liam PaleyThe Existence of God: Theories of Thomas Aquinas, St. Anselm, and William PaleyThe three readings that form the basis of this essay all deal with the existenceof a God, something that which nothing greater can be conceived and cannot beconceived not to exist. The three readings include: Thomas Aquinas, St. Anselm,and William Paley. First let us start with Thomas Aquinas, a Dominican Monk (1225-1274) whois considered by many to be the greatest theologian in Western religion. Aquanis writes of two opposite theories with reasons for the non-existence of God and then for the existence of God.
He starts off with hisviews for the non-existence of God relating this through two objections. In thefirst of the two he defines God as infinite goodness and goes on the say thatif God truly existed, there would be no evil. Since evil does exist in theworld, there must therefore be no God. I agree with this reasoning, for how could God, a being of infinitegoodness create and care for a world of non-perfection and corruption. I havealways questioned, as I am sure we all have, how, if there is a God, he couldallow such terrible things to occur as they do in today’s world: The starving inThird World Countries, the destructiveness of war, and especially the anguish oflosing a loved one.
In the Bible, a book meant to be the word of God, condemns such thingsas murder, adultery and theft. I find it hard to believe that an all-powerful,all-knowing, infinitely-good being that created this world and everything init would allow any of these things to occur. He would not only condemn them inan ancient book, but abolish them altogether along with any other things evil. If God is supposed to be the heavenly father wouldn’t he want and impose ontohis children his goodness and weed out all evil?Aquinas also shows this non-existence through Objective 2 where hewrites how it is expecting too much for something that can be accounted for be afew principles has been produced by many. There are other principles that canaccount for everything we see in our world supposing God did not exist. Allthings can be reduced to one principle, that of nature and therefore there is noneed to suppose God’s existence.
Once more I agree with his rationale of this subject, for it is logicalto believe in a simple, visible, measurable concept such as the principle ofnature, instead of something so complex it is near in-conceivable, and not ableto be seen or measured. Nature could have accounted for the gradual developmentof mankind and scientific theories have given us explanations for the existenceof nature and proof of this gradual development. Our planet’s creation hasbeen explained as a result of The Big Bang and man’s development from asingle-cellular organism to the multi-cellular, intelligent man of today byevolution. I agree with both of Thomas Aquinas’ Objectives and it is mainlybecause of these two arguments that I, myself do not believe in the existence ofGod, something that which nothing greater can be conceived and cannot beconceived not to exist. Aquinas, in the next section of his writings takes the opposite side andgives five arguments for the existence of God.
First: The Argument From ChangeIn his first argument Aquinas attempts to prove through theories ofmotion, the existence of God. He writes that since motion exists in the world,and motion is caused by something else, then in order for there to be any motion(life) now, there must have been an original thing, God to cause this motion. For it is impossible for something with potentiality for motion, to advanceitself to actuality of motion. I agree with this theory because I have studied Physics and have read ofthe teachings of Sir Isaac Newton, but as Science explains, there are perfectlylogical explanations as to the formulation of today’s motion, Big Bang Gasses,and the evolution of man. In agreeing with this theory I, in no way havecontradicted myself, for I believe there always has been motion of some kind itis through millions upon millions of years occurrences, building up and evolvingthat the current conditions (life) has occurred.
The Second Way: The Argument From CausationIn his second explanation for the existence of God Aquinas bases it (hisargument) on the theory of Causation. He writes, since we know that somethingcauses another thing, and it is impossible for something to cause itself, thenin order for anything to proceed to infinity (man, nature) is must be caused beother causes. If there is no first cause (God) there would be no effect. So ifwe do exist and proceed to infinity there must exist a first power, this mencall God. Again as in his first argument Aquinas assumes that there existednothing at one time and I disagree (as Science does) and thus discredit thisargument as well.
The Third Way: The Argument From ContingencyIn his third argument for the existence of God, Aquinas focuses on thefactor of Contingency. He writes that some things in the Universe are capableof existing and not existing but it is absurd to assume all things are of thisnature. If all things are possible of not existing there must have been a timewhen nothing existed and then there would be nothing in existence now becauseyou cannot bring about your own existence. Therefore there must be an outsidesource, something that depends on nothing else, God.
In this argument Aquinas writes that there must have been a time thatnothing existed and again, as in the other arguments I believe that you need notassume that all things cause themselves. There was one major event, The BigBang, and nature progressed from there. In no way does saying that if thingsare capable of existing and not existing, that proves there is a God. The Fourth Way: Degrees of ExcellenceIn his forth argument Aquinas writes that there are things that are good,noble, etc. and there are degrees of each.
We judge things according tosomething else, a reference point. There must then be absolutes in thesecomparisons and thus something in the highest degree must have caused all lowerlevels of, for example goodness. There must exist some cause of being,(existing) and goodness and perfection we call God. I find this argument by far the weakest of the five and find no reasonat all that there must at one time have been an infinite goodness, to base acomparison on. I find this reasoning absurd and am in no way convinced of theexistence of a God because of this argument. The Fifth Way: The Argument From HarmonyIn his final argument Aquinas bases it on the possession of knowledgeand writes that things that lack knowledge work towards a goal.
He argues thatit is not by chance that people reach their goals. There must then be somethingpossessing infinite knowledge guiding natural things, thus God. I disagree with Aquinas’ reasoning here again. He does not take intoaccount the possibility of the concept of learning and does not consider thatover time, through the survival of the fittest, trial and error, etc. evolution is possible and much more probable than the existence of a God, andthat through evolution comes the gaining of knowledge and that is how man hasacquired today’s wisdom. Therefore in his final argument Aquinas again fails toprove (to me at least) the existence of God.
The second reading is by St. Anselm (1033-1109) who wrote severaltreatises on theological subjects. St. Anselm writes of the greatness of God and how if a person hears thata being exists, which nothing greater can be conceived of, he understands,although he does not understand it to exist. If this is understood, then itexists in the understanding and that which nothing greater can be conceivedcannot exist only in the understanding because then it would be possible for itto exist greater, in reality. Therefore if it (God) exists in the understandingit must also exist in reality.
I find this argument totally futile in that just because someone couldunderstand that God exists in his mind and also understands God entirely doesnot mean that he/she (God) exists. If I understand (for example) dragons andnot only understand them in my mind but entirely, that does not mean they exist. What of writers? Not only must Stephen King understand a character in his mindbut entirely, inside and out, what he thinks, dreams (character) and doesbecomes part of King’s mind in order to truly portray this character that Kinghas created. Does this make this character a reality? I think not and do notcredit St. Anselm with anything for this portion of his argument.
He (St. Anselm) goes on to write later of the conceivement of a beingbetter than God, and the absurdity of this. For if this was to occur theCreature would rise above the Creator. He goes on to explain how conceiving anobject and understanding it are totally different. These two things, conceivingand understanding lay the basis for most of the writing and basically it seemsthat he is talking more about faith than actuality. He seems to restrict mostof his ideas to the minds and hearts of men and leave out the real aspect inquestion: Is there any way of truly proving that God exists? I think not andthrough St.
Anselm’s writings he has done nothing to convince me of otherwise. William Paley: The Watch and the WatchmakerWilliam Paley (1743-1805) was a leading evangelical apologist. Thiswriting comes from the first chapter of his most important work, Natural Theory,or Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity Collected from theAppearances of Nature (1802). Paley described a scene in which a person finds a stone and assumes thatit has always been there, but when that same person finds a watch andautomatically assumes differently the a question arises: Is finding a watch anydifferent than finding a stone? And ultimately, does a God exist and if not howare we, and everything around us, here? Paley goes on to describe the innerworkings of the watch comparing them to everyday life and the workings of nature. He uses the fact that one in a million men know how the inner workings ofcertain parts of a watch work and still no doubt arises in our minds as to theexistence of it’s maker. He does this to show that we shouldn’t doubt theexistence of God just because we don’t know how he works.
Also how if we founda watch and it didn’t work perfectly we should not expect flawlessness, for itis not necessary for a machine to be perfect for us to see the design it wasmade. Thus explaining evil in the world and the problems in today’s societyeven though God exists. He writes how absurd it is to assume that the watch isa result of the common workings of metallic nature and relates this toScience’s explanation of the evolution of man in an attempt of discrediting it. In general he compares the watch and how we know it was made to the world welive in and more specifically to us, mankind. Paley has many good points and his use of the watch as a metaphor forlife in his writing is the work of genius. In contrast though, I believe hisarguments to be flawed in that we know there is only one way to construct awatch (a person, a watchmaker, builds it) and when it comes to the question ofthe world we live in and our life itself, there is much uncertainty.
We havebeen told by Scientists that there are perfectly good explanations as to theexistence of the universe and that of man. This is the same as in the argumentsof Thomas Aquinas that it is much easier to believe in a visible, measurableconcept such as the principle of nature, instead of something so complex it isnear in-conceivable, and not able to be seen or measured, like the existence ofGod. Although I enjoyed reading Paley and am amazed at the intricate nature ofhis work I am still a skeptic when it comes to the existence of God and nothingshort of first hand experience will change that. In conclusion, I have spent the most time writing on Thomas Aquinas forthe fact that I believe him to be the most thorough and discerning of the three.
He argues both sides and although his arguments for the existence of God donothing to convince myself, he does raise some valid points with the logic ofhis arguments being brilliant. He should be recognized as an extraordinaryreligious scholar (as he is) who examines both sides of an argument on a subjectthat at the time (early 1200’s) it was forbidden to even question (the existenceof God). I have enjoyed these readings and consider myself more well-versed onthe subject because of them.