Peter Kreeft's Argument from the World as an Interacting Whole

Hello everyone,


I've been reading this book by a couple of Christian apologists, The Handbook of Christian Apologetic by Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli. I've also been writing a critique as I read it. I've come to this argument now, the argument from the world as an interacting whole, that is confusing in my opinion. The argument can be found here:


I'm wondering if you guys agree with my critique or if I have missed something.



The Argument from the World as anInteracting Whole Critique

Starting point. This world is given to us as a dynamic, ordered system of many active component elements. Their natures (natural properties) are ordered to interact with each other in stable, reciprocal relationships which we call physical laws. For example, every hydrogen atom in our universe is ordered to combine with every oxygen atom in the proportion of 2:1 (which implies that every oxygen atom is reciprocally ordered to combine with every hydrogen atom in the proportion of 1:2). So it is with the chemical valences of all the basic elements. So too all particles with mass are ordered to move toward every other according to the fixed proportions of the law of gravity.”


I believe that this paragraph is basically saying that the physical laws make things act certain ways. Also, the analogy is false. Hydrogen is not always “ordered” to bond with oxygen in a proportion of 2:1, it depends on the circumstances. For example, in acidic solutions hydrogen bonds to oxygen in a proportion of 3:1.


“In such an interconnected, interlocking, dynamic system, the active nature of each component is defined by its relation with others, and so presupposes the others for its own intelligibility and ability to act. Contemporary science reveals to us that our world—system is not merely an aggregate of many separate, unrelated laws, but rather a tightly interlocking whole, where relationship to the whole structures and determines the parts. The parts can no longer be understood apart from the whole; its influence permeates them all.”

The first sentence I believe is stating that in our universe components are defined by how they relate to other components and depend on themfor their own capability for being understood and ability to act. The second sentence says that the physical laws of the universe relate to each other. I don't agree with the last sentence because we can understand parts of the whole without understanding the whole itself. We don't need to understand how the whole universe works to understand how, say, stars form.

“Argument.In any such system as the above (like our world) no component part or active element can be self—sufficient or self—explanatory. For any part presupposes all the other parts—the whole system already in place—to match its own relational properties. It can't act unless the others are there to interact reciprocally with it. Anyone part could be self—sufficient only if it were the cause of the whole rest of the system—which is impossible, since no part can act except in collaboration with the others.”

Elements are self-sufficient, active or inactive. Hydrogen doesn't need help from others to be hydrogen. They don't rely on their relation to others for their properties. The properties are what they are because of the laws of physics. Even if oxygen didn't exist, hydrogen would still have the same properties (one proton, one electron, still a gas most of the time, etc). There are many cases where things rely on other things to exist. I rely on the air I breath to exist. But the elements that I am made of do not rely on anything but the laws ofphysics. What does it mean for the components to be “self-explanatory?” The universe doesn't cease to exist because the universe can't explain itself. It doesn't matter if the component couldn't act unless others are there to interact with it, they would still be self-sufficient and have the same properties. Parts can be self-sufficient without being the cause of the whole rest of the system (universe) because their properties are dependent upon the laws of physics, not the other components. A component doesn't need to act on other components to be self-sufficient.

“Nor can the system as a whole explain its own existence, since it is made up of the component parts and is not a separate being, on its own, independent of them. So neither the parts nor the whole are self—sufficient; neither can explain the actual existence of this dynamically interactive system.”


As I have just shown, parts can be self-sufficient, therefore so can the whole. Just because parts interact with each other doesn't mean they depend on each other.

“Three Conclusions

1. Since the parts make sense only within the whole, and neither the whole nor the parts can explain their own existence, then such a system as our world requires a unifying efficient cause to posit it in existence as a unified whole.”


If the authors are trying to assert that the universe needs some explanation (because it can't explain itself?), then that explanation could be that it came into existence uncaused (like many propose God did), have been here forever (like many propose God has), or becaused by some blind force. So there are some other propositions for how the universe came to be besides “a unifying efficient cause,”or in other words God. And even if we didn't have an explanation, that still doesn't mean that it had to be God.

“2.Any such cause must be an intelligent cause, one that brings the system into being according to a unifying idea. For the unity of the whole—and of each one of the overarching, cosmic— wide, physical laws uniting elements under themselves—is what determines and correlates the parts.”


So how the parts of the universe interact with each other and how the physical laws influence the parts determines how the parts act.Actually, since the physical laws influence how the parts interact with each other, it could just be said that the physical laws determine how the parts act.

“Hence it must be somehow actually present as an effective organizing factor. But the unity, the wholeness, of the whole transcends any one part, and therefore cannot be contained in any one part. To be actually present all at once as a whole this unity can only be the unity of an organizing unifying idea.”


I don't know how the authors reason that this “unity” of everything in a “whole” (why not just say universe?) can “only be the unity of an organizing unifying idea.” All the apparent“organizing” of the universe can be explained naturally without invoking the supernatural. It's a blind assertion to say that the apparent organizing of the universe has the be an “idea.”

“For only an idea can hold together many different elements at once without destroying or fusing their distinctness. That is almost the definition of an idea. Since the actual parts are spread out over space and time, the only way they can be together at once as an intelligible unity is within an idea. Hence the system of the world as a whole must live first within the unity of an idea."

Um, the universe can hold “many different elements at once without destroying or fusing their distinctness,” in fact it does. A heterogeneous or homogeneous mixture does the same thing. Saying that only and idea can hold “many different elements at once without destroying or fusing their distinctness” is an unsupported assumption. It's not a definition of an idea to hold “many different elements at once without destroying or fusing their distinctness.” As defined by, an idea is“something, such as a thought or conception, that potentially or actually exists in the mind as a product of mental activity.”

“Now a real idea cannot actually exist and be effectively operative save in a real mind, which has the creative power to bring such a system into real existence. Hence the sufficient reason for our ordered world—system must ultimately be a creative ordering Mind. A cosmic—wide order requires a cosmic—wide Orderer, which can only be a Mind.”


The world many appear to many to be “ordered” by an intelligence, but that doesn't mean it is. Like I said above, the “order” can be explained naturally. Furthermore, the authors have not demonstrated that the universe has to be part of an idea.

“3. Such an ordering Mind must be independent of the system itself, that is, transcendent; not dependent on the system for its own existence and operation. For if it were dependent on—or part of—the system, it would have to presuppose the latter as already existing in order to operate, and would thus have to both precede and follow itself. But this is absurd. Hence it must exist and be able to operate prior to and independent of the system.

Thus our material universe necessarily requires, as the sufficient reason for its actual existence as an operating whole, a Transcendent Creative Mind.”

The authors have not shown that a mind is necessary for the universe, so this conclusion is invalid.

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So a few more christians that can throw together some intelligent sounding words to make an argument that seems sophisticated to a reader who wishes to further confirm their faith.  


I got through the first few paragraphs, and you obviously destroyed many of their assumptions / false claims.  


Now , I will grant them every single point they made.  To sum up , stuff exists , therefore that stuff needs a mind for it's existence.  


Ok, granted.  Now that means that God has a 'mind' , correct?  Please explain to me where in nature you have seen a mind self create itself?  Please explain to me where in nature you have a mind that is also immaterial as I am sure these apologists will spout agreement on.  


If all of their points are true (Which they are not), wouldn't they be disproving God?  Or is their superficially sophisticated reasoning they go through abruptly cease when they reach the Deity they are biased towards?  


To sum up , stuff exists , therefore that stuff needs a mind for it's existence. 


That seems to sum up what they were saying in one sentence. I don't agree that a mind is needed because stuff exists.


Ok, granted.  Now that means that God has a 'mind' , correct?  Please explain to me where in nature you have seen a mind self create itself?  Please explain to me where in nature you have a mind that is also immaterial as I am sure these apologists will spout agreement on. 


That's why I find these cosmological arguments sort of pointless. We don't have any way of known what is outside of our universe (if anything) and nobody currently knows for sure how the universe began. It's all speculation. By refuting this argument I'm not saying they're wrong. There might very well be a creator (doubt it). But the arguments they use are full of logical fallacies, assumptions, and false claims.


If all of their points are true (Which they are not), wouldn't they be disproving God?  Or is their superficially sophisticated reasoning they go through abruptly cease when they reach the Deity they are biased towards?


I don't understand how they would be disproving God. I think all cosmological arguments, if they were true, would only point towards some sort of creator (which could be a blind force), not any specific deity. The youtuber Qualiasoup in his video Putting Faith In Its Place demonstrates this marvelously.

By 'disproving God' , I think by saying 'our material universe needs a mind to create it' is basically disproving a God with a mind, because if a universe is stated to not be able to create itself , then why should a God exist?  


The problem lies within the concept of 'mind'.  How can a God have a mind that is also 'not material'.  If the mind of God is in fact material, then what created it?  


It always seems to me that these arguments are disproving a God. But , to get around that , the apologists state 'their God is not defined by our laws of physics' or 'God is immaterial and was self created' or 'a being of infinite power and intelligence' ... yet all their arguments are basically saying these things can't exist.


They try to prove material things can't create themselves , but say God has a mind.  


Not sure if any of that makes sense.  : / 


Also, why would you use the word 'creator' to signify that which caused the Universe?  There could be a 'reason' the Universe came into existence, but as right now we don't eve know if this 'reason' could be labeled a 'cause' - as cause implies a relational term , and relation usually has to do with multiple events or time events - and we also don't know if we should even use the word ' time ' to explain 'before the big bang'.  


Christian apologists have to know all this as well - but are dishonest with the public.  






I think I know what your getting at. All (or most) of the cosmological arguments for the existence of God seem to be saying "there are certain rules that apply to everything in the universe, oh, except God."


Everything needs a cause, except God. Everything must have what it takes for that thing to exist, except God. Things like that.


Christian apologist try to demonstrate with these arguments that the reason the universe is here is because God caused it. However, the arguments fail.


By the way, thanks for taking taking time to look at my post.

Yes, you put it better than I could.  


They 'prove' things , but then state 'God is exempt from this proof', because God is God.  



This argument seems to be yet another variation on these so-called "sophisticated"  theist arguments which basically go like this:


Words, words, big words, words of many syllables, sentences, complex sentences, complex sentences with big words!!!! paragraphs, we've written paragraphs!!  paragraphs with complex sentences and big words!!!...................therefore, GOD!!!!   


Aren't you dazzled by our brilliance?  How can you be so closed minded as to fail to recognize the brilliance of our arguments, to recognize that we have proved GOD exists!!!!! 


.....and so on and on they go - has any true atheist (not referring to the trolls who say they were atheists but then [fill in the blank]) ever, ever, ever been convinces by any of these ridiculous, so-called sophisticated theological arguments? 

Probably not if they thought about it hard enough.

The arguments are created by Theists well after they come to believe in God through other means.  


I think it's more of an attempt for the Theist to believe they have some intelligent reason to believe in the sky daddy than just 'take it on faith'.  I mean the apologists really are trying to get away from the 'it just takes faith' mentality.  


The major problem is that the arguments I don't think are meant to 'prove' God to non God believers - But to reinforce the idea that 'there must be a reason other than faith'.  


The arguments are designed to reinforce the slightly faltering 'faith' that believers cling on to.  It gives them a reason to think there are ACTUAL reasons to believe a God exists.  But most of those believers will not take the time to scrutinize the apologetics like we would.  


But yes, you summed up the 'sophistication' part of it perfectly lmao.  


It's just 'Piffle' as Hitchens would put it.  


I have  more respect for folks who stick with the "it  just takes faith mentality" than I do for the "sophisticated" theists who try to "prove" god's existence.  The "faith" people are much more honest, the "sophisticates" not so much.  They, like the faith-based folks, start their arguments with the assumption that god exists but, unlike the faith-based, they just don't admit it. 

Why even bother to debate with these people?   Theology is the study of god, of divine things or of religious truth.   Since  none of those things actually exist, theology is just as useless as astrology or demonology or alchemy or cryptozoology or psychokenesis or any other woo woo thing you can think of. 

I think if a theist thinks that they really have a good argument for god, then I would like to here it. I don't blame them for trying to prove that their god exists.


It's just when people are so bias that they will never consider the possibility that they might be wrong, aren't open to new ideas, are threatened by open-minded discussion,knowingly make false assumptions or use logical fallacies, won't research the other side or the criticisms of their side, etc.

Well, the sophisticated theologists do truly think they have good arguments for god.  But IMO they are never good arguments because underlying every argument they make is their unshakeable belief that god exists and so they build their arguments to support that pre-existing belief. Now, of course, they don't admit or even understand that their arguments are biassed from the start and, therefore, can never convince people who do not  share that bias.   


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