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  • Dr. Jerry Root

Aristotle's 4 Causes & Aquinas's 5 Ways

C. S. Lewis wrote in An Experiment in Criticism that it is harder to prove a negative proposition than a positive one. To say there is no spider in the room I would have to check every nook and cranny to make the assertion with confidence. On the other hand I can say there is a spider in the room by simply pointing to one scurrying across the floor. Of course the argument for God’s existence is not as easily established as pointing to a spider. Nevertheless, Lewis’s warning ought to give pause to those who are so quick to claim that God doesn’t exist. There is, however, substantive philosophical arguments for God’s existence. For those interested I have sought to summarize these below.


Note the Cosmological and Teleological Arguments for God’s existence


Taken from Aristotle’s Four Causes (as set forth in Metaphysics V, 1013a) and Thomas Aquinas’s Five Ways (found in the Summa Theologica Q. 2. Article 3).


Aristotle’s Four Causes:Aquinas’s Five Ways


1. The Material Cause:

Definition: That from which a thing is made. Illustration: The Gold from which a ring may be made.


1. The Argument from Possibility and Necessity.

  1. “We find in nature things that are possible to be and not to be.”

  2. These things obviously cannot be eternal; “it is impossible for these things always to exist, for that which is possible not to be at some time is not.”

  3. “If everything is possible not to be, then at one time there could have been nothing in existence.”

  4. “Now, if this were true, even now there would be nothing in existence, because that which does not exist only begins to exist by something already existing.”

  5. “If at one time noting was in existence, it would have been impossible for anything to have begun to exist; and thus even now nothing would be in existence—which is clearly false.”

  6. Therefore…there must exist something the existence of which is necessary [or non-contingent].”

Options:

  • Matter is eternal.

  • Everything is self-created.

  • Something immaterial is eternal.


2. Formal Cause

Definition: Formal as relating to form, nature, character or essence. Why is it this and not something else? Illustration: The idea, or blue print, of a ring after which a specific ring may be patterned. (Ringness).


2. The Argument from the Gradation to be Found in Things.

Things are either more or less good. This presupposes that there is some standard to which things might approximate. “That which causes being and goodness and any perfection in things we call God”. C. S. Lewis observed that “All judgments imply a standard”


3. Efficient Cause

Definition: A maker in relationship to what is made. Illustration: The Goldsmith’s relationship to the ring.


3. The Argument from Motion

“Whatever is in motion is put in motion by another….”

4. The Argument from Efficient Cause.


Nothing could be the efficient cause of itself, for then it would have had to have existence before itself which is absurd (nothing is self-created). Take away a cause and it ought to eliminate any effect. Possible Objection: “What is the cause that produced the effect known as God?” Answer: The concept presupposes a final cause (or necessary cause), it cannot be an endless stream in light of the arguments above. The discussion requires a final kind of answer. Such is the case with similar types of questions like:

  1. What is the center of this?

  2. What is at the bottom of this?

  3. What is behind all of this?

  4. What produced this?


4. The Final Cause

Definition: Considers the purpose or reason for a thing. Illustration: The ring was made to be worn on a finger: perhaps as a signet ring and sign of authority; perhaps as a wedding ring and symbol of marriage vows; perhaps as a championship ring for accomplishment in sports; etc.


5. The Argument from the Governance or Directedness of Things.

Things act for an end or purpose, “it is plain that they achieve their end not by chance but by design. Now whatever lacks knowledge cannot move towards and end, unless it be directed by something endowed with knowledge and intelligence, as the arrow is directed by the archer.” “Whatever is done by nature must be traced back to God as to its first cause.”


The philosophical arguments are attempts to explain phenomena the Scriptures take for granted. The naturalistic causes and arguments above distill down to two arguments for God’s existence: The Cosmological Argument; and The Teleological Argument. To these can be added: The Ontological Argument; The Moral Argument; The Pragmatic Argument; and so forth. These human arguments have their weaknesses as all finite attempts to explain the existence of the Supernatural [as well as finite attempts to disprove the Supernatural] will. This is not because the existence of God is indemonstrable but rather because finite minds are likely to leave something out when speaking of the infinite. Nevertheless, the cumulative effect of these naturalistic arguments [as opposed to specially revealed statements of God’s existence] is compelling. What must be noted here relative to Foundations of Ministry is that cause implies purpose.



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