The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn. – Ralph Waldo Emerson
This is an awe inspiring thing, if you think about it. The tiny acorn has the potential to become a mighty oak tree-even a thousand forests, as Emerson points out. But where did the acorn come from? It did not appear out of thin air, and it did not bring itself into being. Nothing in this world does. Ex nihilo nihil fit – from nothing, nothing comes. Until the acorn comes to be, it does not exist. If it doesn’t exist it cannot cause anything–let alone its own existence.
As we all know, the acorn came from an oak tree, which came from an acorn before it. The universe is in a constant state of flux. The acorn had to go through some drastic changes to become an oak tree. The acorn has the potential to become an oak tree. At this moment, it is an acorn and not an oak tree. It will actually exist in the future as an oak tree, but it is not in the state of being an oak tree now.
This acorn will not become an oak tree by magic. It may fall from another oak tree into some fertile soil, and with the help of some water, sunlight, and a multitude of other natural processes, sprout. Eventually the sprout will grow into an oak tree, which will grow more acorns, which will fall to the ground and sprout into a thousand oak forests. The tree may grow to a ripe old age, die, and decompose, creating more fertile soil for acorns to sprout in. Or a lumberjack may cut the oak down, and the wood may be used to build a desk.
Any changes from acorn to oak tree require outside forces to act upon the acorn because nothing can give itself what it does not have. The acorn cannot have now what it will come to have in the future. The result of the change cannot exist before the change. The acorn is a potential oak tree, but it needs the water, sunlight, etc., to actually become an oak tree in the future. The oak tree is a potential desk, but it needs the lumberjack to cut it down and send it to a lumber mill to be precessed, and then to a factory to be built into a desk. It cannot change without outside forces making the potential actual.
In other words, the acorn cannot change itself. This is not just true of acorns, but of everything changing in this ever-changing universe we live in. Even self-moving things, such as animal bodies do not move themselves. They are moved by something beyond molecules–the will. When the animal dies, the molecules remain but the body ceases to move because the will is no longer present to move it.
For those of you who are still with me, the external forces changing the acorn are themselves changing. As I stated before, the whole universe is in a constant state of flux. But nothing can change itself.The acorn requires outside forces to make their potential actual. In fact, the very forces which are at work to change the acorn to an oak tree are in a state of change. If we traced all the causes and effects of change in the universe, we would eventually get back to a Being that transcends the universe. This is because if there is nothing outside the material universe, then there is nothing that can cause the universe to change. However, the universe is constantly changing. Therefore, there must be something in addition to the material universe causing all this change. After all, for anything to exist, something must always have existed, but if the universe is in a constant state of change, something outside must be acting on it, causing the change.
The universe is the sum total of all matter, space, and time, and these three things are dependent on each other. Therefore, a Being who transcends matter, space, and time caused the universe to exist. This Being is not subject to change, but is the Source of change.
While this argument does not get us quite to the Christian God (although it is part of a strong cumulative case for the Christian God), it does get us to a Being who is consistent with the Christian God.
For I the Lord do not change – Malachi 3:6a, ESV
Of old you laid the foundation of the earth,
and the heavens are the work of your hands.
They will perish, but you will remain;
they will all wear out like a garment.
You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away,
but you are the same, and your years have no end. – Psalm 102:25-27, ESV
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. – Hebrews 13:8, ESV
This unchanged and unchanging Being must be timeless, spaceless, and immaterial, since it transcends the space-time-material universe. It must be powerful, because it created out of nothing. It must be personal, because impersonal forces do not choose to create. The best explanation of the identity such a Being is God.
I hope I have done this argument justice. It is a simplified version of an argument given by Thomas Aquinas. Although the reader should be able to understand the argument, it is a much deeper argument as presented by the Angelic Doctor and later philosophers. To fully understand it really requires an understanding of Aristotelian/Thomist metaphysics, and I recommend reading Aquinas by Edward Feser.
~ Jared Abbott