|Aquinas's Thoughts On Religion
In Aquinas's most famous paragraphs, he shows that, "The existence of god can be proved in five ways." "The first and more manifest way" is from motion. Through sense experience we encounter things being "moved" to change "from potentiality to actuality." "Therefore it is necessary to arrive at a first mover, moved by no other; and this everyone understands to be God."
"The second way is from the nature of efficient cause." We experience and come to understand "an order of efficient cause" among the objects of sense experience. Nothing can possibly be its own efficient cause since this would require that it "be prior to itself, which is impossible." But again, there cannot be an infinite regress from effect back to cause, back to cause of that cause, and so forth, for then nothing would be causally produced in the first place. "therefore it is necessary to admit a first efficient cause, to which everyone gives the name of God."
"The third way is taken from possibility and necessity", starting with objects of our experience that continently exist; in other words, though they are, they could conceivably not have been. "But it is impossible for these always to exist, for that which can not-be at some time is not. Therefore, if everything can not-be, then at one time there was nothing in existence." However, since nothing comes from nothing, then nothing would now exist, which is absurdly contrary to experience. "Therefore, not all beings are merely possible, but there must exist something the existence of which is necessary." That necessary being either derives its necessity from another or it does not. If it does, that process of derivation cannot "go on to infinity," since then the chain would never be causally begun. "Therefore we cannot but admit the existence of some being having of itself its own necessity, and not receiving it from another. This all men speak of as God."
"The fourth way is taken from the gradation to be found in things." We experience objects as representing degrees of qualities "some more and some less good, true, noble, and the like." But such qualitative degrees of comparison presuppose some maximum standard whereby something is best, truest, noblest, and so forth. "Now the maximum in any genus is the cause of all in that genus," as fire, allegedly the hottest of things, is the causal source of all other heat. Some one being must be "greatest in being" and have all desirable qualities to the maximum extent. "Therefore there must also be something which is to all beings the cause of their being, goodness, and every other perfection; and this we call God."
"The fifth way is taken from the governance of the world." We experience things that lack understanding regularly acting for intelligible ends. But this could not so consistently occur by mere chance. Whatever lacks understanding, if it is not moved by mere chance, must be "directed by some being endowed with knowledge and intelligence"; thus, for example, an arrow flies towards the target because of an archer's aim. "Therefore some intelligent being exists by whom all natural things are directed to their end; and this being we call God."
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