Refutation of the "Mistakes of Aquinas"

St. Thomas Aquinas, the Angelic DoctorRefutation of the so-called "Mistakes of Aquinas" by A.L.

The "Mistakes of Aquinas" article can be seen at The Non-Believer's Page

His/her statement will be quoted as <<   >> and my responses will be under "Response"

The Argument from Motion

<< Motion -- whether it be physical movement, or a change in temperature -- cannot have started on its own because nothing can be reduced from potentiality to actuality, unless by something else which is in a state of actuality. Wood, for example, has the potential to be hot but cannot itself become hot without fire which is actually hot.

Now, in the same way that fire cannot be actually and potentially hot at the same time (because when it's hot it's potentially cold) something cannot be both mover and moved: a thing cannot move of itself. If there is motion in a thing, some thing must have caused it to move. And if that thing was also in motion when it caused motion in the first thing, then something must have caused its motion. Obviously, you can't go on forever, so the argument is made that there must have been a first mover, itself motionless and causing all other forms of motion.

In thinking circles, this is called Affirming the Consequent. St Thomas has not yet demonstrated god exists but he is "proving" God's existence by describing God's qualities. >>

Response: I think the writer of this article made a good summary of Aquinas' 1st way. However, his/her objections are absurd. Nowhere does Aquinas prove God by describing His qualities. Rather, it is an a posteriori argument. Since Aquinas has seen in the universe that changing beings exist, then there must be an Unchanged Changer in the universe.

<< Why? Well, in opposition to Aristotle, St Thomas saw all motion as purposeful. A purpose denotes a plan and, if there's a plan, there must be planner. Therefore movement in the universe happening to the scale at which it does "proves" a very big planner indeed. >>

Response: I think this person has mistakenly confused Aquinas' 1st way and 5th way. Aquinas' 1st way shows an Unmoved First Mover, not a designer.

<< Aristotle didn't see movement as having an end as designed by god. His god did not appoint ends: they just were. Motion, to Aristotle, and to many atheists, can just be motion, with no particular plan behind it. >>

Response: I don't know if the above statement is accurate. However, if it is, then it just shows that Aristotle didn't see a lot of things that Aquinas saw. From motion, Aquinas concluded that every agent acts for an end. Now, since natural agents have no intelligence of their own, then they are governed by some Intelligence. This would make sense if a person accepts the principle of finality.

<< Further, the most popular model for the origin of the universe is still the Big Bang Theory, which created an awful lot of movement in one fell swoop. The resultant motion we see around us does not suggest an intelligent mover causing movement, no more than a patch of wet grass denotes rain. There are always other explanations: your wife may have just watered the lawn; your child might have spilt orange juice; your dog may have marked its territory. >>

Response: The reason why Aquinas' 5 ways are great is because he assumes that the universe could be eternal. The Big Bang however, does not support atheism since if everything that comes to be needs a cause, then the universe would need a cause. Also, a person can look at the universe and see design, therefore there needs to be a designer. And finally, the author's example refuted his/her own theory. His/her explanation of a patch of wet grass ought not to be rain, it could be a person who watered the lawn, a child spilling an orange juice, or a dog marking his territory which shows that the patch of wet grass was designed or someone or something put it there. This author knows that a wet spot on the grass couldn't be left there by itself, it needed to be put there by something else. This is exactly the point of Aquinas proofs. If there is motion, then there must be a mover. Hence, Aquinas' great proof still stands.

<< Similarly, who is to say there was only one original Prime Mover? Why not two? Why not a whole team of gods, working on the project together? Perhaps our universe is one of many attempts, some good, some botched. Or our universe could be, in David Hume's words, the poor first attempt "of an infant deity who afterwards abandoned it, ashamed of his lame performance." >>

Response: There cannot be more than one unlimited existence; more than the Most is not possible. Since two infinite beings cannot differ in their potentiality, since they have no potentiality; they are pure actuality. And they cannot differ in their actuality, since actuality as such does not differ from actuality as such. Hence, they must be identical, and there can be only one Unlimited Cause of all limited existence. (see Thomas Aquinas: An Evangelical Appraisal by Norman Geisler, page 130)

<< Strangely, St Thomas thought that this was the most self-evident, self-proving of his "proofs". Partly this is because humans are rational beings. They have reason-seeking minds and they habitually assume that everything has a reason. It is hard for humans to accept that some things may not have a reason, but there might be instances where this is actually the case. St Thomas did not account for this possibility because to do so would have meant challenging fundamental elements of his worldview. >>

Response: Aquinas' 1st way does not assume as such. Aquinas sees changing beings existing, and therefore an act must actualize its potentiality. This is common sense, however, common sense isn't so common these days.

The Argument from the Nature of the Efficient Cause

<< Proof 2 is a furtherance of the notion that the first cause was also, in philosophical language, "efficient". That is, the Prime Mover has the power to make a change. This is an extremely debated and deep philosophical question. It ties into notions of cause and effect and the human ability to separate the two as necessarily having any connection.

Basically, the second proof is that there is no case known where a thing is found to be the efficient cause of itself: because then it would have to come before itself which is impossible because cause and effect have a particular order. A match bursts into flames after it has been struck, not before. To take away the cause is to take away the effect. No striking, no flames. If something didn't start the universe then the universe wouldn't exist, so something must have started the universe. There must have been a first efficient cause.

It all makes sense up to this point but then St Thomas decides, arbitrarily, that this first cause is called "God" by everyone. He's sort of saying, "Oh, you know what I mean." >>

Response: The reason why Aquinas calls this Being God is because people have thought of God as the Creator. Hence, the Uncaused First Cause is God since it would mean He is the Creator.

<< Because this proof is based heavily on acceptance of the first proof, he is again assuming that motion has purpose, and that purpose denotes an intelligent planner. You have to decide here, as you did in the first proof, if you believe that motion always has a purpose. >>

Response: Aquinas does not assume that motion has a purpose, but that motion cannot be moved by itself. This again is a caricature of Aquinas' way.

The Argument from Possibility and Necessity

<< Things are generated, they exist for a certain period of time, and then they perish. If everything was like this then one day nothing would exist. However, stuff patently does exist. And if stuff can only exist through being the product of stuff that already exists, the argument is made that because stuff exists now, stuff must always have existed. Once again, this regress obviously cannot go on forever and so it's proposed that there are two types of beings: those that owe their existence to what came before them, and those that don't. There must be at least one being who did not owe its existence to something that came before it. Beings are normally necessary to make other beings but such a being has its own necessity. This very first being, this first piece of stuff, is called God. This argument is based on another extremely wobbly assumption tackled on the very top of the Basic Arguments page, under the heading No Need for a First Cause. Just to remind you, one can choose to believe in a super-human, all-knowing, all-powerful god who has existed for eternity and who made the universe and everything in it, or one can choose to believe that the universe just popped into existence for no intelligent reason in particular. >>

Response: Or, a person can decide which is more plausible or reasonable: God who made the universe or the universe just popped out of nowhere for no intelligent reason? Of course, the more reasonable (if the person is actually rational) conclusion would be that God made it. Also, I would like to point out that Aquinas never held to the so-called principle of sufficient reason.

<< If you ask the question "Who made the universe?" it is also reasonable to ask the question "Who made god?" Basing your belief system on the answer to the former of these questions is irrational if you cannot also answer the latter. >>

Response: To ask "Who made God" is to ask "Who changed the Unchanged Changer" or "Who caused the Uncaused Cause." It is contradictory to ask this question. If the First Cause is caused, then it is not a cause at all, but an effect. As Fulton Sheen says:

"A true cause is one to which the reason not only moves, but in which it rests, and except in a first cause the mind cannot rest. The alternative does not lie between an infinite series and a first cause, but between accepting a first cause and rejecting the idea of cause altogether." (Philosophy of Religion, page 138)

<< And, of course, if you can come to the conclusion that at least one being came into existence of its own necessity, why not two, three or a larger team? >>

Response: Two infinite Beings would coincide. See above.

<< And then there's the question of infinity. If there are only contingent beings (those beings that are capable of ceasing to exist) and this universe has existed through an infinite amount of time, then all possibilities of everything must have already occurred because there's been an infinite amount of time for all possibilities to happen. And one of those possibilities is the simultaneous non-existence of all beings. So, how come you're still here reading this? Mind you, this only rings true if all possibilities must occur within a certain period of time which is patently untrue. It must happen some time that all contingent beings do not exist, but it cannot have happened yet because, patently, we do exist and we can't have come from nowhere twice! But then, if it has yet to happen, that means we must have always been around, which is also absurd. >>

Response: This in no way refutes Aquinas' 3rd way. Aquinas' basic argument is if there are contingent beings, then there must be a Necessary Being. This author is using logical propositions with metaphysical realities, thus making it weak. Aquinas deals with metaphysical realities throughout. Also, the author does not explain how the contingent beings come into existence in his/her universe. Aquinas' argument explains how there cannot always be a state of total nothingness or else nothing would exist. If the author's universe is dependent (I assume it is since it consists of contingent beings) then the universe is dependent on an infinite Being as well.

The Argument from Gradation

<< If we take two things and say that X is better than Y then X becomes the "best." X is now held to cause all imperfections in whatever is less good than X. X might be truth, nobility, goodness, etc. Reversing this logic leads us to conclude that "there is some cause of existence and goodness and whatever other perfections are characteristic of things, and this we call God." But that's just plain nutty. The next-to-best tennis ball in the universe is not made by the best tennis ball in the world. It's made by a machines in a tennis ball factory. >>

Response: I don't think this person knows Aquinas' 4th way at all. Fulton Sheen explains:

"The argument is not that the greater or less participation prove of themselves absolute, but rather that the diversity of degree of participation proves that a thing does not possess it by itself and essentially." (Philosophy of Religion, 381)

The person's example of the tennis balls are not analogous at all. An analogy to Aquinas' 4th way would be that there are only tennis balls in the universe. Since tennis balls have imperfection, then it proves that it does not have its own essence to be a tennis ball. Therefore there must be a perfect tennis ball in which its own essence is a tennis ball. If in the author's example, that the tennis ball is truly the best, then it does need a cause. However, since the person shows that the best tennis ball is made in a factory, it shows that this best tennis ball is not the best at all, or else it wouldn't need to be made.

<< Frequently, children turn out to be far better in many respects than their parents. >>

Response: This is because after all the education, food, etc only does the child become better than the parents. The author of this article seems to be rejecting the law of causality, which is held by many philosophers and scientists.

<< St Thomas here is caught in a web of semantics (as is much of philosophy). He has confused human descriptions of perceptions of things with the objective actuality of things. Again, close but no cigar. >>

Response: And this person doesn't know Aquinas' arguments at all. It seems as if s/he has not read Aquinas' 5 ways in context, which would be in his work "De Ente et Essentia."

The Argument from Governance

<< Based on notions "proved" in Proofs 2 and 3, the fifth proof proffers the notion that there must be something in the universe which is the source of all good, something by which all natural things are directed to their end, in much the same way as inanimate objects are directed by humans, e.g. an arrow shot to its mark by an archer. Here, albeit in a roundabout way, St Thomas again affirms the consequent. "Good" is a notion that is dependent on the opposite notion of "bad" and when you say something is "good" or "bad" (in the sense that St Thomas meant it) you automatically infer that something also exists which can tell the difference between the two. This "proof" is flawed because in its attempt to prove X it includes a quality of X as part of its proof. It does not say, for example, if A and B are both true it is rational to infer that C is also true. A more clumsy argument of this sort is the old "the bible is true because it say so" kernel. Many atheists and agnostics do not subscribe to normal religious definitions of "good" and "bad". Actions, rather than being right or wrong, have consequences for which one must accept responsibility. >>

Response: This person does not understand Aquinas at all. First of all, I believe s/he is mixing the 4th and 5th way. It seems as if the person is trying to make Aquinas' arguments a priori instead of a posteriori. Aquinas sees that there are things such as good and bad in our universe. But since there are gradations of goodness, then it follows that beings have goodness, but are not good. In other words, beings that have goodness participate in what is Good. This is what we call God.

Aquinas 5th way shows that since agents act for an end, then there must be an Intelligence being to direct them to that end. I can also make an argument that beings have the potentiality to be perfectly good. If there is a potentiality to be perfectly good, then some can conclude that a Perfect Good could actualize the potentiality.

We conclude that Thomas' 5 ways are still the best of all arguments made for God.

God love you

Appendix: A's Thomistic Argument for the Existence of God

This is my short summary and personal argument for the existence of God.

Contingent beings exist. Contingent beings do not have in their own essence to exist.

If contingent beings have in their own essence to exist, then they would not be contingent at all since if they have in their own essence to exist, they would not have the possibility to not exist.

Since contingent beings exist, there must be a Being that has in its own nature or essence to exist to cause all existence in which all contingent beings participate.

If this Being does not exist, then contingent beings would not exist since there is nothing to participate in.

But since contingent beings exist, it shows that they participate in existence which could only be participated from a Being that has in its own nature to exist.

This Being caused the existence of contingent beings. This Being is what we call God.

To deny this is to believe that a greater can come from a less. This is absurd. Therefore God exists.


Back to Philosophy Articles

Back to Home Page

About | Apologetics | Philosophy | Spirituality | Books | Audio | Links