1 Ben Rogaczewski RL 225 Prof.

Conty November 15, 2009

Since the time of Augustine, many different scholars have questioned the existence of God. Augustine brought up the question of why God would allow evil within the world if God were in fact all good. It was not until a Dominican named Thomas Aquinas placed several proofs for and against the existence of God. Furthermore, Aquinas stated that he could demonstrate to his audience that God s existence was definite (not God s essence). However, Aquinas ideas were not seen as theological to everyone, and there were several, including John Duns Scotus and Duns student, William of Ockham. Ockham would go on to teach that Aquinas proofs of God s existence through logic and reason were far more dangerous to God than thought by the rest of the Christian world. Going against a rather Thomist Avignon Curia, his teachings were put on trial, and Ockham was in danger of heresy. However, in order for one to understand why Ockham s teachings were so dangerous, one must first try to gain an understanding of how the Christian Curia took on Aquinas teachings as dogma.

When Aquinas was questioned about his teachings regarding the existence of God, he gave a sound argument giving the objections to the teachings first, followed by his responses to those objections. Then he gave what was called the Determinatio, or final defense of the teachings. The second question given dealt strictly with the question of whether the existence of God could be demonstrated

2 and whether God actually existed. Within the second article regarding whether God s existence could be demonstrated, Aquinas placed several objections. First, Aquinas stated that God s existence is a matter of faith, and therefore cannot be demonstrated through scientific means.1 This seems to be what one would call the Franciscan objection, based upon Ockham s and other Franciscan ideals. Aquinas reply to this objection was that faith had to be assumed amongst the people before natural knowledge, and therefore, faith can cause a person to understand something that can be demonstrated through reason or logic.2Basically, if one has faith in God, it should not stop one from wishing to determine answers regarding God, and to determine this through scientific means does not mean the person lacks faith. The second objectionwas that God s essence could not be known, but can solely understand by what God s essence is not.3 Aquinas stated in reply that God s essence was not needed in order to determine God s existence. Instead, Aquinas stated that having the definition of a word gave a better understanding of the defined word s existence (ie we do not know what the essence of the sun is, but can determine its existence).4 The third objection stated by Aquinas was that God s effects, or leavings within our world could demonstrate God s existence. However, these causes are finite while God is infinite, and so there is an unequal proportion between the two,

Thomas Aquinas, Summa of the Summa, p. 57. Ibid. p. 59. 3 Ibid. p. 57. 4 Ibid. p. 59.


3 and cannot show a proper demonstration.5 In reply to this, Aquinas stated that the effects within our world needed to have a definite cause, and therefore can be seen as a demonstration of the cause s (God s) existence.6 This means that creations in this world are pieces of evidence proving the existence of God. After Aquinas had given all of his objections and replies, he made his Determinatio clearly to the Curia. Aquinas stated that there were two ways of demonstration: a priori and a posteriori.7 The former is the means of something we already know about, while the latter deals with something we have yet to learn of, and so are in pursuit of knowledge dealing with the subject. If an effect is know to us, then it therefore must exist. As long as an effect exists, its cause must pre-exist, and therefore proves God s existence as the cause of the effects.8

The third article of Aquinas asks whether God exists, the crux of his argument. Within the first objection, Aquinas states that God cannot exist because there is evil present within the world, and if God were all good (Which God is, according to Aquinas) then evil would not exist.9 Therefore, God cannot exist. In reply to this statement, Aquinas states that though evil is present within the world, there are situations in which good can come from evil (ie the crucifixion of Christ; A

Thomas Aquinas, Summa of the Summa, p. 58. Ibid. p. 59-60. 7 Ibid. p. 58. 8 Ibid. p. 58-59. 9 Ibid. p. 60.


4 volcano fertilizing soil).10 Therefore, since good is present within the world, God must exist. The second objection states that there is no use for God because natural laws come from nature, and voluntary things are done through human will.11 Therefore, God need not exist. In reply to this objection, Aquinas stated that even if something is voluntary, it must be traced back to some higher cause.12 Therefore, as far as God can be considered that higher cause, God must exist. Once he was finished with these two objections and replies, he declared his five proofs of God s existence: there must be an unmoved Mover, an uncaused Cause, a necessary Being creating contingent beings, a perfect Being (allowing an understanding of different degrees within the world), and an Intelligent Designer.13 Each of these proofs, according to Aquinas, proved the existence of God.

Certainly, each of these arguments seem sound to everyone. However, Ockham and many of the Franciscans did not see the academic Dominican s proofs as proper within the theological world. Ockham believed that in trying to gain an understanding of God using scientific means, Aquinas had demystified God with reason, and mystified nature. Ockham stated that what needed to happen,be to re-mystify God and demystify nature.14 Science and religion had to go separate ways according to Ockham, and he would try to prove his point in front of a far more

Thomas Aquinas, Summa of the Summa, p. 69. Ibid. p. 61. 12 Ibid. p. 70. 13 Ibid. p. 63. 14 Richard E. Rubenstein, Ockham's Razor, p. 252-253.


5 hostile theological Curia than that of the Curia against Aquinas. Aquinas doctrine of reason and logic to gain an understanding of God had won the minds of the medieval Christian court and was now seen as dogma within the Church. It was before this Curia that Ockham stated his teachings of faith as a means of understanding God rather than reason or logic. Ockham stated that one could not possibly explain matters dealing with God with human standards.15 He said that if God is good, God must be good in a human sense or in a sense we do not fully understand. Therefore, human concepts could not be used as a means of explaining the existence of God.16It would be impossible for someone to try and fathom the understanding of God s existence, and could only be found in faith, not science. Ockham also enforced his crux of teaching, which we now call Ockham s Razor . This teaching mainly states that the simplest reason for an effect is generally the most probable one.17 This means that all the proofs that Aquinas had thought of for the existence could be refuted by simple measures. For example, Aquinas stated that since the planets move in such a way that symmetry calls for the definite existence of a higher being controlling the cosmos, a being he considered to be God. Ockham turned the idea around and stated that the patterns of the cosmos were merely mental processes, and are not pieces of evidence for a divine entity.18 Ockham stated that there was a far simpler answer for the question of the cosmos (which would bring gravity into play, but not until much later).

Richard E. Rubenstein, Ockham's Razor, p. 253. Ibid. p. 254. 17 Ibid. p. 252. 18 Ibid. p. 253.


6 For Ockham, there would be no way science and theology could reconcile their differences. Science was used to prove contingent items within the natural world and human world. Theology was used to explain aspects of God. Ockham stated that scientific knowledge found through reason and logic was only probable and not certain.19 Therefore, logic and reason were contingent ideals that could not be used to answer questions dealing with a complex entity as God. The final thing that Ockham stated about his teachings was that God was a Supreme Being that was not limited to the laws of nature, and his actions were spontaneous contingent. God s will was not necessary and therefore, his actions could not determine his existence.20 Ockham stated in front of the entire Curia that if God wished it, a human being could give birth to an ass, and furthermore, could have generated Redemption through an ass rather than a man.21 This idea shocked the men of the cloth, and the worse part was, he was right. God s power could not be contingent and laws of nature could not bar God s will. Ockham s Razor had brought about the beginnings of nominalism, and refuted the dogma of the time.

Of course, in our day and age, scientists have discovered several new pieces of information through logic and reason. Discoveries have been made in order to find new medicines (Stem Cells), planetary activities (Water on the Moon) and new species, even evolution before our very eyes. Within Aquinas five proofs of God s existence, it is possible to refute his ideas with logic and reason. Despite his ability

Richard E. Rubenstein, Ockham's Razor, p. 251. Ibid. p. 250. 21 Ibid. p. 259.


7 to cover most of his bases, Aquinas did not have the scientific knowledge we now possess today. Here is my own Determinatio of Aquinas five proofs22 on the existence of God. With the first proof, Aquinas states that in order for God to exist, there must be an unmoved Mover, such as God. This means that God to exist in order to create the processes seen before our eyes. However, when an apple falls, gravity causes the apple to fall. Not only that, but the planets move by gravity between themselves. In this sense, God is not the thing that moves these items but the scientific phenomenon of gravity. The second proof states that an uncaused Cause had to have caused everything. This one mainly sounds proper, but it lacks a specific item. Everything must have a cause, and no one can create itself. Within Genesis, scripture states that in the beginning there was nothing, a vast void. How then can God create itself from nothing? Aquinas may have placed the theologians in a sound light, but to the rest of the great medieval thinkers, he was not fooling anyone. Aquinas third proof states that a necessary Being must have created us as contingent creatures. Everything is contingent around us and it is obvious that God can therefore be seen as a necessary Being. However, Ockham states that the actions of God are contingent, not necessary. If God wished it, God could undo everything that was done within the world. Our human laws do not bind God. Beyond that, within scripture in the Garden of Eden, God speaks to other heavenly beings saying, By eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, man will be just like us. When Adam


Thomas Aquinas, Summa of the Summa, p. 63.

8 and Eve eat the apple, their eyes are open and they now know the difference between good and evil, and are like God. Using Aquinas knack of analogy use, it can be seen in this idea that Man from that point was now seen as being like God. In that sense, since we are contingent beings, then God must also be a contingent being as well. Therefore, God is not a necessary being, but rather a contingent Being within the human sense of course. Aquinas fourth proof states that there must be a perfect being in order for us to create a sense of degrees within language. This means that because God is perfect, we can determine what is good, better, or best. However, everyone has a different perspective of everything. For example, I may find a movie to be amazing, but my friend may have found it not good in any way. In this sense, it is possible to see God as not perfect, and may see something else as a perfect being. What one person sees may have different meaning to another person. The final proof of Aquinas is one of the most difficult to refute, and still is believed by many today. Aquinas stated within his final proof that God existed as the Intelligent Designer of the world. Aquinas stated that the symmetry within the world was far too great to be coincidental, and therefore must have been placed by some higher being. However, the design of the universe does declare the existence of the designer, but we have no proof of who or what designed the universe. We have no proof of whether it was God, or something else.

It can be seen from all these aspects that the existence of God is extremely difficult to determine and both Aquinas and Ockham put up excellent battles to

9 demonstrate God s existence. Aquinas used logic and reason to create a complex idea dealing with God s existence, but Ockham refuted it simply with faith. However, Ockham s Razor does not really demonstrate God s existence in a matter that everyone can understand, and rather is faith-based. Therefore, neither truly demonstrates God s existence and everyone must now wait to determine a better approach to demonstrate God s existence, if God really truly exists.