Introduction: God does not Exist
Written by: Gregory Watson
Over the course of this week, I’m going to be attempting to explain St. Thomas Aquinas’ proofs for God, which he laid out in the Second Question of the First Part of his masterpiece, the Summa Theologica. I firmly believe that the reasoning behind St. Thomas’ arguments are unassailable and convincing to the open-minded, even though they are often dismissed as a relic of the ignorant Middle Ages. It has been my experience in conversing with my atheistic friends, that St. Thomas’ Five Ways have not been dismissed because they aren’t true or compelling, but because they are misunderstood and misrepresented by the counter-arguments. This being the case, I hope to offer my own small attempt to explain and clarify St. Thomas’ arguments, in order to show how compelling they actually are.
Before we begin our look at the Five Ways, however, I feel some introductory groundwork needs to be laid. The first thing to get absolutely clear is that the atheists are right. God does not exist. Shocked? Let me explain. When the typical atheist one encounters on the internet makes the claim that God does not exist, he usually does so with some dismissive and derogatory reference to a “sky fairy” or the infamous “flying spaghetti monster”, or some other description that makes God out to be a “thing” like a rock or a tree or a dog or a person or an alien—something that could be categorised into a species or a genus. And of course, the Catholic should absolutely agree with the atheist on this point: God is not a thing. God does not “exist” in that sense. Rather, according to St. Thomas, God is being, God is existence. God is not something among all the other things in this world. Rather, the world is, instead, “within” God, so to speak. So away with “sky fairies” (unless we’re actually going to discuss elemental spirits of the air, about which I am completely agnostic) and “flying spaghetti monsters” (about which I am perfectly disbelieving). Someone once tried to be clever by suggesting that he and I were both atheists; he just happened to believe in one less God than I did, but he didn’t believe in my God for the same reasons that I didn’t believe in Thor or Zeus or Amaterasu or Krishna, therefore, on what grounds did I believe in my God, but not those gods? The fatal error is the same. I don’t believe in those gods for precisely the same reasons that I do believe in the Christian God, and that is because those gods are indeed “things” which, if they were real, would be capable of being lumped into a species or genus. No God but the God of Abraham claims to be the very ground of being, the foundation of all reality. The difference is absolute—it is greater than the difference between a man and an ant. It is more like the difference between a man and a child’s crayon drawing of an ant.
Briefly, the Five Ways of proving God are these:
- The Way of Motion: Things move and change. Things are put into motion by something else. There cannot be an infinite regress, therefore there must have been an initial unmoved mover. This we call God.
- The Way of Causation: All things have an immediate or efficient cause. The efficient causes cannot go back infinitely, so there must be a first, uncaused cause. This we call God.
- The Way of Contingency: It is not necessary for any particular thing to exist, they are, rather, contingent things. All possible things at one point did not exist. If all things are merely contingent, then at one time things did not exist. There must be a necessary essence that caused all contingent things to be. This we call God.
- The Way of Goodness: Things have degrees of perfection—larger or smaller, heavier or lighter, warmer or colder. Degrees imply the existence of a maximum of perfection. This maximum perfection we call God.
- The Way of Design: Things in this world are ordered to particular ends. Even unintelligent things are predisposed to this and not that. This order inherent in even inanimate things necessitates an intelligence to direct it. This intelligence we call God.
The beauty of the Five Ways are that they begin with a plain fact about the world around us—one that is undisputed by scientific findings—and then, based on this simple, universal fact of the world, St. Thomas shows that there is no possible explanation for this fact other than God.
Because the first three Ways are very similar, we shall examine them together tomorrow. Wednesday, we shall look at the Fourth Way, Thursday at the Fifth, and we will offer concluding remarks on Friday.
Read the full series by Gregory:
- Proving the Existence of God
- Arguments 1-3: Hey Look! Stuff! Where’d It Come From?
- Proving the Existence of God: Argument 4
- Proving the Existence of God: Because Science!
- Proving the Existence of God: Conclusion
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