Today's post comes from Alexander Witt, a fellow seminarian for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. Alex is a much better philosopher than I am, so I defer classically philosophical matters to him. I did make some changes, added some personality, etc. etc. Read and learn.
On Modern Philosophy, Popular Logic, and the Five Proofs of the Existence of God
A few weeks ago, I had found a friend of mine had posted a picture (see below) contrasting two viewpoints as to how nature should be ordered. The first is the classic pyramidal structure with a human being on top and animals of decreasing order creating the underlying structures. This image is contrasted with the same animals and humans in a circle, man no closer to the middle or top than any other animal. Under these pictures read the captions “wrong” and “right” respectively. After a few minutes of thought, I realized that the image was a refutation—albeit a weak one—of one of St. Thomas Aquinas’ five proofs for the existence of God, in this case, gradation. Upon realizing this, I turned my mind to the other four proofs, only to find—as I had feared—that there have arisen in modern and contemporary philosophies and science counter arguments and points to each of the five proofs. Thus, the reason for this blog post is to offer some light and reflection on the five proofs and their “counter proofs” as well as some suggestions on how to counter these counter proofs. It will be easier to s tart from the last proof and work our way to the first.
THE FIFTH PROOF: GOVERNANCE
Summary—it seems that there is something governing things in the world naturally, even when the things not being governed are not intelligent. In other words, plants grow toward the sun because there is something guiding them toward it: namely the benefits of sunlight to the good of growing.
Modern Philosophy—nihilism!! Particularly when you apply the idea of governance to human beings. Nihilists will have us believe that, even though things happen, it’s not for a reason.
Response—but things obviously have a reason. I got a drink of what because I was thirsty. I ate because I was hungry. Is it not possible then, that there is governance in the world just by virtue of the fact that there are reasons for behaviors in the world?
Popular “Logic”—even though a thing happen, often times these things are out of any control we have. It’s the old “butterfly flaps it’s wings in China” stint. Sure, animals have instincts, but it’s not because of God. A plant grows towards the sun because that is what is best for it. An animal has instincts because of the surrounding factors of its system for the past hundred or thousand years.
|Butterfly wings: creating hurricanes|
and baffling philosophers like a boss.
Response—but where does the capacity for adaptation come from? How can one adapt without having the ability to adapt? Is it not possible that, however this being was created (either as it is or via evolution) that it was designed particularly in a way to allow it to adapt? This is particularly so with things that can’t reason. It’s easy to understand how humans can eventually make a spear after tripping over one too many a sharp rocks, but animals—which have a much shorter life span—don’t have that luxury. Questions and responses like this are either unanswerable or unintelligible to the nihilist/butterfly philosophers out there.
THE FOURTH PROOF: GRADATION
Summary—when we look at the world, we see hierarchy. We can say that there is more of this and less of that. And, just like there can be a hot, hotter, and hottest frying pan on a stove, it seems that we can say that there are good beings, like dogs, better beings, like humans, and a best being, like God.
Modern Philosophy—Marxism!! Marxism could be, and is, a topic for much larger posts and even books. The whole thing can be (badly) summarized by looking for equality, particularly economic equality, among individuals.
Response—Once again, we could spend years refuting Marxism, but the best way to do this is to remember and point out that Marxism does not claim that equal existence is natural, but rather it is a response to a natural tendency within nature. The question then becomes whether or not it is better to have unequivocal equality. In the Catholic context, it is. However, the question is who the actor or agent who imposes this change? Christian brotherhood which looks to God as the being which makes us “all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28) or should this be done by the government, which by nature of being a governing structure, is a contradiction to the aims of Marxism by itself (also, this is part of the root for Marxism being so anti-religion, oh and the whole “religion is the opium of the masses” thing…).
|Good intentions, terrible, terrible idea|
Popular “Logic”—everybody is equal!! Yes, it’s relativism; my truth is just as valid as everybody else’s truth thing. Everybody is equal, so we should not exult any one person or thing above another. This would be all well and good, except that the picture to the right is not hyperbole. It is what some people actually think (source: http://www.facebook.com/MU.IGSS).
Response—other than “let me see what a German shepherd thinks about you and him being equals” point out that this is an ideology, not something that actually is. Caring for the earth is good, but we can’t go overboard. As much as it is good to say that everybody is equal, if that were so then the world wouldn’t make any sense because everybody’s contrasting opinions would contradict one another leading to a state of chaos. Another response is, “well my truth says that your truth is wrong and that there is an objective truth, thus, at least while you’re in my presence—and if you’re sincere about your belief that my truth is as valid as your truth—you should respect my truth. My truth also says that you shouldn’t talk. Or breathe.” Relativism is a sucky way to live...
THE THIRD PROOF: POSSIBILITY AND NECESSITY
Summary—this one is a little more complicated; it runs as so: there is a possibility for something either to be or not to be (it could have been that I never existed [what a wonderful world you guys would be living in]). So if things could not have been, then at one point in time (whether that exists at this stage is another discussion) nothing would have existed. So if nothing would have existed, nothing could have caused the existence of everything else, otherwise we wouldn’t be here right now. Thus, because most beings are not necessary, and thus they can only possibly exist, something that was necessary must have existed, otherwise, with nothing around to eventually set off the chain of events and explosions that would ultimately result in our existence, we could not possibly exist.
In other words, God has to exist, because at some point nothing could have existed without being put there to exist by a being that had to be there, instead of just could have been there.
Modern Philosophy—rationalism!! This is just one of the responses I can think of in modern philosophy to this proof. The position can be summed up by the father of rationalism’s famous “cogito, ergo sum” or (in the vernacular) “I think, therefore, I am”. The response goes as follows. Basically, the created world is just all in our minds. We can only know that which we can come to by reason, so this cosmological proof—that is, a proof made by looking at nature—doesn’t really cut it. The reason why we think we know is because our minds have constructed stuff that is around us into what we interpret to be sensical data.
Response—just ask questions like, if we don’t have any actual knowledge of what something is, how come we both look at a tree and recognize it, independent of each other, as a tree? Also, you can tell this joke: Descartes walks into a bar and orders a glass of milk (kid friendly!). After drinking the last of his milk, the bar tender asks whether he wants another glass. Descartes decides, “I think not” and then he vanished!
Popular “Logic”--… Mind blown.
THE SECOND PROOF: EFFICIENT CAUSE
Summary—an efficient cause is a thing that causes something else to happen. Barring infinite regress (which is a logical impossibility, there is no such thing as ∞ + 1, there is only ∞), there has to be something which causes another thing, unless there is a being who is infinite (by this we mean God) and does not have a beginning. If this being did not exist, then nothing else would exist, because nothing would have been caused to exist.
|Not this one, the other one... ugh|
Modern Science—the Big Bang Theory!! While this term today is empty of any actual meaning and is just used by scientists as a catch-all phrase by which they mean whatever the heck happened to make everything go kablam and show up like it is today (which most people don’t, surprisingly, actually realize to begin with) it is a theory that basically says that a whole bunch of matter was packed into this tiny volume until it all exploded outwards into the ever expanding universe we all know and love.
Response—once again, just ask annoying little questions such as any of the following: how did all this matter come to be packed into the small volume of space? If there was no space, where was the volume and the matter residing therein? If space is infinitely expanding, then what is it expanding into? (Creation ex nihilo, check and mate)
Popular “Logic”—as the popular response to this one is similar to ones both above and below, we will omit this part.
THE FIRST PROOF: MOTION
Summary—as we can see, this is the logical presupposition to the second proof, and so similar. Things in nature are in motion. There has to be something to have set things in motion (an efficient cause of sorts) which does not have potency. Remember from science class that there are two types of energy (I’m talking fifth grade science class) potential and kinetic. If something has kinetic energy, it is moving. If something has potential energy, it could move if acted upon (like a ball being suspended in the air, if I let go of the ball, the potential energy turns into kinetic energy). So in order for everything around us to have been set in motion, something without any potential energy (otherwise it would need something to start it) would have to exist (once again barring the ridiculous notion of ∞ + 1 which, as we have already said, is ∞). By this we mean God.
This is one of the proofs which remain pretty untouchable, particularly when we make the point that there is no such thing as infinite regress. Even in rationalism, the mind is in motion, constantly thinking (so they think). Luckily, we still have this proof.