Aquinas's rare argument for the existence of God

I was reading St. Thomas’s commentary on Job (which is remarkable, by the way), and came across this interesting remark he makes in passing.

“Note that those who deny providence say that everything which appears in the world occurs from the necessity of natural causes, for example, the necessity of heat and cold, of gravity and lightness or something like this. Divine providence is most powerfully demonstrated by those things which cannot be explained by natural principles like these, one of which is the determined quantity of the bodies of this world. For no reason can be assigned from some natural principle why the sun or the moon or the earth should be a certain mass (quantity) and not a greater or lesser one.”

dhspriory.org/thomas/SSJob.htm#052

It seems to me this is a good argument for the existence of a supreme intelligence because, if we do say that there is no God, there really is, in the end, no reason why there is the amount of mass there is in the universe. Why, for example, did the “singularity” which either popped into being uncaused (absurd) or existed timelessly and changelessly until it entered time and begand to change for no cause (also absurd) contain just the amount of “stuff” in it as it did? The only answer would be “it just did.” This seems a very unsatisfying answer, particularly from a scientific standpoint. In the end, “it just did” is the best explanation of why the singularity was the precise way it was - with it’s unimaginable laws of fine tuning to make it life permitting, which just so happened to pop into being themselves, uncaused?

That is the height of scientific fideism in my mind.

Also, I was thinking that, whatever “laws” of physics or nature there were, they either existed before the singularity existed, or at the same moment the singularity popped into being, or after the singularity existed.

If they existed before, I can see no reason why the universe wasn’t created before it was, unless you posit a “it just did” response.

If they existed simultaneously with it’s popping into being, this seems the height of absurdity, because we really would be talking about everything coming into being from metaphysical nothingness - no gravity, time, space, etc. This response would entail automatically a supernatural cause, unless one wanted to destroy science and give just another “it just did” response which amounts to nothing more than a bald and an unprovable fideistic assertion.

If they existed afterward, then what, scientifically could be said to prompt a “singularity,” which existed in a state totally unknowable or impossible to be imagined, to change? What could it have changed by, or what caused it to change, if there were no laws of nature or physics? One could say there were “laws,” but they were different, and did not operate in the way we observe nature operating now, but this, in the end, is nothing more than science fiction - mere baseless assertions or stabs in the dark.

Now, I hear all the time people accusing Christians of appealing to the special pleading, “God did it” response, but what in the world is special pleading if not the enormously unverifiable speculation which is being offered by “modern science”?

You need to understand the following…“Mordern Science” does “not” say that the universe came from a metaphysical “nothing”.

However you are correct in making the argument that physical law cannot determine physical law. If physical reality began to exist, then it was not physical reality which determined the nature of physical reality. Metaphysical Nothingness cannot determine anything since it is necessary absent from any “real” determining factors. Thus the reason why physical reality is what it appears to be is because of that which physical reality is not.

Naturalism can only survive by challenging the notion of impossibility and thus metaphysical rationality. They quite literally have to embrace “rational-nihilism” (the absence of impossibility). If they can prove that impossibility is just a mental construct, then they can ignore rational arguments for the existence of God, even if that means destroying the notion of “truth” and thus all true knowledge with it. But they cannot prove that impossibility does not exist, thus they pick and choose when rationality is true and untrue. Rationality is true when it favours them, and rationality is just an unproven assertion when it favours God.

Being a rational person I cannot except this irrational kind of thinking, and thus I think you can guess why I am not a naturalist or a physicalist. I’m too rational

They cannot prove the idea that impossibility does not exist since that would itself require rational discourse and thus the notion of truth and impossibility.

Originally it was the notion of a foundational ultimate necessary reality that was thought to determine possibility and impossibility, because a “real nature” has activity, but in nothingness there are no natures and thus no actuality, and therefore no possibility of being since there are no determining factors in that which is not real. Real is the opposite of unreal and thus the two cannot be qualitatively synonymous; which of course they would be if something pooped out of nothing, simply because the unreal would become that which it is absolutely not. Reality. Nothing does not have the nature of reality, and thus it is an absolute perfect impossibility for nothingness to acquire that which it is perfectly absent from. But if a thing could come out of nothing then anything is possible, and therefore the idea that a foundational reality is necessary in order for there to be new realities is undermined, and so is God. This is why post-modernist atheism is so rabidly attached to the idea that something can come from nothing. They are begging that such a thing is possible because that is the last best hope for “atheist-kind”.

It s seems to me that Christian metaphsycians are strictly rational thinkers and the atheists on this forum are not.

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I think it mostly boils down to Nominalism vs. Realism. Atheists (the well read ones) think that we impose the laws of thought onto reality. It begins with “moral” value, and eventually ends up at the law of contradiction. “It is absurd for us to conceive something coming from nothing, but, then again, perhaps for reality…?” They never bother to think that the word “reality” must itself be a product of perceptions, and we are then not out of the ontological circle. It would still be the case then, that what is absurd to the mind is absurd to reality, since there can be no concept which is not a priori brought to the table, particularly reality!

Realism on the other hand says that we perceive being, the law of contradiction and causality, etc. as principles of reality itself. We do not bring them to the table, but grasp them intuitively, without any illative reasoning. But, I’ll stop at this point, because I’ll either be preaching to the choir, or talking to stones.

It seems like this issue also involves the question of why the first state of the universe did not have uniform temperature, considering that uniform temperature is the direction it’s always heading (by the second law of thermodynamics).

The fine tuning isn’t hard to imagine at all. It’s inevitable under a multiverse model with gazillions of universes. It would be inexplicable if there weren’t a great many universes just like ours in that model.

That is the height of scientific fideism in my mind.

It’s not fideistic in the least. There is no leap or faith at all required for “it just did”, simply because that is nothing more than a restatement of “we don’t know” and “we have no idea”. Acknowledgment of one’s limitations, of the constraints of one’s ignorance is NOT fideistic, quite the opposite. This is what one does when one refuses to indulge in fideism.

Moreover, the fideism charge isn’t just a miss on the non-theists, but manifest hypocrisy as well, I think. Why does God exist? The theist is in precisely the same position. There is no why. Even if one supposes there is a why, this is just to indulge infinite regress; explanations must run out somewhere. So you’re in exactly the same predicament. God hasn’t helped you one bit on that score, even as it provides a more pleasing or comforting façade in front of the problem.

Also, I was thinking that, whatever “laws” of physics or nature there were, they either existed before the singularity existed, or at the same moment the singularity popped into being, or after the singularity existed.

If they existed before, I can see no reason why the universe wasn’t created before it was, unless you posit a “it just did” response.

The profound insight here is that “it just did” is as perfectly sound as any other scenario. To say “that’s an unsatisfying answer” I suggest is manifest fideism: it presupposes that somehow reality, transcendent reality, beyond our universe is somehow approachable or necessarily tractable for us, concordant with our sensibilities. This is a commitment only reached through fideism. We’ve perfectly no basis for that understanding, and when we say “that’s unsatsfying”, we are saying something meaningful about ourselves, and our psychology, but perfectly nothing about objective reality.

If they existed simultaneously with it’s popping into being, this seems the height of absurdity, because we really would be talking about everything coming into being from metaphysical nothingness - no gravity, time, space, etc. This response would entail automatically a supernatural cause, unless one wanted to destroy science and give just another “it just did” response which amounts to nothing more than a bald and an unprovable fideistic assertion.

It’s logically impossible to avoid “it just did”, somewhere in the chain. Yahweh is the Catholic “it just did”. It’s credulous in supposing it knows all these unsupportable features (like a personality for Yahweh), but all explanatory chains must end somewhere, in brute fact, admitting of no further satisfaction as to “why”.

If they existed afterward, then what, scientifically could be said to prompt a “singularity,” which existed in a state totally unknowable or impossible to be imagined, to change? What could it have changed by, or what caused it to change, if there were no laws of nature or physics? One could say there were “laws,” but they were different, and did not operate in the way we observe nature operating now, but this, in the end, is nothing more than science fiction - mere baseless assertions or stabs in the dark.

Now, I hear all the time people accusing Christians of appealing to the special pleading, “God did it” response, but what in the world is special pleading if not the enormously unverifiable speculation which is being offered by “modern science”?

I don’t understand science to have anything at all to say about physics beyond the context of our universe, beyond the spacetime we inhabit. It refuses the Christian folly of claims to knowledge it can’t reasonably have. Any notions (cf. Hawking or Susskind’s conjecture of the cosmic landscape) of how “local science” from this universe are freely acknoweldged as conjectures, as “stabs in the dark”, and nothing more (even when they are based on well-vetted theories for how this universe works). Catholics don’t have this kind of restraint and reasoning discipline. Hawking has no dogma about the multiverse to compare to Rome’s, and that is the substance of the Catholic’s special pleading.

-TS

If somebody doesn’t know something they will say “I don’t know”. To say it just did, is a claim to knowledge. It is a claim that things can “just happen” and therefore do not require further explanation. Thus it is a claim about how the world is. Science cannot validate this claim empirically; quite simply because science cannot validate claims that lie outside of its epistemological reach. This is purely a desired world view, and it is not surprising that such a claim is made when the alternative does not support naturalism. It is certainly wilful ignorance; but it is not agnosticism. It seems to me the special pleading is coming from your direction. You are begging that we don’t have to explain it.

That’s implied, but not the direct object of saying “it just did”. Why does God exist, in your view? He just does. That means “you don’t know”, as in there is no further explanation, but the response emphasizes the brute nature of fact.

To say it just did, is a claim to knowledge.

It’s a necessary ramification. If we’re here, then we’re here… somehow. We may not know, and do not know, any ultimate “how”, but there must be some “how”. For here we are. Do you deny we know we exist? The provenance of that arrangement may be opaque, but the fact of existence is something we can know, and do know. If we are here, then there is some context for us being here, necessarily.

It is a claim that things can “just happen” and therefore do not require further explanation.

“Require” is a conceit. We desire as much knowledge as we might gain, but all explanatory chains terminate for us somewhere. And that’s all the “just happens” means – this is the end of our explanatory chain.

Thus it is a claim about how the world is.

No, it’s a claim about our epistemic limits, about the state and depth of our knowledge of how the world is. Necessarily, somethings must be acknowledge as “just happening” or “just being”, else we are committed to an infinite regress.

Science cannot validate this claim empirically; quite simply because science cannot validate claims that lie outside of its epistemological reach.

Yes, and this is your answer. This is why “just happens” is the most nomimal position we can take.

This is purely a desired world view, and it is not surprising that such a claim is made when the alternative does not support naturalism. It is certainly wilful ignorance; but it is not agnosticism.

We have nothing to dispel the ignorance, it is ignorance of necessity. Even if we suppose we can regress one more level – and come up with an answer to “who made God”, or “why God is a necessary being”, say – we immediately arrive at the exact same problem: ignorance. For your statement to be true, we would have to have infinite knowledge, the proceeds of an infinitely regessing chain of further explanations. Somewhere down the line, for those of us who do not identify access to an infinite chain of explanations, we terminate our inquiries in ignorance, with something or someone that “just is”.

It seems to me the special pleading is coming from your direction. You are begging that we don’t have to explain it.

I don’t recognize anything deontological here, that’s for sure. We desire knowledge, so more explanations are better. But no matter, as above, any motivation we may have hits a hard wall of our epistemic limits somewhere. We necessarily will arrive at questions we are interested in which we can’t explain, and cannot even begin to explain. It doesn’t matter what we think we “have to” explain. We cannot supply an infinite chain of explanations, so any supposed requirement is moot.

-TS

Along with fake universes and a universe with a God.

You have arbitrarily chosen for it to terminate with the physical.

You are reinventing the word to suit your purposes. “Just happens” is not an epistemological claim; it is an ontological claim. And even if it was an epistemological claim, the idea that we must terminate explanation when “physical inferences” no-longer work, is unfounded.

To avoid inferences which take us beyond physical limitations is your personal gratification. It is not an ignorance of necessity. Physical reality, ultimately, cannot explain itself because of the very fact of its potentiality/dynamism/change. Its continuing existence or natural act is a product of potentiality. This is to say that its effective nature is a chain or sequence of related dynamic events and each of those events require potentiality/change/dynamism in order to be an effective “act” or cause. Thus physical reality, while it can certainly be an effective secondary cause or act, it cannot be the ultimate cause of potentiality/dynamism/change; since this is the foundation of its continuing actuality or causation. This is an evident ontological limitation, and not an epistemological one.

You choose not to dispel ignorance of the supernatural because you mistakenly think that by remaining within an empirical framework of knowledge it will allow you to avoid any inferential responsibilities that would require you to acknowledge something that transcends physical reality. This is scientism pretending to be science.

While I certainly agree that there is a limitation to what we can truly know, I do not acknowledge what you perceive to be a limitation, and neither do I see a legitimate science as a means to justify those limitations.

It depends on what you mean by God. A necessary being is not arbitrarily posited in reality, but rather we see that potential reality exists, and thus we require an absolute being that exists perfectly without change/dynamism/potentiality, and having certain attributes in order to explain the existence of potentiality. One does not require perfect knowledge of that being in order to know that it must exist and must be self explanatory on an ontological level.

But now you have to answer the question: Why did God make the particular amount of mass there is in the universe?

Answer: He just did.

The only way I see this as a more satisfactory answer is that the “it just did” argument is only allowable in the context of free will. Free will can be arbitrary- nature cannot.

I don’t think I have. If you can show me knowledge of some supernatural kind, as lon as it can acquit itself as knowledge, I’ve nothing against that in principle. I just have no idea what that would like look, and given the conspicuously absent demonstrations
of such knowledge, I have nowhere to go on that, and must stand on what I can see as knowledge.

You are reinventing the word to suit your purposes. “Just happens” is not an epistemological claim; it is an ontological claim. And even if it was an epistemological claim, the idea that we must terminate explanation when “physical inferences” no-longer work, is unfounded.

There’s no requirement that I must terminate my explanations when physical explanations run out. I just don’t have anything beyond that to work with. It might have been otherwise, I suppose, but as it happens, there is nothing available to cantilever me out beyond what I can identify as knowledge based on empirical and physical models.

I don’t rule out, for example, that a human being could possibly clear a 10 foot height in the high jump. It’s not necessary to dismiss that as a possibility. It just appears to be the case that no human can do such a thing. Similarly, I don’t rule out other putative forms of knowledge or explanation, in principle. Rather, all the other “jumps” like the high jumpers who attempt a 10 foot clear, have failed.

To avoid inferences which take us beyond physical limitations is your personal gratification. It is not an ignorance of necessity. Physical reality, ultimately, cannot explain itself because of the very fact of its potentiality/dynamism/change. Its continuing existence or natural act is a product of potentiality. This is to say that its effective nature is a chain or sequence of related dynamic events and each of those events require potentiality/change/dynamism in order to be an effective “act” or cause. Thus physical reality, while it can certainly be an effective secondary cause or act, it cannot be the ultimate cause of potentiality/dynamism/change; since this is the foundation of its continuing actuality or causation. This is an evident ontological limitation, and not an epistemological one.
It’s not even an evident ontological limitation. It might be otherwise, and we just aren’t aware. Reality doesn’t structure itself to please our whims. It is what it is. We explore and test it as far as we may, but even inside those boundaries, some of our knowledge reveals extremely weird/counterintuitive/illogical aspects of reality, even as the whole at macro scales coheres remarkably well. But if dynamism was somehow ‘self-actualizing’ in a metaphysical sense, how would we know? We wouldn’t. That certainly seems counter intuitive, but that intuition and two dollars will buy you short cup of coffee.

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You choose not to dispel ignorance of the supernatural because you mistakenly think that by remaining within an empirical framework of knowledge it will allow you to avoid any inferential responsibilities that would require you to acknowledge something that transcends physical reality. This is scientism pretending to be science.

Hmmm. Well, scientism appears to be quite a plastic concept. I alternatively think I qualify and then I don’t from one post alleging it to another. The problem is very simple, but also daunting for a supernaturalist: how to establish “transcendent knowledge” as knowledge? Any and all attempts I’ve looked at are indistinguishable from fits of imagination or wishful thinking. For some, adopting ideas as truth that just as well (and more reasonably, if you embrace the value of parsimony) can be seen as imaginations is just fine. That’s a subjective matter. That’s just poor mental hygiene to my way of thinking. If I’m embracing as “truth” – fundamental truths – ideas that are indistinguishable from simple wishes and whims, I really haven’t got anything at all. I’m indistinguishable from a fool.

I may not know all, and not even much, but I can point to models and ideas that perform on their own, apart from me and my subjective fancies.

While I certainly agree that there is a limitation to what we can truly know, I do not acknowledge what you perceive to be a limitation, and neither do I see a legitimate science as a means to justify those limitations.

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Well, great! That’s big news if you have knowledge to demonstrate beyond the physical models we have! Share, please.

I don’t have to decide what categories will succeed ahead of time, or won’t. I just want to look at what’s proposed as knowledge and see how it performs. It’s provenance isn’t primary, it’s performance is.

It depends on what you mean by God. A necessary being is not arbitrarily posited in reality, but rather we see that potential reality exists, and thus we require an absolute being that exists perfectly without change/dynamism/potentiality, and having certain attributes in order to explain the existence of potentiality. One does not require perfect knowledge of that being in order to know that it must exist and must be self explanatory on an ontological level.

In other words, it “just happens”! I’m continually surprised that the lack of self-criticism is so clearly manifest, and yet so unreservedly offered, in these kinds of discussions. Even on your own terms here (setting aside the incoherence/meaninglessness of ‘perfect’ and ‘potentiality’, etc.) this is the commission of precisely the intellectual sin you decry.

-TS

You seem to be misunderstanding the crux of arguments for God’s existence. The reason we posit that God “just is” is because properties of the universe lead us to conclude that the universe CANNOT “just be”. In other words, the universe does not have the properties of something which we can justifiably say “just is”.

Now what those properties are is what distinguishes the argument. But there isn’t an inherent lack of self-criticism.

Thanks Luke K.:thumbsup:

Not according to the nature of existence. While we do not “a-prior” know the powers of existing things(this is where we need science), we do know the absolute difference between existence and nothing (this is the domain of metaphysics). If a thing truly is nothing, then nothing can come from it. One does not need empirical verification of this, no more then I need verification of my own existence, because this kind of knowledge transcends the legitimate domain of scientific scepticism. Scientific scepticism, does not allow me to doubt my existence, and neither does it allow me perceive nothing and something as qualitative or quantitatively synonymous terms. One is not the other. You are not promoting a scientific scepticism, but rather you are promoting an irrational scepticism and calling people stupid for rejecting that scepticism.

Out of nothing comes nothing. Therefore Potentiality/change/dynamism, cannot come from that which is perfectly nothing, as this would require nothing to become that which it is perfectly not. Your scepticism to the contrary is just as unreasonable as doubting ones own existence. You are not holding to a reasonable scepticism. Why? It is because you don’t want to know about that which is non-physical. That’s fine, but don’t insult my intelligence when you reject the very basis of intelligence and rationality.

Great point and post.

Touchstone,

I don’t think we can dialogue since I find your epistemological stance toward God’s existence incomprehensible: “We don’t know how the universe came to be, therefore God does not exist.” Or “we don’t know if the law of contradiction applies to reality, therefore God etc…” A “we don’t know” can never be followed by a “therefore”.

I can’t debate someone who holds a chimera of atheist/agnostic presuppositions which he uses arbitrarily to suit his purpose.

OK, well, suit yourself. Every atheist is an agnostic, and must be. I don’t suppose that our ignorance of laws/conditions/causes/constraints outside the universe (if such an inquiry even makes sense) is reason to think there’s no God. Quite the opposite, this is the reason every atheist must be an agnostic – this ignorance means we can’t rule out God as a possibility.

My atheism obtains elsewhere, from my observations and thinking about this universe, which, the more I look, think, and consult others who observe, test, report, analyze and demonstrate working models of the world that perform, looks much more consistent with a godless universe than one where gods, demons, angels and spirits are anything more than imaginative notions.

Even inside the universe, the most I could do is observe that what we see is much more consistent with godlessness than godfulness. Even so, it can’t be ruled out from observing the universe around us that a god or gods may exist.

There’s just no reasonable basis think that’s the case, so far as I can see.

But either way, you’ve misunderstood if you suppose I’m predicating a conviction of God’s non-existence on our ignorance of before/beyond our universe. That ignorance is probably the strongest thing theism has going for it, as I look around.

-TS

We have perfectly no idea what those properties would be, if they did obtain. Test it yourself: what would you expect to observe from your vantage point in a universe that “just be”? If you cannot provide a means of discriminating between a universe that so qualifies and one that does not, you’ve nullified everything outside your mind from the equation, and you are just now indulging your intuition.

Your claims to knowledge of what the properties of a universe that “just be” would be like, or not be like I suggest are bogus. If not, maybe you could describe the kind of universe you would expect to find that would falsify your intuitions. If you can’t do this, I think you are wasting our time with such a claim.

Once again, this nets out to a naked appeal to brute intuition competing with the acknowledgment of our ignorance.

Now what those properties are is what distinguishes the argument. But there isn’t an inherent lack of self-criticism.

The hypocritical position is one that says: the universe CANNOT “just be”, but God, he can “just be”. It has committed the very same transgression it condemns, just one layer farther back with a supposed being synthesized from our ignorance about the universe’s origin added as an additional complication before coming to rest on that idea as the basis for “just be”.

-TS

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