Thoughts from a young theologian

Aquinas and the Existence of God: Contingency Part I


As promised, I have been working on (mostly in my mind) how to present to you guys what I’ve been learning about St. Thomas Aquinas and his way of showing the existence of God to you. It’s still something that I’ve been running around a few times in my head, trying to get it to the point where it’s totally clear to me so I’ll only really be presenting it how I understand it… There may be a couple of things that’ll be missing… but here goes…

St. Thomas Aquinas actually has 5 ways of showing the existence of God. These include the argument for the (1) unmoved mover, (2) uncaused cause, (3) contingency, (4) cause of all limited perfections in being and (5) teleological argument. Of these, the only one that I’ve been learning inside out (and getting pretty fascinated by) is the argument from contingency.

Before I jump into it though, I think it’s worth noting a little nuance. First of all, Aquinas came up with 5 “ways” to show God’s existence… not 5 “proofs” of His existence. The reason for this is a proof is more than often attained a priori (or deductively) rather than a posteriori (inductively). A priori or deductive reasoning is one that goes from what is universally known to a specific application of that principle. It forms the heart of a logical syllogism and its conclusions follow of necessity (they need to be true… they can’t be false). If the premises that they present are true, then the conclusions that they make need to be true too. An example is the syllogism below:

All men are mortal (universal first principle)
Socrates is a man
Therefore Socrates is mortal (particular application of the universal truth)

Because Socrates is a man, he cannot not be mortal. The deductive syllogism (a priori) is the most powerful of them all but it is also that which is most easily debunked because all you need to disprove it is to bring to me one instance where the universal first principle fails to disprove it… Find me one man who is immortal and the whole argument falls flat.

In contrast to this, the inductive reasoning (a posteriori) is a weaker form of reasoning. It starts from lots of things that are true and draws out the universal truth that binds them all together. The conclusion it draws though may not follow of necessity. Most science follows the process of inductive reasoning. In our labs we most often try and statistically show through a number of repeated experiments a conclusion that can apply universally. There’s a good chance that the conclusion we draw from it is true, but it does not follow of necessity. An example of this is as follows:

Drinking and driving cause mortal accidents

This is a form of inductive reasoning because the conclusion doesn’t follow necessarily. There are some people who are drunk who manage to get themselves home. There’s a good chance you’ll get into an accident based on the statistics and number crunching that we have but there’s also a chance you don’t.

For Aquinas, the way we show God’s existence is always inductively and not deductively. God is infinite and eternal therefore you cannot start with a universal understanding of God because it’s not at all possible to universally understand God. There’s no truth higher than infinite Truth!!! The only way to show God’s existence is by inductive reasoning–i.e. from the particular circumstances. This makes sense from a faith point of view too. If there is one proof that exists that definitively, without question shows God’s existence, than are we still free to believe and accept Him? c”,) This is of course not to say that the inductive arguments St. Thomas gives us are weak and poor arguments… Actually, they’re really pretty sound and super fun to use… but you’ll have to come back next time to hear them… I don’t want to end up writing a thesis blog… Hehehheeeh Happy Sunday everyone and God bless!!!

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