Aquinas’s Cosmological Argument and Edwards’s Responses

St. Thomas Aquinas’s Cosmological Argument attempts to prove the existence of God through empiricism, or in other words, through observational analysis of the interconnected nature of the universe and how it functions (class notes). Aquinas agreed with Aristotle in that through only experience, observation, and reason could humans attain rational conclusions about the world (class notes). Aquinas’s argument builds upon and transforms Aristotle’s concept of a Prime Mover into the Christian God (class notes). I will begin this essay by presenting and explaining Aquinas’ Cosmological Argument. Next I will offer responses to Aquinas’s argument as offered by Paul Edwards in The Cosmological Argument. Ultimately I will show how Aquinas and Edwards could respond to each others’ arguments. I will demonstrate an argument, on Aquinas’s behalf, supporting the impossibility of an infinite regress by utilizing the concept of God being eternal. Then I will demonstrate how Edwards could respond to this argument to disprove the existence of God as the first “cause in esse” by using the Principle of Sufficient Reason. Finally, I will respond once more, on behalf of Aquinas, to the potential argument offered by Edwards to show why God could still be the first “cause in esse.”

Aquinas directed his argument toward common people (class notes). Therefore, he attempted to present his argument in an easy to understand way. Aquinas’s full argument consists of Five Ways meant to be taken as a whole and all based on the Principle of Sufficient Reason and the impossibility of an infinite regress (class notes). The Principle of Sufficient Reason asserts there must be a sufficient reason for everything and there cannot be any “brute or unexplained facts” (class notes). Also, if one can provide a sufficient reason, or explanation for something, but others cannot, then it is more rational to believe the sufficient reason (class notes). Regarding the impossibility of an infinite regress, observation shows nothing can come from nothing and something can only come from something (class notes). If an infinite regress occurred, there would be initially nothing for something to subsequently come from (class notes). Additionally, in order to better understand Aquinas’s argument, it is important to recognize that Shatz notes how Aquinas’ argument regards God (as “first mover,” “first cause,” “necessary being”) as existing “simultaneously” with all “effects,” which would mean the causal chain, for Aquinas, would exist vertically and not horizontally (Shatz, 183). In other words, for Aquinas, God does not exist as a “first” back in time, but instead, God is eternal, therefore exists at all times with all “effects.”

Aquinas’s First Way is based on motion and is as follows: (1) Observation shows some things are in motion in the world. (2) If (1), then things have the potential to be in motion. (3) Therefore, things have the potential to be in motion. (4) Motion is the change of something from “potentiality” to “actuality.” (5) Nothing can be changed from “potentiality” to “actuality” unless by something already in “actuality.” (6) Therefore, all things in motion are put into motion by something else already in motion. (7) If (6), then there is a “first mover” which put all else into motion. (8) Therefore, there is a “first mover” which put all else into motion (Aquinas via Shatz, 184).

Aquinas’s First Way asserts everything in motion can only be put into motion by something else. Therefore, there had to be a “first mover” who put everything into motion. Aquinas asserting all things in motion are because of a “first mover” is based on the Principle of Sufficient Reason the impossibility of an infinite regress. If there was never any motion, there would be no motion now. According to Aquinas, if there were an infinite regress, if the vertical causal chain of movement went back infinitely, there would be no first something causing the movement of everything else (Shatz, 184). Therefore, because there is motion now, there must have been a “first mover” which put all else into motion (Shatz, 184). Aquinas’s “first mover” is his sufficient reason, or explanation, for motion (class notes).

Aquinas’s Second Way is based on “efficient causation” (Shatz, 183). Aquinas’s Second Way is: (1) Observation shows us there are “efficient causes.” (2) It is impossible for something to be an “efficient cause” of itself. (3) If (2), then every effect has a preceding cause. (4) It is impossible for something to be an “efficient cause” of itself because it would have to exist prior to its own existence to do so. (5) Therefore, every effect has a preceding cause. (6) If (5), then there is a “first efficient cause” which initiated all subsequent “efficient causes.” (7) Therefore, there is a “first efficient cause” which initiated all subsequent “efficient causes” (Aquinas via Shatz, 184).

Similar to his First Way, the Second Way asserts every effect is the result of a cause and nothing can be the cause of itself. Therefore, there had to be a “first cause” which caused everything else. Again, Aquinas going from all effects requiring a preceding cause to a first cause is based on the Principle of Sufficient Reason the impossibility of an infinite regress (class notes). If there were an infinite regress, if the vertical causal chain of “efficient causes” went back infinitely, there would be no first something causing everything else (Aquinas via Shatz, 184). Therefore, because there are effects now, there must have been a first cause which caused everything else (Aquinas via Shatz, 184). Aquinas’s “first efficient cause” is his sufficient reason, or explanation, for all subsequent “efficient causes.”

Aquinas’s Third Way concerns “possibility and necessity” or “contingency” (Aquinas via Shatz, 184; class notes). Aquinas’s Third Way is as follows: (1) Observation shows it is possible for all things to be in existence and not to be in existence (each existence based on the contingencies of other things being in existence). (2) Things which cannot always be in existence are not in existence at some point. (3) If (1) and (2), then nothing would have been in existence at some point. (4) Therefore, nothing would have been in existence at some point. (5) If (4), then nothing would be in existence now (as all things’ existence is contingent upon the existence of other things). (6) Something is in existence now. (7) Therefore, it is absurd nothing was ever in existence. (8) Contingent, merely possible, things are in existence now. (9) Therefore, something must exist whose existence is necessary, meaning not merely possible and contingent upon others’ existence. (Aquinas via Shatz, 184).

Premises (2) through (4) of Aquinas’s Third Way requires some explanation. Shatz explains that within and infinity of time, “all possibilities must be realized” (Shatz, 184). Shatz continues, if existence is contingent and “all possibilities must be realized,” then every contingent existence must “go out of existence,” and if everything goes out of existence, then nothing subsequently would exist at some point (Shatz, 184). Premise (2) asserts “things which cannot always be in existence,” meaning existence which is contingent, “are not in existence at some point,” meaning goes out of existence. Premise (3) asserts “if (1) and (2), then nothing would have been in existence at some point.” This premise asserts if everything is contingent upon the existence of other contingent things, and every contingent thing must go out of existence, then follows premise (4) which asserts “nothing would have been in existence at some point.” In other words, time is infinite. Since time is infinite every possible event must occur. If all existence is contingent, and every possible event must occur, then everything which exists must go out of existence, and due to this at some point the existence of all contingent things would have gone out of existence.

Aquinas’s Third Way asserts basically, via use of the reductio ad absurdum, everything exists because something else existed before it and created it. If nothing with “necessary existence” existed to create everything, then nothing would exist now (Aquinas via Shatz, 184). Since things exist now, there had to be something which has always existed (and whose existence was not contingent, and thus able to always be in existence) and created everything else (Aquinas via Shatz, 184). Or in other words, nothing would exist unless there was something whose existence was “necessary” (not contingent, meaning not able to go out of existence), creating the existence of all contingent things. Aquinas argues this first “necessary” being is sufficient reason for the existence of everything and he argues for the impossibility of an infinite regress by way of his Second Way. He argues if the contingencies went back infinitely, then there would be no “necessary being” to make existence now possible (Aquinas via Shatz, 184).

Aquinas’s Fourth and Fifth Ways are based on degrees (gradation) and design (class notes). In his Fourth Way, Aquinas applies Aristotle’s concepts regarding the gradation of states of existence (vegetative, sensitive and rational) to the gradation of virtues, intelligence, and power to argue not only for God’s existence, but for God’s omni-competence (Basic Problems of Philosophy, Bronstein, Krikorian, Wiener; class notes). His argument for the Fourth Way is as follows: (1) Observation shows in all categories of beings, there exists different levels in the gradation of attributes related to the beings. (2) Some beings exist with attributes on lowest levels in the gradation and some beings exist with attributes on the highest levels in the gradation. (3) Therefore, there must exist a being whose attributes demonstrate the absolute highest level in the gradation (Basic Problems of Philosophy, Bronstein, Krikorian, Wiener; class notes). This being, according to Aquinas is God and God is omni-competent, the highest level of virtue, intelligence and power (Basic Problems of Philosophy, Bronstein, Krikorian, Wiener; class notes). The sufficient reason for Aquinas for the gradation of intelligence, virtue and power is God.

Aquinas’s Fifth Way, argues for the intelligent design of the world and is as follows: (1) Observation shows things without intelligence are moved toward specific functions. (2) The specific functions things without intelligence are moved toward achieve the best results. (3) If (1) and (2), then things lacking intelligence must be moved toward their specific functions to achieve the best results by an intelligent being. (4) Therefore, things lacking intelligence must be moved toward their specific functions to achieve the best results by an intelligent being (Basic Problems of Philosophy, Bronstein, Krikorian, Wiener; class notes). For his Fifth Way, Aquinas basically argues the sufficient reason for things of no intelligence functioning as they do to achieve the best results in nature is because something of the highest intelligence, namely God, has designed these things to do so (class notes).

In response to Aquinas, Edwards argues against the Principle of Sufficient Reason and Aquinas’s assertion that an infinite regress is impossible (class notes). Regarding Aquinas’s use of the reductio ad absurdum in his Third Way, Edwards argues Aquinas does not succeed in proving an infinite regress is impossible (Shatz, 186). Edwards asserts one can acknowledge God’s existence, and thus the existence of all which follows from God’s existence, without acknowledging God as “the first member of the series” (Shatz, 187). According to Edwards, by not denying the existence of God (even if God is not the first cause), one does not reduce the argument to the non existence of everything. Furthermore, according to Edwards, if an infinite regress is indeed impossible, then it doesn’t mean there were not many different first causes or that the first cause is still in existence (Shatz, 187).

Edwards distinguishes, on behalf of defenders of Aquinas’s argument, between “causes in fieri” and “causes in esse” (Shatz, 187). A “cause in fieri” is a direct cause of an effect (Shatz, 187). For example, a spark is a “cause in fieri” of a fire. A “cause in esse” “‘sustains’…the effect ‘in being’” (Shatz, 187). For example, the wood on which the spark lands is the “cause in esse” of the fire. Edwards claims defenders would argue Aquinas asserted an infinite regress is impossible for “causes in esse” because if the first cause is taken away then all else fails to exist (Shatz, 187; class notes). Shatz explains, as Aquinas’s argument regards God as existing simultaneously with all effects, Aquinas’s argument focuses on the impossibility of an infinite regress in a “vertical series,” because in this case, if the cause exists simultaneously with the effect, and the cause no longer existed, then the effect would no longer exist (Shatz, 183).

A vertical series of “causes in esse,” according to Edwards could just as much exist in an infinite regress (Shatz, 189). According to Edwards, in a finite series there is one “supporting” cause, which has no support of its own, holding the entire chain together, whereas in an infinite series the entire chain is sustained infinitely by preceding causes and effects (Shatz, 189). Edwards argues in the case of the finite series, since the one “supporting” cause has nothing to support it, the entire chain would fall apart (Shatz, 189). However, Edwards argues, in an infinite series, each preceding cause and effect is supported, or “sustained” by the one prior to it, keeping the chain from falling apart (Shatz, 189). Due to this, Edwards argues, it doesn’t matter if there exists a “first cause,” all that matters is if there are “sustainers” keeping the chain together (class notes).

Edwards also argues against Aquinas’s use of the Principle of Sufficient Reason. Edwards argues, when providing a sufficient reason for the existence of anything, it is not necessary to ask for the cause of the whole, but instead simply the cause of the individual parts (class notes). By way of example, Edwards utilizes an analogy involving five people who have never traveled out of a small village in Alaska travelling to New York City (Shatz, 190). Edwards states the first person decided to move to New York City because of the warmer weather (reminiscent of Aquinas’s First Way, movement) (Shatz, 190; class notes). The second person moved to be with the first person, his wife, whom he didn’t wan to be without (reminiscent of Aquinas’s Second Way, efficient cause) (Shatz, 190; class notes). The third person is the child of person one and two (reminiscent of Aquinas’s Third Way, necessity and contingency) (Shatz, 190; class notes). The fourth person is responding to an ad seeking a person from a small village in Alaska for TV (reminiscent of Aquinas’s Fourth Way, gradation) (Shatz, 190; class notes). The fifth person is a hired private detective watching person four (reminiscent of Aquinas’s Fifth Way, intelligence) (Shatz, 190; class notes). In each case, asking each of the people why they are in New York City, provides sufficient reason for why each individual is there, and there is no need to ask the group as a whole why the entire group is there (class notes). Edwards’s example demonstrates there is no need to ask why the entire causal chain of events has happened, because sufficient reason can be given for each individual event.

Lastly, Edwards argues Aquinas’s explanation of God is a “brute unexplained fact” (class notes; Shatz, 193). The Principle of Sufficient Reason requires a sufficient reason, meaning everything must have a reason or cause (class notes). As Aquinas’s argument does not “show ‘how God can be his own cause or how it is that he does not need a cause,’” then Aquinas does not satisfy the Principle of Sufficient Reason by attributing the “first mover,” “first cause,” “necessary being,” etc. to God (class notes; Shatz, 193). If no sufficient reason exists for God, then it could be argued atoms or particles could be just as valid of a sufficient reason for all of Aquinas’s Five Ways (class notes).

Edwards main argument against the impossibility of an infinite regress is, for a vertical chain of “causes in esse,” it doesn’t matter if there is a first cause, it just matters if there are “sustainers” (class notes). Edwards notes how air sustains human life and the forces of gravity sustain the air (Shatz, 189). He continues that “it is difficult to see” what sustains the forces of gravity or atoms or electrons (Shatz, 189). Edwards notes, supporters of Aquinas’s argument could point out gravity, atoms and electrons require a “cause in esse” because these things could not sustain or “cause themselves, since…they would in that event have had to exist before they began existing” (Shatz, 189). However, Edwards argues, supporters of Aquinas’s argument would then assert the sustainer or cause of such things, namely God, needs no “cause in esse” (Shatz, 189). Edwards asserts that supporters of Aquinas’s argument fall prey to their own reasoning, meaning, they argue things require a “cause in esse,” except for when they get to providing a “cause in esse” for God (Shatz, 189).

So how could Aquinas argue against Edwards? Edwards asserted one could acknowledge the existence of God, but just because one does, it doesn’t prove an infinite regress is impossible because God could not be the first “cause in esse”. In response, Aquinas was a classic theist who viewed God as eternal, meaning timeless, and believed God exists simultaneously as the first in a vertical chain of “causes in esse” (class notes). If God is timeless, then the confines of time do not apply to God’s existence. If the confines of time do not apply to God’s existence, then God exists at all times. If God exists at all times, then God has always existed. If God has always existed, then God does not have a cause. Therefore, God does not have a cause and if God does not have a cause, it is impossible to provide a “cause in esse” for God’s existence. God doesn’t require a “cause in esse” because He has always existed. This argument would support Aquinas’s assertion that an infinite regress is impossible, because if God has always existed, then it is impossible for anything to exist prior to God’s existence. This argument would also counter opponents of Aquinas’s argument who assert that the cosmological argument doesn’t “show ‘how God can be his own cause or how it is that he does not need a cause’” (Shatz, 193). God doesn’t need a cause because He has always existed.

However, this argument does not support God as the first “cause in esse” using the Principle of Sufficient Reason. Edwards could argue other things could have always existed simultaneously with God, perhaps atoms for example. Edwards states, regarding particles and atoms, “it is not at all evident, however, that these particles cannot be uncaused” (Shatz, 189). If God has always existed, and thus has no cause, it is possible atoms have always existed along side God, and thus have no cause. If atoms have always existed along side God, and thus have no cause, then atoms could be the first “cause in esse” of the universe instead of God. Therefore, God could exist, but be completely uninvolved in the universe’s existence. Using this argument, along with the Principle of Sufficient Reason, one could argue atoms are the first “cause in esse.” Therefore, while an infinite regress is still avoided as there was a first “cause in esse,” God is not proven to be the first “cause in esse,” in this example atoms were the first “cause in esse.”

However, this second argument could also be answered by Aquinas. Aquinas could argue there is a fundamental difference between God and atoms. The difference is that God is, as an eternal being, non-physical. Conversely, atoms are physical. If atoms are physical, then they cannot have always existed, something had to create them. They couldn’t have created themselves because, as noted earlier, they would have had to exist prior to their own existence to create themselves, which is impossible. Whereas God, on the other hand, is non-physical, and as an eternal being, has just always existed. Edwards could reply that it doesn’t matter if there is a first “cause in esse,” all that matters is that there are sustainers. However, Aquinas could just as easily respond, in a vertical causal chain, if the first “cause in esse” is not sustaining the “sustainers,” then there would be no subsequent sustainers.

Aquinas’s cosmological argument has been one of the most widely debated and recognized arguments in the history of philosophy. On one side of the debate, Aquinas could argue against the possibility of an infinite regress by asserting God as being eternal. Of course, one would have to accept God as eternal for the argument to hold, which Edwards does (atleast in his argument) by arguing against the impossibility of an infinite regress in a vertical chain of “causes in esse.” On the other side of the debate, Edwards could utilize Aquinas’s argument regarding God as eternal to show how, given the Principle of Sufficient Reason, anything could be a sufficient reason, or first “cause in esse” of existence. To counter, Aquinas could assert God, as eternal, is non-physical, and only non-physical entities always exist, whereas, physical things have to be created by something, which makes it impossible for physical things to be the first “cause in esse.” Regarding Edwards’ assertion only sustainers are required, Aquinas could counter, without the first “cause in esse” sustaining the sustainers, there would be no sustainers. Ultimately, Aquinas could respond effectively to each of Edwards critiques.

Advertisements

One thought on “Aquinas’s Cosmological Argument and Edwards’s Responses

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s