Concerning the First-Cause Argument
Edward Feser writes in his review of Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow’s The Grand Design (“Mad Scientists,” November 29):
Like the village atheist whose knowledge of theology derives from what he saw last Sunday on The Jimmy Swaggart Telecast, [Hawking and Mladinow] assume that when philosophers have argued for God as cause of the world, what they mean is that the universe had a beginning, that God caused that beginning, and that to rebut their position it suffices to ask “What caused God?”
On the contrary, speaking of the possible origins of the universe, the authors say: “In this [first-cause] view, it is accepted that some entity exists that needs no creator, and that entity is called God. . . . We claim, however, that it is possible to answer these questions [of creation] purely within the realm of science, and without invoking any divine beings.”
Was Mr. Feser reading the same book?
Edward Feser replies: Mr. Kotlov and I were indeed reading the same book, but he appears not to have read the sentence immediately preceding the material he quotes: “It is reasonable to ask who or what created the universe, but if the answer is God, then the question has merely been deflected to that of who created God.” To ask “Who created God?” is to evince a failure to understand what defenders of the first-cause argument mean by “God.” Contrary to what Hawking, Mlodinow, and Kotlov seem to think, the idea of an uncaused first cause is not that of something which needs no creator. It is rather the idea of something that could not in principle have had a creator, precisely because (unlike the universe) it could not even in principle have failed to exist. As Aristotle would say, God is Pure Actuality; as Aquinas would say, he is Subsistent Being Itself. Hawking, Mlodinow, and Kotlov might be unfamiliar with these concepts, but in that case they should not presume to speak as if they understood the first-cause argument.
A Little Learning Is a Dangerous Thing
Rob Long — My 16-year-old son thoroughly enjoys your columns in NR. He just finished reading Alexander Pope’s Rape of the Lock, and his analysis concluded with the comment, “Pope is the Rob Long of the 18th century.”
Rob Long replies: Thank you; this is the first time that “Pope” and “Rob Long” have appeared in the same sentence. I’d love to know what grade the young Mr. Ormand received.