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When faced with the highly complex philosophical question about the existence of God, it can become quite complicated to come to a consensus on what the truth is. In our current day and age, there has been an increasingly high number of people believing solely in what they can experience with their senses or logically comprehend. It is to our advantage that there has been over 2000 years of reflection and teaching, as we now have access to many philosophers and their working theories in the support of God’s existence. A particularly strong explanation is that of St. Thomas Aquinas, who was able to successful prove the existence of God in his Summa Theologica. He devised five arguments for the existence of God, commonly known as the Five Ways, which have proved to be both effective and influential over time. A particularly strong argument of Aquinas’s is his second argument. His second argument to ascertain the existence of God proves to be viable as it is based on a universal truth about natural phenomena and advances to the existence of a creative source of the universe, the first cause, whom Aquinas identifies as God. Put simply, St. Thomas Aquinas’s second way, efficient cause, is a type of cosmological argument for God’s existence. By looking at the coherency of his second argument about efficient cause, a popular objection to this argument, and reasons why this objection does not stand, we can support God’s existence and the reasoning behind it.
The second of the Five Ways that argue the existence of God is from the notion of efficient cause. A world in which there is no force of cause is intrinsically a world wherein nothing happens. Based solely on the fact that things do happen, we know that it must exist. It is logically impossible for a being to be the efficient cause of itself and as such, a being cannot bring itself into being. Essentially, nothing can be the cause of its own existence, for nothing can be prior to itself. For example, a ball of clay will not shape itself into a vase, it will only become a vase if someone shapes the clay into it. If we were to call a being X, because a being cannot bring itself into existence, another being, Y, must therefore bring X into being and Z must cause Y, etcetera. In the same way, things cannot give themselves capabilities or powers that they do not previously possess. On a similar note, a thing that is relatively inactive or powerless can however still cause another being by reacting to what happens to itself. To put things into perspective, consider dominos, one can knock over another by reacting to being knocked over itself. However, this ordered series of causation cannot go on infinitely, for no first cause results in no intermediate cause, and without an intermediate cause, there is no ultimate or proximate cause. Any series of reactions derives purely from some primal agent whose cause initiates the series. If we were to deny this then in essence, we are denying the basis for everything that is happening presently. Therefore, it is essential to acknowledge that there must be a first efficient cause, an uncaused cause of all that exists. Reflection reveals that this first efficient cause is God.
A common objection to this second argument is the belief that Aquinas begs the question when he declares the actuality of an uncaused cause for all that exists. This objection entails the fact that if the sequence of causes can date back to infinity, the influence of this argument can be avoided. It is argued that the series could go back forever and thus, the need for something to cause this chain reaction would be eliminated altogether. While this objection seems to have potential, it misses the point.
God is the first cause as the crucial basis of everything. If we were to say that one thing causes another, we are intrinsically saying that the second depends on the first. We must think in terms of force of cause rather than sequential order of what follows what in time. This is difficult to comprehend as the series of events and chain of causes often persist simultaneously and are easier to differentiate when viewed in isolation. An example to clarify the series of events involves the process of animal reproduction repeated constantly over time. An evident way that members of the series are derived from the earlier members exists and in principle, this series could go back forever. It should be noted that there is no need for an original act at the start of the series since causal force comes from the sun instead of through the earlier members of the series. Light, in the form of increased daylength, is the major stimulus for animal reproduction. Generally speaking, the series of events can reach back forever whereas the chain of causes cannot.
Once again referencing dominoes, we have seen that one knocks over another after being knocked over itself and so on. Once observed, people imagine that the series could go back in time forever. This is true, however not as a chain of causes, but a series of events. The domino that knocks others is simply instrumental in comparison to the hand that pushed. In perspective of the domino that is knocked, the other dominos are intermediate between itself and the hand. Being knocked is a result of the original act, leaving the remainder of the things to happen as a result of the act. If the original act was removed then nothing would happen as things do not simply happen as a result of nothing given that the real world works as a result of force of causes.
People often confuse the instance where the causal power comes from outside the series, like the reproduction based on sunshine, with the circumstance where the chain of causes goes through the series, like the dominoes. Additionally, on occasion people confuse the series of events with the chain of causes. Due to these confusions, they imagine that the chain of causes can go back forever, however this is a serious error that will fall apart once the confusions are set straight. These two cases are different because in the case of the animals, the earlier generations do not motivate the later generations to act in the same way that the earlier dominoes drive the later ones to fall. However, in each case there is an efficient or first cause.
Currently, there is an unusual application of these points about infinite series versus infinite regress. Stephen Hawking proposed a complicated ploy for the configuration of time that established no need for any beginning. This theory allowed for time to not have to reach back forever, but also stated that there was no starting point. The idea behind this theory was if no beginning existed then a first cause would not be needed. Even if time possesses this structure, this would not rule out Aquinas’s argument. Causal dependency would still exist, thus a first cause would be needed to support the dependency. As Aquinas laid out, this origin would be outside the series.
The idea may be that the process of the world would loop back on itself, thus be self-sustaining. The problem lies with the fact that this would be an unusual version of having the effect cause the cause, which we already established is not possible. As previously stated, the series of events may loop back on itself however, the chain of causes cannot as there would consequently be the structure of what is dependent without the primary origin or first cause to support it.
Aquinas’s work was intended as an introduction for students and as a result, not only is it clear and cohesive, it is simplified for the common person to both understand and accept. Ultimately, following the argument St. Thomas Aquinas’s developed will inevitably lead us to conclude that God exists. Aquinas’ pillar of why God exists, efficient cause, is undeniable. Everything must have an efficient cause as nothing can be the cause of its own existence. Aquinas’s argument uses reason, which appeals more accurately to the beliefs and thought process of human nature today. His proofs are examples of natural theology that can be reached using reason alone without the help of theology and as such, they appeal to the grander population.
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