Saturday, February 26, 2011

Research Paper on Saint Thomas Aquinas

Research Paper on St. Thomas Aquinas

The works of St. Thomas Aquinas the medieval Christian philosopher are a corner stone of Christian Theology. With access to the recently recovered writings of Aristotle, Aquinas revolutionized Christian thinking with his Aristotelian arguments for God’s existence. Aquinas’s five arguments for proving God’s existence, though somewhat outdated by today’s knowledge of modern physics, remain valid, and applicable.

The five arguments are as follows:
  1. The Argument from Motion.
  2. The Argument from Efficient Causality.
  3. The Argument from Possibility and Necessity.
  4. The Argument from Grades of Goodness in Things, and
  5. The Argument from the Governance of the World.


Of the five arguments put forward by Aquinas, the argument from governance of the world is the strongest. In this argument Aquinas states that God is the being “by whom all natural things are directed to their end” (Melchert 282). This is a strong argument in support of god’s existence because it explains the ability of animals to react to their environment, when they have no knowledge of why they do so. Of the remaining four arguments, the argument from grades of goodness, in which Aquinas claims that God is the measure of all things good, is arguably the weakest. This argument uses qualitative properties to measure “goodness”, and is therefore subject to opinion. Aquinas also fails to include the counter-measure to this qualitative grade of goodness, which must exist for all qualitative measurements.

In his argument from the governance of the world, Aquinas states that all natural bodies move towards an end. According to Aquinas, this movement is evident in these natural bodies as they always act in the same way, so as to obtain the best result. Since bodies lacking knowledge cannot move towards an end on their own, these creatures must be guided by another being which has knowledge and intelligence. It is this being which we call God (Melchert 281).

Aquinas’s argument for governance is a strong case for the existence of God. The Ability of animals to achieve an end with no knowledge of how they will do so is implausible. These ignorant creatures cannot possibly conceive how and by what means they will achieve their ends, but are able to do so anyways, obtaining the best results time after time. Because natural bodies lack the knowledge to change themselves, they must be a directed by a knowledgeable being. This being is God. For example: As the seasons change, the arctic hare is able to change the colour of its fur, so that it can better hide itself from predators. While the hare does not have the knowledge to actively change its colour, it does so anyways. This change in colour is caused by a governing force, which directs the hare to its end (the change in colour). This unseen force must be from a knowledgeable, intelligent being, to know when it is time to direct the change in colour of the hare. Such a being can only be God.

Aquinas’s argument for governance is one of his strongest; it clearly shows how God works in nature. Things that lack knowledge cannot move to an end, but require direction to reach it (Melchert 281). The fact that natural bodies receive this direction is one of the strongest arguments of Gods existence. The Inherent problem with Aquinas’s argument is that it conflicts with Charles Darwin, and his evolution theory. Darwin’s theory claims that the ability of a natural body to achieve an end is merely a process of natural selection, those creatures unable to meet the end simply die off. Even though it conflicts with Darwin, Aquinas’s argument can be manipulated to say that God is the force that gives animals the ability to evolve, retaining some of its strength.

While Aquinas’s argument for God’s governance of the world remains one of the strongest, the weakest of the five ways of proving god’s existence is the argument from grades of goodness in things. In this argument, Aquinas states that “the maximum in any genus is the cause of all that genus...therefore there must be also something which is to all beings the cause of their being, goodness, and every other perfection; and this we call God.” (Melchert 281) Though this is a valid argument for the existence of God, as it places God as the measure of all things good, it leaves several questions unanswered. The grade of goodness cannot be quantitatively defined, making it a qualitative observation that is open to interpretation. One man’s view of goodness could greatly differ from that of another’s conception of greater good. The second inherent fallacy in this argument is that it only gives one side of the scale, the ultimate goodness, what would be the opposite side? For every qualitative measure there must be a counter measure, (hot and cold; wet and dry, etc).

Aquinas fails to take this into account these counter measures in his argument, and instead argues that the maximum of the genus is the cause of all in that genus (Melchert 281). This argument does not allow for extreme opposites, which all qualitative measurements have, and for grades of goodness would be evil. By using qualitative measures, and not taking the opposite of the maximum into account, Aquinas’s argument loses much of its weight. While remaining valid, this omission of opposites makes the argument the weakest of the five.

St. Thomas Aquinas provides us with five strong arguments for God’s existence, each with it’s own values and flaws. The argument from governance of the world is the strongest. It places God as the director all things natural moving towards an end, which explains how bodies lacking knowledge can move to an end. Of the remaining four, the argument from grades of goodness is the weakest. This argument uses qualitative measures of goodness against God, but fails to take into account the opposite of these measures, which must exist for all qualitative observations. It is this lack of counter measures that takes away the support from the argument. Aquinas’s five arguments for proving God’s existence remain a corner stone of Christian theology. Each argument requires faith, as even in our scientifically advanced world, we cannot come up with a scientifically sound test for God’s existence.

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