At Berch, sitting at my desk and watching my tousled-hair philosophy of religion professor pace on the front of the classroom, back and forth, peripatetic, looking exactly like the thoughts zooming through his mind. Before this great lecture I find him outside, just staring out the window, arms outstretched and supporting his weight, just thinking. Philosophizing. I suppose that is what philosophy professors do when they’re not teaching philosophy.
The lecture is about Aquinas’ cosmological argument for God—there must have been a primary mover, there must have been a first cause, there must have been a necessary being to which we owe our existence. At the end of this discussion he poses a question: “But what was Aquinas’ logical fallacy?” His eyes, warm, welcome everyone to speak even though his mind is sharper than sharks’ teeth. The class tries: “Who moved the first mover? What if the universe is God?”
My professor, pacing and pacing and running his hands through his hair all the time. In my mind he is combing out his thoughts. Almost frantic, he draws on the chalkboard a single line, and starts writing from the rightmost—present-time. “If I, x, am alive, then there was a time I, x, was not alive, but my mother, y, was.” From the present-time, he moves leftward. “And when my mother, y, was alive, then there was a time she was not alive, and then her mother, z, was.” He moves leftward again. And so on, and so on, and he traces this all the way back to Aquinas’ necessary being, at t = 0. When we look at things like this—a chain of causation—we are left with a linear timeline that will ultimately have to begin with the necessary being—this is the only logical conclusion. And here lies Aquinas’ fallacy.
The classroom is quiet, breathless. My professor moves to the second half of the board. We we watch him drag a piece of chalk across the board, my attention is so fully arrested I can almost harvest the chalkdust with my eyes. When he lifts the chalk we see that he has drawn a circle. He asks, “What if time has no beginning and no end?”
He stands in the middle of the board with arms outstretched, the image of supernova and resurrection. “Both are sensible arguments. You only pick what makes sense to you.”