The Cosmological Argument According to Aquinas

The Cosmological Argument

The Cosmological argument for God’s existence argues from the ‘cosmos’ or universe itself.  It is therefore an A Posteriori argument – it is based on our experience of the universe and works up to God as a first cause.

The basis of the argument is this…

  • Everything in the universe is caused by something else – our universe is made up of a chain of causes and effects.
  • If everything has a cause, we could infinitely trace back cause and effect – infinite regression.
  • Infinity cannot be possible, therefore there must be a first cause.
  • The first cause of the universe is God

Aquinas’ Five ways

Catholic theologian and philosopher Thomas Aquinas developed Five Ways to argue for Gods existence…

  1. The argument from Motion
  2. The argument from Causation
  3. The argument from contingency and necessity
  4. The argument from beauty
  5. The argument from design

The first three of these arguments are cosmological.

The first of Aquinas’ five ways is from motion. Through motion in the universe, we can see that things need to be caused, and that there must be an uncaused cause. Aquinas meant more than just movement, eg. movement of the planets. Motion for Aquinas also refers to the movement from potentiality to actuality. For example, a cup of tea may be actually hot, but potentially cold. When it makes the motion to become a cold cup of tea, it has moved from potentially being cold to actually being cold. This was the motion to which Aquinas referred.

The second of Aquinas’ five ways was the argument from causation. Everything in the world has a cause. Therefore, there must be a first cause – this we call God.

The argument from contingency and necessity (the third way) is slightly more complex to understand. Aquinas identified the universe to be full of contingent things – that is, things which are dependent on other things for their existence. For example, as human beings, we are dependent upon our parents.  If there was once a time when there was nothing, a necessary being had to create something from nothing.  The argument therefore suggests a necessary being to bring contingent beings into existence, and this we call God.

How successful is the Teleological argument in proving the existence of God?

For many scholars, the answer to the question of the Teleological Argument comes down to probability. Which is more probable, God as a designer or the universe as ‘brute fact’? Does God Exist?

Is the Teleological Argument for God’s Existence really ‘proof’?

Even Hume, with all of his criticisms, accepts that it is more probable that the universe was designed and that therefore there was a designer. However, he argues that there is no proof that the designer is God. It may point to the existence of a conscious designing intelligence, but this is not necessarily the God of Classical Theism.

John Stuart Mill and challenges to the Design Argument

According to J.S. Mill, the existence of evil challenges the success of the argument from Design.  The existence of evil in the world suggests that the designer of the universe has limited power, knowledge or love and therefore cannot be the God of Classical Theism. Process Theologians, however, have argued that God suffers alongside us, and the existence of evil does not challenge the existence of a loving, powerful God.

Peter Vardy on Probability

Peter Vardy states that this argument will never be conclusive as it rests on probability and individual judgment. For example: there is no scientific explanation for why life should strive for greater and greater complexity and intelligence. This allows believers to use a Creator God to explain how the matter in the universe is being directed towards a goal or purpose. However there is no proof that this is in fact the case.

What is your Conclusion on the Teleological Argument?

Clearly, the conclusion you arrive at relies upon your personal conviction. If the accumulated evidence of design is compelling enough, you may leap to the conclusion that God is the designer of the universe. For a theist, the apparent order and purpose of the universe increases the probability that God exists and provides support for his/her beliefs. An atheist, on the other hand, may believe that the argument is inconclusive.

According to Paul Davies, it comes down to how you interpret the facts that science gives you. It is the role of science to explain how the universe got here and the role of religion to explain why. If you apply Ockham’s Razor, the simplest explanation for apparent design and purpose in the universe is most likely to be true. The simplest explanation for a theist will be God as the designer.  But what is the simplest explanation for you?

Descartes Version of the Ontological Argument

Rene Descartes (1596—1650)

Descartes pic

What was Descartes version of the Ontological Argument?

Descartes Ontological Argument uses the example of triangle to try to prove God’s existence. His argument is that existence is necessary to God as 3 sides are necessary to a triangle.  In this argument, existence is a predicate. Descartes writes this argument in his Meditations on First Philosophy.

What are the problems with Descartes Ontological Argument?

Kant argues against Descartes, saying that existence cannot be a predicate, because it does not add value to something. For example, when I describe my Jack Russell Terrier, I say that he is a small dog with white fur and a black spot on his back. I don’t then say ‘and he exists!’