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Aquinass Five Ways To Prove Existence Of God Philosophy Essay

Aquinas’s “five ways” sets out to prove or justify the existence of God by rational means. The arguments which Aquinas uses in his “five ways” are highly influenced by what is known as the cosmological argument”. This argument states that Gods existence can be proved based on the ways in which we experience the world around us. The general aim of the cosmological argument therefore is to try to establish how the universe came to be and essentially it also aims to discover the “uncaused cause of everything else” .Influenced by this notion of the cosmological argument and also highly influenced by Aristotle, Aquinas aims to show that in order for anything to exist, it first required the “presence of something that existed before anything else did”. This “first presence” Aquinas argues, is generally assumed to be God! Linked to this, Aquinas’s also held the view that God created the world and all that was in it. Without God therefore the world would not exist. To say that the whole world is dependent on a God whose existence has never been verified is a huge claim to make and comes with extreme difficulties. Aquinas’s “five ways” therefore is an attempt to defend this argument and to prove that knowledge about God can be grounded in information already available and accessible to everybody (Natural Theology). In short what I think Aquinas is trying to portray here is the fact that we do not need to see God in order to believe that he exists. By outlining the “five ways” Aquinas wants to show that the way in which we experience the world around us can in fact provide sufficient evidence of God’s existence. Take the following statements for example:

Nothing happens in the world without a reason.

Events in the world occur because of something else.

To deal with the issue of infinite regress, it is necessary to suggest that both the world and the things in the world must have had a first cause.

There is nothing to suggest that the above statements are in any way false but in actual fact they do not provide us with sufficient reasons to believe in God’s existence.

The above statements therefore can be seen as the basis or foundations for Aquinas’s “five ways” which are outlined as follows:

Motion: Understood in terms of change, Motion becomes the first proof which Aquinas uses to demonstrate Gods existence .It is evident to all of us that change occurs all around in the world. Things change when potential changes become actual changes. Only actual changes can convert potential changes into actual changes therefore actuality cancels out potentiality. As nothing can be both actuality and potentiality in the same respect, it stands therefore that things cannot change or move themselves. Any change or motion that occurs in the world therefore must be changed or moved by something other than itself. This series of change cannot go on to infinity and it is necessary to establish a starting point which is put in motion or changed by no other. This everyone understands as God. This is linked to Aristotle’s notion of God as the “unmoved mover”. God in this sense causes other things to change but himself remains unchanged.

Efficient Causes: A series of efficient causes exist in the world. Everything which we know in this world has been caused by something other than itself. A thing is not the cause of itself. “If a previous efficient cause does not exist, neither does the thing that results”. Therefore everything that exists needs a beginning or first cause of existence. Just as the series of motion/change cannot go on to infinity, neither can the series of efficient causes go on to infinity. If this occurred then the result would be that nothing would exist at this present time. In an effort to solve this problem therefore it is necessary for us to try to establish a first efficient cause. In order for things to happen in the world, we need something to start them and this everyone assumes to be God! This idea is linked to Aristotle’s notion of “efficient and final causes”.

Possibility and Necessity: All around us in nature we find things that are possible to be and also things which are possible not to be. There was a certain point when “things were not”. In this sense, the things that came into being and that are here now must have had a beginning. If things were never in existence then even now nothing would exist. There must therefore be something which necessarily exists without any other and which causes others to exist. This we refer to as God. This links in with Aquinas’s view that if God does not exist then the world cannot exist. This proof is also linked to Aristotle’s notion on causation.

Perfection (Gradation of Being): In the world, we notice different gradations in things. Some things are better or worse than other things. There must be something therefore which is an ultimate beauty or perfection. This we call God. [1] 

Design: This notion of the design argument can be linked to the cosmological argument and also to Aristotle’s theory of causation and theory of forms. There is evidence of design or purpose in the way that the world is created. This evokes the suggestion that there is “room” for a designer. For example eyes and ears were specifically designed for seeing and hearing, seasons are ordered so that plants will grow year after year and the ozone layer is perfectly positioned so as to protect us from any harmful u-v rays. Also Moons, stars, planets and the sun etc. cannot determine their own place in the universe. This again suggests evidence that the world did not design itself and therefore something must have designed the world or caused the world to exist. This “designer” or “creator” is generally understood to be God. Genesis 1 supports this notion of the design argument where it emphasises that God created the world and all that was in it. Modern cosmologists on the other hand would argue however that the world originated from the “big bang”. Here we can see a conflict emerging between religion and science and this conflict can have huge effects for the way in which we aim to prove or “disprove” the existence of God in the world.

The above “five ways” have attempted to explain to us how we can be aware of Gods existence through the various different ways that we live in and experience the world around us. As our direct knowledge of God still remains very limited to date however, it is therefore no surprise that these “five ways”, and indeed belief in God in general has faced many challenges over the years. Because we cannot know God directly through the senses it becomes more difficult to demonstrate or prove his existence. Aquinas’s “five ways” in my opinion however, offers a good criteria with which we can seek to verify the existence of God in the world. However, I must admit that I hold a slightly biased view in the sense that I come from Christian background where faith in God is extremely important. In my own personal opinion, I believe that anyone who comes from a faith background will easily accept and understand each of Aquinas’s “five ways”. Coming from the other side of the spectrum however, I am sure that many people would find it difficult in some ways to be convinced by Aquinas’s arguments if they do not already believe in God. For example, it may be perceived that Aquinas is too vague and obscure in some of his arguments, especially the last two which include perfection and design. Also it may come across as if Aquinas is reducing proofs of God’s existence to these “five” general principles. Aquinas also “speaks with considerable restraint and avoids sweeping generalizations”. This can be seen for example in argument three where Aquinas does not specifically state that all finite things are contingent but rather he refers to how we are aware that “ some things come into being and pass away”. Also it could be suggested that Aquinas’s “five ways” are a little out-dated now that we know a little more about the universe. During the time when Aquinas was writing these arguments it can be understood that he was largely influenced by the ancients such as Plato and Aristotle. Since then the introduction of modern science has come into play and as a result Aquinas’s “five ways” could be rendered as “irrelevant”. In light of the view of modern science, let us now take a brief look back to each of the five ways and discover how they may be disregarded as having no positive input to providing proofs for the existence of God.

In terms of motion, modern science would argue that: motion is no longer a property of one thing but in fact is a property of at least two things which include an “observer and an object”. In effect therefore “there can be no “unmoved mover” since all motion is now known to be relative to the observer, and not to some unmoving reference”.

In relation to efficient causes, the following argument becomes sufficient:

“St Thomas’ premise here is simply irrelevant based on our knowledge that matter is contingently formed as particles and antiparticles, and continually annihilated when a particle meets an antiparticle”. As a result, there are no things which are caused or created by other things. Things only change “in form and there is nothing being “caused to exist””.

This argument also leaves the question “if God caused everything in the world to exist then who or what caused God to exist”?

Possibility and necessity: The notion that some being, i.e. God caused the universe to exist, does not mean that that being is not a contingent being. The Gnostic Demiurge myth backs up this claim. Aquinas argues that the universe was created and therefore it is contingent. The Big bang theory on the other hand argues that the world did in fact have a clear beginning around 15 billion years ago. It also claims that the universe is not contingent due to the fact that it undergoes cycles of “Bang, expansion, contraction, crunch>Bang”.

Perfection:

“The mysteries of nature were unclear in the time of St Thomas Aquinas. Alchemy was science and the essence of lead could be purified into gold. The laws of thermodynamics, oxidation and radioactive decay were 550 years or more in the future…Thomas simply did not have the facts. There is no proof in the argument from degrees and perfection”.

Design: The argument against design states that the universe came about as an effect of “the big bang”. If this is the case then God did not design or create the universe and the argument for design which Aquinas uses in his “five ways” is rendered as irrelevant.

Conclusion:

It is evident from researching this essay that there is a considerable amount of tension surrounding the proofs of God’s existence. On the one hand there are the theologians and those of faith backgrounds who would undoubtedly seek to prove that God exists. Thomas Aquinas “five ways” can be seen here as an effort to do justice to this argument. On the other hand however there are those who claim that based on scientific evidence there is no reason to suggest that there is any God at all. All of the arguments which support the existence of God in Aquinas’s “five ways” therefore can be denied based on scientific grounds. Looking at both sides of the arguments both from a theological/faith perspective and also from a scientific perspective, we can see that both sides have sufficient evidence to suggest that both are correct in their views. Thus remains the question “is theology correct in saying that the existence of God can be proved based on Aquinas’s “five ways” or is scientific evidence correct in their belief that there is as of yet no proof of Gods existence in the world”? The answer in my opinion goes as follows, those who come from a faith background and those who believe in God will tend to accept Aquinas’s “five ways” as providing sufficient reasons to have confidence in the existence of God. In fact these “five ways” will serve to prove what they already had faith in. Those who do not believe in God on the other hand will tend to associate themselves with the scientific argument which aims to prove that there is no evidence for God s existence in the world. Both arguments are correct in their views and as a result it has become more difficult to prove or “disprove” the existence of God in the world.

On a final note let me argue that the existence of God has neither been proved nor disproved and whether one choses to believe or not to believe is up to their own personal choice. For me personally however religion and faith are extremely important factors. As a Christian, I have been brought to believe in and have faith in God. This is probably why I find Aquinas’s “five ways” so interesting in that they help me to reinforce the beliefs which I already hold. Although the scientific argument does provide some valid and interesting points which may counteract my belief in God, I still believe that there is a God in this world who created everything and who one day will make himself known to all of humanity but until then I believe that faith is the most important factor. If one believes then one can see that God exists.

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