Tue 16 Oct 2007
I was discussing the basis of religion with a friend at a party. He is a serious theologian and a born again Christian. When the subject of existence of God came up, my friend said that the best argument was made by Saint Thomas Aquinas in his “The Five Ways”. I decided that it is best to go to the source and evaluate it.
St. Thomas was a pretty good logician, but the unscientific and erroneous beliefs held in his time makes many of his conclusions irrelevant now that we know the universe better. St. Thomas used the knowledge of the ancients, mainly that of of Aristotle to form his worldview. He did not have the benefit of modern science. The discoveries of DesCartes, Bacon, Newton, Einstein and other modern thinkers and experimenters had not been made.
One of St. Thomas’ most important theses in Summa Theologica is The Five Ways - considered by some as a conclusive proof of the existence of God.
The Five Ways is found in article three of the second question of the first part of Summa Theologica. It is a foundation of Roman Catholic doctrine and a basis of faith for many other Christian religions.
This article will review each of Aquinas’ “ways” to see how modern science has effected the bases upon which his logic rests. Any logical development must proceed from an initial premise. An example: DesCartes – “I think, therefore I am” is a single logical link based upon the premise that DesCartes is correct in assuming that he does, in truth, think.
This premise is pretty basic, but could still be corrupted by the possibility that some other being is thinking on behalf of DesCartes and projecting the thought to him. Fortunately, that possibility is of no consequence to the conclusion because the existence of another being projecting thought to him means that the idea of his being exists, and therfore in some measure DesCartes still must exist.
DesCartes developed his own proof of God, based upon an earlier effort by St. Anselm. DesCartes’ proof has been shown to be defective by several authors.
This essay will show that because we now understand how Aristotle’s understanding of the universe was critically flawed and ” The Five Ways” no longer proves anything, and should no longer be used as an argument for the existence of God.
Aquinas’ First Way : Argument from Motion
Nothing can move itself.
If every object in motion had a mover, then the first object in motion needed a mover.
This first mover is the Unmoved Mover, called God.
The Aristotelian worldview was based upon the concept that things have an intrinsic identity. One of the natures of this identity was its motion through the aether or quintessence. Aristotle’s motion is assumes that there must be an “unmoved mover”. Aquinas takes this to be God.
Newton’s physics placed all things in a Cartesian aether, so that they moved with respect to the aether as envisioned by Aristotle and St Thomas. This was shown to be false by the Michelson-Morley Experiment. The experiment demonstrated that the speed of light is not influenced by motion of the earth through the “Aether”, but is constant for all observers. The experiment finally and thoroughly disproved the long held belief that space is a fixed substrate for existance. We learned from this experiment that motion is not an intrinsic nature a thing.
Until Einstein developed the theory of special relativity it was hard to explain the results of the Michelson-Morley Experiment. Relativity reconciled the experimental results of the Michelson-Morley Experiment with a theory that made sense.
Unfortunately for St. Thomas, relativity means that motion is no longer a property of one thing. Motion is a property of at least two “things”, the observer and the object. There can be no “unmoved mover” since all motion is now known to be relative to the observer, and not to some unmoving reference.
The premise of the First Way originates from the concept of a single body and its motion relative to a fixed reference. The logic of the First Way is based upon a false premise. Saint Aquinis’ First Way proves nothing because it leads from an incorrect initial premise.
Aquinas’ Second Way: Causation Of Existence
There exists things that are caused (created) by other things.
Nothing can be the cause of itself (nothing can create itself.)
There can not be an endless string of objects causing other objects to exist.
Therefore, there must be an uncaused first cause called God.
Once again the Aristotelian worldview is all that St. Thomas Aquinas had to work with. We have since learned that matter is continually formed as particles and antiparticles, and continually annihilated when a particle meets an antiparticle. There are no things that are caused or created by other things. Stuff only changes in form and there is nothing being “caused to exist”, St. Thomas’s premise here is simply irrelevant.
The remaining artifact to explain is the Big Bang: How did our universe come into existence in the first place? Is it the action of the Demiurge, the action of Abraham’s God, or just the spitum of some black hole in another universe? In each case Aquinas’ argument fails to answer the question: What caused the DemiUrge, God, or the black hole to exist. If the answer is simply: “but it is turtles all the way down”, then what is special about the top turtle compared with all the others beneath?
There are alternative possibilities to the big bang – that the universe is resonant – going through expansion back to the big crunch, which starts it all over again; that the Big Bang theory is incorrect – our universe has no beginning; or there is some eternal guy in robes and a beard twisting the knobs of the universe machine. The point is that St. Thomas’ argument has no footing in reality.
Aquinis’ Third Way: Contingent and Necessary Objects
Contingent beings are caused.
Not every being can be contingent.
There must exist a being which is necessary to cause contingent beings.
This necessary being is God.
This argument is similar to the second: There must be an initial being that started everything. Unfortunately, this argument is tautological – it goes round and round without end, like the turtles comment above.
In this myth, the Demiurge, also known as Yaldabaoth was the son of Sophia. He was a kind of monster, and Sophia ashamed of giving birth to such a monster, placed him on a throne wrapped in a cloud. The Demiurge, unable to see his mother, or any other being, concluded that he was alone, having no knowledge of the “superior” levels of existence above him.
When the Demiurge created the universe, the beings on earth also believed that Yaldabaoth was not a contingent being, as that was the best information available. It might have also been what ws presented by their “god”. Even if “god” and the creations believe that the “god” is not a contingent being, that does not mean that it is so.
Some Gnostic philosophers (notably Marcion of Sinope and the Sethians) identify the evil Demiurge as Yahweh, the God of the Old Testament , the creator of the universe, according to Christian doctrine. That this being, St. Thomas’s God, is believed by some of the creations (the Gnostic Christians) to be a contingent being further weakens his argument.
St. Thomas assumes that the universe was created, and hence contingent. The Big Bang theory, the present dominant theory of the universe states that it has a clear beginning about 15 Billion years ago. This theory predicts an end of the Universe in either the Big Rip or the Big Crunch – kind of an “unbang”. This fits the concept that our universe was created. The Big Bang theory under the standard model says that something caused the Big Bang and therefore it is contingent.
String theory with supersymmetry includes the possibility that the universe is immortal. If the big crunch scenario is the actual end play, when the universe “crunches” it does not disappear. It simply bangs again into a new universe as the old one crunches to the dimension of the planck length. The new universe is indistinguishable from the one that just crunched. If the universe is truly eternal, and just goes through cycles of Bang, expansion, contraction, Crunch->Bang, then it is manifest that the universe itself is not a contingent entity.
Fourth Way: The Argument From Degrees And Perfection
Objects have properties to greater or lesser extents.
If an object has a property to a lesser extent, then there exists some other object that has the property to the maximum possible degree.
So there is an entity that has all properties to the maximum possible degree.
Hence God exists.
The concept of perfection and extent is rather elusive. Let us take the case of one of the simplest of things – a material, the element Uranium. Lets look at what is meant by purifying or making its properties of greater extent. With this example we will probe the Aristotelian concept of extent.
If Aristotle knew that Uranium was an element of material – not divisible without disturbing its essence, he would characterize pure Uranium as not “Said-of” or “Present-in” any other substance: a Primary Substance.
Uranium comes as one of various ores. Pitchblende is one of these ores consisting of various uranium oxides along with thorium, radon, lead and tiny amounts of technetium, usually in oxides. This is an example of the element mixed and of lesser extent.
Pitchblende, from German, means “black and mixed metals” – an uneconomical ore. The idea is that this ore is not valuable, of low extent of value, and was originally tossed aside. Mixed as it is with other materials and oxidized it is of little value.
It is possible to refine the ore to metallic uranium with the use of heat which reduces the oxides to metallic elemental uranium. A number of processes may be used separate out the thorium, radon, lead and technetium, and perhaps isolate and purify these materials from the ore also.
Metallic uranium originally had a substantial value as a colorant for glass and pottery, with selected oxides providing beautiful red and orange colors. People still collect Fiestaware and Uranium Glass that was colored with Uranium. The density of uranium and its mechanical strength see uranium used as keels for ships, gyroscopes, projectiles, armor and other applications for dense strong materials. Chemically purifying uranium clearly makes the uranium more valuable and useful, and hence of greater extent.
If one were to collect a block of material that contained only uranium atoms, (chemically pure) it would still not be uniform, because uranium comes in several isotopes. The chemical properties of all the isotopes are identical, but the number of neutrons in the nucleus of the atoms differ. This little difference between U-235 and U-238 (and the other less common isotopes) cause critical differences in the radioactive characteristics of the atoms. Pure Uranium metal would at this finer level not be the Primary Substance of greatest extent, but remain flawed and only of greater extent.
U-235, when bombarded by a Neutron with the correct speed undergoes fission, breaking into Rubidium-90 and Cesium-143, and releasing three neutrons and a lot of energy. This can be a process to generate power or make a bomb. Removing some of the U-238 from metallic Uranium increases the percentage of U-235 in the remaining material from 1% to 3 to 10%. The resulting material is called enriched Uranium. The “waste” material is much nearly pure U-238, known as depleted Uranium, clearly more pure in extent.
Although enriched Uranium is more thoroughly mixed it is considered more valuable because it can be used to generate power and make bombs. This makes it both dangerous and prized, even though its extent is reduced from chemically purified Uranium. The enriched Uranium is not a Primary Substance, even though is greatly sought after.
Depleted Uranium is still used for coloration and all the other conventional uses of Uranium. Its value is very low in comparison to enriched Uranium. Depleted Uranium approaches the category of a Primary Substance, but it has limited value.
If one were to remove all the atoms of isotopes of Uranium other than U-238 from a sample of the purified metal, a truly difficult task, but possible for a small enough sample, then one would have a sample of a Aristotelian Primary Substance. Even if you were to keep the sample in a high vacuum the sample would not remain so. In time, some stray Oxygen atoms will bond with some atoms of Uranium and the U-238 itself will radioactively decay leaving Thorium, Proactinium, U-234, Radium and a host of other elements in its wake. These are intrinsically mixed with the previously pure U-238. The greatest extent of purity of U-238 is fleeting.
So, we have taken the very simple case of an element of substance, and have shown that purity does not equate to value; that although a Primary Substance can exist, it will not remain so; and that the existance of a Primary Substance – the “essence of greatest extent” is ephemeral, not eternal.
The mysteries of nature were unclear in the time of St. Thomas Aquinas. Alchemy was science and the essence of lead could be purified into gold. The laws of thermodynamics, oxidation and radioactive decay were 550 years or more in the future. We have learned that Aquinas’ views on science are not the ways of the Universe. Thomas simply did not have the facts. There is no proof in the Argument from Degrees and Perfection.
The Fifth way: The Argument From Intelligent Design
Among objects that act for an end, some have minds, whereas others do not.
An object that acts for an end, but does not itself have a mind, must have been created by a being that has a mind.
So there exists a being with a mind who designed all mindless objects that act for an end.
Hence, God exists.
The concept of mind is a complex one. Some things are pretty clear – a stone does not have a mind, and a healthy adult human does. There have been several essays here on that subject. What much less clear is what makes a mind, and just what objects have minds and what objects do not.
Most will agree that healthy adult humans have minds. How about infants? There actions are restricted to reflexes and very simple responses. The human mind requires self consciousness, and appears to require the ability to use the tokens of some form of language. This does not appear until much later in childhood – perhaps at “the age of reason.”
At the other end of life in terrible diseases like Alzheimer’s, the mind is lost. A body can still go on for some time after the spark of mind is quenched by the failure of the brain. Occasional embers may flare, but the fire is dying.
Are there other minds besides humans? Doug Hofstadter measures sentience on a continuous scale of mindfulness with the unit “Hoenekers”. Robert A. Frietas, Jr. has defined a Sentience Quotient measure of a mind by its computing capability. Hofstadter sees organic beings on a scale, from vegetables, through insects, to vertibrates, to mammals and birds, to humans. Frietas’ calculation puts sentience as a measure of information processing efficiency with plants around -2 and animals with nervous systems near humans at +13, while present computers are still running at less than +10. Computers using Josephson Junctions could have an SQ as high as +23!
If an infant human does not possess a significant mind, but an adult does, then there is a process by which the mind develops. This is a process wherein information and experience cooperatively work to form sentience. Children raised exclusively by animals, feral children, do not develop fully functioning minds, failing to be able to use language or function in society. Orphans deprived of human companionship suffer perverse social and emotional difficulties that reflects their incomplete formation of mind.
The mind appears to be on a continuum from mindless to mindful. It also appears that the mind only forms with appropriate social contact. St. Thomas’ first premise is wrong, and everything that leads from that is irrelevant.
The Five Ways simply proves nothing. It does not prove that God exists, but its failure does not prove the inverse. Simply said, the convenient hook that folks have used to justify their belief has come detatched.
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