First, a few brief paragraphs about Dr. Feser's comments on the reliability of these proofs. He sees them as being a mixture of formal and empirical reasoning, because they use premises that are empirical as well as conceptual. and that this make the proofs more certain to be true than either method can produce on its own. Personally, I see the methodology as being purely formal. Taking a few empirical notions as being starting points (Edit:
Second, Dr. Feser does sneak in a fourth attempt at proof prior to the listed three. The claim is basically that since universals exist, they have some sort of reality even when there is no matter to take their form and no mind to appreciate their essence, but they are not real in the Platonic sense. So there must be a mind that instantiates them even when there is no mind instantiating them. He does not even present this as a reducito ad absurdum argument, just as ~A => A.
Finally, I think I have come to understand some of the motives behind the constant stream of invective being launched at Dawkins, Hume, and various others. Dr. Feser's stated goal may be to convince atheists of some of these claims, but the more likely result of these continual insults is to get people who like what Dennett, et. al., have to say so upset that they don't read the logic itself objectively or clearly, and so miss the important points that are understated and focus on the repeated, emphasized, not-exactly-correct shortcuts (there's also a little playing to the crowd in that, too, since the best market for his books is almost certainly not atheists). Then, when the upset reader treats those shortcuts as the real argument, they can be dismissed as missing the point of the argument. I have seen one example of this directly, and I'll expand on it in the discussion of the Unmoved Mover below the fold.
The argument for the Unmoved Mover is based upon several ideas: change is movement from a potential state to an actual state, no object can activate it's own potential, and every activation has an immediate efficient cause. He takes the time to distinguish between accidentally ordered causes and essentially ordered causes. One example he gives equates to saying that one cause of your father having you is your grandfather having your father. Even your grandfather died when your father was young, that did not prevent your father from having you. This is an accidentlly ordered causal series, in that the separation of time means that the earlier cause doesn't need to be present to have the causal chain continue, that the causal chain is transmitted independently of the continued existence of your grandfather. Another example would be that you don't have be smoking while you actually develop lung cancer in order to have the smoking be a cause of the cancer. This is contrasted with an essentially ordered causal series, which is basically that the cause's presence is required while the potential is activated. The offered example is that of a hand shaping a clay pot. Whatever the past reasons that motivate the potter, without the hand directly present, the clay is not shaped. The clay does not continue shaping itself when the hand is withdrawn, all the change is completely dependent on the hand.
Taking a break from the argument to comment on style, Dr. Feser presents this dependence-oriented description of an essentially ordered causal series precisely once. He then says the actions appear to simultaneous in the essential series due to the dependence. In fact, over the next 5 pages, he uses various derivatives of simultaneous 9 times, twice in italics, to describe essentially ordered causes. Naturally, when the occasional reader sees this repetition, they take away the notion that simultaneity is essential to the argument, and see that fact that elements of an essentially ordered series are not truly simultaneous as a disproof of the line of reasoning. This allows Dr. Feser to dismiss the reader based on a lack of understanding, and I have seen him do this in the comments on his blog. Of course, I don't really know if this is a deliberate deception on Dr. Feser's part, if he is too incompetent as a writer to understand the effects of repetition, or if he just let some other hack write or edit his book that way (no doubt other possible explanations exist). I can only comment on the effect, not being able to fathom the purpose (or final cause, if you like).
Going back to the argument, Dr. Feser presents that these essentially ordered series of causes have terminating points, so they have starting points as well. Further, since each event in the series does not have the potential to activate itself, it cannot be considered the initiating force of the series, but only a participant therein. He likens the series to a train have a caboose and several railroad cars: at some point, there must be an engine that sets the essentially ordered series in motion. Since nothing activates its own potential, this origin does not change, it only activates changes. This origin is God, continuously activating all the events in the world, such as a rock rolling down a hill, a spider spinning a web, one man feeding the hungry, and another (or the same) man molesting a child.
Dr. Feser recommends that the best way to show his arguments are invalid is to demonstrate errors in the reasoning and the starting premises, so naturally I will take him up on this offer and select both a premise and a bit of reasoning. From the starting premises I will pick one that stands out (besides the notion no act can be its own cause which I discussed in an earlier post): in the material world, essentially ordered series do not terminate. His example is that of a hand pushing a stick, which stick pushes a rock, and he treats the rock as the final object in the sequence. However, the rock pushes the ground and the air, each of which engage in their own set of reactions with other air and ground molecules, in a never-ending series. So, while the ideas that a last member implies a first member is also highly debatable, this debate is not relevant because there is no last member. From his reasoning, let's choose the notion that each member of the series is a passive link to the next. In fact, the ability of one event to activate the potential in the next event is a motive force. In the train analogy, it's much more like each railroad car has an oxygen tank inn the front, a hydrogen tank in the rear, and in between each car is a little motor that burns the fuels to power the following car. The engine is not only quite possibly infinitely far away, it is not needed at all.
Dr. Feser decreases the number of word he devotes to each of the causes as he progresses, and I shall do likewise. The First Cause argument is based on the notion that forms are real, and they include the essence, a definitive form, of things. Since the forms can exist without being instantiated in any particular material object, merely having an essence does not guarantee existence, such as the essence of unicorns exists, but this does not mean unicorns exist. Since they are initially separate, something must combine an essence to an existence, and this is the cause of that object. Since this combination of existence and essence must be performed for every object in the universe, it must be performed for the universe as a whole.
There is brief break in the argument, where Dr. Feser discusses the fallacy of composition. One example of this fallacy: I can step over each cinder block from a group of 20, so if you stack all 20 vertically, I can step over the whole stack, as well. Dr. Feser says that since the fallacy of composition is sometimes true (the individual cinder blocks are gray, so the stack will be gray), he can use it here to say if every object in the universe has a cause (an event that joined essence to existence), so does the universe as a whole. No, I'm not kidding, he really claims that since a fallacy sometimes works, he can use it in this argument. He offers no other justification for applying it.
Anyway, these joining of existence to essences wind up being the essentially ordered causal series, and in a similar argument against infinity, the series must have a first element, the being whose essence includes existence without a cause, that set every existence in motion directly or indirectly, a First Cause, aka God. Further, since God initiates all these objects, he is constantly maintaining them. This is offered with no justification at all, he just slides from creating to maintaining as if they are the same thing.
This is basically the Unmoved Mover argument, expect the supposed terminus is the change of beginning an existence, as opposed to a different type of change. It offers no corrections or improvements to the defects of the previous argument. It is not any more rational as a position, and actually less so, since it depends on the fallacy of composition, where as the Unmoved Mover did not.
Finally, we get to the argument from the Supreme Intelligence. Since final causes are presumed to exist, the future oak exists as the eventual form of the acorn. Since the oak itself doesn't exist yet, its form must be in the thought of some intelligence that allows the form to direct the acorn in becoming an oak. This Supreme Intelligence Is ... (wait for it) ... God! Yes, the suspense was killing me, too.
This argument certainly clarifies why Dr. Feser likes formal causes so much, even though it makes no sense to claim that the form of the oak is not already in the acorn, within the DNA that will direct its development. Not too mention, in examples like this, how come we never hear the form of the oak is in the soil, or the rainwater? Certainly the oak is much more soil and rainwater than it is the original acorn. Maybe that's too complicated for our discussion, though. Needless to say, as I have outlined above, I found the argument for God as outlined in TLS to be completely lacking in accurate empirical starting points and also to have a couple of steps of poor reasoning. I was not convinced, at all. Despite that, for the purpose of part 6, I'm going to grant Dr. Feser has proven his case for existence, and then respond to the attributes he attributes to God based on these arguments.