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.

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All you need to know about the Teleological argument

The teleological argument is A posteriori, it uses our experience of ‘design’ in the world to argue for the existence of a designer – God.

Examples of this could be the sky, the human brain, even emotions – the concept would say that if things exist they must have a designer.

St Thomas Aquinas

Aquinas asserted that there were five ways to prove Gods existence, one of which is the teleological argument. He thought that the regularity in the universe shows design, which he referred to as ‘Design qua regularity’.

  • Beneficial order – things that exist work towards an end
  • Beneficial order – cant happen by chance
  • Many of the objects that work towards an end wouldn’t have the intelligence to do so by themselves
  • Therefore such objects must have been directed to do so – by God.

William Paley

Paley argues for ‘Design qua regularity’ and ‘Design qua purpose’. An example of Paley’s design qua purpose argument is the Watch Analogy. The watch analogy simply states that if you were to look at a watch and examine its inner workings so perfectly put together, in synchronicity you would never claim it just created itself – he therefore asks how on this premise could you assert the same about a human being or the world as a whole.

Modern versions of the Teleological argument.

Arthur Brown

Brown, in his 1943 book ‘Footprints of God’, examined the ozone layer and how it is the exact thickness for its purpose. He states that his shows evidence of a plan and therefore design.

F.R.Tennant

Tennant puts forward the Anthropic Principle, which states that it is highly unlikely that science or evolution alone is responsible for intelligent life.

No Designer = Chaotic world

He believes that Intelligent OrderSustained Life and Intelligent Progression provide evidence to support the design argument.

Tennant also puts forward the Aesthetic argument. The ability to appreciate aesthetics has no evolutionary value, such that the only explanation as to why we can appreciate creation must be that God gave us the ability as a gift.

Richard Swinburne

Swinburne also sees the complexity in the universe and cannot put it down to mere chance – stating that the most likely explanation would be that God is the creator.

Okham’s Razor: Holds that the simplest explanation is the most likely.

There are many arguments for and against the design argument. If you are for or against the principle please comment, let us know what you think of the teleological argument.