Continuing this series on the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas, lecture four deals with rebuttals to Thomas' ways/proofs for god as we looked at in lecture three. One thing of note before I move on though, I never answered the question posed in the title of that lecture. Can you prove God's existence? It seems clear that the answer is, no, but it is certainly a logical position to take.
To start out, it's important to note that in most of Thomas' works he finds three or four counter arguments for his assertions, but for his five ways, he only finds two counter arguments against God, they are, the problem of evil and science. These two objections have been used throughout history as the primary arguments against God, though really only one of the two arguments actually claims to show that God doesn't exist, the other arguments merely claim that one shouldn't believe in God, not that God does not exist.
Thomas' phrasing of the problem of evil goes like this:
It seems that God does not exist, because if one of two contraries be infinite, the other would be altogether destroyed. But the word “God” means that He is infinite goodness. If, therefore, God existed, there would be no evil discoverable; but there is evil in the world. Therefore God does not exist.However, good and evil are not contradictories, rather they are opposite qualities. Opposite qualities can coexist even at the same time in the same person. Prof Kreeft uses the example of visible and invisible, how every person is both, at the same time. Because one's mind is invisible, but one's body isn't. Good and bad is another example, pain is bad, but the pain one experiences because of a good tough workout is good! One thing to note here is that, in some ways, Thomas' answers are not of his own making. Augustine uses much the same arguments against this objection.
One of the most powerful statements about evil is how God can bring about good from evil. Thomas uses the word “allow;” God does not do evil, but He allows it. He created us, He does not kill, but He created beings that are mortal. God does not sin, but He created beings with free will who can sin if they choose. This explanation works for both moral and physical evil. God doesn't create physical evils but he created a world wherein natural disasters/physical evils can happen. One of the important things to note about this is how untenable the alternative is. Either God creates life with the freedom to choose to do evil or God creates life that is completely robotic, devoid of all choice. This objection does leave room for doubt, just as the Ravi Zacharias quote I mentioned from lecture two, faith is reasonable, but reason alone is not enough.
The second objection is from science. Like many of the other objections that have come up since Thomas' day, this objection doesn't really show that God doesn't exist rather that belief in God is superfluous. This objection is often called the principle of parsimony or Ockham's razor. The basic idea is that if one already has an explanation that accounts for all the variables then one shouldn't add any more explanations. Thomas' response is that science doesn't have all the answers, that the five ways show that there are questions that only God can answer.
Prof Kreeft points out that one of the weaknesses in Thomas' ways is in the unmoved mover concept because Thomas didn't know the second half of the Law of Thermodynamics that objects in motion tend to stay in motion. An interesting objection, but it still doesn't account for everything, because even if things stay in motion, nothing is set in motion of its own accord. Also, remember that Thomas' way doesn't simply mean physical motion, but also change, and the philosophical idea of how things have come about, not necessarily physical movement and change. Prof Kreeft also points out that other philosophers like Hume have doubted the idea of causality in general, which is an odd, completely skeptical position to take. One would have to admit that one's parents were not necessarily involved in causing oneself.
Another objection Prof Kreeft brings up against Thomas' ways is rather confusing to me. He says that people claim that "God transcends logic" or that one cannot say anything logical about God. Statements like that, while illogical, still fall within the purview of logic and are contradictory. People that hold views like this see faith and reason as opposites, which is exactly the opposite of what Thomas is showing here. I've heard this view called "fideism" which I've seen reflected in counter arguments. For example, in a recent Facebook conversation about religion someone said that we (those who defend faith) have this "trump card" that says, "We don't need evidence or reason. We have faith." I've seen arguments that end that way and it saddens me, because there is so much logic and reason that corresponds to faith.
Another objection brought up, which I totally agree with and it seems that Thomas saw this as well, says that what the ways prove only a "thin slice of God." Much like the Deists' "watchmaker god" idea which Pascal said was "almost as far removed from Christianity as Atheism" (quote from Peter Kreeft's lecture, I don't think he was quoting Pascal). As I see it, yes in a way, these prove only a small part of a much more complete picture of God, that doesn't mean that the rest of the picture isn't there, but that some of that picture has to be taken on faith. One doesn't have to prove the full picture of the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Christianity one only has to prove that God exists and then through careful study of faith one can come to know more fully the Christian God.
Next is a psychological objection which says that Thomas' ways are just camouflage for his faith. That he is only making these arguments because he grew up believing in God and these ways are just his rationalization of his faith. This is a genetic fallacy just because something has a particular origin, doesn't discount the veracity of the claim or the logic of the argument. The same can be said of Marx's objections. Opiate of the oppressed people? So what? The logical arguments still work and God is still proven to exist. Nietzsche offers an even harsher psychological reproach to Thomas' ways to God. There are two absolute demands in Nietzsche's writing: "to be God yourself rather than bowing to another, and to bow down to the objective truth that you are not God" (quote from Prof Kreeft's lecture notes).
The final objections come out of some misunderstandings. One, comes from the idea that infinite regress cannot exist, after all infinite regress is happens in mathematics, however, real things are not numbers. Here's another, why can't the universe be the first cause? That is answered by the third way. Contingent things require a necessary being in order to exist. Related to this, the "who created God?" question is a misunderstanding of what God is. How can you ask who created the uncreated? By definition God has no cause and no beginning, He is the very essence of existence, so this question is a misunderstanding of what God is.
I don't know how to summarize this next part so here's another quote from the lecture notes:
"[T]he objector might say, then isn’t there a self-contradiction in the proofs? They all conclude to a God who doesn’t need a cause, but they begin with the principle that everything needs a cause."To sum this up, these aren't the end-all-be-all for all the arguments for God. Thomas doesn't close the issue of God, even God doesn't do that. He still leaves it open for faith. Sorry again for the long delay in writing this, I've been busy with school and work, thank you for your patience with me.
This is actually an embarrassingly poor objection, although it’s found in the writings of no less a genius than Bertrand Russell. And the answer is simply that Aquinas never says that everything needs a cause. He says that everything in motion needs a cause, everything that begins to exist needs a cause, everything contingent needs a cause, everything imperfect needs a cause, and every unintelligent being that acts for an end needs a cause. If you read the actual arguments carefully enough, these misunderstandings disappear."