Human Agency is Consistent with First Mover Arguments

In considering arguments for the existence of God, we sometimes encounter the argument of the first mover, now often referred to as the first cause. This first cause argument comes into play when we try to speak of human agency, or the human ability to have free will. First we must give a bit of background to set up the discussion.

Briefly, the first mover argument says that everything in the universe is caused to exist by another, yet this chain of causing cannot go back infinitely, for then every event in the chain is an effect. Aquinas used this in the first and second ways of his five ways. Aquinas was speaking of current, ongoing causation, as demonstrated by his analogy of a stone being moved by a stick, which in turn is moved by the hand. The motion would be ongoing and current, or the stone would not move. Since the stone cannot move itself, there must be something stationary causing the chain of movement, for an infinite series of sticks have no power in themselves to move anything.  William Lane Craig uses the first mover in explaining the Kalam Cosmological Argument, going backward in a logical series, and giving several arguments of why an infinite series of causes cannot exist. One of his reasons is that an infinite cannot be crossed, therefore there cannot be an infinite series of causes prior to now. An ever-increasing finite is not an infinite. The original first mover argument is found in Aristotle.

But when considering the nature of chains of events and the possibilities of infinites, it is sometimes argued something like the following:

  1. If the first mover argument is true, and since effects must have a cause, humans cannot generate thoughts or actions without the actions being previously caused by another.
  2. If humans, on their own, can generate thoughts or actions without any previous cause, then we have a counter-example to the first mover argument. Arguments for God will fail, including those from Aquinas and Craig.
  3. If humans, on their own, cannot generate thoughts or actions without any previous cause, then there is no free will, no moral accountability, and the world is determined. At best, God then becomes irrelevant; at worse, arguments for God from contingency or morality will ultimately fail.

Such reasoning then gives skeptics a tool to have fun running in conversational circles with theists, which they seem to do with glee. One suspects they really are looking for excuses, or they would not argue from such a position, for their arguments fail.

The simple answer is that as humans, we have been given the capacity to have free will acts and generate movement and thoughts. Human movement and thoughts are not generated with no prior cause, but from the human agent, who was caused to have the capacity to generate actions. Actions are when a potential moves to an actual, and humans have the ability to move potential thoughts to actual thoughts, and potential movement to actual movement. We were caused to have this ability from the first, uncaused cause, which we call God. So human actions do not come from nothing, and the human capacity to generate thoughts and actions does not come from nothing. All things are caused but not determined, for humans were caused to have the capacity to make free-will thoughts and actions.

I completed a lengthy series on the justification for human agency, the first of which you can read here.

To this we add the words of Aristotle. The following section is from Aristotle’s De Anima, in a section where he is describing how humans move. He writes quite a bit about the various aspects of the human soul having the capacity to generate, mentioning movement quite a bit:

It is because of the movement started by the object of desire that the thinking produces its movement . . . There is really one thing that produces movement, the object of desire. . . in fact it is not clear that the intellect produces movement without desire. . . the movement produces by reasoning being invariably accompanied by that produced by wishing, while desire even in the face of reasoning produces movement . . .

We have shown, then, that it is the sort of capacity of the soul that is called desire that produces movement. (De Anima, III.10, 433a)

We are not concerned here with Aristotle’s conclusions about what parts of the soul cause what type of action, but rather the pervasiveness of his mentioning that the human soul does indeed cause action, and does so of its own accord, with no direct, efficient cause of the action other than the human soul having the capacity to do so. Aristotle’s main thrust is explaining just exactly how he thinks the soul operates, and does not question whether the soul is able to do so. Aristotle seems to not even consider whether a soul would not have the capacity to generate thoughts and actions of itself. The idea seems so obvious as to not need discussion.

Aquinas’ writings are similar. In the Summa Theologia, he speaks at length about human abilities, frequently mentioning agency. But he brings in the idea of agency as if it was a settled fact, which is amazing considering the length and depth of the Summa, where he questions more things than we ever thought it possible to question. That Aquinas would not question agency is telling.

We can therefore conclude that at least Aristotle and Aquinas held it obvious and not contradictory in the slightest to both hold to an argument of a first mover and full human agency. Humans have the capacity to cause thoughts and actions, which is sufficient to do so. It was given to them by their creator God.




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A Theoretical Physicist Evaluates the Bible’s View of Creation

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Hume’s Explanation of Cause and Effect

In David Hume’s An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding, he includes a section on the connection between cause and effect. He draws examples such as one billiard ball moving and striking another, then the second ball moving. Hume goes to some length to convince us that we have absolutely no idea of why one event would cause another. All we have, he says, is a sequence of events that customarily follow each other over repeated experiences.

We only find, that the one does actually, in fact, follow the other. The impulse one billiard-ball is attended with motion in the second. This is the whole that appears to the outward senses. The mind feels no sentiment or inward impression from this succession of objects:  Consequently, there is not, in any single, particular instance of cause and effect, any thing which can suggest the idea of power or necessary connexion. (sic)

Hume mentions many times in this section that we have no idea of how a cause can be connected to an effect. How does heat come about from a flame? How are our limbs moved by our will? When a string vibrates and we hear a sound, we cannot know why we hear a sound, but merely that one customarily follows the other. Indeed, “even in the most familiar events, the energy of the cause is as unintelligible as in the most unusual, and that we only learn by experience the frequent Conjunction of objects, without being ever able to comprehend anything like Connextion between them.”

Hume was very insightful to make this observation. However, he confuses how we learn the connection with whether or not we can investigate it and prove that the cause generates the effect. Yes, we typically learn cause and effect from repeated observation. However, it is not true that the most common effects are as much a mystery as the most unusual and mysterious ones. When we encounter an effect, it may take us a while to learn why the cause generates it. Indeed, in the case of the human mind and will, we may never fully understand all aspects of the cause. But it is not the case that all cause and effect relationships are this way.

In his billiard ball example, we can understand and explain the physics of objects and motion. Newton helped us demonstrate that objects with mass, when in motion, must expend that energy when striking another object. We know why the second ball moves because we know the laws of physics involved in objects in motion. Concluding that the second ball will move is not a case of post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy.

In Hume’s logic, we would have to lump such things as roosters crowing before the sun rises with billiard balls striking each other. Even if we do not understand a particular cause, it is not the case, as Hume explains, that “We have no idea of the connexion, nor even any distinct notion what it is we desire to know, where we endeavour at a conception of it.”

Sure, Hume is correct that when we see an object for the first time and are ignorant of its properties, we are not able to predict what it will do. And he is also correct that we need repeated observations to first learn the connection between the cause and effect that we observe. But once we do, then we are confident about how billiard balls and violin strings cause things because we know how they work. It is not the case that we forever assume the effect follows the cause merely because one customarily follows the other.

I am reminded of a very old TV show called The Beverly Hillbillies. In the show, a hillbilly family who has never seen modern life is transplanted to a mansion in Beverly Hills. One of the running gags is that when the doorbell rings, the family does not connect the sound of music coming from the walls with the fact that someone pushed the front doorbell button. They merely say that whenever that music comes from the walls, soon after someone always knocks at the door. Hume would have us forever stuck in the Beverly Hillbillies show, never realizing how the doorbell works. However, once we repeatedly observe the effect, we can understand how the mechanism works, and we do indeed know how the cause generates the effect.

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Did Paul Create His Own Version of Christianity?

This is another in a series of questions on the Bible.

 Question: In Acts 21, Paul is described as partaking in Jewish rituals to show the Jerusalem Church that he has not strayed from the Law of Moses. Gerd Luedemann takes this as evidence that the early Church was essentially Jewish in nature and thus that there was a division between early Jewish Christianity and Pauline Christianity. It would seem then that we are given Paul’s version of Christianity which differed from other versions of Christianity. 

 In reply, there are several points:

 First, it is true that in Acts 21 Paul goes to Jerusalem, encounters the church there, and begins a purification ritual. The part of the question that says he did it “to show the Jerusalem Church that he has not strayed from the Law of Moses” is an opinion that is read into the text. The passage simply says that Paul began the ritual; it does not say why he did it. Unfortunately for this question, Paul is arrested before he can finish the ritual, meet with the church, and address the issue…..or at least Luke does not record for us anything else Paul said on the matter before he was arrested.

 Second, in the passage, v.21 and v.25 tell us much of what the church leaders were thinking and discussing. It is clear from these two verses that the church leaders in Jerusalem were making a distinction between the Jewish Christians and the Gentile Christians. The accusation against Paul was that he was telling the Jewish Christians that it was not necessary to circumcise children nor “walk according to our customs.” In v.25, the Jerusalem church leaders repeat the response given at the church council in Acts 15:21, speaking to Gentile Christians.

 Therefore it is clear that the early Jewish Christians in Jerusalem were from a thoroughly Jewish culture. That their church would reflect such a culture is no surprise. That they had to be corrected by Paul is also no surprise, as shown in Galatians (see below). This only shows that the Jerusalem church, made of primarily Jews and the starting point of the early church, is Jewish. Even today, many Jewish Christian churches still hold to their Jewishness…….they call themselves Jewish, meet on Saturdays, keep Jewish traditions, and have church services which have a distinct Jewish flavor. This is not a division in the church.

 Third, Acts 15 – 16 give us a clue as to Paul’s thinking. In Acts 15, there is a discussion about circumcision as it relates to salvation, v.1. That it relates to salvation is the key, for Romans 14 tells us that there are some issues we should not divide fellowship over. Salvation, however, is an issue to divide over if a view is heretical. So most of Acts 15 have the story of this council, saying it is not necessary for Gentiles to be circumcised. Yet immediately after, in 16.3, Paul circumcises Timothy “because of the Jews who were in those parts.” They had just had a council that said people like Timothy did not have to be circumcised, yet Paul immediately circumcises him. Why? It was so that unimportant things like circumcision did not get in the way of the more important message of salvation in Jesus. Paul says in 1 Cor. 9:20 “To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law.” Therefore it is clear that Paul was trying to not make minor issues a stumbling block, and was allowing people to keep cultural things in their church practices, as long as they did not affect important things like salvation, the resurrection, the true God, and the nature of Jesus. Paul says clearly and plainly that he is not under the law. Therefore he would not teach other Jews that they were.

 Fourth, the book of Galatians addresses this exact issue and does so with force and vigor. In it, Paul confronts the apostle Peter in front of the church and corrects him about his practices that would lead both Jews and Gentiles to think they were obligated to keep the law of Moses or any legalistic requirement. Over and over in Galatians, Paul makes it clear that no one, Jew or Gentile, is obligated to be circumcised or keep the law. That neither Jew nor Gentile is required to keep these practices is enforced over and over again in most of this book, including most of chapters five and six. We cannot take one passage in Acts 21 and have it override the rest of the New Testament, including Galatians.

 Now, I grant that in Galatians it mentions that even Barnabas was taken in by the hypocrisy, as we see in 2:13. Many people hold that here Paul was indeed by himself in the view he teaches, and the other Jews were incorrect. But Galatians and Acts 15-16 are in the holy scriptures, as are the passages where Peter tells us Paul’s writings are inspired scriptures (2 Peter 3:16). It is no surprise to say that Paul had disagreements with the Jewish leaders about the requirements of the law, for the Bible tells us they did. But the Bible also tells us that the Jewish leaders ultimately all agreed with Paul that circumcision and the keeping of the law are not required for salvation. Jewish Christians apparently still kept some of the practices, as did Paul in Acts 16:3, but this was to keep from making minor issues a stumbling block.

 In Galatians 1:18 to 2:10, Paul describes how he went to the apostles at Jerusalem on two occasions and checked with them whether his teachings were correct. They all agreed, including Peter, James, and John.

 So we can conclude that the only first century church that was Jewish was the ones filled with Jews, which is the same as today. There were disagreements about what was required, but in the end, after much debate, all the church leaders agreed that for salvation, no Jewish law or customs were required. In Acts 21, the Jewish leaders of a primarily Jewish church had issues with Paul about circumcision and customs, not about salvation issues. Paul responded by doing what he always did, “to the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews.” Paul had no issue with confrontation with church leaders over this same issue, as he did without hesitation in Galatians 2:14. Here he did not, since it was not an issue over salvation. Over time he would have educated them about how to teach practices and requirements, but was arrested before he could do so.

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Can We Be Free in Heaven and Not Sin? (Part 3)

A question arises that goes something like this:

If evil and sin are the result of mankind’s free will, then why is it that people in heaven will have free will, but not sin? If we truly have free will in heaven, we would eventually sin. But heaven is described as a place where there is no sin. If God can create a place where there is no sin, why did He not do so in the first place? If humans can be in a state where they do not sin, and God did not create us this way in the first place, then God is reprehensible, and not all good or all love. Either God cannot create a place where there is no sin or could create such a place but did not. In either case, God is not as described in the Bible.

We have answered parts of this objection before. First, we gave a list of all possible combinations of worlds and found that the current world is the best way to get to the best world. You can find that discussion here. In short, a world where no one chooses to do the best good is a world devoid of such things as compassion, bravery, and sacrifice for others. Such a world would not be the best of all possible worlds. Second, we gave a response from theologian Norman Geisler who dealt with free will and the ultimate good. You can find that here.

In the current post we explore an answer from author Brian Shanley in Beyond Libertarianism and Compatibilism: Thomas Aquinas on Created Freedom, found in Freedom and the Human Person (2007). Shanley gives his take on Aquinas’ view of human freedom. Shanley explains that humans naturally, by necessity, will what is the perceived good.

Intellectual beings therefore have an unrestricted appetite for their own good as known. This inclination to the good belongs necessarily to human beings as rational natures prior to any choice. . . Whenever goodness is perceived, the will can become engaged with it as an object of desire precisely as known to be good (even if mistakenly so). . . This natural ordination or inclination of the will to objects as good is prior to and explanatory of the will’s explicit acts; we do not have any choice about our ordination to the good–it belongs to the will by natural necessity. . . Every being has a desire for its own proper perfection. . . It too is not a matter of choice but nature:  human beings naturally will what they do for the sake of happiness. (p.73-74)

Therefore humans choose what we do because we think it will fulfill us. Even when we choose things that are ultimately evil or self-destructive, we do so because at the time we believe it will make us happy. No one chooses what they feel is the wrong choice. Even those who commit suicide do so because they feel it is the way to eliminate pain and suffering. Those who torture others do so because they get some twisted sense of joy from it.

Our flawed human nature — indeed, our spiritually dead human nature — is incapable of fully realizing God’s full and true good. Therefore we selfishly choose to sin. But we will not remain in this state forever, as Shanley explains:

All human striving for the perfective good is an implicit yearning for God. If we were actually to see God in all his perfect goodness, we would will him necessarily and naturally and not as an object of free choice. Once a person enters into the beatific vision, the will’s nature has come to rest in its proper object. Precisely because its nature is made to find completion in the infinite good that is God, the will is not necessitated with respect to any other object. This side of the beatific vision, no object can compel and quiet the will’s orientation to the good.

Because of the curse of sin and the resulting spiritual pollution, we are separated from a holy God. The flawed human condition results in questions such as the current one. Our sinful natures do not fully understand the infinite holiness and beauty of God. Once we see Him face to face in the beatific vision, the object of our desire will have been found. We then will want no cheap substitute. Just as when a child plays with a toy, but later grows to adulthood and realizes the real thing, he is no longer able to go back and choose the child’s toy.  When we see God, He will be the focus of our desire and we will choose no sin. As Geisler says, in heaven our freedom will be perfected.

Could this be considered a loss of free will, since the will is necessitated toward God? Only in the sense that the human will is always necessitated in the same way, toward what it perceives as good. In salvation, God changes us and informs our mind and soul with His spirit, thus giving us a taste of what heaven will be like. We then choose to love Him, for we cannot help but do so.

Inevitably, someone will ask “why would God do it this way and not some other way?” The answer is in the first post we linked above, for a world with greater good is better than a world without greater good, and greater good requires situations precipitated by evil. A world with love is greater than a world without love, and true love requires the ability to walk away.

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What is the Mess We Are in, and How Did We Get Here?

Liberal churches have accepted aberrant theologies, or even heresies, while conservative churches have disconnected faith from reason and disconnected the church from the culture. Here we explore the causes of this condition and give some examples of the problems.

Influential Philosophers & Thinkers

  • Rene Descartes (d.1650): Introduced a thought exercise using methodical doubt. The exercise doubted all human sense data and experience. This was the beginning of the disconnect between thoughts and reality. Concluded with “I think, therefore I am.”
  • David Hume (d.1776): The greatest skeptic. Gave a great skeptical argument against miracles and against the validity of New Testament eyewitnesses. (for responses to Hume, see here, and here.
  • Immanuel Kant (d.1805): Influenced by Hume, Kant gave a very rigorous argument that claimed we cannot know reality in itself, but can only know what we perceive. Kant held that we cannot know whether God really exists, but we must live as if God exists. Thus Kant placed all knowledge, including religion, in the area of mental speculation. He also taught a non-religious source for morals that is purely in logic and reason.
  • Soren Kierkegaard (d.1855): Argued that the church should abandon a dead orthodoxy for a living experience of faith. He agreed with key Christian doctrines, but said they are irrelevant. What is important is religious experience. Religious truth is found in a personal encounter, and logical truth is not important. Kierkegaard influenced a series of liberal theologians, including Karl Barth and Rudolph Bultmann.
  • Charles Darwin (d.1882) Darwin’s theory of evolution was very influential. It explained the human condition without needing a religious source.


Attack on the Bible

The Graf-Welhausen Theory

  • A theory named after Karl Graf (d.1869) and Julius Wellhausen (d.1918), was also called the documentary hypothesis. It took the evolutionary theory of biology and applied it to the old testament documents. It taught:
    • Bible books evolve from simple sources to the current complex state.
    • Different parts of the Pentateuch uses different words and writing styles. Therefore there are four sources for the Pentateuch:
      • J – the writer who uses Jehovah for God.
      • E – the writer who uses Elohim for God.
      • P – the writer who speaks of the priestly duties.
      • D – the writer of Deuteronomy.
  • The Graf-Wellhaused documentary hypothesis became very popular in influential German universities and began to take hold in Britain and America.
  • The Bible was edited at a late date. The editor compiled earlier sources and created the current version of the Bible.


Higher Criticism

Graf-Wellhausen theory led to a number of university professors who used similar techniques on the rest of the Bible. By the time they were done, even the New Testament books needed earlier sources. Eventually, they taught Matthew did not write Matthew, Luke did not write Luke, John was compiled late, and the Bible books were no longer what they seemed.


Major Separation

  • By the late 1800’s, even mainline Christian seminaries began to accept some of the theories of higher criticism.
  • Seminaries did not want to be left behind academically, so they began to accept the higher critical theories.
  • In response to the increasing number of young pastors who were taught higher criticism, some conservatives published a series of essays called “The Fundamentals.” These books defended the Bible from what we would today call a conservative viewpoint. From 1910-15, The Fundamentals were sent free of charge to pastors, teachers, and missionaries.
  • Thus a major separation began:
    • Liberals: those seminaries who accepted Graf-Wellhausen and higher criticism.
    • Fundamentalists: those who held tightly to a very conservative view of scripture.


One Side:  Theological Liberals

Around 1900, mainline denominational seminaries began to teach higher criticism in earnest. They also were influenced by Kierkegaard, and began to teach that personal experience was more important than doctrine. Some influential liberals were:

  • Rudolf Bultmann (b.1884) taught that the Bible was full of myth, and needed to be de-mythologized. Instead of mythological stories of miracles, Bible teaching should be shaped by what modern science tells us.
  • Harry Emerson Fosdick (b.1878): a very influential pastor and writer in New York, Fosdick denied Biblical miracles. He taught that God did not care about sin, denied God’s wrath, denied Jesus’ deity and the resurrection. Yet his sermons were about Bible stories and how we can apply them to our lives.

Bultmann and Fosdick are examples of what was taught across mainline Christian denominations in the first half of the 1900’s.


One Side: The Conservatives & Fundamentalists

  • Rejected liberalism and wanted to separate from it
  • Focused on righteous living (separation from worldly behavior)
  • Did not answer the liberals and attacks by philosophers and scientists

Retreated into their churches and taught that Christians should just have simple faith in the Bible and avoid worldly things. As a result, mainstream conservatives tend to:

  • Wanted to separate from excesses of liberalism
  • Wanted to separate from intellectual attacks by science and philosophy
  • Avoided engaging the culture
  • Avoided speaking against public moral issues because they “don’t want to be political.”
  • Closed their ears to science and philosophy.

In their attempt to avoid the academic attacks from scientists and philosophers, conservative churches developed an anti-intellectualism.


Modern Results: The Mess We Are In

  • Liberal churches have accepted the moral excesses of the culture
  • Conservative churches have disengaged from the culture
  • The secular culture is left to degrade
  • Attacks by science and philosophy get no response from the church


 Over a hundred years of this liberal conservative split has resulted in:

  • Katherine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop over the Episcopal Church:
    • Openly and publicly denied that Jesus is the only way to salvation
    • Said that Muslims do not need converting to Christ
    • “Other Abrahamic faiths have access to God the Father without consciously going through Jesus.”
  • Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
    • The bible is a human book written by men about God.
    • It has errors and wrong cultural traditions from long ago
    • It is up to us to separate the truth from the error
  • John Spong, Episcopal Bishop
    • Denies that God is a being
    • Denies Jesus is God
    • Denies the virgin birth
    • Denies the bodily resurrection of Jesus
    • Denies that Jesus founded a church
    • Denies that humans are born in sin or need salvation
    • (Spong, A New Christianity for a New World, p.3-5)
  • Regarding Graf-Welhausen, it is falling of its own weight. Not satisfied with a simple four authors (JEPD), once they start looking for patterns, the problem is endless. Before the documentary critics were through, they had split poor J into J1, J2, J3, L, K, S, and N. Not being satisfied with these, authors subdivided E into E1 and E2, except for the authors who wanted to eliminate E completely. P was divided into Pa and Pb, and one author wanted to make a case for seven different authors in P. To this they added a series of redactors over several centuries, identifying alleged changes down to quarter verses and smaller units. (Soggin, Introduction to the Old Testament, p.87-88).
  • An Anglican church in London invited singer Greg Lake to sing his hit song called I Believe in Father Christmas. The lyrics to the song refer to Christianity being a fairy story comparable to Father Christmas (Santa Claus).
  • Conservative churches hardly need examples. They have retreated inside their churches and routinely teach, either explicitly or implicitly, that faith is separate from reason and that we should stay within the walls of the church and not engage the culture.


How Do We Respond?

The general sequence of the problem went like this:

  • Early 1800’s: poor philosophy
  • Late 1800’s: Seminaries accepted poor Bible scholarship and began to graduate pastors who were taught the Bible was untrustworthy
  • Early 1900’s: Liberalism becomes entrenched in the pulpit. Conservatives begin to separate and close themselves inside the church.
  • Mid 1900’s: Denominations have a series of conservative / liberal splits.
  • Late 1900’s: The second and third generations of liberal church leaders fall into heresy.

From the beginnings of the problem to the bitter fruit took 80 to 100 years. Correcting the problem will take just as long, and must follow the same pattern:

  • Seminaries begin to embrace intellectual activities around philosophy, theology, and apologetics
  • Seminaries begin to graduate pastors who are able to use philosophy, theology, and apologetics to engage the culture
  • The second and third generations of intellectual church leaders win back a seat at the cultural table.

The movement of the seminaries to again embrace apologetics and philosophy began in the early 1990’s. Slowly, conservative seminaries are again connecting faith and reason. Meanwhile, those of us in the apologetics movement are doing triage and damage control, hoping to save some, and praying that the culture can last until the solution filters down to the churches.

Posted in Apologetics, Bible, Church History, Culture, Evolution, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Funds Needed for Brain Surgery

A friend is in need of brain surgery to help cure severe epilepsy. The details are at the link below. Will you consider supporting this cause? Can you please pass this along?


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