I have been in a revived discussion with Martin, The author of the Thomistic philosophy blog known as Rocket Philosophy. The discussion first began three years ago on my post where I was talking about infinite series, and WL Craig's illogical "proof" that such a thing can't exist. Theists make claims of that sort to bolster their theistic arguments, assuming that there must be a first cause or a first mover. For the record, while I agree that there cannot be an infinite set of physical things within the confines of our finite universe, there is no reason in logic or mathematics that an infinite set of things cannot exist in principle, and Craig's argument (based on mathematical logic) is both naive and incorrect. But the comments following my article eventually led to the topic of "Essentially Ordered Series", and Martin entered the fray, trying to explain to me what that is, and that I am exasperatingly stupid because I couldn't understand the concept. Martin later made comments to that effect on his own blog, like this:
Another time I was trying to get skeppy, again, to just UNDERSTAND what is meant by "essentially ordered series" and he refuse to allow his brain to go that far. Carrying on and on about "science!!!!" and how "science!!!!" has refuted essentially ordered series. Here is that thread: http://theskepticzone.blogspot.com/2014/09/theistic-arguments-series-on.html - MartinIt is my contention that Martin is so stuck on his medieval Thomistic philosophy that he refuses to take, or even to attempt to understand, a view that is more consistent with modern science. Anyway, I stayed out of the discussion at his blog until just recently, and neither of us has budged in our position. In light of that, I thought it would be worthwhile to provide a more complete explanation of my own understanding of the concept of essentially ordered series, and why it is shown to be meaningless in the context of modern science.
First, what is an essentially ordered series? We're referring to some kind of causal chain, and there are two basic types, according to the philosophy of Thomists. Martin explains it in his own post, but he used the term "vertical causal series" to identify it. This is distinguished from a "horizontal causal series", otherwise known as accidentally ordered series. The vertical (or essentially ordered) series is "concurrent", while the horizontal series is temporally sequential. In the vertical series, all elements must exist simultaneously, and the original (or sustaining) cause is passed through the chain of causality to produce the final effect, which is concurrent with the original cause. He uses the example of an illuminated room, where there is some distant power station that generates electricity, which travels down the transmission line and into the lamp, which in turn produces light that illuminates the room. And as long as the power plant produces electricity, the room remains lit. The horizontal (or accidentally ordered series), on the other hand, is temporally sequential, and causal elements in the chain need not continue to exist at the time the final effect is produced. An example of this would be the siring of offspring, where the grandfather produces the father, who in turn produces his own son, even though the grandfather might be dead by that time. The grandfather is not the sustaining cause of the son.
OK. That's not so difficult to understand. Here's another explanation of it. I think I get the concept, despite Martin's insistence that I don't. But there seems to be some kind of notion on the part of Thomists like him that this concept, which is used in Aquinas' First Cause argument (and that was the topic of Martin's original post), is either unknown to, or beyond the understanding of mere atheists, who have no inkling of the compelling power of Thomistic philosophy.
He also refuses to allow himself to understand the difference between ontological and temporal priority, so he keeps trying to "refute" essentially ordered series by slipping back into temporal priority. Drives me nuts. There's zero rational exchange with him. - MartinBut hold on. There are some big problems with these Thomistic notions of causality. And while I understand the concept, I disagree that it is realistic. Based on a more scientific understanding of causation, my position is that there is no such thing as "concurrent" causation, there are no essentially ordered series, and the distinction between horizontal and vertical series is purely illusory. So I tried to explain to Martin what I mean by all this, and he's the one who just doesn't get it. The two major issues I have with essentially ordered series are 1: that the very notion of causal series is belied by the fact that any effect is the result of many causes, and 2: that causation is always temporally sequential.
On the first of these, it is overly simplistic to say that A causes B, and B causes C, etc. It is not only A that causes B, but innumerable other factors that may not be as obvious as A. Consider the motion of the earth in space. You could say that the sun's gravity causes the orbital movement of the earth. But in reality it is mutual interaction between the earth and the sun (they actually orbit each other), the moon, and all other planets, along with their moons, as well as our galaxy, about which the sun orbits, and other galaxies that all influence the motion of one another. The point is that there is never a single A that causes B, or a single B that causes C, and so on. So the idea of a chain of causation, or causal series, is bogus. You can identify causal items as a chain only by artificially narrowing your view to an arbitrary subset of the actual causal factors that are in play, and ignoring all the rest. But that's not realistic. Furthermore, from the perspective of a particular outcome, there is no "original cause" at the beginning of the supposed series, because the causal factors branch out in many different directions, and all of them play a role in the outcome. Even though one of those branches may seem to be essential in producing the result, the same thing might be said about various other causal factors, even if they are not recognized as such.
On my second major objection to essentially ordered series, the notion that there is any concurrent causation is an illusion. In Martin's example, if you remove the power plant, you have removed the sustaining (original) cause of the illuminated room. But the effect is not instantaneous, as he claims. In fact, nothing is. An electric generator takes electrons from the transmission wire. But that is only at its own end of the wire. The deficit of electrons creates a charge imbalance, which causes electrons in an adjacent part of the wire to jump into the vacant space. And that ripples down the length of the wire. But each individual movement of electrons takes time. In reality, if the power plant suddenly disappeared, the effect wouldn't reach the far end of the wire until a small time later. So the reality is that the lamp would continue to produce photons for some time after the power source is gone.
And what we see as an illuminated room is really a series of individual events, where our eyes sense photons, one at a time, which then produces a fused image in the brain, which we see as a coherent picture. No one photon produces more than a tiny part of the image. In reality, whenever we see an image, it is always a result of many individual events that happened some time earlier. But that time may be so short that we believe the effect is concurrent with the cause, when it's really not. And the same thing can be said of any cause that Martin calls "concurrent". There is always a time lag, and there are always temporally sequential events that are involved in any given outcome. Concurrent causation is an illusion, and essentially ordered series, as envisioned by Thomistic philosophy, simply do not exist in reality.
Does Martin understand any of this? I don't think so. "Science!!!!" is something that Martin dismisses out of hand, on the assumption that his philosophical beliefs are superior. But we must remember that Thomistic philosophy, while compelling to someone who desperately wants to have a philosophical justification for his theistic belief, is based on assumptions that have no epistemic justification, and a medieval understanding of how things work in the world. Martin doesn't want to adopt a more scientific view of reality, because he understands, deep down inside, that it would destroy the basis of his belief system. And he's not about to let that happen. So instead, he lashes out at me, and anyone else who would challenge those beliefs.