Five Ways to Recognize God's Existence
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The Four Causes
|The Four Causes of any thing in the universe|
|form||formal cause (morphe in Greek, hence "morphing"--shape-changing)|
|matter||material cause (hylos in Greek; hylomorphism refers to Aristotle's theory of form and matter)|
|agent||efficient cause ("the causing cause"--something that makes things happen or that forms matter)|
|end||final cause (purpose, telos, goal of an action; related to teleology, the study of purposeful behavior)|
The Five Ways
The Five Ways of Aristotle (384-322 BC) and Aquinas (1225-74 AD; ST I Q2 A3):
- 1. Motion (a special kind of change)
- A. No physical thing (thing == "a form of matter") is the self-sufficient cause of its own motion.
- B. If every object in motion had a mover, then the first object in the universe that was set in motion needed a mover.
- C. There cannot be an infinite regress of things-moved-by-things.:Either you see this or you don't!
- Clue: the whole chain of events could never be set in motion if we had to go back INFINITELY far in the past. The universe is not infinitely old.
- D. The First Mover has to be a different kind of being from kind the things we find in the universe. In order to be the source of all motion that we see in the universe, this being must be an Unmoved Mover and cannot be a form of matter in the space-time/matter-energy continuum.
- Because of the Second Law of Thermodynamics (entropy increases: some energy becomes unavailable whenever work is done), it is not possible to have a perpetual-motion machine. People who deny the argument from motion believe in a perpetual-motion universe.
- 2. Efficient Cause (a form of matter that causes change or forms matter--one thing causes another thing)
- The efficient cause (agent) is what forms matter into a particular thing or causes events to happen.
- A. Every form of matter in the physical universe is caused by some other form of matter.
- B. No thing in the universe can cause itself to be what it is; every thing is formed by a pre-existing agent, which itself was formed by a pre-existing agent, etc.
- C. There cannot be an infinite regress of things-caused-by-things.:Either you see this or you don't!
- D. There must be a different kind of being from the kind of things we find in the universe. In order to be the cause of all things in the universe that cause other things in the universe, this being must be uncaused--that is, not brought into being by any other being and not just a form of pre-existing matter.
- When we get down to the level of quantum behavior, it is virtually impossible to identify the chain of caused causes. Things seem to happen purely at random, with no identifiable cause. But if every part of the universe exhibited the same indeterminacy as quanta (quantum pheonomena), we would not be able to tell that the quantum behavior was different from ordinary behavior. For us to know how quanta act, to know their indeterminate nature, the quanta must be able to act as causes in our observational apparatus; and if the quanta act as causes with a particular nature, then they cannot be used to discredit the notion of efficient causality.
- Heisenberg's Principle of Uncertainty is certain. It is a law of nature: we cannot determine both the location and the vector of motion of a quantum phenomenon at the same time. In order to observe quanta, we must interact with them; when we interact with them, we change their quantum state. If we can know this fact about quantum phenomena, it proves that the indeterminacy of quantum behavior does not overturn the principle of causality. The evidence for Heisenberg's Principle of Uncertainty comes from the effect that quanta have on our instruments. If the quanta did not have a predictable effect on our instruments, we would not know what we do know about them--we could not group and classify them as the kind of things whose location and vector of motion cannot be determined at the same time.
- 3. Contingency
- A. Every thing in the physical universe is a "contingent being." That means that it came into being, exists for a while, then ceases to exist. It is possible for such things "to be or not to be" (Hamlet).
- B. Such things come into being through other contingent things. Things do not come into being out of nothing.
- C. There cannot be an infinite regress of beings caused by other beings. The matter and energy in the universe from which all other beings come cannot have come into existence out of nothing.
- D. There must be a different kind of being from the kind of things we find in the universe. There must be a being whose existence is necessary, not contingent. This is a being whose being is to be (reminiscent of the Hebrew name of God, yhwh in Hebrew, ego eimi in Greek: "I am" or "I am who am" or "I am He who causes to be").
- The whole universe is dying (Second Law of Thermodynamics--entropy increases). That we are alive and not dead shows that the universe had a beginning in time (or with time). Space-time and matter-energy all interact with each other and depend on each other. Prior to the inflation of the God-particle, there was no space or time or matter or energy--there was no universe. We have no record of conditions prior to the smallest unit of time, ~10-43 second (a Plank second) after the beginning of all time. Some non-contingent (necessary) Being must have caused all contingent being.
- 4. Qualities
- A. We perceive that some things in the universe are better than others (good, noble, true).
- B. We could not have a scale of values unless we implicitly recognize that there is something that is "best" (most good, most noble, most true).
- C. Perfection depends upon being. A real hamburger is infinitely more valuable than the idea of a hamburger if you're hungry and it's lunch time. Real money is more valuable than the idea of money if your goal is to tear down Churchill Tower and replace it with more beautiful buildings.
- D. There must be a real being in whom all the perfections are one (true, beautiful, and good) and by whom all perfection is communicated to lesser beings.
- Every judgment about the true, the beautiful, or the good implicitly appeals to the scale of value established by the highest truth, the most beautiful, or the greatest good.
- 5. Order
- A. Every thing in the universe is an example of order.
- B. Order does not happen by accident. The natural tendency of the physical universe is to become more disorderly (Second Law of Thermodynamics: entropy (disorder) increases). Order comes from intelligent causes.
- C. There must be an intelligent being who gave the universe the order we see in it.
- No scientific discovery can overturn this argument. Every scientific discovery shows that being is intelligible. This is NOT a "God of the gaps" argument. It is an argument from the reality of human knowing. "If being is intelligible, then God exists" (Lonergan). Every time we make a knowledge claim, we affirm the order and intelligibility of the universe, even if the claim is that we know that we know very little of what can be known. We know enough to know how little we know.
- Only a non-physical (spiritual) Intelligence could have caused that order in the universe.
- Common conclusion of all Five Ways: "And this is what we mean by 'God.'" In a later article, Thomas shows that there can be only one infinite, eternal being, and therefore that the cause of motion, agency, contingent existence, truth, beauty, perfection, and order is the same being. This pure Spirit is infinite, eternal, all powerful (omnipotent), all knowing (omniscient), all present (omnipresent), all good, all beautiful, all true, all just, etc.
This kind of philosophy about God's existence and essence is known as natural theology in the Roman Catholic tradition.
- The Five Ways won't change the mind of those who are unwilling to believe because they depend on certain assumptions that are plausible but neither self-evident nor demonstrable from self-evident axioms; the first three Ways all depend on grasping and agreeing that an infinite regress of the same kind of things we see right before our eyes (things in motion, things caused by agents, and contingent beings) cannot explain what we see right before our eyes. This is not self-evident nor is it demonstrable from self-evident principles. If you have "eyes to see" that a line of dominoes that are toppling in front of you must have been set up by something that is not at all like a domino standing in line, then the observation of moved movers, caused cases, and non-necessary beings combined with the insight against infinite regress will naturally lead you to an unmoved mover, an efficient cause that is not itself caused by anything else, and "a being whose being is to be."
- The thought that we need to "prove existence" is strange. Abstract ideas are what enter into perfect "proofs," but it is difficult, if not impossible, to argue from abstractions to existing realities. That is why I prefer to talk about recognizing God's existence rather than "proving" it. The arguments are clues and pointers to the reality of God. They work for those who are willing to let them work; they don't work for those who demand proof of everything except the idea that "everything has to be proved." There is no point in arguing with such people.
- Peter Kreeft, "Twenty Arguments for the Existence of God."