Is There A God

is there a god

Is There A God?

This is a question that almost everyone wonders about at some point. Sure, you may or may not have been told there was (or wasn't) when you were a child, but it really isn't until you reach a certain level of mental awareness that the sheer awesome nature of that concept hits you. You realize what that means. Wow!

This is a huge question, and as mentioned in the last post, is the second part of the larger argument here. Also, please keep in mind that we're taking this discussion from first principles. I have not defined anything. I'm not saying who or what God is. All I have so far is what was established in the prior post, and I'm going to go to one of the best works on this topic ever written: the Summa Theologica by St. Thomas Aquinas.

The work is enormous in its scope. What is of interest here is his "Five Ways" or "Five Proofs" for the existence of God (the quinque viae). They are as follows:

  • The Unmoved Mover
  • The First Cause
  • The Argument From Contingency
  • The Argument From Degree
  • The Teleological Argument

I'll tackle these one by one.

The Unmoved Mover

Here is an English translation of this argument:

The first and more manifest way is the argument from motion. It is certain, and evident to our senses, that in the world some things are in motion. Now whatever is in motion is put in motion by another, for nothing can be in motion except it is in potentiality to that towards which it is in motion; whereas a thing moves inasmuch as it is in act. For motion is nothing else than the reduction of something from potentiality to actuality. But nothing can be reduced from potentiality to actuality, except by something in a state of actuality. Thus that which is actually hot, as fire, makes wood, which is potentially hot, to be actually hot, and thereby moves and changes it. Now it is not possible that the same thing should be at once in actuality and potentiality in the same respect, but only in different respects. For what is actually hot cannot simultaneously be potentially hot; but it is simultaneously potentially cold. It is therefore impossible that in the same respect and in the same way a thing should be both mover and moved, i.e. that it should move itself. Therefore, whatever is in motion must be put in motion by another. If that by which it is put in motion be itself put in motion, then this also must needs be put in motion by another, and that by another again. But this cannot go on to infinity, because then there would be no first mover, and, consequently, no other mover; seeing that subsequent movers move only inasmuch as they are put in motion by the first mover; as the staff moves only because it is put in motion by the hand. Therefore it is necessary to arrive at a first mover, put in motion by no other; and this everyone understands to be God.

The first key thing to understand here is that by mover he is not simply referring to movement, but change. See this discussion for an extremely in-depth treatment of this. So he begins by observing that it is clear that things in the universe are changing. He then asserts that things cannot change themselves, but can merely be in a state of potential to change. Change is then defined to be nothing more than a shift from possible to actual, and cannot happen without something actual acting upon something possible.

Aquinas illustrates this nicely with hot and cold. That which is actually hot is potentially cold. That which is actually cold is potentially hot. Thus fire takes cold wood and makes it hot. But the cold wood cannot heat itself, just as the hot fire cannot cool itself. In this way he shows that the changed cannot itself be the changer.

If the changed cannot self-change, then something else must have acted upon it to create the change. But that entity must itself must have been changed in order to give it the ability to make change. And whatever enabled that entity to change must have itself been changed. And so on. This must proceed back infinitely, which leads to the obvious question: was there a FIRST changer? Yes, there must be. Is there a God? Yes, God is the first changer. The buck stops there. God (whatever that means) is the fundamental source of all change.

This can be a tricky one to digest--check sources here, here, and here for fuller treatments of this and the other arguments.

The First Cause

The next proof is the basis of the post that preceded this one. Here is the excerpt:

The second way is from the nature of the efficient cause. In the world of sense we find there is an order of efficient causes. There is no case known (neither is it, indeed, possible) in which a thing is found to be the efficient cause of itself; for so it would be prior to itself, which is impossible. Now in efficient causes it is not possible to go on to infinity, because in all efficient causes following in order, the first is the cause of the intermediate cause, and the intermediate is the cause of the ultimate cause, whether the intermediate cause be several, or only one. Now to take away the cause is to take away the effect. Therefore, if there be no first cause among efficient causes, there will be no ultimate, nor any intermediate cause. But if in efficient causes it is possible to go on to infinity, there will be no first efficient cause, neither will there be an ultimate effect, nor any intermediate efficient causes; all of which is plainly false. Therefore it is necessary to admit a first efficient cause, to which everyone gives the name of God.

This is very similar to the Unmoved Mover. We could call it the Uncaused Causer. It again points out that a thing cannot be its own source, as that leads to a logical (and real) impossibility. His argument here very simply boils down to this: there must be an initial, first cause. Is there a God? Yes, God is that first cause.

The post prior is a variation on this theme. It does not deal with the causal chain of events in the way Aquinas does, but rather applies the same line of reasoning to existence itself. The universe exists, therefore God Is, because God must be. In fact, it's really the ultimate logical extension of both the First Cause and the next proof, contingency.

The Argument From Contingency

Next Aquinas moves to a discussion of existence. The excerpt is:

The third way is taken from possibility and necessity, and runs thus. We find in nature things that are possible to be and not to be, since they are found to be generated, and to corrupt, and consequently, they are possible to be and not to be. But it is impossible for these always to exist, for that which is possible not to be at some time is not. Therefore, if everything is possible not to be, then at one time there could have been nothing in existence. Now if this were true, even now there would be nothing in existence, because that which does not exist only begins to exist by something already existing. Therefore, if at one time nothing was in existence, it would have been impossible for anything to have begun to exist; and thus even now nothing would be in existence – which is absurd. Therefore, not all beings are merely possible, but there must exist something the existence of which is necessary. But every necessary thing either has its necessity caused by another, or not. Now it is impossible to go on to infinity in necessary things which have their necessity caused by another, as has been already proved in regard to efficient causes. Therefore we cannot but postulate the existence of some being having of itself its own necessity, and not receiving it from another, but rather causing in others their necessity. This all men speak of as God.

He frames this with possibility and necessity. What he is talking about here is an observation that things in the universe both come in to and go out of existence. There is wood, which came from a seed, which disappears when burned. It is possible for the wood to be, and not to be. But for the wood "to be" requires the action of something already being, in this case, the seed. The same rules apply to the seed, and anything else you can think of. What doesn't happen is the seed directly making itself. Thus all things have the possibility of existing, and are made "necessary" or real by the action of an already existing cause. Yet again, there cannot be an infinite regress here. Thus there must be an entity whose necessity is its own source, not having been imparted from some other being. Is there a God? Yes, God is that entity who is the primary necessary cause for all possibilities.

The Argument From Degree

Now, we move away from matters of causation and turn towards matters of comparison. Let's start with the excerpt:

The fourth way is taken from the gradation to be found in things. Among beings there are some more and some less good, true, noble and the like. But “more” and “less” are predicated of different things, according as they resemble in their different ways something which is the maximum, as a thing is said to be hotter according as it more nearly resembles that which is hottest; so that there is something which is truest, something best, something noblest and, consequently, something which is uttermost being; for those things that are greatest in truth are greatest in being, as it is written in Metaph. ii.[3] Now the maximum in any genus is the cause of all in that genus; as fire, which is the maximum heat, is the cause of all hot things. Therefore there must also be something which is to all beings the cause of their being, goodness, and every other perfection; and this we call God.

First, I'll point out he is making reference to a work of Aristotle here. Aquinas' work expands and builds upon a similar set of ideas advanced by Aristotle around 1600 years prior. This argument rests on the necessity of absolutes as a benchmark for description and comparison. Imagine a sealed room with no light. If you coated every possible surface of the room with high powered lights you would have a state of maximum brightness. Any amount of light from all lights off to all lights on is measured against that extreme. This is true for anything you can imagine, including perfection. To say something is "perfect" is a benchmark against an ultimate standard of perfection, i.e. that entity which could not be more perfect. Is there a God? Yes, God is the ultimate standard of perfection, that entity against which no greater perfection can be achieved.

Now we get to an impenetrable argument, which in my view cannot be refuted in any reasonable manner.

The Teleological Argument

As before, first the excerpt:

The fifth way is taken from the governance of the world. We see that things which lack intelligence, such as natural bodies, act for an end, and this is evident from their acting always, or nearly always, in the same way, so as to obtain the best result. Hence it is plain that not fortuitously, but designedly, do they achieve their end. Now whatever lacks intelligence cannot move towards an end, unless it be directed by some being endowed with knowledge and intelligence; as the arrow is shot to its mark by the archer. Therefore some intelligent being exists by whom all natural things are directed to their end; and this being we call God.

The argument here is that things we observe in nature always act towards an end. When water goes over a waterfall, it falls to the ground. Fire burns and fully consumes its fuel. Trees grow. Wind blows. Nature get it right every time. Yet none of these things possess intelligence. How can they correctly act towards an end without it? They can't, and must be directed by a being with intelligence. Is there a God? Yes, God is the intelligent being that directs all natural things to their end.

Wait a minute, you say. Most people would say that science is responsible for that. God doesn't guide the water to the ground, that's gravity. Fire burning? We understand that with chemistry. Trees? Biology. Wind? Fluid dynamics. We don't need God, because science has all of the answers or will eventually find them.

And that is sort of true, except for one question it can't answer.

Where did science come from?

This is the question that athiest thinkers refuse to address, or claim it's always been there (and thus make the same type of argument as Aquinas does, but that they reject when it regards God). This brings us to the alternate interpretation of Aquinas' proof.

The teleological argument is really about the structure built into the universe to guide its evolution.

Is there a God? Yes, God is the entity who built the structure into the universe that science describes. Science is simply a model of what is already there. It's our collection of understanding about what we have observed.

If you can explain how this amazing structure which guides all natural beings to their ends and gives reality its shape, function, and motion exists without God, you can defend an athiestic position. No one has ever done it successfully.

Is there a God? The answer is an unqualified YES. There can be no reasonable doubt.

What does God look like? Is God an active agent in the world now and in the past? These are separate and different questions that have not been tackled here. I sought only to answer existence, and that question is settled definitively.