St Johns University New York St Thomas Philosophical Theology Discussion

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Aquinas prefaces every discussion with a balanced consideration of the perspectives, both pro and con. He wants to understand an issue in all its complexity, and he welcomes contributions on the question from any point of view, any intellectual tradition. The underlying conviction of this methodology is that whatever is true cannot offend any other truth—in other words, all truth is one. He believes that the convictions of his faith are not irrational but are rather truths about the world that will be confirmed by intellectual progress. Religion is not threatened by the progress of science (although admittedly some religious people have forgotten this point at times, with tragic consequences).

Thomas considers two objections that argue against the existence of God:The first objection states the very serious problem about the existence of evil in this world: God is all good; God is all powerful; God is creator ex nihilo –so therefore how could there by evil in this world? How could such a God permit suffering, particularly suffering in the innocent. Surely He could do something about this (otherwise He is not all powerful) and surely He wants to alleviate this suffering (otherwise He is not all good). Why does he just let this happen? For many people this is a sufficient and insuperable difficulty to belief.

The second objection states that it is superfluous to explain things in a complicated way when we can explain things in a simple way; in other words, if science can explain the patterns and the phenomena of nature adequately, why do we need to posit a Divine Principle? For many people (then and now) this objection is enough to convince that theology is no longer necessary, as it is being replaced by the progressive discoveries of science.

Thomas responds that the existence of God can be proven in Five Ways:

Argument from Motion—Something in motion must be put in motion by another, but this line cannot go back to infinity, otherwise nothing would ever have been put into motion. Therefore we must posit the existence of an Unmoved Mover, which everybody understands to be God. This is a well-known argument, but some critics think that the argument contradicts its own basic premise: “Whatever is in motion must be put in motion by another.”

Argument from Efficient Causality—This argument is similar to the first proof because again the impossibility of going back to infinity is the consideration that forces us to conclude to the existence of a first efficient cause.oArgument from Possibility and Necessity—This is a different argument from the first two in that the language of infinity is not present. A possibility (a contingency) need not exist, and everything that is a mere possibility at some time does not exist (otherwise it would not be a mere possibility, but rather a necessity). If all there were in the world were possibilities, and there were no necessities, at one time it would have been the case that there was nothing at all. But this is absurd, because we can see now that there is something in existence. Therefore we must posit the existence of a necessary being, which is God.

Argument from Gradations—There are gradations in being, such as the hottest, the most beautiful, etc. In any genus the maximum is the cause of all else in that genus, so therefore there must be some supreme being that is the cause of the being and goodness of all lesser beings, and this we all know as God.

Argument from Design—Non-intelligent beings (beings other than human beings) all move towards their proper end as if programmed that way. In other words, there appears to be an inherent design to the natural phenomena of this world, and there cannot be design without a Designer, which we all know as God.

Notice how proofs #1 and #5 address the objections that Aquinas starts the question with – the concern about the existence of evil and the concern about the adequacy of science. Discuss this approach offered by St. Thomas: Do his arguments (any one of them) prove that a benevolent God exists despite the presence of evil, and/or that God’s existence is necessary to explain the natural phenomena that we see with our sense? Do you find his effort compelling?

Your Reflection Essay should be 200-250 words.

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