Does God Exist 2

Does God Exist? – Aquinas Essay, Research Paper

Does God Exist? Since the beginning of time, man has been struggling to answer the question,

how did we get here? What or who was responsible for the creation of life and the cosmos? It

seemed natural to conclude that there must have been a higher power that created the reality

known by man. However, how does one prove the existence of such a God? This has been the

major preoccupation of theologians and philosophers which began several hundred years before

Jesus Christ, and has continued to be the subject of heated debate ever since. We readily accept

the universe and everything contained within it, but can’t seem to agree upon how it got here in

the first place. After all, stating that God exists and then actually proving His existence are two

different things, and the latter can prove to be a rather daunting task. Most early philosophers

maintained that God most certainly did exist and attempted to use scientific arguments to prove

their point. However, perhaps the most quoted philosopher on the absolute existence of God is

not a scientist, but rather, perhaps more appropriately, a theologian. St. Thomas Aquinas was a

student of philosophy and was influential in incorporating philosophy into the religious doctrine,

which provides the foundation for the modern-day Roman Catholic religious beliefs. Aquinas

examined the question of God’s existence in great detail in his philosophical works, Summa

Theologica and Summa Contra Gentiles. He wrote, “Beginning with sensible things, our intellect

is led to the point of knowing about God that He exists, and other such characteristics that must

be attributed to the First Principle” . Aquinas had the typical philosopher mentality by asserting

that it cannot be just merely accepted that God exists, since this contention is not immediately

evident. It is a declaration that must be proven. In other words, faith alone is not sufficient

enough evidence to conclude that God exists. Aquinas pointed out that what may be conceived in

the intellect does not necessarily exists in reality (Grace, 1996). To make his own case regarding

this issue, Aquinas established his five criteria on the existence of God through Summa

Theologica, the first three of which became known form the basis of the cosmological argument

confirming God’s existence. The five ways Aquinas used to confirm the existence of God all

stemmed from a first cause argument. In other words, life perpetuates itself as one cause prompts

the occurrence of an event that becomes the cause for a subsequent event and so on through

infinity. However, at some point, there had to be a first cause, which set these wheels into

motion, which is the being commonly referred to as God. In the First Way, Aquinas established

that everything that is finite undergoes change, and by following these successive changes, finite

man is eventually led to God. Until this happens, finite objects cannot be changed. Aquinas’

Second Way is based upon the theory of causality, which is a detailed explanation of how the

first cause is the only explanation for continual “cause and effect” of the universe. Next, Aquinas

established the criteria of a ‘necessity’ of being. In other words, something cannot come from

nothing. There had to be a transient being in place for all existence to evolve. He wrote, “We

find in nature things that are possible to be and not to be…. But it is impossible for these things

to always 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.” In other

words, if there were no existence historically, nothing would exist at the present time. Since

existence is not in question today, there must have been an eternal existence that started it all –

God. By the nineteenth century, philosophers were not quite so content to blindly accept the

existence of God. Certain skepticism began to prevail, and this was reflected in the philosophy of

the time period. Perhaps one of the most articulate spokesmen who argued against the existence

of God was British philosopher David Hume, the founder of the ’skeptical school of philosophy.’

He openly criticized Aquinas’ “first cause” theory as an ineffective argument, asking, “What was

the cause of the First Cause?”. He and others pointed out, quite rightly, if every occurrence

must have a cause, what makes anyone conclude that it began with God? There has never been a

valid argument establishing God as the ‘First Cause’ according to David Hume. Of course, it

should perhaps be pointed out that opponents of Hume have taken the theological “high road,”

maintaining that it is assumed that in the moral order, everything begins with God, and this is a

process that is beyond question. Furthermore, according to Hume, Aquinas’ argument is

philosophically flawed because he makes the assumption that the characteristics of the parts

equal the characteristics of the whole. In other words, just because some consequences in the

universe may be attributed to a cause does not mean that the entire universe can be traced to one

root cause. After all, if God is the cause of the universe, this means that God is a cause onto

Himself. Why can’t the creation of the universe be explained in similar terms? Remaining always

the skeptic, Hume’s argument stops short of claiming that God does not exist, which would be

atheism. Rather, he regarded his task as casting reasonable doubt as to whether or not God exists,

which is agnosticism. David Hume further expounded on his unconventional religious

philosophy in his 1757 essay, The Natural History of Religion. He suggested that people

continued to believe in the existence of God because they were conditioned to do so. Hume

wrote: Our ancestors in Europe, before the revival of letters, believed, as we do at present, that

there was one supreme God, the author of nature, whose power, though in itself uncontrollable,

was yet often exerted by the interposition of his angels and subordinate ministers, who executed

his sacred purposes. But they also believed, that all nature was full of other invisible powers,

fairies, goblins, elves, sprits, beings, stronger and mightier than men, but much inferior to the

celestial natures, who surround the throne of God. Hume’s implication is clear: If man did not

believe in the existence of God, he would incur considerable wrath from above. Hume continued

by asserting that literature had much to do with public perception of God and of His existence.

Ancient Greek poets bestowed upon their esteemed Gods human qualities they knew their

compatriots could easily relate to. It was this ‘ignorant’ ancient Greek view of God offered by the

Greek poets and Aristotle, upon which the God’s existence theory of Thomas Aquinas was based.

Hume asserted that the original faith placed in God’s existence grew from the uneducated masses

that developed the myth of an all-powerful Perfect Being who was responsible for the creation of

everything that could not be explained. These people could not explain such natural

phenomenons as lightning or earthquakes so they attributed them to some higher power. Today

there are empirical, scientific explanations for these occurrences. The possibility exists that

someday science will somehow be able to prove or disprove the theory that God exists. With

both points of view presented, which, if either, is correct? Aquinas’ argument, an admirable

model of deductive reasoning, is lacking in scientific validity. Hume argued, perhaps correctly,

that this historical description of a natural and moral order only grew from man’s desire to live an

ordered existence, not from God’s existence. People will forever be arguing around their dinner

tables about the existence of God. Many take comfort in the belief that there is one Creator who

still exists in the universe, a perfect being who watches out for His ‘imperfect’ children.

However, the argument that God exists because he was the ‘First Cause’ of everything is too

simplistic for the sophisticated intellect to accept. It may be spiritually comforting to believe in

the existence of a higher power, but there is no irrefutable evidence to suggest that God was ‘the

cause’ of everything, hence proving His existence. As we approach the new millennium,

skepticism prevails and continues to reign supreme.

Grace, R. Jeffrey. A Report on Summa Contra Gentiles Book One: God by Thomas Aquinas [Online]. October 1996. Available:

Hume, David. The Natural History of Religion [Online]. 1757. Available:

Porter, Burton F. (editor). Religion & Reason: An Anthology. New York: St. Martin’s Press, Inc., 1993.

Stairs, Allen. The Cosmological Argument [Online]. March 1998. Available:

Titus, Harold H., and Smith, Marilyn S. Living Issues in Philosophy (Sixth Edition). New York: D. Van Nostrand Company, 1974.

Thompson, Karl F. (editor). Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Contra Gentiles. Classics of Western Thought: II. Middle Ages, Renaissance, and Reformation. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1973.


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