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The Existence of God: Theories of Thomas Aquinas, St. Anselm, and William Paley
The three readings that form the basis of this essay all deal with the existence
of a God, something that which nothing greater can be conceived and cannot be
conceived 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) who
is 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 his
views for the non-existence of God relating this through two objections. In the
first of the two he defines God as infinite goodness and goes on the say that
if God truly existed, there would be no evil. Since evil does exist in the
world, there must therefore be no God.
I agree with this reasoning, for how could God, a being of infinite
goodness create and care for a world of non-perfection and corruption. I have
always questioned, as I am sure we all have, how, if there is a God, he could
allow such terrible things to occur as they do in today’s world: The starving in
Third World Countries, the destructiveness of war, and especially the anguish of
losing a loved one.
In the Bible, a book meant to be the word of God, condemns such things
as 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 in
it would allow any of these things to occur. He would not only condemn them in
an 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 onto
his children his goodness and weed out all evil?
Aquinas also shows this non-existence through Objective 2 where he
writes how it is expecting too much for something that can be accounted for be a
few principles has been produced by many. There are other principles that can
account for everything we see in our world supposing God did not exist. All
things can be reduced to one principle, that of nature and therefore there is no
need to suppose God’s existence.
Once more I agree with his rationale of this subject, for it is logical
to believe in a simple, visible, measurable concept such as the principle of
nature, instead of something so complex it is near in-conceivable, and not able
to be seen or measured. Nature could have accounted for the gradual development
of mankind and scientific theories have given us explanations for the existence
of nature and proof of this gradual development. Our planet’s creation has
been explained as a result of The Big Bang and man’s development from a
single-cellular organism to the multi-cellular, intelligent man of today by
evolution. I agree with both of Thomas Aquinas’ Objectives and it is mainly
because of these two arguments that I, myself do not believe in the existence of
God, something that which nothing greater can be conceived and cannot be
conceived not to exist.
Aquinas, in the next section of his writings takes the opposite side and
gives five arguments for the existence of God.
First: The Argument From Change
In his first argument Aquinas attempts to prove through theories of
motion, 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 advance
itself to actuality of motion.
I agree with this theory because I have studied Physics and have read of
the teachings of Sir Isaac Newton, but as Science explains, there are perfectly
logical 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 have
contradicted myself, for I believe there always has been motion of some kind it
is through millions upon millions of years occurrences, building up and evolving
that the current conditions (life) has occurred.
The Second Way: The Argument From Causation
In his second explanation for the existence of God Aquinas bases it (his
argument) on the theory of Causation. He writes, since we know that something
causes another thing, and it is impossible for something to cause itself, then
in order for anything to proceed to infinity (man, nature) is must be caused be
other causes. If there is no first cause (God) there would be no effect. So if
we do exist and proceed to infinity there must exist a first power, this men
Again as in his first argument Aquinas assumes that there existed
nothing at one time and I disagree (as Science does) and thus discredit this
argument as well.
The Third Way: The Argument From Contingency
In his third argument for the existence of God, Aquinas focuses on the
factor of Contingency. He writes that some things in the Universe are capable
of existing and not existing but it is absurd to assume all things are of this
nature. If all things are possible of not existing there must have been a time
when nothing existed and then there would be nothing in existence now because
you cannot bring about your own existence. Therefore there must be an outside
source, something that depends on nothing else, God.
In this argument Aquinas writes that there must have been a time that
nothing existed and again, as in the other arguments I believe that you need not
assume that all things cause themselves. There was one major event, The Big
Bang, and nature progressed from there. In no way does saying that if things
are capable of existing and not existing, that proves there is a God.
The Fourth Way: Degrees of Excellence
In his forth argument Aquinas writes that there are things that are good,
noble, etc. and there are degrees of each. We judge things according to
something else, a reference point. There must then be absolutes in these
comparisons and thus something in the highest degree must have caused all lower
levels 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 reason
at all that there must at one time have been an infinite goodness, to base a
comparison on. I find this reasoning absurd and am in no way convinced of the
existence of a God because of this argument.
The Fifth Way: The Argument From Harmony
In his final argument Aquinas bases it on the possession of knowledge
and writes that things that lack knowledge work towards a goal. He argues that
it is not by chance that people reach their goals. There must then be something
possessing infinite knowledge guiding natural things, thus God.
I disagree with Aquinas’ reasoning here again. He does not take into
account the possibility of the concept of learning and does not consider that
over time, through the survival of the fittest, trial and error, etc.
evolution is possible and much more probable than the existence of a God, and
that through evolution comes the gaining of knowledge and that is how man has
acquired today’s wisdom. Therefore in his final argument Aquinas again fails to
prove (to me at least) the existence of God.
The second reading is by St. Anselm (1033-1109) who wrote several
treatises on theological subjects.
St. Anselm writes of the greatness of God and how if a person hears that
a being exists, which nothing greater can be conceived of, he understands,
although he does not understand it to exist. If this is understood, then it
exists in the understanding and that which nothing greater can be conceived
cannot exist only in the understanding because then it would be possible for it
to exist greater, in reality. Therefore if it (God) exists in the understanding
it must also exist in reality.
I find this argument totally futile in that just because someone could
understand that God exists in his mind and also understands God entirely does
not mean that he/she (God) exists. If I understand (for example) dragons and
not 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 mind
but entirely, inside and out, what he thinks, dreams (character) and does
becomes part of King’s mind in order to truly portray this character that King
has created. Does this make this character a reality? I think not and do not
credit St. Anselm with anything for this portion of his argument.
He (St. Anselm) goes on to write later of the conceivement of a being
better than God, and the absurdity of this. For if this was to occur the
Creature would rise above the Creator. He goes on to explain how conceiving an
object and understanding it are totally different. These two things, conceiving
and understanding lay the basis for most of the writing and basically it seems
that he is talking more about faith than actuality. He seems to restrict most
of his ideas to the minds and hearts of men and leave out the real aspect in
question: Is there any way of truly proving that God exists? I think not and
through St. Anselm’s writings he has done nothing to convince me of otherwise.
William Paley: The Watch and the Watchmaker
William Paley (1743-1805) was a leading evangelical apologist. This
writing comes from the first chapter of his most important work, Natural Theory,
or Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity Collected from the
Appearances of Nature (1802).
Paley described a scene in which a person finds a stone and assumes that
it has always been there, but when that same person finds a watch and
automatically assumes differently the a question arises: Is finding a watch any
different than finding a stone? And ultimately, does a God exist and if not how
are we, and everything around us, here? Paley goes on to describe the inner
workings 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 of
certain parts of a watch work and still no doubt arises in our minds as to the
existence of it’s maker. He does this to show that we shouldn’t doubt the
existence of God just because we don’t know how he works. Also how if we found
a watch and it didn’t work perfectly we should not expect flawlessness, for it
is not necessary for a machine to be perfect for us to see the design it was
made. Thus explaining evil in the world and the problems in today’s society
even though God exists. He writes how absurd it is to assume that the watch is
a result of the common workings of metallic nature and relates this to
Science’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 we
live in and more specifically to us, mankind.
Paley has many good points and his use of the watch as a metaphor for
life in his writing is the work of genius. In contrast though, I believe his
arguments to be flawed in that we know there is only one way to construct a
watch (a person, a watchmaker, builds it) and when it comes to the question of
the world we live in and our life itself, there is much uncertainty. We have
been told by Scientists that there are perfectly good explanations as to the
existence of the universe and that of man. This is the same as in the arguments
of Thomas Aquinas that it is much easier to believe in a visible, measurable
concept such as the principle of nature, instead of something so complex it is
near in-conceivable, and not able to be seen or measured, like the existence of
God. Although I enjoyed reading Paley and am amazed at the intricate nature of
his work I am still a skeptic when it comes to the existence of God and nothing
short of first hand experience will change that.
In conclusion, I have spent the most time writing on Thomas Aquinas for
the 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 do
nothing to convince myself, he does raise some valid points with the logic of
his arguments being brilliant. He should be recognized as an extraordinary
religious scholar (as he is) who examines both sides of an argument on a subject
that at the time (early 1200’s) it was forbidden to even question (the existence
of God). I have enjoyed these readings and consider myself more well-versed on
the subject because of them.