does not require a Cause. A knowing and loving God can be infinite and simple.

Finally, one might ask why God is characterized by love and not hate. The answer is that a personal being who hated anything good would be deficient, and hence not perfect and unlimited in every way. Every creature is fundamentally good, insofar as it possesses and behaves in accordance with the nature it has. Nothing is intrinsically bad. Hence it follows that God cannot hate any being.

God's omnipotence

We can now address God's omnipotence, omniscience and omnibenevolence. If omnipotence is defined as the ability to control reality at will, then of course God has this ability: the things He generates depend on Him for their existence, and they also embody built-in rules which make them responsive to His will. Hence it follows that God can transform them in whatever way He wishes.

God's omniscience

J. K. Rowling reads from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone at the Easter Egg Roll at White House, on 5 April 2010. According to Professor Feser, God knows human choices and actions in the same way that the author of a book knows what is in the book: namely, by determining them. This, in my view, would make a mockery of human freedom. To illustrate my point: it would make no sense for J. K. Rowling to feel angry at Draco Malfoy, or to reproach him for his meanness - for she made him that way. Image courtesy of Daniel Ogren and Wikipedia.

Omniscience is trickier. I'd like to begin by addressing the question of how God knows. Professor Feser has written elsewhere that God knows what happens in the world not as a reader knows what is in a book, but as the author knows what is in it. As he puts it in a post titled, Are you for real? (May 8, 2011):

The idea is that God’s causality is not like that of one character, object, or event in a story among others; it is more like that of the author of the story. Hence to say that God is the ultimate source of all causality is not like saying that He is comparable to a hypnotist in a story who brainwashes people to do his bidding, or a mad scientist who controls them via some electronic device implanted in their brains. He is more like the writer who decides that the characters will interact in such-and-such a way. And so His being the ultimate source of all causality is no more incompatible with human freedom than the fact that an author decides that, as part of a mystery story, a character will freely choose to commit a murder, is incompatible with the claim that the character in question really committed the murder freely.

But this would imply that every single thought, word and deed executed by each and every human being who has ever lived, was determined in advance by God. God would then be the author of every dastardly criminal plot, every dirty joke (and every corny joke, for that matter), every short story or novel (including second-rate ones) and every argument (clever or second-rate) ever formulated against His existence. That simply cannot be right. What's more, it fails to account for the Judeo-Christian doctrine that God is wrathful at sinners. After all, it would make no sense for an author like J. K. Rowling to feel angry at one of the villains in her book - e.g. Draco Malfoy - or to reproach him for his meanness, for she made him that way. If Feser's account of human freedom is correct, then how can it possibly make sense for God to reproach us, if we sin?

Let me be clear: I do not wish to reject the author:storybook metaphor as a description of how God relates to us. On the contrary, I think it is in many ways an excellent one. What I am suggesting, however, is that it needs to be enlarged. There is one striking difference between the characters in God's storybook (the cosmos) and the characters in a novel written by human beings: the characters in God's story are actually capable of interacting with (and in our case, talking back to) their Author.

I therefore maintain, against Feser, that when theologians (such as Boethius) speak of God as having "knowledge of vision," the expression is indeed an apt metaphor. In other words, in the vast majority of cases (with the sole exception of choices made by people who are "confirmed in grace," or divinely guaranteed to freely choose the right thing), God knows our free choices not by determining them, but by (timelessly) being made aware of them – i.e. by being determined by them. In order for this to happen, however, things must possess the built-in property that any changes they undergo automatically cause God to be (timelessly) made aware of those changes. That is what makes God omniscient with regard to His creation: He knows whatever is, was or will be.

But omniscience goes beyond actualities; it must also embrace knowledge of possibilities. In addition to knowing what actually happens, God has an exhaustive knowledge of everything that could happen in the cosmos, including everything that could go wrong. This knowledge allows God, in creating the world, to make providential plans for human beings, which are logically prior to any choices they make.

Since human beings have libertarian free will, I believe it is nonsensical to ascribe to God a counterfactual knowledge of what they would have chosen, in each and every possible situation, although an intelligent person can sometimes accurately surmise what another person would choose, in a particular situation, given a knowledge of that person's habits and personal limitations. Thus I see no sense in ascribing to God an exhaustive knowledge of all counterfactuals relating to choices.

God's omnibenevolence

The notion of God's omnibenevolence is not terribly problematic from a philosophical point of view. The big question, of course, is whether the notion of an omnibenevolent God is credible, given the gratuitous suffering that occurs in this world. The world we live in is filled with all manner of appalling (and pointless) evils, and in most cases, we have no satisfactory explanation as to why an omniscient, omnipotent and omnibenevolent Creator would permit these evils to continue, for even one moment. At the same time, there's no proof that the existence of these evils is logically incompatible with there being a God. There isn't even a probabilistic argument; for if there were one, then it should be able to provide us with a mathematical estimate for the likelihood of God's existence (or at least, an upper and lower limit). What we have instead is a strong prima facie argument against the existence of God. It's an emotionally powerful one, but we need to recognize it for what it is: an argument from incredulity. We cannot imagine how a good God could make or even allow a world like this to exist, in which so many people (and sentient animals) suffer so needlessly.

The argument that God should never have made a world containing moral atrocities assumes that an omniscient God knows what His creatures would and wouldn't choose to do, before He's even decided to make them. But when you come to think about it, that really doesn't make sense, if sapient beings possess libertarian free will. In that case, God's knowledge of His creatures' choices would be (at least logically) posterior to His act of creating them. All God would know "prior" to that act would be what they might get up to. But is God morally obliged to refrain from creating a sapient creature, simply because it might abuse its capacity for good and evil, and wreak untold harms in the world? I think not, for if He were, then He'd be obliged to create a world without libertarian free will. And how many of us would want that? I conclude that the problem of evil is a real problem only in relatively simple cosmos, in which we're the most important beings there are. But if there's a God, the cosmos may not be like that at all. The presence of other agents with libertarian free will in the cosmos, who are much greater than ourselves, complicates the picture: we can no longer say with confidence what God should and shouldn't do in such a cosmos, when it comes to removing evil. For God to combat evil in a cosmos like ours may be a long and complicated process, which takes time.

It may be objected that God should at least have refrained from creating a cosmos filled with natural evils, such as earthquakes and tsunamis. However, the occurrence of these events is not evil unless they wreak suffering on sentient beings. However, given the presence of other agents with libertarian free will in the cosmos, it is impossible to rule out the possibility that God's creation has been tampered with by evil agents, of whom we know nothing. The world as we see it, then, may not be the world as God originally intended it to be.

Finally, we should bear in Mind that as Creator of the cosmos, God is capable of endowing those beings whom He loves with immortality. In the end, we trust, "all will be well." How God accomplishes His ends is His concern, not ours; our job is to be the characters that God wants us to be, in the Divine story of the cosmos.

I will stop here, and bring my discussion of the teleological argument to a close.

### How Intelligent Design buttresses the teleological argument

I also believe that Intelligent Design theory can play an important role in strengthening the appeal of the teleological argument. For not only do we find rules in Nature, which point to an Intelligent Designer; we also find codes and programs, which point in an even more obvious way to a Designer. This is an important point, as it is not easy to persuade modern minds that the laws of Nature require an Intelligent Designer, since they have to first be persuaded that laws are rules, and are thus prescriptive rather than merely descriptive. It is much easier to get people to recognize that codes point to a code-maker, and that programs point to a program-maker.

At this point, a skeptic will interject: are the codes and programs in Nature real, or are they a mere figure of speech?

The reality of the genetic code

The term "code" as applied to living things is not a metaphor but a literal expression. Here is how Wikipedia defines the genetic code:

The genetic code is the set of rules by which information encoded within genetic material (DNA or mRNA sequences) is translated into proteins (amino acid sequences) by living cells. Biological decoding is accomplished by the ribosome, which links amino acids in an order specified by mRNA, using transfer RNA (tRNA) molecules to carry amino acids and to read the mRNA three nucleotides at a time. The genetic code is highly similar among all organisms, and can be expressed in a simple table with 64 entries.

The code defines how sequences of these nucleotide triplets, called codons, specify which amino acid will be added next during protein synthesis. With some exceptions, a three-nucleotide codon in a nucleic acid sequence specifies a single amino acid. Because the vast majority of genes are encoded with exactly the same code (see the RNA codon table), this particular code is often referred to as the canonical or standard genetic code, or simply the genetic code, though in fact some variant codes have evolved. For example, protein synthesis in human mitochondria relies on a genetic code that differs from the standard genetic code.

The following quotes, which are taken from unimpeachable scientific sources, establish the scientific legitimacy of using terms like "instructions" and "code" when referring to the development of an organism (emphases are mine):

"We know that the instructions for how the egg develops into an adult are written in the linear sequence of bases along the DNA of the germ cells." (James Watson et al., Molecular Biology of the Gene, 4th Edition, 1987, p. 747.)

And from a more recent source:

"The body plan of an animal, and hence its exact mode of development, is a property of its species and is thus encoded in the genome. Embryonic development is an enormous informational transaction, in which DNA sequence data generate and guide the system-wide spatial deployment of specific cellular functions." (Emerging properties of animal gene regulatory networks by Eric H. Davidson. Nature 468, issue 7326 [16 December 2010]: 911-920. doi:10.1038/nature09645. Davidson is a Professor of Cell Biology at the California Institute of Technology.)

The reality of genetic programs

I realize that some skeptical readers may be inclined to doubt the legitimacy of the word "program" in a biological context. Perhaps, they may object, the term is merely a poetic metaphor. Not so. It's a scientifically respectable term, and it has a well-defined meaning. If the reader goes to PubMed and types "genetic program" in the subject field in quotes, over 800 citations will appear. Typing "developmental program" will bring up over 1,100 citations.

The following quotes, which are taken from reputable scientific sources, establish the scientific legitimacy of using the term "program" when speaking of the development of an organism from an embryonic state (emphases are mine). First, here's a recent quote from an article by Schnorrer et al., on the development of muscle function in the fruitfly Drosophila:

"It is fascinating how the genetic programme of an organism is able to produce such different cell types out of identical precursor cells." (Schnorrer F., C. Schonbauer, C. Langer, G. Dietzl, M. Novatchkova, K. Schernhuber, M. Fellner, A. Azaryan, M. Radolf, A. Stark, K. Keleman, & B. Dickson, Systematic Genetic Analysis of Muscle Morphogenesis and Function in Drosophila. Nature, 464, 287-291 (11 March 2010). doi:10.1038/nature08799.)

And here is a quote from Professor Richard Dawkins, in The Greatest Show on Earth (Transworld Publishers, London, Black Swan edition, 2010, p. 217):

"...[T]here is a mystery, verging on the miraculous (but never quite getting there) in the very fact that a single cell gives rise to a body in all its complexity. And the mystery is only somewhat mitigated by the feat's being achieved with the aid of DNA instructions. The reason the mystery remains is that we find it hard to imagine, even in principle, how we might set about writing the instructions for building a body in the way the body is in fact built, namely by what I have just called 'self-assembly', which is related to what computer programmers call a 'bottom-up', as opposed to a 'top-down', procedure.

How Intelligent Design complements Aquinas' arguments

The beauty of Intelligent Design, in my opinion, is that it complements Aquinas' arguments, by appealing to empirical phenomena which can only be produced by being specified in some sort of language. If each cell in an organism can be accurately described as running a set of programs, written in various programming languages, then since language is a "signature trait" of intelligent beings, it follows that these phenomena obviously require an Intelligent Being to produce them.

This is the strong version of Intelligent Design espoused by Dr. Don Johnson, who has both a Ph.D. in chemistry and a Ph.D. in computer and information sciences. On April 8, 2010, Dr. Johnson gave a presentation entitled Bioinformatics: The Information in Life for the University of North Carolina Wilmington chapter of the Association for Computer Machinery. Dr. Johnson's presentation is now on-line here. Both the talk and accompanying handout notes can be accessed from Dr. Johnson's Web page. Dr. Johnson spent 20 years teaching in universities in Wisconsin, Minnesota, California, and Europe. Here's an excerpt from his presentation blurb:

Each cell of an organism has millions of interacting computers reading and processing digital information using algorithmic digital programs and digital codes to communicate and translate information.

I'd like to quote a brief excerpt from Dr. Johnson's presentation:

"Somehow we have a genetic operating system that is ubiquitous. All known life-forms have the same genetic code. They all have the same protein manufacturing facilities in the ribosomes. They all use the same types of techniques. So something is pre-existing, and the particular genome is the set of programs in the DNA for any particular organism. So the genome is not the DNA, and the DNA is not the program. The DNA is simply a storage device. The genome is the program that's stored in the storage device, and that depends on the particular organism we're talking about."

Dr. Johnson points out that DNA itself is not a program. To describe it as one is an inaccurate oversimplification, which ignores the advances in cell biology that have taken place in the last few decades. Neither would it be accurate to say that the suite of programs running within the cell are simply written on its DNA. Instead, DNA could be better described as a data storage device, used by the programs running the cell.

What is important, however, is that we can legitimately speak of a network of regulatory programs existing within the cell, which DNA enables and of which DNA forms a vital part.

On a slide entitled "Information Systems In Life," Dr. Johnson points out that:

• the genetic system is a pre-existing operating system;

• the specific genetic program (genome) is an application;

• the native language has a codon-based encryption system;

• the codes are read by enzyme computers with their own operating system;

• each enzyme's output is to another operating system in a ribosome;

• codes are decrypted and output to tRNA computers;

• each codon-specified amino acid is transported to a protein construction site; and

• in each cell, there are multiple operating systems, multiple programming languages, encoding/decoding hardware and software, specialized communications systems, error detection/correction systems, specialized input/output for organelle control and feedback, and a variety of specialized "devices" to accomplish the tasks of life.

To sum up: the use of the word "program" to describe the workings of the cell is scientifically respectable. It is not just a figure of speech. It is literal. Additionally, the various programs running within the cell constitute a paradigm of excellent programming: no human engineer is currently capable of designing programs for building and maintaining an organism that work with anything like the same degree of efficiency as the programs running an E. coli cell, let alone a cell in the body of a human being.

Thus although Intelligent Design theory, by itself, is incapable of showing us the nature and identity of the Designer of life and the cosmos, I believe it can render a valuable service to proponents of Aquinas' Fifth Way, by supplying additional empirical criteria for identifying a Designer of Nature, and thereby strengthening the teleological argument for the existence of God. The presence of not only rules but also codes and programs in the natural world makes it obvious that it is indeed the product of a Mind that created it.