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(Refer to Assignment for the sections relating to the following comments)
1.
2.
Outline Aquinas’ arguments for the existence of God as postulated
in his Five Ways. Critically analyse whether these Ways are convincing arguments to
prove the existence of God.
Introduction
We will begin by outlining Thomas Aquinas' five proofs for the existence of God found in
the Summa Theologiae, part 1, Question2 article 3 (henceforth ST 1a.2.3) without any
determination on the validity or soundness of the content of the arguments. Then each of the
proofs will be examined and analysed in terms of the resilience of their assumptions in light of
subsequent discoveries in the scientific fields of molecular physics, thermodynamics, astrophysics
and quantum physics and the weaknesses these discoveries have exposed in the proofs will be
highlighted. We will then concentrate on the challenges to the proofs from recent philosophical
discourse regarding the general cosmological debate. During this part of the essay we will
challenge some of Aquinas' basic suppositions enshrined in the proofs regarding contingency and
the Causal Principle. We will also attempt to ask some new questions in order to further
encourage discourse on the subject of Aquinas' five proofs and conclude with an explanation of
why I feel that Aquinas' proofs, despite the weaknesses demonstrated during the course of the
essay, are still very relevant in any discourse around the cosmological argument.

The First Way (The Proof from Movement or Change)


The argument from motion is the first proof of the existence of God offered by Aquinas
and he emphasises that his explanation will be based in empirical observation. "It is certain, and
evident to our
senses, that in the world some things are in motion" ST 1a.2.3. Aquinas states that things in
motion or changing must be put in motion or changed by something else, or that there must be a
cause for things to be put in motion. He expounds this idea of causality by introducing the idea of
actuality and potentiality, stating that nothing which is in a state of potentiality has the ability to
move to a state of actuality except by something which is already in a state of actuality. Aquinas
demonstrates this through the analogy of fire (which is actually hot) making wood (which has the
potential to become hot) actually hot. This change of state from potentiality to actuality
demonstrates Aquinas' idea of motion insofar as in order for motion to occur something must
acquire a characteristic it did not previously posses.
Next Aquinas asserts that something cannot be in both a state of potentiality and
actuality simultaneously “...in the same respect” ST 1a.2.3. By this he means that a piece of wood
cannot posses the characteristic of being capable of being on fire at the same time as possessing
the characteristic of being on fire since motion or change must consist of the acquisition of a
characteristic not previously held by the subject undergoing change, but the wood can hold the
potential to be on fire and, simultaneously be actually cold since this scenario of possessing both
potentiality and actuality simultaneously is in different respects. Therefore, according to Aquinas
nothing can change itself or cause itself to be in motion and since this is the case anything which
is changing or in motion must be doing so under the influence of something else. Next Aquinas
claims that if something which is put in motion, or caused to be moved, is itself moving then it
must also have been moved by a previous force and that by a previous force and so on and so on.
This causal chain cannot go on indefinitely however since this would eliminate the requirement of
an original cause or force responsible to begin the series and without the original cause or force
nothing would move since nothing would have initiated the beginning of the series. Therefore
Aquinas concludes that there must be an original cause of change or movement which did not
require a cause to move or change. This entity which exists devoid of all potentiality must be the
one which we know as God.

The Second Way (The Proof from Causation)


In the second proof offered by Aquinas he posits the existence of God in much the same way as
the first proof except that he replaces the premise of movement or change with that of causation.
He states that in the observed world there is a serial order to causation and nothing can cause
itself for in order to do so it would have to exist before it existed (at least logically, if not
temporally) and this is an impossibility. The next points, those arguing the non-existence of an
infinite series take the same form as the reasons postulated in the first proof and for the same
reasons:
• An infinite series of causes is an impossibility since
• All causes follow a series and the beginning of the series is a first cause
• Without a first cause the is no intermediate cause and no final cause so
• To remove the first cause is to remove all subsequent causes and
• This will ultimately remove the final effect but this is false since
• We observe there are effects so
• We must conclude there is a first cause and
• This first cause is known as God.

The Third Way(The Proof from the Contingency of the World)


Aquinas begins the third proof for the existence of God by declaring the principle which
underscores the form of the argument;contingency and necessity. This proof involves Aquinas'
observation that in the natural world there is a process of things coming into existence and
passing out of existence. According to Aquinas since things do not exist forever; there could have
been a time when nothing existed but if this were the case then nothing would exist now because
things that exist can only be brought into existence by something already in existence; but as we
can see there are things in existence. From this he concludes that there must be in existence
something which was not brought into being by something already in existence, but instead came
to be from necessity i.e. its existence is not contingent (on the existence of an already existing
being) but necessary. Next, in what seems to be an obvious contradiction, Aquinas states that all
necessary things are themselves either contingent or necessary. Then referring to the Second
Proof he states that the necessity caused in all necessary beings cannot be part of an infinite
series of causality. Finally Aquinas concludes that a necessary being, responsible for its own
necessity and the necessity in all other necessary beings must exist and this necessary being is
known to men as God.

The Fourth Way (The Proof from the Gradation of Things)


The forth proof deals with the hierarchical grading of qualities and properties Aquinas observed in
the world. He begins by stating that among “beings” there are different levels of “...good, true,
noble and the like” ST 1a.2.3. He then implies that there is a highest attainable level of all
qualities and properties and all gradient levels are relative to this ultimate; as all things hot are
relative to that which is the hottest. Next Aquinas reasons that as there are comparative levels of
hotness and so there are comparative levels of trueness, being best and nobleness, and the most
ultimate being possesses the highest level of truth. Aquinas uses the analogy of fire once more to
illustrate his belief that the highest form of any property or quality is that from which all
comparative levels of the quality or property are construed, so all degrees of hotness are relative
to fire since it is responsible for all things being hot. Similarly there must be a being from which
all comparative levels of goodness, truth and all other qualities are derived; that being is known
to us as God.

The Fifth Way (The Proof from Finality)


The final proof of the existence of God sees Aquinas observe all things in the natural world. He
posits that they seem to be guided to attain the best result from their existence. He observes
various animals and that different “...natural bodies...” thought to “...lack intelligence...” (ST
1a.2.3) still seem to behave in the same way, ultimately reaching an end. Aquinas believes that
this is not due to simple good fortune but rather to design. Next he says that these unintelligent
beings could not move towards an end unless they were guided by a being who did possess
intelligence and knowledge and uses the analogy of an arrow shot by an archer for illustrative
purposes. He then finally concludes that an intelligent being must exist to provide this direction,
this being is called God.

Critical Analysis of the Five Ways


Placed within their historical context Aquinas' proofs for the existence of God could make
for a convincing argument in favour of his position. However, since the 13th century advances in
the fields of both science and philosophy have weakened some and deflated other parts of both
the form and logic of his proofs. This is not to imply that Aquinas' core assertions have been
disregarded, but they have been honed and developed. We will now scrutinise some of Aquinas'
assertions and contrast them with developments in recent scientific and philosophical research.

All five proofs begin with a fact based on experience, namely, that something exists. In
the first proof Aquinas begins by stating “...whatever is put in motion is put in motion by
another...” (ST 1a.2.3). Originating in the Aristotelian understanding of motion as enshrined in
Physics meaning change in position (Locomotion), change in quantity (either moving towards or
away from whatever the absolute value used as a reference) and quality (containing more or less
of a property using an absolute of the quality as a reference) (Aristotle: Book V, chapter 2). But
taking Aquinas' definition of motion and applying to current theories of molecular physics and the
law of conservation of energy is problematic as physicist Michio Kaku states "gas molecules may
bounce against the walls of a container without requiring anything or anyone to get them moving”
(Kaku: 1994,194). We see here how advances in the field of molecular physics calls into question
one of Aquinas' basic premises and brings into dispute the requirement for a first mover.

The fifth proof, The Proof from Finality can also be juxtaposed with the discourse
apropos emergence and the consequent complexity it actualises. Aquinas' view of the natural
world is illustrated by the following statement and the way in which it metamorphosed from the
simple to the incredibly complex caused him to conclude that it must be guided by God's hand
“Now whatever lacks intelligence cannot move towards an end, unless it be directed by some
being endowed with knowledge and intelligence...” (ST 1a.2.3). But there is another
understanding of emergent complexity in both living and non-physical systems which merges the
scientific and philosophical positions; and the research and understanding of emergent processes
has been incorporated into many areas of research including the cosmological argument:
The emergence perspective offers us ways to think about creation, and creativity, that do not require
a creator. Emergence can be thought of as nature’s mode of creativity, giving rise to ever more
complex outcomes by virtue of thermodynamics, morphodynamics, and teleodynamics (Goodenough
& Deacon: 2006,865).

So emergence, in terms of the cosmological discussion, brings together the concepts of


thermodynamics and causation. But as we have previously discussed Aquinas' understanding of
motion is not coherent with our current understanding of the physical laws of thermodynamics. If
gas molecules do not require a first mover for their initial locomotion, then we could posit that the
complexity of emergent processes do not require guidance by an external force either, but, that
the complex processes shown by the collective of simple forms is self initiating and sustaining.
Here we can see the combining of scientific research and philosophical thought pertaining to
emergence theory could undermine Aquinas' requirement for an external guiding force in nature.

The first three proofs require an causal explanation for all things in motion, that are
caused and that are contingent; but it could be argued that it is the Proof from Contingency that
is the nexus for all the proofs because if God is not a necessary being then the first mover, first
cause, the being by which all things and qualities are judged and the being which guides all
unintelligent things all cease to exist. This does not however mean that the universe would cease
to exist because God is a contingent being, but that the universe is no longer contingent on God
as a necessary being and so there are other possible scenarios:
• Both God and the universe are contingent on some necessary being.
• That the universe is the necessary being and God is a contingent being created at the
beginning of time and space.
Causal principle, what is contingent and what is not are the subject of debate among those
involved in the current cosmological debate. Discussions concerning the origin of the universe
(and therefore all things in it) generally begin with an examination of what is commonly referred
to as the singularity and the Big Bang. This topic could be viewed as another point at which
philosophy and science intersect.

At the instant before the Big Bang is the point of infinite density which is infinitesimally
small called the singularity (Hawking:1988,28). A particular argument in favour of an self-caused
universe asserts that since the singularity is not governed by physical laws and we know of no
other thing in the universe (so far) that is not governed by any physical laws then we could
assume that the one thing which is does not adhere to any laws is exempt from causality
(Smith:1994,320). Another tranche to Smith's argument ascertains that since ...
...the big-bang singularity is the simplest possible thing; it has zero spatial dimensions (it is point-
like), zero temporal dimensions (it is instantaneous) and is governed by zero laws. It is plausible that
if only one thing can come to be without a cause, this thing will be the simplest possible thing. If this
is the case [...], then the theory that the universe begins with a big-bang singularity will reflect the
only metaphysically possible way in which a universe can come to be uncaused (Smith:1994,321)

So according to Quentin Smith, from a metaphysical perspective the Occam's Razor principle
seems to influence his determination that if some thing will come to be, then it will be the
smallest thing possible.
The knowledge attained through research in the fields of quantum mechanics and astrophysics
without which the current hypotheses of The Singularity and The Big Bang could not have been
developed, are central to the recent discourse surrounding causality. Aquinas did not have access
to the current scientific (and subsequent philosophical) discoveries upon which to build his
cosmological argument in terms of causality and infinite regress. Regarding the concepts of
actuality and potentiality we could ask must we presuppose the notion of a beginning, middle and
end, and why must the universe conform to this idea? It seems to be the case that it may not and
if this is the case then we must again question whether the foundations of Aquinas' arguments are
completely sound.

When we examine the properties of singularity theory in more detail it becomes clear
that it possesses qualities which undermine further some premises held by Aquinas. The first of
these is that an infinite series of regress is an impossibility “...then this also must needs be put in
motion by another, and that by another again. But this cannot go on to infinity,...” ST 1a.2.3. As
Aquinas may have seen it infinite regress was impossible because (1) this removes the
requirement of a first mover, (2) without the requirement of a first mover the is no requirement
for God and (3) without a beginning, no series of events could have a middle or end and would
therefore not occur at all (Moran:2008,2-6), but what he did not know was that, as quantum
physics hypotheses show, the singularity is a point of no time or space. If we consider this to be
the case we must also consider whether a point of no time or space can exist without beginning or
end and do we exclude it from all interpretations of time concluding that if it exists outside of time
is it reasonable to consider it infinite? Again we can see that without the advances in quantum
physics and other not so recent discoveries regarding the very early universe, challenging the
notions that underpin Aquinas' arguments for the existence of God would be much more difficult.

Let us examine again Aquinas' assertion that a causal explanation is required for things
in motion, things that are caused and things that are contingent. It could be argued that; confined
by the rigidness of the overall form of his arguments by virtue of his inductive reasoning (that
observed effects affirm a Causal Principle) Aquinas exposes this method to criticism. J.M.Mackie
(1982:85) highlights the problem of arguing for the application of the Causal Principle to the
universe from inductive experience. Only through experience is it possible to reason inductively,
but is is not possible to experience the universe as a whole therefore we cannot draw conclusions
from an extrapolation of causality beyond experience . David Hume (2007:143) asserts that
attempting to argue in favour of a Causal Principle a priori results in a case for conceiving
anything to be so, even though we know it to be false since following this reasoning “...anything
may appear able to produce anything”. These are philosophical challenges to aspects of Aquinas'
proofs and they are the result of discourse triggered by Aquinas and his attempts to empirically
prove the existence of God. In so doing however he introduced some other problems.

When examining the proofs from causation, motion and contingency we realise there is
failure to address why God is exempt from requiring a cause, first mover or not a contingent
being. This omission is stark and leaves all three proofs open to the accusation of Special
Pleading; a fallacy occurring when someone argues that a case is an exception to a rule based
upon an irrelevant characteristic that does not define an exception (Cambridge: 2009). If Aquinas
is indeed arguing that the special characteristic possessed by God which excludes him from
requiring a cause is the fact that he is God then not only is this a case of special pleading, but also
a circular argument. Taking into consideration the requirement of a first cause, and accepting that
this is god, there is still no reason put forward by Aquinas that this must be God as he proposes
him to be. Astrophysics has shown that the early universe was nothing more than rudimentary
light and particles (Hawking: 1998,61) we could logically argue that if the early universe that God
created was very rudimentary in nature then God could also have been very rudimentary in
nature and incapable of creating a universe with the potential to exhibit the complexity of the
present universe?

Conclusion
Science it seems has been a tool employed to weaken many of the assumptions made by
Aquinas in the Proofs for the Existence of God. Also developments in philosophical thought
through the past six hundred years have further served to introduce doubts about some of
Aquinas' thoughts on causation and contingency. It seems to be the case that the empirical way in
which Aquinas' sought to underpin his proofs in order to make them as generally acceptable by
the widest audience has ironically become the sword on which they slowly fall. The reasons the
proofs have weathered particularly well over such a long time frame are numerous but I believe
there to be one pervading reason; simplicity. The way in which they are written does not impede
one from understanding their meaning. The language is not overly complex and Aquinas does not
adopt the use of long streams of complex ideas in order to make his points. These qualities make
the proofs more accessible than other philosophical writings in the cosmological debate and I feel
is partly responsible for their popularity and adoption by so many others for many purposes from
the basic conversion of those holding atheist beliefs to the academic wielding of the proofs during
the philosophical battle of the cosmological argument. Notwithstanding the huge leaps in science
and their impacts on some of the premises found in the proofs, philosophy (in true form) is still
deciding what the questions should be. As Bruce Reichenbach comments:
...even if the Cosmological Argument is sound or cogent, the difficult task remains to show that the
necessary being to which the cosmological argument concludes is the God of religion, and if so, of
what religion (Reichenbach: 2004).

References
Buckle, S. Hume, H. Hume: An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding: And Other Writings
Edition Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
Deacon, T.W. Goodenough, U. 2006 The Oxford Handbook of Religion and Science New
York:Oxford University Press
Hawking, S. W. 1988 A Brief History of Time U.S.A.:Bantam Press
http://dictionary.cambridge.org/define.asp?key=76283&dict=CALD&topic=debate-and-discussion
Kaku, M 1994 Hyperspace: a scientific odyssey through parallel universes, time warps, and the
tenth dimension Edition Oxford:Oxford University Press
Mackie, J. L. 1982 The Miracle of Theism Oxford: Clarendon Press
Reichenbach, B http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/cosmological-argument/
Smith, Quinten 1994 Can Everything Come to Be Without a Cause? Dialogue: Canadian
Philosophical Review Volume 33 pp 313-323