A theological/philosophical question concerning Thomas Aquinas

Discussion in 'Theology' started by Phyllis Sidhe_Uaine, Feb 24, 2009.

  1. Phyllis Sidhe_Uaine

    Phyllis Sidhe_Uaine Junior Moderator, Intro Staff Member

    Joined:
    Sep 15, 2003
    Messages:
    6,339
    Likes Received:
    515
    In my Philosophy of Religion class we were discussing St. Thomas Aquinas and his proof of the existence of G!d. One thing I can't seem to get my mind around is how he (Aquinas) said that nothing can come from nothing/nothing can create itself, yet he seems to refute that in the case of G!d.

    I'm sorry to bother everybody about this, but I can't seem to grasp how Aquinas could contradict himself here in his proof of the existence of G!d. Could anybody help me here? :kitty:s/ferrets/lunamoths await, too.

    Phyllis Sidhe_Uaine
     
  2. c0de

    c0de Vassal

    Joined:
    Oct 14, 2008
    Messages:
    2,237
    Likes Received:
    0
    It is not necessarily a contradiction. Aquinas said that "things"
    can not create themselves, but God, is not a "thing". He created
    matter, which can not create itself, but He Himself is not made of
    matter.

    When Aquinas says that everything has to come from something,
    this is just the opposite statement that we get from the first law of
    thermodynamics i.e. matter/energy can not be created or destroyed.

    But the problem is that this law itself creates a paradox: If matter/energy
    can not be created or destroyed, then where did it come from in the first
    place? This paradox can not be solved unless you explain it with a Creator.
    This is what Aquinas was saying.

    ... sorry if this sounds confusing.
     
  3. Phyllis Sidhe_Uaine

    Phyllis Sidhe_Uaine Junior Moderator, Intro Staff Member

    Joined:
    Sep 15, 2003
    Messages:
    6,339
    Likes Received:
    515
    Thank you for your response.

    I vaguely understand this, but it seems like he's "flagged" something in the body of his proof that is contained in his conclusion (to use some terms I learned in elementary logic). It's just that the person writing the proof is forbidden to do that in logic because it effects the conclusion (for example, 1 = 2).

    I guess I'm having difficulties understanding Aquinas' logic. :eek:

    Phyllis Sidhe_Uaine
     
  4. Thomas

    Thomas Super Moderator Staff Member

    Joined:
    Sep 25, 2003
    Messages:
    10,654
    Likes Received:
    1,605
    Does anyone have a text reference for Aquinas' argument? It would be helpful if we could read the text itself ... ?

    We could, on the other hand, dive into the Summa Theologiae, and look at Aquinas' argument:
    Question 2: The Existence of God

    Thomas
     
    Last edited: Feb 24, 2009
  5. nativeastral

    nativeastral fluffy future

    Joined:
    Apr 6, 2008
    Messages:
    1,525
    Likes Received:
    0
    although hes trying to be a philosopher and therefore being logical and rational with his arguments he is coming from a believers 'bias' ie presuppposing a creator. there can be [apparently] no infinite regress of successive causes of events [contingencies] so he is following aristotles 'unmoved mover' or first cause, articulated by muslim philosophers who translated all the important greek philosophies when europe was in the dark ages; there is no real argument as such as god and his nature/attributes are in a class of their own therfore defying our puny limited physics and general scientific knowledge though the design/fine tuning argument looks promising for theists
     
  6. c0de

    c0de Vassal

    Joined:
    Oct 14, 2008
    Messages:
    2,237
    Likes Received:
    0
    I understand your confusion. Obviously, since none of us
    can think in infinite terms... yet ;)

    But the accusation of circularity doesn't apply here as far as I can see it
    because the rule of "nothing can come by about by itself" is being applied
    by Aquinas to the created world, while God is uncreated.
     
  7. Thomas

    Thomas Super Moderator Staff Member

    Joined:
    Sep 25, 2003
    Messages:
    10,654
    Likes Received:
    1,605
    The fact that he is a believer does not mean he is not a philosopher. In suggesting such, the assumption is that atheism is the logical philosophical proposition ... which is arguable.

    Which still stands. Physics can trace the Cosmos back to almost the first moment, but cannot say what initiated it.

    Along with this I like the Kalaam argument against the idea of an eternal cosmos.

    Although I would never detract from the positive impact Moslem culture had on Europe (the Renaissance, for one), and whilst I delight in informing people that Cordoba has public street lighting whilst in Paris and London we were still wading about in the mud (and Lord knows what else) ... not all the important Greek philosophers were unknown in Europe. The Christian East had no taste for Aristotle, (whereas Augustine, in the West, did).

    In the West, the Church had established the foundation of the University system by extension from the great Monastic Houses (c9th century), in which philosophy, or the trivium of grammar, rhetoric and logic, was discussed long before the Moslems made their appearance.

    As the son of a paddy, might I also remind you that whilst Europe was in the grip of the dark ages, we were the land of saints and scholars who kept the flame of learning alight!

    You might try and explain that to Richard Dawkins ...

    Thomas
     
  8. Thomas

    Thomas Super Moderator Staff Member

    Joined:
    Sep 25, 2003
    Messages:
    10,654
    Likes Received:
    1,605
    If Phyllis Sidhe_Uaine is going to be able to draw anything from this discussion to use in her philosophy class, she's going to have to reference Aquinas ... she can't argue a case based on what someone said on the internet.

    If you're up for it Phyllis, I'll happily launch a step-by-step on Aquinas' Q2 in the Summa:

    Question 2. The existence of God
    Article 1. Is the proposition "God exists" self-evident?
    Article 2. Is it demonstrable?
    Article 3. Does God exist?

    It's useful stuff ... if Richard Dawkins had read Q3 "The Simplicity of God" he would not have based his whole anti-God argument on assuming the error that God must be complex. Hasn't stopped him getting rich and famous on what is a philosophical and metaphysical error, though, which says something about the media in the world.

    Thomas
     
  9. Phyllis Sidhe_Uaine

    Phyllis Sidhe_Uaine Junior Moderator, Intro Staff Member

    Joined:
    Sep 15, 2003
    Messages:
    6,339
    Likes Received:
    515
    I am interested. *several :kitty:s sit/lay down, ears swiveling to catch nuances of their latest instructor's voice, their voices kept low*

    Phyllis Sidhe_Uaine
     
  10. Thomas

    Thomas Super Moderator Staff Member

    Joined:
    Sep 25, 2003
    Messages:
    10,654
    Likes Received:
    1,605
    One thing I can't seem to get my mind around is how he (Aquinas) said that nothing can come from nothing/nothing can create itself, yet he seems to refute that in the case of G!d.

    The crux of the question is delightfully simple: If God made the world and everything in it, who made God?

    The answer is equally simple: God isn't made, God just is.

    Aquinas 'proves' the eternal nature of God in his 'Five Proofs' (ST I-I, q2, a3). But Aquinas argues the proof of the idea of God as such, and he bases his arguments on the propositions of Aristotle, and Aristotle was not arguing the existence of God the Father of the Christian Tradition, but the existence of God itself. For Aristotle, God is an ontological reality, indeed a necessity, to explain the world. It is the relationship between God and the world that distinguishes so radically the difference between the Christian and the Hellenic traditions. For Aquinas, this is a given, Sacred Doctrine is the Revelation of that which cannot be ascertained by reason, but that does not make it unreasonable, just unknowable. The Greeks came up with atomic theory, science has pursued it relentlessly, and in the 1920s, the thesis was proved. Subsequently, and in light of science, our understanding of 'atoms' has changed significantly from the idea the Greeks had in mind (the smallest 'bit of stuff' common to everything, and of which everything is constructed), we now talk of waves as well as particles, and of sub-atomic particles themselves ... but the Greek idea was never beyond reason, just beyond proof. There is no reason therefore, to refute what is beyond reason simply because it is cannot be demonstrated, if that were the case, science would never have advanced at all.

    To return to the Five Proofs, Aquinas and Aristotle are defining the very term objectively, by ascribing qualities to that which we call God, from the philosophical perspective. In Scripture, on the other hand, we learn that "God is love" (1 John 4:8), a self-evident statement (a conviction, not a philosophical position) founded on a belief in the Incarnation and the mission of the Son ("For God so loved the world, as to give his only begotten Son" John 3:16). But Aquinas is not addressing this order of conviction, rather, in his argument, he is demonstrating that the conviction is not unreasonable.

    First Proof: Motion.
    Aquinas says "whatever is in motion is put in motion by another". A thing possesses actuality in respect of what it is, and potentiality in respect of what it can be but isn't. An acorn can be a tree, squirrel food, a kitten's plaything, a cup of tea ... but an acorn is not any one of these until acted upon, by sun and rain and soil, or a squirrel, or a kitten, etc. This is what Aquinas means by motion.

    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 ... Therefore it is necessary to arrive at a first mover, put in motion by no other; and this everyone understands to be God.

    If God is the First Mover, God is not Himself moved, in the sense that there is no potential to be in God that God is not already in actuality.

    So God was not caused to be, or moved to exist — God always is, and indeed we pray God "was, is now, and ever shall be", but it is given that God is not 'was' nor 'will be' in any way different than He 'is'. If God is understood properly, as a concept, there can never a 'before God was' nor an 'after God'.

    Second Proof: Cause and Effect.
    "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 ... Therefore it is necessary to admit a first efficient cause, to which everyone gives the name of God."

    This follows much from the first. Things are, because they are caused to be (either directly or indirectly). We trace the cosmos back to the Big Bang and the Primordial Atom, the one thing that is the cause of everything ... but eventually we must allow the one thing that is, that is not itself caused, and this the philosophers call God. If that Primordial Atom is without itself cause, it is also without movement — it is what it is and has no need to move to be something else — therefore, without God, there is no reasonable explanation for why whatever went bang in the Big Bang to go bang in the first place ...

    God, in this respect, cannot cause Himself — there cannot be 'a nothing' which says "I will be God".

    Third Proof: Necessary and Contingent Being
    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 ... there must exist something the existence of which is necessary (for other things to exist). But every necessary thing either has its necessity caused by another, or not. 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.

    To recap then, of God we know:
    He is eternally and,
    He was not caused and,
    He is what He is (there is nothing to cause Him other than He is), and,
    He is the cause of all things and,
    He is not altered nor changed in any way by what He causes.

    Thomas
     
  11. Nick_A

    Nick_A Interfaith Forums

    Joined:
    May 28, 2008
    Messages:
    2,264
    Likes Received:
    1
    Thomas Aquinas is giving a good account of what I know of as "involution" or the process of creation:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Involution_(metaphysics)

    In integral thought, involution is the process by which the Divine manifests the cosmos. The process by which the creation rises to higher states and states of consciousness is the evolution. Involution prepares the universe for the Big Bang; evolution continues from that point forward. The term involution comes from the idea that the divine involves itself in creation. After the creation, the Divine (i.e. the Absolute, Brahman, God) is both the One (the Creator) and the Many (that which was created).
    The integral philosopher Ken Wilber refers to involution in his online chapter of Kosmic Karma, employing concepts from Plotinus, Advaita Vedanta, Tibetan Buddhism, and Sri Aurobindo. According to Wilber, the cosmic evolution described in his previous works is preceded by an involution of Spirit into Matter. This involution follows the reverse stages to the sequence of evolution - e.g. Spirit to soul to mind to life to matter. Once the stage of insentient, lifeless matter is attained, then "something like the Big Bang occurs", whereupon matter and manifest world come into concrete existence, from which stage evolution follows.

    The mechanical evolution science studies is the continual manifestations of God's laws that bring the substance of creation closer to its source. In contrast to involution or the process of creation, Christianity is a help to Man to make the transition from mechanical evolution, or the highest born of woman, with conscious evolution which begins as the lowest in heaven.

     
  12. Thomas

    Thomas Super Moderator Staff Member

    Joined:
    Sep 25, 2003
    Messages:
    10,654
    Likes Received:
    1,605
    Hi Nick —
    Involution, and evolution, as a process within creation, I agree, but all creation comprises contingent being, and all creation is governed by contingency: There are things which have existed but no longer exist; there are things which exist now, but did not always exist and will not always exist; there are things which will exist but have not yet existed. There was a time when the cosmos itself did not exist, and there will be a time when it ceases to exist (allowing that 'time' is a constituent of the cosmos itself and is not extra to it, so there is no time as such, outside of the cosmos).

    God however, is necessary being and not contingent being, therefore God is no part of the cosmic order, as no part of the cosmic order can be demonstrated as 'necessary'. God is, (I am that I am) and there was never a time when God did not exist (before Abraham was, I am), there never will be a time when God does not exist.

    As God does not move, change, alter, grow or decrease, no part of the contingent order can be demonstrated of God.

    As long as we remember this, that God is One and Simple; that God neither moves nor changes; that God is that which nothing can be added to or taken away; that God cannot be multiplied nor divided, then we do not fall into the error of monism, and subsequently of pantheism, panentheism and emanationism, which some readings of involution suggest.

    St Thomas himself combatted various forms of monism among his contemporaries; the extreme Metaphysical Monism of Avicebron, the Materialistic Monism of David of Dinant, and the Monopsychism of the Averroists in the West.

    Whilst accepting evolution, Christian doctrine argues for the total integrity of the soul, as possessing both its act — it exists — and its potentiality — its own good. As God is the good of all things, all souls, at all times, have the sense of God, and can aspire to union with God. Man's understanding evolves, according to his own powers of reason, and according to Revelation, but there was never a time when man was not aware of God as such, however primitively he might understand the concept.

    The soul aims at an end (its potentia) by means of its activities (actus or esse, it's 'is-ness'), and that end is its own good or perfection. If the soul is unevolved then it cannot move towards its perfection because that perfection lies outside its nature and thus its possibility. Logically then, only the last generations of humanity, the fully evolved soul, can aspire to God. What God reveals to us is therefore impossible for us, which renders God cruel in showing us what we cannot have. It's also illogical in that we cannot perceive something as good which lies outside our nature — it will be utterly alien and incomprehensible.

    (Borges writes about this in man's inability to even 'see' alien objects, we know they are there, but there is nothing by which we can recognise them)

    There is no sufficient reason for a being to act, except to acquire that which it perceives as suitable for itself (bonum sibi). Hence a 'good' is "that which all things desire," (bonum est quod omnia appetunt). Each thing is good in itself, and for itself, and desires itself.

    (This desire is in fact a Gift of God and central to the paradox of Christianity; God imparts to man the desire to be all that he can be, which is himself (being), himself-in-another (love) and himself in the One (theosis).

    Aquinas sees a fundamental contradiction in monism. It must either deny the reality of the diversity of the various manifestations or forms of the One Being, in which case we must conclude that multiplicity is not real but an illusion; or else it must maintain that such diversity is real, and then it follows that the idea of the self, unity or union, is absurd.

    If such is the case, then 'individual consciousness' is an aberration, there is no real 'self' and there is no real union with the Divine. The cosmos, and everything in it, is reduced to an accidental and irrelevant phenomena,

    Thomas
     
  13. Nick_A

    Nick_A Interfaith Forums

    Joined:
    May 28, 2008
    Messages:
    2,264
    Likes Received:
    1
    Hi Thomas

    You'd better be careful or you'll start respecting esoteric Christianity. You are describing why Christianity doesn't refer to the personal god. Man's connection is with a higher level of reality we know of as the "Son."

    I don't see why what you've described contradicts Panentheism:

    Panentheism - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    From the esoteric Christian perspective then the "Word" of God is awareness of the laws of creation and the complimentary eternally moving interacting flows of involution into creation and evolution back to the source. The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil" for man is awakening to his potential for conscious evolution rather than serving only the process of involution it became necessary for Adam and Eve to do for a time. Now when it is time to be human again with an awareness of the "word" we are stuck in Plato's cave by habit that denies the normal conscious development.
    Of course Jesus did his best and succeeded in bringing the Spirit to serve in the experience of metanoia and the adopting the life natural to grow in accordance with this awareness but we are a stubborn creature and prefer cave life as a whole so pervert it in whatever way possible to defend cave life. So that is that.
    Unfortunately though there are many seeds of the soul there are relatively few souls. I agree though that Christianity, not Christendom, is a perennial tradition expressing knowledge of the soul.
    While our personality including the physical body, thoughts and emotions doesn't have an objective existence, it isn't clear if the soul's consciousness exists. I believe though that Meister Eckhart explains the soul's consciousness quite well:
    Of course since a soul is rare, it makes more sense to me to begin at the beginning and concern myself with nourishing the seed of the soul and how to get out of Plato's cave.
     
  14. Thomas

    Thomas Super Moderator Staff Member

    Joined:
    Sep 25, 2003
    Messages:
    10,654
    Likes Received:
    1,605
    Hi Nick —
    Don't worry Nick, there's no danger of that! ;)

    ???
    How can anyone say that? Why do we say "Abba"? How more personal can you get?

    If you go over the Proofs again, you'll get it eventually.

    The Christian doctrine is creatio ex nihilo, which distinguishes between that and Panentheism. We can discuss that if you want.

    From the perspective of Christian esoterism the "Word of God" is the mutual indwelling of each Person of the Trinity in the other, (Lt: circumincession; Gk: perichoresis). As such the Word is above and beyond any subsequent cosmological determination.

    Why 'esoteric Christianity' so-called always misses the sublime and settles for the mundane escapes me.

    As this is a discussion of Aquinas however, the rest of your post is largely irrelevant to the original question.

    Thomas
     
  15. Netti-Netti

    Netti-Netti New Member

    Joined:
    Jan 30, 2008
    Messages:
    2,571
    Likes Received:
    0
    I was wonder why the Church continued to rely on Aquinas. Or did it?

    He himself apparently rejected his own theories shortly before his death after he had some kind of "mystical" experience when saying mass. Afterwards, he thought of his writings as "just straw."
     
  16. Thomas

    Thomas Super Moderator Staff Member

    Joined:
    Sep 25, 2003
    Messages:
    10,654
    Likes Received:
    1,605
    It does, because his logic and his argument is bullet-proof.

    No, that's not right. He gave up writing, but he did not reject anything.

    Yes ... he was given a glimpse of the world that awaits ... but that does not mean that this world is untrue, or unreal.[/quote]

    Many mystics display the same order of response to the world, in light of their experience, and understandably so ... think about it ... supposing you were granted a one-on-one with Jesus Christ, who asks "what do you want of me?" (according to the tradition of Aquinas' vision).

    After that, to paraphrase an old friend of mine, "everything else is just toothpaste."

    Today, there is a whole new approach to Thomist metaphysics, fuelled by finding of science from many secular streams, not the least among them being quantum physics, psychology ... indeed, many of the 'new' scientific discoveries support a metaphysic that old 'enlightenment' theories considered mere superstition.

    That's why Thomism is taught in secular as well as sacerdotal educational programmes. You might not like him, but you're hard pressed to fault him.

    Thomas
     
  17. Thomas

    Thomas Super Moderator Staff Member

    Joined:
    Sep 25, 2003
    Messages:
    10,654
    Likes Received:
    1,605
    Follow up ...

    The somewhat apocryphal story is that, whilst at Mass, the Eucharist spoke to Aquinas, asking, "what is it you want of me?" to which the monk replied, "you Lord, only you."

    This dialogue was supposedly heard by his brothers with him at Mass, but we have no hard evidence to its actuality (eg Brother Leo's accounts of St Francis' levitation, etc., is much more soundly received).

    We do know that Aquinas was graced with mystical experiences throughout his life, and increasingly lived in this vision-state towards its end.

    +++

    As far as we do know, I think, is that during the Mass on the Feast of Saint Nicholas (5 Dec), Thomas had a profoundly mystical experience. "I can do no more" he is supposed to have said, "such secrets have been revealed to me that all I have written now appears to be of little value."

    When his end was near and the Sacrament of extreme unction administered, Saint Thomas pronounced this act of faith:

    "If in this world there be any knowledge of this sacrament stronger than that of faith, I wish now to use it in affirming that I firmly believe and know as certain that Jesus Christ, True God and True man, Son of God and Son of the Virgin Mary, is in this sacrament ... I receive Thee, the price of my redemption, for Whose love I have watched, studied and laboured. Thee have I preached; Thee have I taught. Never have I said anything against Thee: if anything was not well said, that is to be attributed to my ignorance. Neither do I wish to be obstinate in my opinions, but if I have written anything erroneous concerning this sacrament or other matters, I submit all to the judgement and correction of the Holy Roman Church, in whose obedience I now pass from this life."

    Thomas (the lesser).
     
  18. Netti-Netti

    Netti-Netti New Member

    Joined:
    Jan 30, 2008
    Messages:
    2,571
    Likes Received:
    0
    Aquinas allegedly said. 'Such secrets have been revealed to me that all I have written now appears to be of little value.' This strikes me as a politically delicate way of saying he was no longer standing by what he had written. Since he stopped writing, we wouldn't expect a formal renunciation.

    Btw, there are refutations of by other authors, aren't there ?

    I read this as Aquinas saying that he himself would not stand by it because it does not stand on its own merits.

    When Aquinas defers to the Church as the final source of validation, this is an appeal to authority. The form of argument - known as argumentum ad verecundiam - is a logical fallacy.
    Appeal to authority - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
     
  19. Thomas

    Thomas Super Moderator Staff Member

    Joined:
    Sep 25, 2003
    Messages:
    10,654
    Likes Received:
    1,605
    No, he would not be 'politically delicate' ... if he now believed something other than he had previously believed, he would have made that point clear — he would not allow a falsehood in his name, especially if it should obscure the truth of Christianity.

    Aquinas did not stop writing because what he had written was wrong, but because words cannot match the experience of what he was writing about ... so he is absolutely right about what he wrote about the Blessed Trinity, for example, but to experience the Blessed Trinity is something else altogether.

    I tend to read it as philosophy is nothing compared to its object — in this instance, God. Is philosophy invalid then? Not at all, but it's nothing like the real thing.

    All mountaineering is just the labour of climbing. That last step up to the peak renders every prior step as of no consequence ... except, of course, without them, you wouldn't have got there.

    +++

    I don't think so — but I'm not saying Aquinas is infallible, rather that he presents a philosophical system accurately — so you can reject the system, as you can reject Sufism, or the Advaita — but I would not go so far as to say you could prove Ibn'Arabi wrong on Islam, or Shankara wrong in his commentaries on the Vedanta.

    I read it as his knowing it does stand on its own merits — he was a philosopher of the highest order — but that he is faithful to the teaching of the Church. It's simple statement of his evident humility.

    Not in every case ... read on:

    Added to this, the Church is in the unique position of possessing data not derived from the operations of purely human reason or logic, but of Revelation ... if you accept this, as Aquinas did, then there is no fallacy involved.

    Thomas
     
  20. Netti-Netti

    Netti-Netti New Member

    Joined:
    Jan 30, 2008
    Messages:
    2,571
    Likes Received:
    0
    Hi Thomas,

    Where did Acquinas say that a logical proof of the existence of G-d is relevant to faith? Didn't he say it was irrelevant?

    Unfortunately, the premise is unacceptable.

    A logical proof can be judged internally coherent and valid within the frame of reference in which it is developed, which is a symbolic universe. The proof's validity can be strictly a function of the form of the argument.

    Logical proofs do not necessarily need a universe of "data" pertaining to the real world. Nor would they require Revelation, the content of which can ultimately not be differentiated from psychological phenomena.

    Either Aquinas' proof of G-d's existence can stand on its own or it can't.
     

Share This Page