In the advent of the Five Proofs of St. Thomas Aquinas, back in the 13th century, and the publishing of Richard Dawkins book in 2006, “The God Delusion” which I also read & reviewed back in February of 2015; I believe this would be a good venue to discuss the topic of God’s Existence and these two eminent people of their respective fields, one on the topic of God & Theistic knowledge and the other on the topic of Atheism and the lack of an all powerful Creator.
First off, I find it odd that a man of the stature of Richard Dawkins considers the explanations of Thomas Aquinas to be, of all things, “vacuous.” As Mr. Dawkins has essentially brushed off anything stated by the 13th century philosopher as “having or showing a lack of thought or intelligence; mindless“. Let us delve into topics of Thomas Aquinas in his Five Proofs:
- The Unmoved Mover of all things that Move;
- The First Efficient Cause in all things that Exist, or the Un-caused Cause;
- The cosmological argument;
- The Argument from Degree of Being; and
- The Teleological Argument, or the Design Argument.
While Richard Dawkins did do a fair job of summing up each of these thoughts, he did do a lousy job of assessing their overall value. Of course, this is not just my opinion but also of many others. However, it is the position that the science of evolution began with the Big Bang (which is but a theory based solely upon assumptions) and yet, even now with the Hubble Telescope, scientists believe they are picking up on things that date back to prior to the Big Bang. Christian believers have believed that something did cause the Big Bang. The un-moved mover, the first efficient cause, and/or the cosmological argument. In essence the Big Bang was ultimately caused by something that caused the super heating of the first atom that has now become the universe in which we live. But Christians are deemed to be kooks and scientists to be the brilliant minds.
The classic Christian beliefs are not against science, but rather they can explain many things which are unexplained by science. The classic Christian beliefs are steadfastly holding to the science of reason, or Logic. We as Christians are called to:
‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ ~Matthew 22:37
To love God with all of our mind is to form an understanding through reasonable and logical argumentation. While the many Atheists, Agnostics, and others out there in the world would disagree with me, based solely upon their belief that there is no God out there or the fact that there is no absolute proof of there being a God out there.
Back to Dawkins, he states in his book on the first three proofs that
“…these arguments rely upon the idea of a regress and invoke God to terminate it. They make the entirely unwarranted assumption that God himself is immune to the regress.” ~THE GOD DELUSION, page 101
It is understood that ‘Creators’ have power over their ‘creations.’ If there is a God and He exists and He created all that we presently call our universe, then He also created all of the physical laws that rule over us and through reason and logic is immune to that which He created. The classical Christian belief is that God is uncaused, and is the first cause in all other things that exist in this, and all other, plane(s) of reality. Essentially, according to non-believers prior to the Big Bang there was nothing; believers, on the other hand, believe there was only God prior to the Big Bang.
Aquinas on the Three Elements of a Causal Series
FIRST CAUSE —-> CAUSED CAUSE —-> EFFECT
(Principle Cause) (Instrumental Cause) (Final Effect)
We can summarize our argument this way:
- If everything is caused by something else, then there would be an infinite regress
- But an infinite regress of causes is impossible
- Therefore not everything is caused by something else.
Through our power of reason and logic we can make these assertions, because they make reasonable sense to us. Do they, in fact, prove what we desire; perhaps not, but they do follow reason and logic and are theoretical proofs of what we assert. They help us to understand and grasp certain concepts that we may better understand.
Consider these examples of the infinite regress, from Scott M. Sullivan, Ph.D.:
You ask a friend for a dollar ($1.00). Unfortunately, he does not possess one, but he can barrow one from another friend. Of course, as luck would have it, he too does not possess a dollar; but that is alright, he can barrow one from yet another. You cannot get your dollar from an infinite number of broke people!
How does the caboose of a train move? Because the box car (1) moves it. And how does box car (1) move? Because box car (2) moves it. And how does box car (2) move? Because box car (3) moves it… It is impossible for a box car to move anything if it does not possess the power to move itself, it is the engine which moves all of the successive cars, including the caboose.
All Richard Dawkins has done was to disparage Thomas Aquinas to be a mindless boob in his ramblings. When you cannot fight against the logic, attack the character; after all, it works in politics…why not in philosophy?
Furthermore, Richard Dawkins makes a grave error with respect to the attributes of God, namely: Omnipotence, Omnipresence, & Omniscience. In his book he states the following:
“…it has not escaped the notice of logicians that omniscience & omnipotence are mutually incompatible. If God is omniscient, he must already know how he is going to intervene to change the course of history using his omnipotence. But that means he can’t change his mind about his intervention, which means he is not omnipotent.” ~THE GOD DELUSION, page 101
There is no way Dawkins could possibly know this, as it is not logically following…a non sequitur, if you will! The thing Mr. Dawkins does not take into account is that man possesses free will and changes his mind constantly based upon new information, moral dilemmas, etc. Consider this:
And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not. ~Jonah 3:10 KJV
In the Book of Jonah, Jonah fulfilled his task and brought the word of God and His warning to the city of Nineveh. And the Ninevites changed their ways and repented seeking God’s forgiveness. Because God saw their hearts and that they changed their ways, God repented…in other words, he changed His course of action by changing His mind. God was able to see all things and knew that they would change their path, seeking His forgiveness. God finds the ways that will work with us to change our direction and our staunch path onto the road of sinfulness. God desires all of us to enter into His kingdom, but we have to change…it is not God who needs to change, but we do!
Richard Dawkins goes on to say further:
“To return to the infinite regress and the futility of invoking God to terminate it, it is more parsimonious to conjure up, say, a ‘big bang singularity’, or some other physical concept as yet unknown. Calling it God is at best unhelpful and at worst perniciously misleading.” ~THE GOD DELUSION, page 101-2
I find it rather foolhardy to conjure up something that is dependent upon other thing(s) to be the first cause in any chain of events. Seems to be very lackluster with respect to a philosophical argument, which carries no weight or power behind it. This is also where Dawkins runs astray from one of the attributes of God, that He is “Immaterial”. Meaning that He is not made up of or consisting of anything that has a physical composition of parts. To be so would make God dependent upon those parts and would thus degrade His ability, or abilities, of omnipotence, omnipresence, & omniscience.
Following on to the Argument from Degree of Being, in essence ascribes our goodness, greatness, morality, or even our righteousness is based upon God, or our emulation of Jesus, the Christ. That God is the basis of such things within each of us and if we should exercise our freewill and discard the notion of God and become evil in our base desires; hence our badness, poorness, immorality, or even our unrighteousness is based upon the opposite of what God is. We cannot blame God for our decisions, because, after all, we chose to do those things; permitting ourselves to be tempted and allowed ourselves to be swayed from the goodness of God. Whereas, if we truly relied on God, He could & would have guided us toward His righteousness.
Dawkins chose to follow the path of nominalizing the argument to the point of cartoonizing it through a caricature of the idea. In essence, he used a straw-man argument and then acted in a manner as though he defeated the argument in its original version.
And finally we move on to the Teleological Argument, or the Design Argument. In his book he wrote,
“The argument from design is the only one still in regular use today, and it still sounds to many like the ultimate knockdown argument. The young Darwin was impressed by it when, as a Cambridge undergraduate, he read it in William Paley’s Natural Theology. Unfortunately for Paley, the mature Darwin blew it out of the water. There probably has never been a more devastating rout of a popular belief by clever reasoning than Charles Darwin’s destruction of the argument from design.” ~THE GOD DELUSION, page 103
First of all, what did Charles Darwin really prove? Anyone? Anyone? Nothing, he set forth a theory. His theory has never truly been proven to be truthful and factual as there has been no way to scientifically prove such a thing.
Scientific evidence is evidence which serves to either support or counter a scientific theory or hypothesis. Such evidence is expected to be empirical evidence and interpretation in accordance with scientific method.
The scientific method is a body of techniques for investigating phenomena, acquiring new knowledge, or correcting and integrating previous knowledge. To be termed scientific, a method of inquiry is commonly based on empirical or measurable evidence subject to specific principles of reasoning.
To empirically observe and use measurable evidence you must be able to recreate the theoretical in a controlled environment into an actual reality. Therefore, it is only theory until such a time as it is produced into a reality. So, Mr. Dawkins failed on this point.
Religion does not denigrate science, nor does science disprove religion or any of its tenets. Science does observe the natural order of things and just because it does not observe something does not prove its non-existence. Religious tenets are guides, or mandates, to live by; but does not discount science in any way, shape, or form. But is able to posit, based upon reasonableness and logic, explanations where science fails to yield one.
While, again, I found Mr. Dawkins’ book a worthwhile read from an apologetic standpoint and from the standpoint of learning what many atheists believe; I found it to leave one wanting for a more better answer. In my opinion, he makes outlandish claims of Christians and runs amuck from their classic beliefs. He seems to have, in many instances, set-up “straw man” arguments by caricaturizing the original arguments and then minimalizes the accuracy of the Christian standpoint. His arguments in some instances are disingenuous, in that, he rails on a point or tenet for something it was not arguing for and fails to see his point addressed in another segment.
Of course, there is probably much more information to be gleaned from THOMAS AQUINAS’ “Summa Contra Gentiles“, but that is one of my next projects to read that piece of work.
I hope you enjoyed and were able to glean something from this piece. Godspeed, my friends! Consider the study of Logic and the study of Apologetics, there are vast resources for you to gain much knowledge from…books, courses, video, web sites, etc. Again, Godspeed to you!
May God Richly Bless You, My Beloved!
MK Murphy, PhD, DD