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. Aqua nis 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 init 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 its 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 call God.
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 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 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 its 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 isa 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..