Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Periodic Table of Elements is All? No.

Giordano Bruno, a pantheist and materialist sometimes erroneously categorized with Galileo, said: "Matter is not without its forms, but contains them all; and since it carries what is wrapped up in itself, it is in truth all nature and the mother of all the living." (C. Gutberlet). Is this true? Is matter "all nature and the mother of all the living?" Is life—even human life—ultimately dependent upon matter? It seems so because without matter what would life or physical things be? Nothing? Is matter the principle and cause of everything as the atomists thought?
Of the first philosophers, then, most thought the principles which were of the nature of matter were the only principles of all things. That of which all things that are consist, the first from which they come to be, the last into which they are resolved (the substance remaining, but changing in its modifications), this they say is the element and this the principle of things, and therefore they think nothing is either generated or destroyed, since this sort of entity is always conserved, as we say Socrates neither comes to be absolutely when he comes to be beautiful or musical, nor ceases to be when loses these characteristics, because the substratum, Socrates himself remains. Just so they say nothing else comes to be or ceases to be; for there must be some entity—either one or more than one—from which all other things come to be, it being conserved.


From these facts one might think that the only cause is the so-called material cause; but as men thus advanced, the very facts opened the way for them and joined in forcing them to investigate the subject.

—Aristotle's Metaphysics 983b8-18, 984a17-20

Are we not more advanced today than those who thought that there are only material causes, e.g., the four elements—earth, water, air, and fire? After all, today we have over a hundred elements on the periodic table. Yet, are we not "men thus advanced" so we can more fully "investigate the subject?" Or do we think all the seemingly eternal elements on the periodic table are the principles and causes of everything? If this is true, then the efficient cause¹ of this blog is not me but the matter that makes me up; the material cause² is a hard disk magnetized in a certain way somewhere; the formal cause³, the words, are, e.g., light coming from your computer screen in a certain way; and the final cause does not exist since I apparently direct this blog to no definite end. From this it follows that everything is merely due to the random motion of atoms.
[E]ven though finished products were not in existence from eternity, we might be inclined to think that matter had to exist from eternity. For everything that has being subsequent to non-being, is changed from non-being to being. Therefore if created things, such as heaven and earth and the like, did not exist from eternity, but began to be after they had not been, we must admit that they were changed from non-being to being. But all change and motion have some sort of subject; for motion is the act of a thing existing in potency. However, the subject of the change whereby a thing is brought into existence, is not the thing itself that is produced, because this thing is the terminus of the motion, and the terminus and subject of motion are not the same. Rather, the subject of the change is that from which the thing is produced, and this is called matter. Accordingly, if things are brought into being after a state of non-being, it seems that matter had to exist prior to them. And if this matter is, in turn, produced subsequent to a period of non-existence, it had to come from some other, pre-existing matter. But infinite procession along these lines is impossible. Therefore we must eventually come to eternal matter, which was not produced subsequent to a period of non-existence.


The arguments just reviewed do not compel us to postulate the eternity of matter, for the production of things in their totality cannot properly be called change. In no change is the subject of the change produced by the change, for the reason rightly alleged by the objector, namely, that the subject of change and the terminus of the change are not identical. Consequently, since the total production of things by God, which is known as creation, extends to all the reality that is found in a thing, production of this kind cannot properly verify the idea of change, even though the things created are brought into existence subsequently to non-existence. Being that succeeds to non-being does not suffice to constitute real change, unless we suppose that a subject is first in a state of privation, and later under its proper form. Hence "this" is found coming after "that" in certain things in which motion or change do not really occur, as when we say that day turns into night. Accordingly, even though the world began to exist after having not existed, this is not necessarily the result of some change. In fact, it is the result of creation, which is not a true change, but is rather a certain relation of the created thing, as a being that is dependent on the Creator for its existence and that connotes succession to previous non-existence. In every change there must be something that remains the same although it undergoes alteration in its manner of being, in the sense that at first it is under one extreme and subsequently under another. In creation this does not take place in objective reality, but only in our imagination. That is, we imagine that one and the same thing previously did not exist, and later existed. And so creation can be called change, because it has some resemblance to change.

St. Thomas Aquinas's Compendium theologiæ, lib. 1 cap. 99

Therefore, matter cannot be "all nature and the mother of all the living" because matter is not eternal, time is a part of nature, and only something eternal can be the cause of time; how could something bound to time cause time?

The efficient cause of this blog is not the matter that makes me up; it is me. The material cause, sure, is the hard disk on which there are bits representing the characters that make up the blog. The formal cause of this blog is not matter but the words or characters themselves; if the words or characters were different, one would have a different blog.

Now, non-eternal things have a creator. Thus if something uncreated created matter, then that "something" would be "the mother of all the living," but not "all nature" because a creator cannot logically be its creation. This "something" is God, the final cause, I hope, of this blog.
¹²³⁴The four causes of Aristotle were the efficient cause, the force, instrument, or agency by which a thing is produced; the formal [HOBBES Decameron ii. 15 Another they call the Formal Cause, or simply the form or essence of the thing caused: as when they say, Four equal Angles and four equal Sides are the Cause of a Square Figure.]; the material, the elements or matter from which it is produced; the final, the purpose or end for which it is produced [final cause: a term introduced into philosophical language by the schoolmen as a transl. of Aristotle's fourth cause, τὸ οὗ ἕνεκα or τέλος, the end or purpose for which a thing is done, viewed as the cause of the act; esp. applied in Natural Theology to the design, purpose, or end of the arrangements of the universe.]. The First Cause, the original cause or Creator of the Universe; secondary causes, those derived from a primary or first cause.

Oxford English Dictionary

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