How to demolish the most common arguments against God

Are you tired of hearing the same weak atheist arguments over and over, but lack a definitive way to respond to them? Do you sense that they’re wrong, but have trouble articulating why? Chances are, you have a vague and passing familiarity with the philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas, who demolished these arguments centuries ago; but to be an effective defender of your faith, what you need is a solid understanding of Aquinas’ Five Ways.

The following is a guest post by one of our readers, Russell, who has been studying Aquinas. After he left a comment about Aquinas’ Five Ways in another article, I requested that he write this overview. Once you familiarize yourself with the Five Ways, you’ll realize that they’re really just common sense—and excellent retorts to those atheists who demonstrate that their level of understanding doesn’t even rise to the level of common sense.

Thomas-Aquinas-Black-large

This is a quick overview of Aquinas’ most famous arguments, the Five Ways, for the existence of God. I’m not an expert on Aquinas, so any faults about his Ways are mine, not the good Doctor’s.

St. Thomas Aquinas was born in Italy, and lived from 1225 to 1274. Known as “Doctor Angelicus,” he was a great theologian, prolific writer, and the father of the Thomistic school of theology.

Aquinas combined Aristotelian dialectic with Christian theology. I know, doesn’t sound all that impressive. We can’t see how profound that was, because, like fish who can’t see the water in which they live, we can’t imagine a world without it. The combination of Athens and Jerusalem has been a cornerstone of Western Civilization, and his influence in this regard cannot be overstated.

Sadly, most modern ‘thinkers’ have no clue who Aquinas was, and therefore why their arguments against God are nothing more than the babbling of uneducated fools. They don’t realize Aquinas already dealt with the nattering nonsense that keeps trying to pass itself off as science and logic.

Aquinas’ Five Ways, or Quinque viae, are still standing, centuries later, as solid arguments for the existence of God. Not proofs of existence, like some keep saying, but arguments for the existence of God.

His Five Ways are:

  1. The Argument from Motion.
  2. The Argument from Efficient Cause.
  3. The Argument to Necessary Being or Contingency.
  4. The Argument from Gradation.
  5. The Argument from Design.

You could spend a lifetime examining his arguments, but we’re not going to do that here. All I’m aiming for is a broad overview of the Big Five.

One core idea that Aquinas builds on is Aristotelian in nature: the difference between potentiality and actuality. The idea is, something can exist in one state or the other, say a rock on top a hill. The rock has the potential to roll down the hill, but it cannot do so on its own. If another force—say, a mover—pushes the rock, then it will actually roll down the hill.

The First Way

The first and more manifest way is the argument from motion. It is certain, and evident to our senses, that in the world some things are in motion. Now whatever is in motion is put in motion by another, for nothing can be in motion except it is in potentiality to that towards which it is in motion; whereas a thing moves inasmuch as it is in act. For motion is nothing else than the reduction of something from potentiality to actuality. But nothing can be reduced from potentiality to actuality, except by something in a state of actuality. Thus that which is actually hot, as fire, makes wood, which is potentially hot, to be actually hot, and thereby moves and changes it. Now it is not possible that the same thing should be at once in actuality and potentiality in the same respect, but only in different respects. For what is actually hot cannot simultaneously be potentially hot; but it is simultaneously potentially cold. It is therefore impossible that in the same respect and in the same way a thing should be both mover and moved, i.e. that it should move itself. Therefore, whatever is in motion must be put in motion by another. If that by which it is put in motion be itself put in motion, then this also must needs be put in motion by another, and that by another again. But this cannot go on to infinity, because then there would be no first mover, and, consequently, no other mover; seeing that subsequent movers move only inasmuch as they are put in motion by the first mover; as the staff moves only because it is put in motion by the hand. Therefore it is necessary to arrive at a first mover, put in motion by no other; and this everyone understands to be God.[1]

Things do move. We see them moving. Something has to move the thing that’s moving. Potentiality is only moved by actuality. Something can’t exist potentially moving and actually moving. So a potential depends on an actual to change it to an actual. There has to be something that does not need to be moved, that moves all things, and that is God.

This isn’t what most people think it is—this is not an argument for a beginning of a temporal series. The Unmoved Mover in this case is above the lower elements of the set. Aquinas jumps categories, from things that are contingent to a non-contingent entity. There has to be a change in categories because the non-contingent entity is fundamentally different than contingent things. Aquinas will make use of this idea again. And because this is only talking about contingent things, Aquinas says only contingent things have a start to their movement.

The Second Way

The second way is from the nature of the efficient cause. In the world of sense we find there is an order of efficient causes. There is no case known (neither is it, indeed, possible) in which a thing is found to be the efficient cause of itself; for so it would be prior to itself, which is impossible. Now in efficient causes it is not possible to go on to infinity, because in all efficient causes following in order, the first is the cause of the intermediate cause, and the intermediate is the cause of the ultimate cause, whether the intermediate cause be several, or only one. Now to take away the cause is to take away the effect. Therefore, if there be no first cause among efficient causes, there will be no ultimate, nor any intermediate cause. But if in efficient causes it is possible to go on to infinity, there will be no first efficient cause, neither will there be an ultimate effect, nor any intermediate efficient causes; all of which is plainly false. Therefore it is necessary to admit a first efficient cause, to which everyone gives the name of God.[1]

In some ways this is another angle to his First Way. Nothing can cause itself, for it would have to pre-exist itself to do so. So anything caused has to have a cause. You can’t have an infinite number of causes, because something along the way has to change the potential causes into actual caused. There might be more than one intermediate causes, but they, too, can’t stretch into an infinite series for the same reason. So there has to be another category above causes and caused, an Uncaused Cause, which we call God.

How long of a paint brush would you need to get it to paint by itself? A meter? 100 meters? An infinite length? The answer is, there is no length that will change the potential nature of the brush to an actually painting brush. It will require a mover, a cause, to do so.

Movement and cause are the same: that which is contingent has to rely on an non-contingent entity to become actual and caused. Again, this isn’t a temporal series. It can apply to those, but the underlying requirement is the Uncaused Cause, the Unmoved Mover, which is in a different category than contingent things.

The Third Way

The third way is taken from possibility and necessity, and runs thus. We find in nature things that are possible to be and not to be, since they are found to be generated, and to corrupt, and consequently, they are possible to be and not to be. But it is impossible for these always to exist, for that which is possible not to be at some time is not. Therefore, if everything is possible not to be, then at one time there could have been nothing in existence. Now if this were true, even now there would be nothing in existence, because that which does not exist only begins to exist by something already existing. Therefore, if at one time nothing was in existence, it would have been impossible for anything to have begun to exist; and thus even now nothing would be in existence – which is absurd. Therefore, not all beings are merely possible, but there must exist something the existence of which is necessary. But every necessary thing either has its necessity caused by another, or not. Now it is impossible to go on to infinity in necessary things which have their necessity caused by another, as has been already proved in regard to efficient causes. Therefore we cannot but postulate the existence of some being having of itself its own necessity, and not receiving it from another, but rather causing in others their necessity. This all men speak of as God.[1]

The Third Way is another angle of the first two, but Aquinas really brings out the need for a non-contingent entity.

These first three ways are profound enough to answer the blathering ninnies that run about saying stupid things like, “If everything has a cause, then what caused God?” and “What if the Universe is of infinite time, Bible boy? What then?”

The first question—what caused God—shows the utter lack of education possessed by many of those with degrees. Aquinas doesn’t argue that everything has a cause, but that everything contingent has a cause. If you are talking with someone who makes the argument that God should have a cause, you should kindly point out that no serious philosopher has made that argument, especially not Aquinas, not Aristotle, and not even William Lane Craig.

Here’s a bit of advice for Christians defending against such an argument. If the person persists in maintaining that’s the argument, he’s not arguing from good faith, he’s intellectually dishonest and you may treat him as such. Dialectic arguments should only be used to explode his pseudo-dialectic mutterings. Use rhetoric to strike against his emotions. Stick to the truth. You’ll do fine. If he accepts your correction, you could end up having a delightful discussion with him.

The second question—what if the universe is infinite in time—isn’t quite as cut and dried. Aquinas makes an argument for a single act of creation, but he also argues such an event isn’t needed. The tricky part is understanding that Aquinas’ argument for God is not one of a temporal series in and of itself, but that God, the Unmoved Mover, the Uncaused Cause, the Necessary Being, is fundamentally different than anything that isn’t Him. God is a different category altogether. If the Universe has begun to exist, then it there needs a Cause that is Uncaused. I know, dead horse. And for everything in the Universe, there needs be a Necessary Being to uphold all existence, because if something can not exist at one point, it lacks the ability to self-exists.

If the Universe has always existed, or even if there’s an infinite number of Universes, then there needs be a Necessary Being to uphold all existence. It doesn’t matter if there is a beginning or not to the Universe, everything contingent needs to be upheld moment to moment by the Necessary Being.

“Fine, but what about a quantum field fluctuations?” Same answer.

See, the problem is at this point, the person arguing against God while trying to use science is barking up the wrong category. God’s involvement is metaphysical, above nature, also know as supernatural. Using contingent factoids cannot prove or disprove arguments from a metaphysical category.

The guy arguing against God needs to engage the actual arguments made by Aquinas at the same level in order to be rational. Anything less is dishonest.

The Fourth Way

The fourth way is taken from the gradation to be found in things. Among beings there are some more and some less good, true, noble and the like. But ‘more’ and ‘less’ are predicated of different things, according as they resemble in their different ways something which is the maximum, as a thing is said to be hotter according as it more nearly resembles that which is hottest; so that there is something which is truest, something best, something noblest and, consequently, something which is uttermost being; for those things that are greatest in truth are greatest in being, as it is written in Metaph. ii. Now the maximum in any genus is the cause of all in that genus; as fire, which is the maximum heat, is the cause of all hot things. Therefore there must also be something which is to all beings the cause of their being, goodness, and every other perfection; and this we call God.[1]

Like Aquinas’ other Ways, this is just a summary of his arguments. He spends hundreds of pages explaining why God has to be Good and not just anything. This is not a quantitative argument about sums and magnitudes, but one of transcendental perfection. To treat this as the extent of his argument is either ignorant or dishonest.

For example:

That’s an argument? You might as well say, people vary in smelliness but we can make the comparison only by reference to a perfect maximum of conceivable smelliness. Therefore there must exist a pre-eminently peerless stinker, and we call him God. Or substitute any dimension of comparison you like, and derive an equivalently fatuous conclusion. — Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion

Q.E.D.

The Fifth Way

The fifth way is taken from the governance of the world. We see that things which lack intelligence, such as natural bodies, act for an end, and this is evident from their acting always, or nearly always, in the same way, so as to obtain the best result. Hence it is plain that not fortuitously, but designedly, do they achieve their end. Now whatever lacks intelligence cannot move towards an end, unless it be directed by some being endowed with knowledge and intelligence; as the arrow is shot to its mark by the archer. Therefore some intelligent being exists by whom all natural things are directed to their end; and this being we call God.[1]

This is just common sense, which explains why most learned men of our age have no idea what point Aquinas is making here. That which lacks intelligence cannot have a purpose. Unintelligent thing act according to laws set for them. Intelligence precedes laws. So, that which has set the laws by which all things are governed we call God.

Since we don’t know for certain what the physical laws were like during the first blip after the Big Bang, we can’t describe how things worked. But, again, God is above that, He had laid down governance for those initial conditions as much as He did for the material Universe after. All things operate according to His will.

The implications should be clear, no matter what law is discovered by man’s questing, it cannot supersede God. There is no God of the gaps for Aquinas—God is above and below all.

To summarize, Aquinas argues for some Being that is above everything as the First Cause, the Unmoved Mover, and is the fundamental source of everything, the Necessary Being. He is the Alpha and the Omega, whom men call God. He exists in a different category than everything else in the Universe, and is not just one entity among many.

Every time someone makes an argument against God and either doesn’t address Aquinas or does so incorrectly, despite being corrected, you know they are not arguing honestly. No fact of the physical universe can prove or disprove God. No law, no factoid, no wild-eyed claims of quantum field fluctuations can address the wrong category.

So why aren’t these Ways considered proofs? Aquinas set out to defend belief in God as being philosophically rational at a metaphysical level, not something empirically provable, by merging Athenian logic and Jerusalem belief.

In this benighted age, where Science über alles is the mode de jour of all right-thinking people, this is nigh well unconceivable. It’s claimed that science encompasses all knowledge, including metaphysics, which is an absurd position to take, since that means science also includes astrology and the rules to croquet.

The Five Ways aren’t arguments for Jesus being the Son of God or that the Bible is the Word of God, but that there are rational reasons for accepting the existence of a Supreme Being, whom men call God.

This was just a quick flyby at 30,000 feet. Aquinas was a prolific writer, and he explores these ideas further in many books and hundreds and hundreds of pages.

If this has piqued your interest, I suggest checking out Professor Edward Feser’s blog. Professor Feser has a gift for explaining Aquinas clearly, as well as many philosophical arguments, both the pros and cons. I also recommend Aristotle’s Metaphysics, and, of course, the Summa Theologica.

[1] Wikipedia : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quinque_viae

54 thoughts on “How to demolish the most common arguments against God

  1. Thanks for posting this, Sarah!

    If anyone wants to ask me questions, feel free in the comments. I’m not an expert but I’ll do what I can to answer them.

  2. It is interesting how some of these arguments are supported by science.

    Number one is backed by the 2nd law of thermodynamics. Energy always has a net flow in one direction. We find a universe in motion, and therefore there has to be someone to start it. In the same way, the second law shows us that the universe is like finding a car with the engine running. It has only so much gas in the tank, so you know it hasn’t been running forever, and it can’t run backwards.

    Number two and three are backed up by the big bang. Everything and everywhere and time itself began there. That which begins to exist must have a cause and that which doesn’t exist can’t cause itself.

    Four is more of a philosophical argument, rather than science. Good and evil are defined by God, or they don’t exist at all.

    Five is the anthropic principal.

    So all of these are very much alive and well 700+ years later.

  3. “Number two and three are backed up by the big bang.”

    Other way around, really. The big bang rests on Aristotle’s difference between potentiality and actuality. The singularity was potential, but it took something to make it actual, the Unmoved Mover.

    Aquinas even argues that the Necessary Being maintains everything non-necessary from moment to moment on a metaphysical level. There doesn’t need to be a temporal beginning, just the Necessary Being.

    Which, come to think of it, makes the theory of the endlessly contracting then expanding universe not as strong of an argument against God, because even if there isn’t a temporal beginning, something has to change the condensed, and energy depleted potential in an actual with new energy in the system. We’re back to the Uncaused Cause again.

    “So all of these are very much alive and well 700+ years later.”

    Yup. And when modern atheists ignore them, or don’t know about them, it shows their ignorance.

  4. nothing demolishes atheism or theism, just interpretations of theistic ideas.

    let’s say i agree to a first cause. there’s a sound argument. something eternal exists. ok. but there is no necessitating volition and indeed, the deduction from observation is that complexity comes from simplicity. the final sound argument there is that this eternal first cause lacks volition because there’s nothing simple about volition.

    if one takes it that this eternal thing has volition, then since it cannot be rationally necessitated, it must be taken as true in order to get to a conclusion of god. god would have to be an inference to the best conclusion. but it cannot be because before it, we have a sound argument deduced against any need to infer at all.

    the fact of the matter is there is no evidence for god and this leaves us with pure reason. and, logic does not entail truth; we take premises as true or believe them true, nothing about logic itself makes premises “flow” to any conclusion, and all conclusions are accepted then, a priori, outside of any syllogism.

    that leaves whatever we believe beforehand, before hearing any god-proposition, determining the merits of any argument. it means that god is an idea that dawns on people, or doesn’t, solely based on that person’s impressions of the world.

    the nature of the proposition of god is that it is a metaphysical one and there is not one which can be considered true or false; they are only meaningful or meaningless.

    in as much as comprehensible statements about proposed incomprehensible beings is meaningful, that’s for the believer.

    the atheist knows there is no god in the same sense i know “i exist”. just casting doubt that it may be possible “i do not exist” doesn’t justify doubting it; and just because there may be a god, without justified reasons to doubt “there are no gods”, then the atheist knows there are none even though he maybe mistaken.

    there is no such epistemological grounds for the believer, because not only does he infer alone, god is also by definition something he cannot know. he apprehends and then believes, hopefully in genuine good faith.

    it is pointless to argue for or against the existence if deity.

  5. “nothing demolishes atheism or theism, just interpretations of theistic ideas.”

    Straw man.

    “ALL modern epistemologists”

    Hasty Generalization.

    There’s the door. You may use it since you have no freaking clue what you are talking about.

  6. i’ve formally and informally studied epistemology for more than 25 years.

    it is not a hasty generalization. it is a generalization for sure, and one which you yourself agree to. why? you too do not miss the fact that there is virtually no chatter about aquinas’ “ways”.

    “nothing demolishes …” you obviously have no idea what a strawman fallacy is. clearly, that statement is an assertion!

    what we do with assertions is justify them. all of my comments do just that.

    what you have enjoined is a fallacy fallacy in two instances and in order to commit a third; the fallacy of dismissal.

    you may, if you’d like, take any point i make and “destroy” it in any way you see fit, but certainly nothing said is dismissible out of hand as you’ve just done … likely because you simply don’t like being left to faith alone.

    and since it’d be a great assumption you’re about to make a clear genetic fallacy, let me spare you a fourth mistake; i am a christian apologist, not an atheist.

  7. “i’ve formally and informally studied epistemology for more than 25 years.”

    Don’t care.

    ““nothing demolishes …” you obviously have no idea what a strawman fallacy is. clearly, that statement is an assertion!”

    Def: The arguer creates a misrepresentation of the opposing argument such that listeners would find obvious fault with it.

    Straw man fallacy.

    “it is a generalization for sure”

    Def: The arguer attributes a property to an entire group based only on observing that property in an individual.

    Hasty generalization.

    You’re in the wrong, so shove off. I’m not interested in taking too much time to discuss anything with a dolt that cannot begin to understand his own stupidity.

  8. “fallacy of dismissal.”

    No, moron. I didn’t say your argument was wrong, I said you’re too stupid to argue with.

    Shove off.

  9. assertions are not misinterpretations of other arguments. clearly, the assertion i made is my own, hence, NOT a strawman. notice too, i didn’t object to ANY argument you did make. impossible then, for a strawman to exist.

    generalizations are not hasty generalizations (those made without consideration of facts). i made a generalization which you have to agree to since it is a fact, no one in general, talks about aquinas’ “ways” any more in terms of them being valuable apologetics.

    given your reaction, you seem to be a child.

    may it pass.

    god bless.

  10. Equivocal God-talk leaves us in total ignorance about God. At best, one can only feel, intuit, or sense God in some experiential way, but no human expressions can describe what it is that is being experienced … [As for univocal] Our understanding and expressions are finite, and God’s are infinite, and there is an infinite gulf between finite and infinite. As transcendent, God is not only beyond our limited understanding, but He is also beyond our finite expressions.

    (Norman Geisler, ‘Systematic Theology, Vol. 1’, Bethany House Publishers, 2002, pg. 615)

    … when we speak of God by using the word ‘God’, we do not understand what we mean, we have no concept of God; what governs our use of the word ‘God’ is not an understanding of what God is but the validity of a question about the world [Why anything at all?] … What goes for our rules for the use of ‘God’ does not go for the God we try to name with the word. (And a corollary of this, incidentally, is why a famous argument for the existence of God called the ontological argument does not work.)

    (Fr. Herbert McCabe, ‘God Matters’, Continuum, 2005, pg. 6)

    For if the existence of such a god were probable, then the proposition that he existed would be an empirical hypothesis. And in that case it would be possible to deduce from it, and other empirical hypotheses, certain experiential propositions which were not deducible from those other hypotheses alone. But in fact this is not possible. It is sometimes claimed, indeed, that the existence of a certain sort of regularity in nature constitutes sufficient evidence for the existence of a god. But if the sentence “God exists” entails to more than that certain types of phenomena occur in certain sequences, then to assert the existence of a god will be simply equivalent to asserting that there is the requisite regularity in nature; and no religious man would admit that this was all he intended to assert in asserting the existence of a god. He would say that in talking about God, he was talking about a transcendent being who might be known through certain empirical manifestations, but certainly could not be defined in terms of those manifestations. But in that case the term “god” is a metaphysical term. And if “god” is a metaphysical term, then it cannot be even probable that a god exists. For to say that “God exists” is to make a metaphysical utterance which cannot be either true or false. And by the same criterion, no sentence which purports to describe the nature of a transcendent god can possess any literal significance.

    (A. J. Ayer, “Language, Truth, And Logic”, Dover, Second Edition, 1952, pg. 117)

    To exist beyond the sphere of natural law means to exist beyond the scope of human knowledge; epistemological transcendence is a corollary of ‘supernaturalness’. If a god is a natural being, if his actions can be explained in terms of normal causal relationships, then he is a knowable creature. Conversely, if god can be known, he cannot be supernatural. Without mystery, without some element of the incomprehensible, a being cannot be supernatural – and to designate a being as supernatural is to imply that this being transcends human knowledge. Epistemological transcendence is perhaps the only common denominator among all usages of the term “god,” including those of Tillich, Robinson and other modern theologians. While some “theists” reject the notion of a supernatural being in a metaphysical sense, it seems that every self-proclaimed theist – regardless of his particular use of the term “god” – agrees that a god is mysterious, unfathomable or in someway beyond man’s comprehension. The idea of the “unknowable” is the universal element linking together the various concepts of god, which suggests that this is the most critical aspect of theistic belief. The belief in an unknowable being is the central tenet of theism, and it constitutes the major point of controversy between theism and critical atheism.”

    (George Smith, ‘Atheism: The Case Against God’, 1973)

  11. “assertions are not misinterpretations of other arguments.”

    You’re lying. You lead off with that statement in counter to the blog title. You’re trying to create a misleading impression of my argument, got caught on it, and now are backpedaling.

    “ALL modern epistemologists”

    Your words.

    “you have to agree to since it is a fact, no one in general, talks about aquinas’ “ways” any more in terms of them being valuable apologetics.”

    My words: “Sadly, most modern ‘thinkers’ have no clue who Aquinas was, and therefore why their arguments against God are nothing more than the babbling of uneducated fools.”

    Most doesn’t equal all. I used scare quotes for a specific reason, because I was being dismissive of the self-proclaimed smart set that had no clue their arguments against God through science had already been answered by Aquinas.

    One example:
    http://www.amazon.com/Neo-Scholastic-Essays-Edward-Feser/dp/1587315580/ref=cm_rdp_product

    So, yes, hasty generalization.

    “given your reaction, you seem to be a child.”

    I don’t care what I seem like to you. I know what you are, you double speaking charlatan. So I repeat: shove off.

    “i am a christian apologist”

    “god bless.”

    May God send you the help you need.

  12. Don’t care.

    You lost all my respect from your opening attack, and the hasty generalization was just a cherry on top of your meandering mess.

    Now go away so the adults can talk.

  13. i didn’t say a thing about your argument. my argument is that arguing about god’s existence is moot. the rest of my comments were an explanation of why that is.

    would you actually care to demolition my argument?

    seems not.

  14. Title: “How to demolish the most common arguments against God”

    Steve: “nothing demolishes atheism or theism, just interpretations of theistic ideas.”

    Steve: “i didn’t say a thing about your argument.”

    Take the short bus show elsewhere.

    Steve: “it is pointless to argue for or against the existence if deity.”

    Steve: “my argument is that arguing about god’s existence is moot. the rest of my comments were an explanation of why that is.”

    I don’t care about your monomania. This isn’t your private pulpit to expound on your obsession.

    I know your kind. It was easy to test. Point out the clear fallacies, as soon as you started to deny and backpedal, you showed your true colors.

    How many times do you need to hear this: Shove off.

  15. i made no attack! i have not commented at all on these arguments but to say they are irrelevant.

    you do realize that dismissing my argument solely by personal insults is yet another fallacy, no? i would ask if you ad hom much, but given the frequency here …

  16. i have not backpedaled. i’m merely waiting to see when or if you’ll actually counter my point instead of hurling insults and using names of fallacies you have no idea what they mean or entail.

    start here: there is no evidence from which you can deduce “god”.

    because you likely don’t know what deduction is, you are inducing if you point to the universe itself or anything within it and say “because of this, god”.

    bigger point: i can accept all the “ways” and still not have anything but a tautologous fiat that this first cause, prime mover, etc. is volitional.

    in that case, there is no significant thing proved or demonstrated by aquinas in his “ways” … and the reason his of little note in epistemology.

  17. “i made no attack! i have not commented at all on these arguments but to say they are irrelevant.”

    Do you even read what you write?

    “you do realize that dismissing my argument solely by personal insults is yet another fallacy, no?”

    Yes. Which is the correct response in this case.

    Aside from that, I’ve dismissed your arguments based on my identification of your monomania, your misleading start and your utterly false claim of all.

    “i would ask if you ad hom much, but given the frequency here …”

    Can’t stand the heat? Shove off then.

  18. ” i’m merely waiting to see when or if you’ll actually counter my point instead of hurling insults and using names of fallacies you have no idea what they mean or entail.”

    Shove off, you lying snake. When you mislead at the start, then try to claim the opposite, that’s backpedaling.

    When you declare that “ALL modern epistemologists ignore aquinas’ logic” based on your experience, that’s hasty generalization and incorrect. I gave you the benefit of the doubt and assumed you had no idea what you were talking about. Now, I’m not so sure. Thomism Neo-Scholastics are publishing books centered on Aquinas.

    So ignorant of this or lying? Or are you just going to haul the goalposts elsewhere?

    Again, simple test to reveal you. A forked tongue snake with a monomania.

    Utterly easy to fix, man up, own your mistakes and move on. Or don’t, but still move on. I don’t care which.

  19. thomists are not epistemologists. ;)

    my claim was that it is a moot point arguing about the existence of deity. that’s still my claim. i supported it. i still do. it’s still my point.

    now, how is that backpedaling?

  20. russell … since you only address the first and last line (which is an assertion, and ending with the same assertion), then let’s not be children, eh? here is the logic that “destroys” your claim that atheism can be “destroyed”. the mature and wise thing to do would be to take it point by point and counter is better logic and counter-examples. at least, that’s how making a point and sustaining one is done.

    so, here you go:

    let’s say i agree to a first cause. there’s a sound argument. something eternal exists. ok. but there is no necessitating volition and indeed, the deduction from observation is that complexity comes from simplicity. the final sound argument there is that this eternal first cause lacks volition because there’s nothing simple about volition.

    if one takes it that this eternal thing has volition, then since it cannot be rationally necessitated, it must be taken as true in order to get to a conclusion of god. god would have to be an inference to the best conclusion. but it cannot be because before it, we have a sound argument deduced against any need to infer at all.

    the fact of the matter is there is no evidence for god and this leaves us with pure reason. and, logic does not entail truth; we take premises as true or believe them true, nothing about logic itself makes premises “flow” to any conclusion, and all conclusions are accepted then, a priori, outside of any syllogism.

    that leaves whatever we believe beforehand, before hearing any god-proposition, determining the merits of any argument. it means that god is an idea that dawns on people, or doesn’t, solely based on that person’s impressions of the world.

    the nature of the proposition of god is that it is a metaphysical one and there is not one which can be considered true or false; they are only meaningful or meaningless.

    in as much as comprehensible statements about proposed incomprehensible beings is meaningful, that’s for the believer.

    the atheist knows there is no god in the same sense i know “i exist”. just casting doubt that it may be possible “i do not exist” doesn’t justify doubting it; and just because there may be a god, without justified reasons to doubt “there are no gods”, then the atheist knows there are none even though he maybe mistaken.

    there is no such epistemological grounds for the believer, because not only does he infer alone, god is also by definition something he cannot know. he apprehends and then believes, hopefully in genuine good faith.

  21. let’s do it this way, russell. here’s a formal syllogism. take issue with any premise and successfully counter, and, then you can dismiss the conclusion.

    The Pragmatic Argument About “God”

    1) “God” exists in the human vocabulary.
    2) Human reason is restricted by vocabulary.
    3) God transcends the human vocabulary.
    4) Therefore:
    a) “God” in the human vocabulary has no referent.
    b) All God-narratives are metaphysical sentences.
    c) God-narratives are only meaningful (not true or false).

    Can we talk about God at all and know what we mean, or should we know what we mean when we talk about “God”?

    see:

    Fr. Herbert McCabe, God Matters, pg 6
    A.J. Ayer, Language, Truth And Logic, pg 117
    Norman Geisler, Systematic Theology, Volume 1, pg 615
    George Smith, Atheism: The Case Against God, pg 26

  22. “here is the logic that “destroys” your claim that atheism can be “destroyed””

    Straw man.

    Title: “How to demolish the most common arguments against God‏”

    I’m not demolishing atheism. Never made that claim, not once. Never claimed Aquinas Five Ways demolish atheism.

    I don’t deal in snakes.

    I’m done here until you own up to your fallacies that I’ve pointed out several times now..

  23. “HOW TO” indicates an expository statement; ie. explaining how to invalidate atheism. given you did not write the article, russell, you may be technically correct, but your first comment is an offer to defend that exposition.

    as it is, my response is to the article. my assertion is that arguing about the existence of deity is pointless.

    since a “strawman” argument is to take one claim, misrepresent it, and then attack that misrepresentation, and given the fact i have not said ONE SINGLE THING about sarah’s article nor attacked it or characterized it at all, then there is no “strawman” whatever.

    again, i claim arguing about the existence of deity is pointless.

    my comments you just replied to are an explanation of why that assertion is true.

    grow up, put you big boy panties on, and if you think my own argument fails, then actually get on with demonstrating how and where it does … not only my initial explanation, but also the formal syllogism “the pragmatic argument about god”.

    that sarah, a person with a PhD, has folks like you representing her on this blog calls her judgment into question. i’m sure she herself is not a petulant child.

  24. “given you did not write the article, russell, you may be technically correct, but your first comment is an offer to defend that exposition.”

    I wrote the article. I know what I said and didn’t say.

    You’ve been wrong since the start and keep doubling down. That is being a lying snake.

    I cannot express this enough: I don’t care how you see me. I don’t care about your monomania.

    Man up, own your mistakes. Or don’t, and keep doubling down.

  25. so in your first comment to the article, why do you say “thank you for the article, sarah”?

    even still, what i said applies to whomever did write the article.

  26. I didn’t. “Thanks for posting this, Sarah!”

    Meaning, quite clearly, I was thanking Sarah for posting my article.

    You have been wrong from the beginning. You keep being wrong.

    Man up and own your mistakes.

    Until then, I’m done with you. I know I said that before, but that’s before I realized you were utterly mistaken about the author.

  27. it’s unclear who the author is and it’s quite beside the point.

    the point is, WHOEVER wrote “how to” IS claiming to be able to “destroy” atheism, atheistic arguments.

    please do go on, get serious, and “destroy” mine.

  28. Stephen Hoyt makes some good points. But I have to admit I haven’t followed that whole exchange.

    I’d advise against using these arguments if I were a theist. They’re not likely to convince any but the most casual atheist.

    The first three are of the same stripe, and amount to “We call the cause of everything God”. Which atheists are well aware of, and is the point at issue. The fourth is just confused and the fifth parochial.

    These arguments have never been convincing, but they’re more obviously so in light of our modern understanding.

    Atheists still await a good reason to think gods exist.

  29. Joe, I’ve told you before that you’re not tall enough for this ride. That you think Aquinas is not convincing doesn’t mean his arguments aren’t devastating to the usual arguments against God. Your commentary only serves to demonstrate, once again, that you are not intellectually equipped to debate these matters.

    I was an atheist at one time — observably a much smarter one than you — and I did find at least one of Aquinas’ arguments convincing enough to become a theist.

  30. Hi Sarah, nice to see you.

    I disagree, but even if you were right it doesn’t take an expert to see the flaws in these arguments.

    I’ll take your intellectual superiority as a given if that would make things easier for you.

  31. You can choose whomever to believe for whatever reasons you find appealing.

    Hoyt couldn’t identify the author of the article, even after said author told him directly. He misconstrued the article from the start, and attacked that. As for me, I wouldn’t trust what the fellow had to say about Aquinas.

    “The first three are of the same stripe, and amount to “We call the cause of everything God”. ”

    Um, no.

    Let me try to sum up Aquinas’ summaries. That which needs Movement has to have an Unmoved Mover. That which has a Caused has to have an Uncaused Cause. That which isn’t Necessary has to be sustained by a Necessary Being. The Unmoved Mover, the Uncaused Cause is a different category than anything else, and is what men call God.

    “The fourth is just confused and the fifth parochial.”

    You evince a complete lack of understanding of the last two.

    The fourth is summation of Aquinas’ conclusions to an age old problem that he wrestled with for hundreds of pages of writing and thought that he distilled to a strikingly simple argument.

    “This is not a quantitative argument about sums and magnitudes, but one of transcendental perfection. To treat this as the extent of his argument is either ignorant or dishonest.”

    If you find that confusing I suggest you hit the books and read more philosophy. I’m not a teacher of the topic, but I can suggest you start with Plato and Aristotle to understand the Greek position, then move on from there to basic medieval theology and philosophy. Like I pointed out, Professor Feser is a wealth of information.

    Your casual dismissal of the fifth merits a similar response: No.

    “I’d advise against using these arguments if I were a theist. They’re not likely to convince any but the most casual atheist.

    These arguments have never been convincing, but they’re more obviously so in light of our modern understanding.

    Atheists still await a good reason to think gods exist.”

    You’re being obtuse. The point of the article was just as the title said, and as a quick intro to Aquinas.

    He offered them as evidence of God, not proof, based on his brilliant welding of Athens and Jerusalem together. His works has inspired and converted thousands, if not millions, of people over the intervening centuries.

    Objections to God that fall under his conceptual space have already been met and answered by him, regardless of the age in which they surface. Regurgitating flawed arguments of the “What caused God?” sort only shows a type of modern understanding that is over 700 years out of date.

  32. An unmoved mover, an uncaused cause, a necessary cause (better not say being, that assumes the conclusion). We can grant Aquinas all of these things and be no closer to an argument for a god.

    “… and [this] is what men call God.”

    He can assert that this is a god, but you can understand that is not going to be particularly convincing without more work. After all an impersonal cause must have the same characteristics.

    The fourth argument seems something of a non-sequitur. That we can compare characteristics does not necessitate an ideal. All that is required is things to compare.

    And the fifth, well, it has been done to death. I’d rather not rehearse it, it’s boring (not to mention unconvincing).

    Your post is an admirable summary of the five ways, but his work doesn’t seem to hold to scrutiny. And most atheists are aware of it.

    I’m curious; I figured the headline if this article was editor’s licence, but apparently not. So I have to ask, what arguments of atheism does this (admirable) post demolish?

  33. “We can grant Aquinas all of these things and be no closer to an argument for a god.”

    Then you truly have no understanding of his Five Ways.

    Being in this case refers to Existence, not an entity with a will. A Necessary Being, is existence that is not contingent. If I’ve muddled that, I apologize. However, anyone familiar with Aquinas would have understood my intent.

    “He can assert that this is a god, but you can understand that is not going to be particularly convincing without more work. After all an impersonal cause must have the same characteristics.”

    Then read the rest of his works, and Aristotle’s Metaphysics, if you want more work done in this field. Read Professor Feser.

    Aside from that, the purpose of my article wasn’t for the convincing of anyone about the existence of God, which you should have been able to readily discern had you read it.

    “The fourth argument seems something of a non-sequitur. That we can compare characteristics does not necessitate an ideal. All that is required is things to compare.”

    No. I already explained why this isn’t so. Repeating your position without addressing what I said, as basic as it was, simply demonstrates your ignorance.

    “And the fifth, well, it has been done to death. I’d rather not rehearse it, it’s boring (not to mention unconvincing).”

    You’re killing me, here. I could care less if you find it boring. I could care less if you find it unconvincing. I did not write the article in attempt to amuse and entertain a random non-believer.

    “So I have to ask, what arguments of atheism does this (admirable) post demolish?”

    I cannot lead you through thinking. Either you can read and understand what I have written, or you cannot.

    I estimate to understand Aquinas, not to accept him per se, a reader has to be at least +1.5SD IQ, assuming normal distribution with SD 15, which is just around 93%, so about 7% of the population can understand Aquinas’ system of thought.

    I’m being generous with that assumption as well. It might be closer to +2SD, (~98%).

    Since in your few comments, Joe, you’ve neither evinced understanding of Aquinas nor my much simpler article, I have to agree with Sarah. You’re too short for this ride.

    Here’s a quick question, did Aquinas hold that God’s existence was self-evident?

  34. You know what? I flubbed the Third Way by conflating Being and Entity. That’s on me. It’s certainly not Aquinas’ argument or his fault I’m a dunderhead.

    Being in this case ties into existence, or Biblically, “I am that I am” that is Necessary, meaning non-contingent.

  35. Apologies I didn’t intend to get into a debate about the validity of these arguments. My only intent was to show why they are unconvincing.

    I do think you are being generous, but more towards the arguments than anything else. It’s not that these are difficult concepts to grasp (they can be adequately and quickly summarised as you have done above), it’s that they are not very good.
    If there is more to them (the part where this unmoved, uncaused, necessary cause can be understood to be a god), then maybe that should be the argument you’re summarising.

    Atheists, most of them I would say, are familiar with all of the above. So I don’t see what purpose repeating these to an atheist would serve, which is why I asked which arguments you think Aquinas would demolish.

    I did have a look at Feser’s blog, and at various sites which host the five ways, and they seem as expected and as above. Though Feser is rather keen that I buy his books rather than commit his thinking to the internet (I can’t fault him, we’ve all got to make a living). But there doesn’t seem anything missing from your summary apart from the part which makes an argument for a god.

    As to your question, I had no idea before I looked it up, so I won’t pretend to have an answer. Like yourself I’m no scholar of Aquinas.

  36. “Apologies I didn’t intend to get into a debate about the validity of these arguments. My only intent was to show why they are unconvincing.”

    Then why did you start by construing straw men and attacking those?

    The only thing you’ve consistently shown is you have no idea what the actual arguments entail.

    “It’s not that these are difficult concepts to grasp”

    Yes, they are. That’s what makes them so powerful, and difficult to wrestle with.

    “the part where this unmoved, uncaused, necessary cause can be understood to be a god”

    See there? “a god” Your usage of language clearly show you aren’t getting this.

    You keep committing a category error despite my best efforts to show you the actual argument.

    “Atheists, most of them I would say, are familiar with all of the above.”

    They may claim this is so, but given what they have actually written about the topic, like Richard Dawkins for example, shows they don’t understand the arguments at all.

    “So I don’t see what purpose repeating these to an atheist would serve, which is why I asked which arguments you think Aquinas would demolish.”

    Did you actually read my article? I address several common arguments against God and explain why, using Aquinas, they don’t hold water. I also said this was a quick overview of his Five Ways. At no point did I say to repeat them to an atheist.

    “Though Feser is rather keen that I buy his books rather than commit his thinking to the internet ”

    Bull. Feser’s blog is a wealth of discussion, articles stretching back years concerning his thinking. It takes a mere modicum of effort to discover he’s committed his thinking to the Internet. To say otherwise is ignorant.

    “As to your question, I had no idea before I looked it up, so I won’t pretend to have an answer. ”

    Then you are arguing from ignorance about Aquinas and his Five Ways.

    “Like yourself I’m no scholar of Aquinas.”

    I said I wasn’t an expert. I’ve been studying Aquinas for awhile now. Just because you’re woefully undereducated doesn’t mean I am. Attempting to disqualify me based on your shortcomings is amusing, but won’t get you anywhere.

    Next question, have you read enough to be familiar with Aristotle’s Metaphysics?

  37. So “What caused God?” and “What if the universe were of infinite time?” are the arguments you’re demolishing? The post title and tone lead me to believe there would be more to it than this. In a post purporting to show how to demolish common atheist arguments you can see why I’d think that. I was hoping for something far more devastating.
    The first question is a response to theist argument, so really this post is an exhortation to theists to make better arguments (I fully support this). The second question is unusual and certainly not one of the more “common atheist arguments”.

    I’m not familiar with Aristotle’s metaphysics. Looking forward to seeing where you’re going with this.

  38. “So “What caused God?” and “What if the universe were of infinite time?” are the arguments you’re demolishing?”

    Among others, yes.

    “The post title and tone lead me to believe there would be more to it than this. In a post purporting to show how to demolish common atheist arguments you can see why I’d think that. I was hoping for something far more devastating.”

    Don’t care.

    “The first question is a response to theist argument, so really this post is an exhortation to theists to make better arguments (I fully support this).”

    No, it’s not. It’s an attack commonly used by atheists.

    “The second question is unusual and certainly not one of the more “common atheist arguments”.”

    I can’t help it if you’re ignorant.

    “I’m not familiar with Aristotle’s metaphysics. Looking forward to seeing where you’re going with this.”

    I already went. I was just seeing your educational depth was in this area.

    Another question: Given you have no idea of what Aquinas wrote, or the metaphysics he drew upon, or the scholastic arguments he was expounding upon, by what means can you measure if his arguments hold water or not?

  39. Great layout of Aquinas’s Five-Ways argument(s). I do question cosmological arguments for the existence of god, however. (As a disclaimer, I have by no means read through all of the comments on this post, so please forgive me if I happen to be beating a dead horse here.)

    I suppose my question is simple (to formulate, I mean), so I will keep it that way: What justifies a move from the physical (e.g., the physical world, physical events, etc) to the non-physical?

    You stated, “God’s involvement is metaphysical, above nature, also know [sic] as supernatural. Using contingent factoids cannot prove or disprove arguments from a metaphysical category.” However, if this argument is justifiably biconditional (which I think it is), then why is a cosmological argument for the existence of god acceptable–using, as it does, “contingent factoids” as premises?

    From reading your commentary on Aquinas, and please correct me if I am wrong, it appears that you do not understand Aquinas to be presenting so-called cosmological arguments for the existence of god. This would be odd in light of the direct quotations (I presume them to be direct, anyways) you provide, each of which begins with a reference to the physical.

    I look forward to yours or Dr. Salviander’s comments and/or clarifications.

  40. “What justifies a move from the physical (e.g., the physical world, physical events, etc) to the non-physical?”

    Shortly, no category of contingent things can explain itself. Aquinas makes the move to the metaphysical because something outside the category needs to cause the category. So, something non contingent, not made of matter from the Universe, something that is literally above nature, that is supernatural.

    “However, if this argument is justifiably biconditional (which I think it is), then why is a cosmological argument for the existence of god acceptable–using, as it does, “contingent factoids” as premises?”

    Simply put, these are not proofs. Allow me to quote myself “Aquinas set out to defend the belief in God as being philosophically rational at a metaphysical level, not something empirically provable, by merging Athenian logic and Jerusalem belief.” The contingent factoids are rational starting points, not axiomatic premises.

    I’m curious, I’d like to hear why you find that particular argument to be justifiably biconditional.

    Aquinas does not present a Kalam sort of argument, which is one type cosmological argument similar to his, and frequently draws upon Aquinas, but it isn’t his. Maybe that’s what had confused you?

    Let me point out again that Aquinas’ doesn’t provide a proof of God’s existence, but arguments in defense of a rational acceptance of God. These Five Ways readily answer a lot of sloppy thinking in science flavored arguments disproving God frequently made by those with little historical and philosophical knowledge.

    I hope that helps.

  41. I’m glad you pointed out my use of “proof.” I balked at it at first, but couldn’t find a way to edit my post. Nevertheless, thank you for your prompt reply and reasoned response.

    Having read your answers, I am going to try to further articulate why I, and other philosophers–including evangelical Christian philosophers/theologians, such as Norman Geisler (see his “Philosophy of Religion” for a similar critique of Aquinas’ Five-Ways)–take issue with the move from, what you refer to as, “contingent factoids” (I love this, by the way) to the non-physical.

    Stated frankly, the move is a logical leap. Drawing a metaphysical conclusion from a physical premise is neither warranted nor necessary, because a physical cause is all that is required of a physical effect.

    I think there should be some clarification on one important point: Aquinas’ arguments are not strictly metaphysical, rather it is cosmological (that is, premised in the physical). St. Anselm’s ontological argument, on the other hand, is a purely metaphysical argument. Therefore, these arguments are not immune to physical argumentation; indeed, that is how one would want to attack his premises.

  42. [My apologies, I just realized I didn’t respond to a question you posed about my justification for the biconditionality of a certain argument. In all honesty, if I remember correctly, I had initially used the clause to introduce an argument, which I later deleted because it seemed to me to be superfluous and tangential. I must have forgot to delete that clause after nixing the idea.]

  43. “Stated frankly, the move is a logical leap.”

    Of course it is.

    “Drawing a metaphysical conclusion from a physical premise is neither warranted nor necessary, because a physical cause is all that is required of a physical effect.”

    The problem here this leads to infinite series, where nothing is actually solved. You just move from casual thing to the next. And since nothing casual can be purely actual, you can’t solve it by adding more temporal events in the past or future.

    Aquinas’ move from the series of infinite ordering to the Prime Mover is a move from a temporal sense to an ontological sense, and that is metaphysical.

    The point here is that the category of physical causes lacks actuality unto itself, that is to say something that is purely actual.

    Aquinas arguments are metaphysical. They move from the physical to the ontological.

    But I think we’re steering away from my original purpose for this article, which was to counter some common attacks against the existence of God, like “What caused God?”, that have already been met by Aquinas and discussed for hundreds of years since, and that his Five Ways are still solid arguments for the rational acceptance of God.

    Whether you find them convincing or not is up to you.

  44. Although I remain unconvinced by Aquinas’s reasoning–for the reasons we’ve discussed–I have a continual interest in philosophical theology. Possibly having been raised a Protestant evangelical Christian has much to do with this interest. Either way, I do appreciate the engagement, and I hope I haven’t derailed the topic too much.

    If I may ask, what are your thoughts on Craig’s Kalam cosmological argument that you mentioned in a previous reply?

    [Note: Please don’t take my question as a veiled attempt to pin you on some asinine issue. I’m asking purely out of interest. There’s a group of Christian’s I meet with every week who are profoundly intriguing and challenging, but none are too familiar with philosophy.]

  45. I haven’t read it, but from what I understand I find Craig’s Kalam arguments to be solid overall, but the Kalam argument assumes that the universe has a beginning. There’s sufficient scientific findings to make that a good assumption, however, I’m not a fan of resting ontological arguments on arguable science.

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