THE MERITS AND LIMITATIONS OF ST. THOMAS AQUINAS’ ARGUMENTS.

By: Tiago Hirayama (BOYCE 2017)

St. Thomas Aquinas is thought of one of the titans of the Christian faith throughout church history. He; along with Augustine of Hippo, John Calvin, Martin Luther, Jonathan Edwards, and many others; forms a line of faithful men who stood up in their day and age to give answers and defend the faith against the skeptics of their time. The two great works of Thomas’s career were Summa Theologiae and Summa Contra Gentiles. Both are among the most influential works of Western literature.[1] His Summa contra Gentiles was a handbook of arguments from natural revelation to train missionaries to the Muslims. The Summa Theologiae consists of three thousand articles including over six hundred questions in three major sections. It was intended to be a systematic exposition of the whole of theology.[2] Even though his contributions in the area of apologetics were incredibly beneficial, his overall belief gave birth to what is known as the modern Roman Catholic system of sacraments. Nevertheless, I think we should retain the sound doctrine of his systems and then improve upon it.67498Picture retrieved from christianitytoday.com

The Argument from motion (change). The world is in constant movement; this is evident to us. When things move, it must possess the potentiality to it. No potentiality can actualize itself. If something has only the potential to move, and not the capacity to move, nothing will happen. Moreover, two objects, side by side, with the possibility of movement does not mean that they will move. For instance, a rock can not move another rock. Aquinas, therefore, believed that there must be a first Mover who starts that motion, and he would call him Pure Actuality; The first of the chain reaction.

The Argument from Cause and Effect to a First Cause. Everything we experience in this life is a result of some known or unknown cause. By way of illustration, a painting did not paint itself; there must be a painter to accomplish the work of art. Similarly, the painter must have parents to exist, and we cannot trace back to infinity. Therefore,  there must be the first cause of all things; nothing can cause itself.

These two arguments in my view have the same concept; there is a reason for everything that happens in the universe. The merits of these arguments are the recognition of a first efficient cause or first mover. Even though it falls short in its limited explanation of the infinite backward series in a chain that is linked to it. However, these two arguments could be used very effectively if explained in light of Scriptures; perhaps connecting the God of the Bible with the first efficient cause or first mover. Another good point of these two arguments is that Aquinas does not limit his concept of cause-and-effect or motion to the small reaction such as what moves the leaves on a windy day, but he tries to tie together the idea of generation and creation.[3]

The Argument from Contingent Beings to a Necessary Being. A contingent or possible being is something or someone who has the potentiality of existence, in other words, the nature of this being is that which comes to a beginning, but also it can cease to exist. For example, a flower has the potentiality to exist, but at the same time, while living, it has the possibility of ceasing to exist. Therefore, if there is any existent being, Aquinas believed that there must be a necessary being to which death or corruption does not touch, whose non-existence is impossible.

The Argument of Degrees of Perfection. This argument says that every notion of perfection, such as truth, goodness, beauty, must have its resemblance from a supreme standard. Similarly, there are degrees of beings, such as a human being and a tree, they both have their being derived from the highest being. Furthermore, for any being to exist, there must be an already existing being.

The third and fourth arguments emphasize the nature of any existing being. I found these discussions very interesting for several reasons. First, the emphasis on the existence of beings is crucial to any who engage in this conversation. We must acknowledge the differences between being A and B; For instance, a human being has one type of essence, and a tree has another. Second, every being on this planet is perceived empirically. Therefore, by observation, we can only obtain knowledge of particulars. However, the Christian understanding also recognizes the knowledge of the universals given by God through his revealed will in Scripture. Third, Dr. Nash explains that “the sufficient reason for any necessary being is itself, not something else. By definition a necessary being is uncaused; it is a being that must exist because its non-existence is impossible.”[4] The limitations on these are that the arguments only gives us a theistic concept, which ultimately means that any other religion that believes in a supreme deity could use these two cases.

 

The Argument of a Designer of the World.  Many things in this world possess intelligence and complexity, which means things are predictable and feature an incredible independently specified pattern in their behavior. For instance, we look at the sun rising today, and without hesitation, we assume that the sun will be set at a particular time and will rise again tomorrow. Such predictability displays an intelligible pattern that functions independently, in other words, something or someone is actively working to achieve this end.

I believe the fifth argument is the most useful in our day and age for a couple of reasons. First, it can be used in connection with many different areas of the sciences, such as biology, physics, and cosmology. Second, the affirmation of intelligible patterns that function independently can not be denied by any other worldview. For example, One of the leading scientists in our day said “[b]iology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose.”[5] I don’t believe there is any limitation to this argument when linked with our Christian God; He is necessary for everything, He is the first cause, the first mover, He is the ultimate Designer.

APOLOGETIC ENCOUNTERS TODAY

There is a lot of different ways we could approach apologetics in our day and age, Aquinas’s five ways are one of them. I agree with Ronald Nash when he says that “the power of theism is based not on single, isolated arguments but on the cumulative case one gets by reflecting on the existence of the universe, the order of the universe, of why we are here, and the facts of humans rationality, moral consciousness, and religious experience.”[6] The cumulative case of Aquinas’s arguments is one excellent example of an apologetic approach to evangelism. It is not perfect for every situation, but it is something to keep in mind and use when appropriate.

The way I approach apologetics is best exemplified by Scripture. When Apostle Peter gave his first sermon, he spoke in a specific way, using many references to Old Testament passages and terminology that the people would have to have familiarity. Thousands of people ended up being saved in Acts chapter two. Why? Because He preached to Jews and people, who had knowledge of biblical terminology. But on the other hand, the Apostle Paul in chapter seventeen of the same book presented the gospel in an entirely different way, and not many people got saved, why so? Because the audience was different, the environment was different, the knowledge the people of that area was different. He approached the proclamation starting from the beginning with a very detail explanation of origins, explaining terminology and even using their philosophers to make the message understandable.

[1] Reeves, Ryan. (2013) The Significance of Thomas Aquinas. Ligonier.org, (8). Retrived August 29th, 2017, from http://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/significance-thomas-aquinas/

[2] Cairns Earle E. Christianity Through the Centuries: A History of the Christian Church. (Michigan: Zondervan Publisher, 1996), 232.

[3] Stumpf Samuel Enoch, Socrates to Sartre: A History of Philosophy (McGraw-Hill, 1999), 169

[4] Nash Ronald, Life’s Ultimate Questions: An Introduction to Philosophy (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999), 176

[5] Dawkins, Richard [zoologist and Professor for the Public Understanding of Science, Oxford University], “The Blind Watchmaker,” [1986], Penguin: London, 1991, reprint, p.1

[6] Nash Ronald, Life’s Ultimate Questions: An Introduction to Philosophy (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999), 294

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

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

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: