Does God Exist? The Errors of Aquinas
Thomas Aquinas in Summa Theologiae argues that God exists in Part I. While he presented his arguments very logically, he appears to have made some large assumptions without adequately proving them. To argue something logically, one must state their assumptions and present why they can make those assumptions without jeopardizing the integrity of their conclusions.
The unproven assumptions Aquinas made were these: The universe operates in a linear fashion from a beginning to an end. The universe is organized in a strict Hierarchy of Being. Order comes from intelligence. Good is a completely separate and independent "thing" from evil. If Aquinas had proven these assumptions before making them, or if he had not made them in the first place, he would have possibly presented a more logically sound argument for God’s existence.
The question of God’s existence was organized into opposing views, responses to the opposing views, and finally, arguments opposing the opposing views. The first opposing view Aquinas presented was that if God is all good and there is evil in the world, there is no God. This was a flawed idea that came from the idea that good and evil are two different things that are diametrically opposed. It showed that Aquinas (and the people who held the view presented) didn’t understand that good and evil are really the same thing. They are like the positive and negative charges of a magnet, integrally connected and inseparable. To separate good and evil is to say that something can have a front without a back or a top without a bottom. The top is as much a part of something as its bottom. Good cannot exist without evil.
The other opposing view presented was that all things that occur happen because of either nature or human reason, thus leaving no place for God. That idea didn’t account for the possibility that maybe God created nature to run on its own and created human reason to cause "intended things." He apparently thought that his opponents felt that if God doesn’t operate everything on a day-to-day basis, then God must not exist.
Aquinas then made five responses. The first response is that anything that moves must have been moved by something else. Since he made the unstated assumption that the universe operates in a linear fashion, he stated, "But this cannot go to infinity, because then there would be no first mover, and, consequently, no other mover" (Part I, Q.2, A.3). He ignored the possibility that the universe could be infinite, as in a circle. If this were the case, then there would not need to be a first mover to have other movers.
The second response Aquinas made was the "nature of efficient cause." This argument is that there is a first cause, which led to intermediate causes, which will lead to the ultimate cause, which will cause the ultimate effect. If there is no first cause (i.e. God), then there can’t be intermediate causes, which are happening everywhere now. Then there can’t be an ultimate effect. Again, he made the assumption that the universe is linear. If it were not linear, then there wouldn’t have to be a first cause or an ultimate effect. The thread of time could be but a series of intermediate causes.
The idea of the "possible and the necessary" was Aquinas’ third response. He stated that if things can possibly exist and can not exist, then those things at one time did not exist. If these things can not exist, then there must have been a time that they did not exist and there was nothing. If there was nothing, then there would still have to be nothing, because of the laws of cause and effect presented in his first two responses. Therefore, God must have brought the things from not existing to existing because only God is necessary and not caused by another. This was another example of Aquinas assuming the universe is linear. Another idea he isn’t taking into account here is that just because everything (except God) can not exist at some time and has the potential to exist doesn’t mean that they all must not exist at the same time. An example is my 1988 Toyota Corolla. Before 1987 it did not exist, but had the potential to exist. But a particular 1983 Datsun did exist before 1987. Let’s say the 1983 Datsun got scrapped in 1986 (bad car accident), and then was recycled into my Toyota in 1987. Aquinas doesn’t account for this chain of creation and destruction, this "food chain" of all matter, in his concept of the "possible and the necessary." There doesn’t have to be a time that nothing existed in order to allow everything the possibility of not existing. Many things don’t exist today, but many other things do.
Thomas Aquinas’ fourth response to God’s existence is the Hierarchy of Being in that there are gradations in all things ranging from low to high. He said that if there are good and noble things, then there must be an extreme best and noblest thing in the highest degree. This idea came from Plato’s Metaphysics and is also based in a universal linearity. I think that the world isn’t as hierarchical as that. For a particular situation or aspect, some things would be better than others, but I don’t think this idea can be applied universally. It pits things against each other in a destructive competition that is not healthy. It is an idea that causes wars and justifies genocide and holocaust. I think that everything that is working will exist and continue to exist until it stops working. When it does, then it will cease to exist to be replaced by another working thing.
Aquinas stated that everything operates because of the will of a higher intelligence in his fifth response. This happens to things without intelligence because they "act always, or nearly always, in the same way, so as to obtain the best result. Hence it is plain that not by chance, but by intention, do they achieve their end" (Part I, Q.2, A.3). Here, he thought that order comes from intelligence. This could be a product of his times, since he lived before the scientific method and the discovery of physical laws. Now, we see it as just because rain falls down always (or nearly always) it is because of the law of gravity, not necessarily because God is driving each little drop. Now, God could be driving each drop, or maybe God willed the law of gravity, the falling of water is not in itself proof of a higher intelligence or God.
Thomas Aquinas finished his arguments about God’s existence with two arguments to the opposing views he presented earlier. The first argument is based on Augustine’s Enchiridion and stated that God exists and is so infinitely good that he can draw good from evil, so therefore God and evil can both exist. As I stated earlier, good and evil aren’t really separate independent things, so it would be easy to come to the conclusion that good can come from evil, even without the power of God. If I kill a rabbit, that is evil committed against the rabbit (Ex. 20:13), but then I feed the rabbit corpse to my family and it is good to the family because it provides the nourishment they need to live. Therefore, in this example, good came from evil, but didn’t require the power of God to make it so.
The second argument to opposing views is that all events must lead back to God because nature works under the power of a higher intelligence (see response five above) and human reason is fallible and so therefore must also trace up to a higher intelligence because all changeable or fallible things must trace up to an immovable and "self-necessary first principle" (see response one and two above). My refutation of response four, in that everything doesn’t exist in a Hierarchy of Being, and responses one through three, that the universe may not be linear, adequately refute this point also.
Thomas Aquinas’ arguments for the existence of God are flawed in that they make assumptions that are not proven or addressed. He ignored other possibilities and therefore violated rules of logic, which include to question and prove all assumptions. If he had done this, his arguments would have been much more convincing and possibly quite different in their conclusion.