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The three premises of thomas aquinas on the existence of a god

Characteristics of the proofs: Significance of the proofs. Real mystery of beginnings. He Who Is Q. A beginning never becomes a prosaic thing, though we see its counterparts on all sides every day; it is in itself glamorous, enticing, irresistible, for it is in itself mysterious.

The feeble spark of young life in a mother's womb, the first tentative plan of the architect, the first step of the infant, the first scribbled words of a book fascinate us. They swing open doors and we cannot resist straining our eyes to peer down the long corridors of the future they reveal to us.

It is not an explanation of this attraction to say that this moment of beginning is tightly packed with love's rewards, love's labors and love's hopes. It is all of this; but it is much more It is that inexplicable thing that we call mystery, the thing that calls our minds out on the long road along whose winding way the explanation of the mystery may be found.

The woman who gives birth to a child is not only a cause of a wondrous effect, she herself has become what she was not before, a mother. It is not only the marble under the sculptor's chisel that has become something new; the sculptor has undergone a process of becoming in producing his masterpiece, he has fulfilled a formerly unfulfilled capacity within himself.

Five Ways (Aquinas)

For in these human beginnings the process of becoming wraps its arms around both cause and effect to pile wonder on wonder and yet leave the mystery intact, the mystery of the beginning of that which becomes both in the cause and the effect, the mystery of the beginning not of becoming but of being itself. Beginnings are not only mysterious, they are also difficult. Perhaps it is because they are mysterious that beginnings are so hard; at least, it is a fact that it is always difficult to begin at the beginning.

That is a divine way of doing things, the divine way that made the Son of God start human life as an infant. For divinity itself is the Beginning and is naturally careful of beginnings, even of human beginnings which are but fragments gathered up from the feasts of the past. Surely the Catholic Doctor must be careful, even exhaustively careful, of beginnings: Beginnings are hard for us even when we ourselves are capable, the material on which we work is apt, and the work we have to do is no more than to coax to full bloom hidden beauties in the material and in ourselves.

To our minds, the uncreated beginning faced the extreme difficulty, not of drawing out hidden powers, but of establishing that which is. Beginners in the way of God, which is to say beginners in the way of human living, face a man-made difficulty that springs from the reluctance of their teachers to begin at the beginning, a difficulty that is only hinted at when we call it a lack of order in the presentation of truth.

That reluctance is not difficult to understand: That excitement has so gripped the modern mind that the beginning of things has become irritating to the point of consuming much of modern energy just in the elimination of it. These reasons for a beginning, which are sometimes called the proofs for the existence of God, have been excluded on the grounds that the human intellect cannot be trusted outside the boundaries of direct sense experience.

Of course, many other objections have been made to them: If the philosopher's patience is worn thin enough, he may protest that the results of such proofs are meaningless, devoid of qualitative content; which means this philosopher has been much too lazy to think.

In desperation, the philosopher the three premises of thomas aquinas on the existence of a god simply toss the proofs out the window regardless of their truth or falsehood; the God they speak of is of no value or service to humanity.

And this will be a philosopher who takes all the important things for granted. These proofs may be a nuisance to one who tries, philosophically, to keep up with the times at whatever cost; but they cannot be denied modernity if by modern we mean to occupy a place in the minds and words of men of our day. They are strong enough, independent enough, to live through this age and all ages. They ask no favors. Specifically these proofs for the existence of God start with a simplicity worthy of the divinity they demonstrate, demanding just two things: Understand, now, this sensible fact is not carefully selected, difficult to see or subject to controversy; but an obvious, tangible reality of experience, such a fact as the wink of an eye, the birth of a child, the withering of a leaf, the beauty of a face or the smooth flight of a bird.

The first principles of knowledge demanded are only those fundamentals without which intellectual operation of any kind is impossible, the principles which are the rock bottom of being as well as of thought and without which science itself is invalid, nay unthinkable.

Aquinas: Philosophical Theology

In thoroughly modern fashion, these reasons proceed carefully, cautiously, adhering strictly to the evidence in hand. They are the three premises of thomas aquinas on the existence of a god dependent on a system of science, a weight of tradition or subjective dispositions to make their way in the world. The proofs for the existence of God do not belong on the dubious fringe of philosophy but in a place of honor; they have fought a bitter battle in defense of the intellect of man.

A complete treatment of the existence of a beginning of things must always be a three-sided fight which must be won on all fronts or the intellect is lost. On one side are the champions of the ineptitude of man who insist that man's one distinctive power of intellect has no intrinsic value; of course it cannot prove the existence of God. At the opposite extreme is the camp of optimists and emotionalists, one group insisting the existence of God needs no proof since it is self-evident, the other tacitly admitting the intellectual incapacity of man but holding for an emotional assurance of the Supreme Being.

In the middle, carrying the brunt of the offensive today, are those who champion man by destroying God, claiming there is no God, at least no such God as the Christians worship. The fight is bitter. Because not all men and women have the appetite for fighting, or the time and ability to carry on the fight to the end, and because so very much hangs on the outcome of the battle, infallible authority has come forth to protect those who by force of circumstance are non-combatants.

By that authority, the man who cannot follow the intricacies of proof, either by reason of inability or lack of leisured time, knows beyond question that the reason of man, by its own power, can certainly know the existence of God and that God, the supreme Being, certainly exists. The gesture of authority is necessary, not because the truth it defends is beyond the range of the guns of reason, but because it is essential that every man know of God's existence for his individual life, just as it is essential for the world about man that God exist.

The thinker who has seen and grasped the proof has no need of authority; he holds that truth by a clear insight into a natural truth.

Cosmological Argument

This man can prove the existence of God; by that proof he has also shown that the existence of God is not self-evident, it does not rest on an emotional assurance, it does not escape the powers of the mind of man. It is a proved fact. Of course this man did not arrive at the proof of the existence of God effortlessly, as he might come to the point of raising a beard.

The proof demands hard work, the hard work of thinking; certainly this man would have to have some preliminary notions accurately in mind before he could take a step towards the proof itself.

  • In both examples, it will be observed, several distinct things are found united or fitted together to produce a single result, viz;
  • Aquinas' exposition of the Trinity endeavors to avoid two notable heresies;
  • Therefore each thing in motion is moved by something else;
  • The explanation in terms of parts may fail to explain why these parts exist rather than others, why they exist rather than not, or why the parts are arranged as they are;
  • The common sense fundamental back of this phrase, then, is simply that what is not possessed cannot be bestowed; and the very notion of potentiality is the absence of perfection that can be possessed but so far is not, for, unless we maintain that contraries are identical, a potentiality is not its actualization.

There is, for instance, the simple, but decidedly abstract notion of potentiality and actuality, a notion that is perhaps grasped more easily by seeing it in the complex notion of change. Let us look at these notions in a rather clumsy example.

  • We find nothing that is the cause of itself;
  • Neither can an argument for the application of the Causal Principle to the universe be drawn from inductive experience.

Let us take a large, perfectly plain block of marble; then put a sculptor to work on it and have him make a statue of that block of marble. We say, rightly, that in the original marble block there is the potentiality of becoming a statue, the principle or aptitude for receiving this further perfection, the quality of being changed. It may be worth noting that by "perfection" here we mean any respect in which a thing can be completed or become more determinate in its being.

When the process is complete, that potentiality has been realized, the marble block has become a statue. We call this process of realizing potentialities "becoming," and whole philosophies have been built upon it.

  • First, why is there anything at all?
  • Therefore if the first thing in a series does not exist, nothing in the series exists.

More simply, we call it "change;" in its positive form we give it the name of "development. This is motion in its widest sense; it takes place in every change, of canvas and tubes of paint into a masterpiece, of a farmhand into a doctor of medicine, of an acorn into an oak, as well as in a journey from Chicago to New York.

Obviously, this process of change involves three things: It is essential that we hold fast to the obvious fact of a distinct difference between the potentiality and its goal of realization. If this difference be denied, we are forced into a denial of both ends of a change, potentialities and actualities, or into an identification of these two.

In either case we are in the impossible position of holding to a motion as eerie as a faceless smile, a motion that has come from nowhere and goes nowhere, or of holding to the absurdity that contradictories are identical, that there is no distinction between the undeveloped and the developed, between farmhands and doctors, marble blocks and statues. The particular value of clarity in this notion of change lies in the fact that it brings out the complete necessity of explaining every realized potentiality, every perfection.

It makes more obvious the truth that a developed perfection is not its own explanation. Another value, for our purpose of proving the existence of God, is had from the difference this process of becoming, or change, brings out between the action of God and of creatures.

It is on the basis of this process of becoming that we argue from effects to causes in created causes and their effects. Where the cause is divine, the fundamental question remains the same, that is, the explanation of a perfection that is not self-explanatory, that has not produced itself. In this latter case, however, it is not a question of a cause drawing a potentiality to perfection, but of a cause producing that which possesses the potentialities.

One other preliminary notion that must be clarified before proceeding to the actual proofs for the existence of God is the limitation of all proofs for existence. As a matter of fact, there arc only two possibilities for proof of the existence of anything: The detective, by his type of proof, may never come to more than an extremely great probability because it may be impossible to rule out all possibilities other than murder.

Where it is possible to rule out all other possibilities, this proof by inference, the a posteriori proof, gives complete certitude. In other words, a conclusion about existence cannot be drawn from premises which do not assert the existence of anything; to assert the existence of something in the conclusion of a line of reasoning, you must assert the existence of something somewhere among the premises.

The contrary is the sophism inherent in all "a priori" or ontological proofs for God's existence, the sophism which Kant attributed to all proofs for God's existence. He argued that some concept of God is essential at the start of any proof for the existence of God and such a concept includes the notion of God's existence. Kant is right, of course, in maintaining that some concept of God is necessary from the very beginning of these proofs; after all, the proofs are trying to prove something.

But it is quite enough, for the purpose of the proofs, that that concept be no more than a statement of the absence of contradiction between God and existence; in other words, that concept, required to begin the proofs, need be no more than a construct which demands only the possibility of the union of the subject and predicate in the proposition "God exists. When, in the course of this volume, we learn more about the divine nature, we shall see why we cannot have a sense knowledge of God. For the present, it is sufficient to accept the the three premises of thomas aquinas on the existence of a god of experience and concentrate our efforts along the only line of proof left open to us, the inferential or a posteriori proof, the proof of the cause from the effects.

The first proof proceeds from the fact of motion or, to put the same thing in another way, from the fact of the passivity of things. Its extremely simple formulation can be made in these terms: That is all of the proof. Its very brevity is reason enough for a somewhat lengthy explanation of it.

The phrase, "nothing moves or changes itself," means only that a thing cannot be, relative to the same goal, merely movable and already moved, merely changeable and already changed; for the starting point and the goal of the process of becoming are necessarily different. The mere aptitude for receiving motion is not its own completion. The common sense fundamental back of this phrase, then, is simply that what is not possessed cannot be bestowed; and the very notion of potentiality is the absence of perfection that can be possessed but so far is not, for, unless we maintain that contraries are identical, a potentiality is not its actualization.

Actually this argument goes back a step farther, beyond the cause of change to the cause of that which is changed, back of the cause of becoming to the cause of being.

The Five Ways

For the immediate cause of change alone is itself in the process of becoming by its very causality; the mover of a potentially movable thing is himself moved by the very movement by which he moves this thing, he becomes something other than he was.

The peddler does something to himself as well as to his pushcart when he bends his strength to its movement. Unless we come to a cause that produces that which is subject to change, to a cause that does not itself become something other than it was, the process of becoming or change cannot start. Briefly, what is in question here is not the process of motion, but the existence of that perfection which is motion. It is obvious, then, that the term "mover" is used of the first and of secondary movers not in an identical, but only in a proportional, sense; for the first mover is the cause of being and is himself unchanged, while secondary movers are causes of change and are themselves changed in their action.

It is to this unique first mover that the argument concludes. A not uncommon fallacy today is to suppose that since this particular movement is caused by another, this latter by another, and so on, there is no need for further explanation since it is taken for granted that the world is eternal.

From this point of view, since you can never come to the end of the chain of movers, there is no mystery about the present movement. The fallacy lies in the fact that without a beginning the whole thing could not start; no one of these previous movers is sufficient explanation of itself and its effect on others, yet a sufficient explanation must be found if the fact of movement is to be intelligible, if we are not to have something coming from nothing.

The haze of distance or the weight of time do not do away with the necessity of explanation any more than they offer a positive explanation. To be satisfied with this is to be satisfied with the removal of the question to more obscure quarters, comforted by its consequent vagueness. The plain fact is that unless we come to a mover that is in no way dependent we have not explained the existence of the movers who are undoubtedly dependent either for their actual movement or for the power to move; where the effects are patently present the cause ultimately explaining them is not to be denied.