Can Reason Prove the Existence of God?

Back in 1974, after five or six years of atheism, I began to believe in the existence of God. I couldn’t have been more surprised. I thought my atheism was rock solid. So what effected the change? A philosophical argument. Yes, you heard me right—an argument. Not a burning bush experience. Not a still small voice in the silence of night. Not the exuberant witness of a born-again believer. No, just an argument. Its author was James Kiefer, a mathematician at NIH. I no longer remember the details of Jim’s argument, but its conclusion went something like this: the reliability of our cognitive faculties implies the existence of a transcendent designer. Unfortunately, Jim never published his argument in a scholarly journal, but he did share it with philosopher Richard Taylor, who included a succinct version in his book Metaphysics. At some point (late ’74 or early ’75), Jim also gave me a draft of a paper he was working on. I carried it with me for over thirty-five years. Unfortunately it, and several other boxes of books and papers, had to be thrown away after our basement flooded in Johnstown. When Jim died last year, I feared that his paper had died with him. Imagine my delight when I discovered today that my old friend Ronn Neff, with whom I have not been in contact for decades, has made his paper available on the internet: “Objectivism and Theism.” Ronn was the person who first introduced me to Kiefer’s argument and subsequently to Kiefer himself. After my graduation from Bard College, I returned to the D.C. area and began Inquirers’ Classes at the parish where Jim and Ron were worshipping, St Paul’s Church, K Street. And that, as they say, was that.

By the time I finished seminary, the Kieferian argument from design had ceased to be important for my faith—not because I had become convinced that it was invalid but because I had come to understand that the life of discipleship inescapably involves exis­tential risk and commitment. The philosophical argument had served its purpose, but it was time to move decisively forward. One cannot sit around forever waiting for scholarly consensus to give the green light to follow Jesus. “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62).

Atheism was not a challenge St Thomas Aquinas needed to address in the thir­teenth century. God was the air he and his friends breathed. No one felt they needed a philosophical argument to justify their be­lief in an eternal Creator, though me­die­val philosophers were happy to provide such justifications. And so right at the beginning of that most famous of text­books of theol­ogy, the Summa Theologiae, stands the five ways. When one thinks of the Angelic Doc­tor, these are what first come to mind. Thomas intends each as a cogent answer to the ques­tion, Does God exist?

Thomas believes that if we attend to the world in all of its workings we will be led to a rationally-grounded belief in God. Despite the abstract language of the five ways, they are all quite ordinary, as Denys Turner explains:

If we know God “rationally” it is as rational animals that we do so, and not as quasi-angelic hybrids. The most cursory glance at those five ways makes the point clearly enough. Each begins from basic human, earthbound experience—typically Thomas avoids illustrative examples and sticks with generalities: we observe material objects to be set in motion, we observe one thing to cause change in another, we observe things to come into existence and pass out of it again, and so on. We, however, might fairly fill out his abstractions: a rock falling down a hill in a landslide will do to launch the “proof from motion” a stonemason chipping a corbel for Notre Dame cathedral will do to get off the ground the proof from “efficient causality”; a daffodil blooming, fading, and dying would open up the third argument from “contingency”; one corbel being better than another is material enough for the fourth way; and an apple seed’s meeting one’s expectations of its becoming a tree will do for the fifth. The arguments for God are rational because they make their way to God beginning from the world human beings inhabit as animals and interrogate rationally. (Thomas Aquinas, pp. 132-133)

Scientists and skeptics will immediately protest: there’s no need to invoke a supreme deity to explain the phenomena of nature. Thomas would no doubt agree, only pausing to ex­plain that he is not doing modern science, which restricts itself to the quantitative study and measurement of objects in motion, as Stanley Jaki liked to point out in his many writings (see, e.g., Science and Religion: A Primer); he is doing, rather,  what we today would call meta­physics—the contemplation of reality at a deeper level. It is at this deeper level that the question of God is posed. While the modern scientist must remain content to quantify the processes of nature, the philosopher is free to probe and analyze the funda­mental structures of reality, asking questions of act and potency; essence and existence; form and substance; material, formal, efficient, and final causality—and ultimately, the nature of being itself (see Edward Feser, Aquinas).

Each of the five ways, Frederick Bauerschmidt tells us, “seek to move from something that is manifest to the existence of something that is not manifest, but which must be the case if we are to account for that which is manifest to us” (Thomas Aquinas, p. 95). Each way identifies the self-insufficiency of the world: “nothing moves itself; nothing causes itself; nothing is the source of its own necessity; nothing measures itself; the universe as a whole does not guide itself” (p. 95). And since the world is not nothing, then there must be that unconditioned and absolute reality “which everyone gives the name of God” (ST I.2.3).

Thomas knows full well that he has not proven the existence of the biblical God, but he does believe that his arguments demonstrate the existence of a being who is the perfect and infinite actuality of Being (actus purus). Human reason cannot demonstrate what God is; but it may prove that he is. Through reason we may know that there is an answer to the most fundamental of all questions:

Although we do not and cannot know what God is, we can know that he is. Or, more exactly, we know and can prove that there is something or someone which human beings call ‘God’ or ‘Divine’. We know this, not because we know his existence directly, but because we do know the existence of other things. We have direct acquaintance with all sorts of happenings, changes, productions, things, values, strivings. The famous Five Ways set out to prove that these things simply could not exist, indeed nothing at all could exist or happen, unless something Unknown, which we call divine, somehow existed (I.ii.3). . . . The Five Ways enable us to know, not the being or existence of God (Dei esse), but only that what men call God is, or exists (Deum esse) (I.iii.4 ad 2). They show that unless there is some unknown ground or source (causa is St Thomas’s word, but this does not of course mean ’cause’ in the restricted sense in which it is used in modern science) on which everything ultimately depends, then nothing could ever exist or happen at all. This is not to say (as is sometimes claimed today) that God is an ‘explanation’ of the universe, for we cannot ‘explain’ what is to some extent known by what is unknown. But we do claim that if there were no God, there could not be anything else.

St Thomas’s position differs from that of modern agnostics because while modern agnosticism says simply, ‘We do not know, and the universe is a mysterious riddle’, a Thomist says, ‘We do not know what the answer is, but we do know that there is a mystery behind it all which we do not know, and if there were not, there would not even be a riddle. This Unknown we call God. If there were no God, there would be no universe to be mysterious, and nobody to be mystified.’ (Victor White, God the Unknown, pp. 18-19)

An answer that is not an answer, an explanation that is not an explanation, a reality whose nature we cannot comprehend, a riddle we cannot solve. Or in Thomas’s words: “God’s effects then are enough to prove that God exists, even if they are not enough to help us comprehend what he is” (ST I.2.3).

(7 September 2016; rev.)

(Go to “The Contuition of Divinity”)

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17 Responses to Can Reason Prove the Existence of God?

  1. Fr Aidan,

    Forgive me if I’m telling you something you’ve already heard a million times before, but after looking briefly at Kiefer’s article, this anticipates Alvin Plantinga’s “Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism.” From the bit that I read, he might frame it in a way that’s easier to understand than Plantinga’s though. Plantinga’s final version was found in his “Where the Conflict Really Lies.” C.S. Lewis’s “Miracles” also has a version of the argument.

    I love the argument, though one could always just say that we live in an atheistic yet Aristotelian universe like Nagel does. But then I think one would just have to use one of Aquinas’s cosmological arguments to show why an atheistic Aristotelianism as brute fact is an inadequate explanation for reality as a whole.

    Liked by 1 person

    • When I read Nagel’s “Mind and Cosmos,” I couldn’t really pinpoint where he fell within mind as a collective/unconscious collective that seemingly taps into order, etc., Was he being really more Aristotelian or Platonic? The “mind” kind of hovers between the two poles….and I wasn’t sure which it really would end up being.


  2. Garreth says:

    Fr Kimel

    This logic also is at the heart of Kierkegaard’s logic of the incarnation in that it is enough that we understand the incarnation as a paradox but we will never comprehend the paradox of the incarnation.


    • I missed the boat I guess on Kierkegaard here. Much like Zizek, I see the claim by Kierkegaard as being much different than say the paradox of Eckhart, or Cusa, et al. Paradox isn’t a point in which opposites lose their meaning. Zizek(which, people talk about Nietzsche being the toughest opponent of Christianity…are we sure it isn’t Slavoj?) says the following….just thought I’d throw it out there for a conversational whirl, not as a detraction.

      “For Kierkegaard, on the contrary, the “paradox” of Christian faith is far from the idea of peace in the Absolute: The Christian “paradox” resides in the breathtakingly traumatic fact that we, human mortals, are trapped in a “sickness unto death,” that anxiety is our a priori condition, that our existence is radically torn– and even more, as Chesterton pointed out, that strife is integral to very heart of God himself, that God is the greatest rebel against himself, that he himself has to turn atheist and blasphemer (Here, he’s speaking of the cry on the cross about being forsaken.) The paradox is not that finite oppositions coincide in the infinity of the Absolute, but that the Absolute itself has to take upon itself the pain of Difference, and rebel against itself–only such strife truly personalizes God, as Schelling saw clearly.”

      It seems that to Kierkegaard, the paradox only goes so far as the ability for the Absolute to literally experience what it means to be fully man. Which in a way, makes the paradox of fully God, and fully man, wholly understandable. He must become all things, even into the depths of the despair that is the human condition, even into its darkest abyssmal depths. The Incarnation becomes an existential fact, even if it is a metaphysical quandary, which even Kierkegaard would have balked at leaning into the meta of the narrative instead of the Real of it.


  3. arthurjaco says:

    Whatever has only *conditioned* existence must ultimately be explained by something whose existence is *not* conditioned.
    Probably the most direct, obvious, and (perhaps) convincing argument for theism – when it is fully developed, obviously…
    …Though having a mystic as a wife surely helps believing as well, doesn’t it, Father Kimel? 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. “While the modern scientist must remain content to quantify the processes of nature, the philosopher is free to probe and analyze the funda­mental structures of reality, asking questions of act and potency; essence and existence; form and substance; material, formal, efficient, and final causality—and ultimately, the nature of being itself”

    aka free to simply make up things and not be required to show that they are true. Plenty of philosophy on the ash heap of history.

    “nothing moves itself; nothing causes itself; nothing is the source of its own necessity; nothing measures itself; the universe as a whole does not guide itself””

    the first cause argument that assumes a god is needed but can’t show this is the case, nor can it show that some version of the Christian god is the creator.

    “then there must be that unconditioned and absolute reality”

    the claim of a vague thing exists but being unable to show it does.

    “God’s effects then are enough to prove that God exists, even if they are not enough to help us comprehend what he is” ”

    this assumes that this god is the effector. No evidence of this at all nor of the events claimed in the bible.


    • Grant says:

      Your first point doesn’t reeally require much of a response, philosophy has it’s own form of juding and assessing arguments, ideas and models of truth and enquiry, this seems a pointless and obviously untrue jab. Particularly in light of fields such as epistemology are quite germaine to the practice of science but is something scientists must just assume (for example fundementally how do you know you can know and understand reality around you, is it or can it be transparent to your investigation, are humans related to it in such a manner to understand truthful information from it, or able to form true beliefs related to it, and are languages such as mathematics geniunely relatable to reality around us, is the scientific method a reliable way of delivering truthful information). Scientists can’t step outside themselves to observe any of this, to do what they do they must just assume the affirmative, only in the field of philosophy can such questions be cogently asked, explored and investigated (which is why sciences came and were developed within philosophy. That added to the fact many scientists tend to increasingly engage in (bad) philosophy when departing from their strict science into claims that go beyond it (because increasingly they lack any philosophical training).

      But as I said, your first point just seems to be a unargued and unevidenced jab at philosophy and so isn’t really much of a point (just your personal thoughts on it).

      The second one (which really includes your third point so I’ll respond to those together) you don’t seem to understand the argument (for some reason this seems to be issue with some people who keep positing another argument altogether, it’s odd because it keeps happening no matter how clearly the argument is given, some people keep subsituting an argument they are familar with instead). The first course argument is a metaphyical and ontological point of a logically necessary first cause, to combines the obvious fact of a contingent reality (where everything is contingent of something, whether something else fo it be caused or to exist, for it to become, to have potential to become something or develop, or other aspects of reality to be for it be and and so on), and that from nothing (and by that I mean no thing, not a vacuum, quantum state, or even immaterial laws – which is still as abstract ideas, a thing – or a whole spacio-temporal reality as a whole, mutli-verses or beyond into the quantum sea), that from no thing, nothing comes or is caused (because there is no thing, from no existence comes no existence) which both logically and every experience and observation now (and assuming we can trust it) back through billions years of time remains always true (even quantum quarks that are sometimes desribed as springing into existence come from quantum fields, they are caused and arise from those and that cause). The two points link togethter, there is an cannot be a infinite regress (even that would be and must have something else on which it logically be founded on), and this doesn’t matter really what model of the universe is proposed, quantum vacuum fluxation springing into our universe, multi-verses, riding on a turtle, on another turtle, all the way down, brains in vats stuck in matrix and so and so on. These basic two points remain in all those and any other possible scenarios.

      The universe is an onsemble of contingients which cannot exist against another possible state that is nothingness (as it’s nothing, it isn’t a state, it isn’t anything, it isn’t a possible world or reality, not nothing as in no existence, no things, no state, not a void or abyss, which is something, it is nothing), and so carries the logical necessity, our universe or reality isn’t nothing, it is something (even as a hypothetically void it would still be something). It is an ontological necessity behind the first cause, if the universe, all that is is a situation of finite contigency and causal sequences, and then following the logic of why that is an can be, of why is there something rather than nothing, particularly in line with the previous truth apparent of reality as we exist in it, a matter of deduction you have to come to a choice, either of the infinite regress of contingent causes or that which is not contingent, to allow for the possiblity for the contingent reality to even be. And the first option is untenable (as I said above) because an entire system of contigencies (even a speculatively infinite one) is itself a contingent phenomenon.

      An order that is entirely contingent in it’s make-up down to it’s untermost first causes requires a first cause logically (and note the first cause is not arguing for a temporal cause, so multi-verses or quantum sea outside space-time are irrelevant to the point, it isn’t something to get reality going then everything else happens but rather that on which the entire order depends since it is necessary for it to exist being contingent at all, and it exists). All contingent reality is depend, our displays this, and necessiates a first cause upon which is required by contigent system exists.

      Asserting contingent existence without centring it on that is which necessary, as anything else is still contingent on something else, and attempting to assert reality we have as a brute fact doesn’t survive logical scrutiny, and is in fact illogical and irrational (and nothing encounter does anything underline how impossible a position it is). It is inherently susperstious and magical thinking at the primary and most fundemental level (no matter how rational you then become at secondary levels which is unlikely to be much disagreement if any at all on this site), in that, by doing so, the person is claiming that all reality springs into being, magically from nothing, no thing, it magics itself (when it didn’t existence) into existence wholesale, again is not just temporal but all existence apparently, time-space, quantum reality beyond, muti-verses, turtles, what have you. And this isn’t even a miracle from something prior existing, it just magics into place, it is an inherently irrational view, however popular in some circles, if it is so then that is what reality should be like, things should just come from nothing all the time and beyond (and of course science along with other study would collapse under the assumption that things pop into being from nothing, no thing, from that which doesn’t exist). But reality isn’t like this, because such an idea is magical thinking and logical impossible, and seemingly impossible in everyway (to say it is founded on a necessary first cause that is itself not contingent to the whole system of finite contingencies just magiked from no thing is impossible and irrational insanity).

      Now this dosen’t nor is it intended as I think article made clear to demostrate that this is the God as understood by Christianity, it is only that such a first cause is necessary and what can negatively by said about such a cause, Existence essential itself, by negative deduction from the reality we see. Hence the talk of divine simplicity or even more simply a fundemental transcendant reality (in it cannot be conposed of parts, including meta-phyiscal, including in terms of unrealized potentials, lacks etc) be completely realized, infinite is likely necessity, since conciousness and mind exist as part of congtingent reality that is fully realized in the first cause so existence includes conciousness of beyond conciousness, life etc (something lacking that which is in the systems of contingents would lack realisation and be in some manner contingent). This aligns with many concepts of transcend God from many traditions, of which Christianity is just one, but then as I said, the argument isn’t meant to prove Christianity, only that materialism/physicalism/naturalism positing only a system of finite contigencies and contingent system of causes isn’t possible. And that an ontological and logical first cause is required, and a necessary existence is the only answer as to why a contingent reality can exist at all, which is transcendant of it, on which is grounded and sustained upon.


      • Philosophy does not have its own forms of judging and assessing arguments. If it did, most of this baseless nonsense would have long been thrown out. All we have is a pile of humans who make baseless claims that may or may not reflect reality.
        You, like so many theists, want to pretend that somehow we aren’t seeing reality, so your god can hide in the gaps. I can indeed know and understand reality around me. Funny how no gods show up.
        IT’s hilarious to see someone claim some philosophy is “bad” when you can’t show it so. All we have is the opinin of someone who needs to pretend a god exists to feel special.
        And my dear, your claim *is* unargued and unevidenced. Where am I wrong in this statement “aka free to simply make up things and not be required to show that they are true. Plenty of philosophy on the ash heap of history.” It is evidenced by the stacks of philosophy books mouldering in libraries. All made up from the minds of those who would claim to be philosophers.

        I do indeed understand the argument. The first cause argument is based on the assumption that some god is needed, since the believer already has a god in need of a job. There is no evidence of such a being. You assume it needs intelligence, etc. And of course you are using special pleading for your god to excuse it from needing a cause itself. The first cause may be just the happily impersonal laws of physics, no god needed which explains why it isn’t found.
        “because there is no thing, from no existence comes no existence” made up nonsense from you.

        “onsemble of contingients which cannot exist against another possible state that is nothingness” nothing more than word salad. Do learn to write sentences.

        Still no god to be found. And I do love projection from theists who accuse everyone else of what they themselves do.


        • Grant says:

          Lots of assertions here but no argument and apparently you can read my mind (rare feat), and what if I told you that for quite a while I desperately wanted materalism to be true, for personal reasons at the time, by my own reason and would not let me (I didn’t have that pyschological need you project on me, the opposite for a long time in fact, nor do I think I’m special, my life tells me much the opposite). So drop the attempts read my mind or ‘know’ what drives me, and drop the hostile tone, rather odd for someone convinced (I’m assuming) of materalism, if that be the case why do you seem so evangelical about promoting a belief in us being nothing but quantum fields of no more importance than any other arrangement of quantum fields? The evangelicalism of some materalism aught to mystify me, but then it’s just the historical outworking of the Protestant bug, all popery needs to be thrown out so we can come into the light, as ever those of the West are Christian.

          But I’m not hiding in gaps, tell me how do know or prove that reality is both indeed open and transparent to your reason (already a difficult concept in a purely physicalist world, in which everything must be reduced to physical causes, you could say conciousness is an illusion but that itself in an act of conciousness), but how and why should it be about to penetrate the universe around you? How can you trust that it can, and can deliver you correct understandings of it, how can you know that a mind forming out of mindless and random properties would be able to form true perceptions and true beliefs rather than convient or functional ones having no relation to the truth of reality? What confidence could you assert that tools such as logic and mathematics (core to science) being pure artifical inventions relate in anyway to the universe around us? And again, since neither you, me or any of us, can step outside ourselves to obersve what goes on, science cannot help you here, you just have to trust it. Indeed right here ‘I can indeed know and understand reality around me.’ How, what evidence can you give that doesn’t come from and is also understood and recieved and made sense of within human conciousness, the only reality we have is that from our own conciousness, you don’t to reality outside of it (or for that matter any other thing or information you recieve, including this exchange, it’s all mediated through your conciousness). So how do you verify you can know reality, are you able step outside your conciousness awareness and picture of reality, if so I would absolutely facincated to learn you achieved this amazing feat. Otherwise as said you or science must simply accept this is true, but can by no means invistage or test it or observe it to be so, but must assume that it is, that logic and mathematics relate truly to the universe around us, that it is transparent to our conciousness perception and investiagation and that it will yeild true information and that we can arrive at true beliefs and understanding of the reality around us. Without it already accepted it wouldn’t even be able invesitage anything. So unless you have found a way to step out of your mind and conciousness it’s only in philosophy (which includes materalist philosophers) that that kind of discussion and investigation can be had.

          As for an example of the top of head, Lawrance Krauss on seeming to think a quantum flucuations and a vaccum was somehow and example of something coming from nothing. It wasn’t, and quite obviously not the point the philosophers who ‘make things up’ were or had been talking about from millennia (which is why I went on ad nauseam of repeating that nothing means nothing, no thing) that a vaccuum and a quatum state, both contingent are definitely very much a thing.

          And of course there are plently of books, including vasts tracks of science books, history books and all forms of knowledge ‘mouldering in libraries’ so have been shown to be wanting, or failed. Some have simply gone out of fashion, and then some are current and ‘mouldering in libraries’ this isn’t really a point after all ideas and theories begin in the minds of those who have them.

          Again do you understand the argument, because it isn’t made on the assumption that God is needed, or a god, but on the issues of contengencies and sequences of causes, and the logical deduction from that. That again a system of contingencies is also contingent, and must have it’s existence grounded in a necessary first cause, and the negative ductions of what would be necessary (again nothing that would make contingent or having parts, or nothing that was not realized or potentials etc).

          Immaterial laws, how Platonic of you, but I don’t see how it escapes being contingent itself, as it’s hard to convive of laws (which likely lower order aspect of the wider quantum reality of which we are fluctuation) that work seperate or have existence or could have outside of either the reality material forces etc who’s properties express their behaviour or being founded (again in the Platonic idea you seem to gesture to) a larger reality of forms and beyond that what Plato would call the Good to found it on. Also, the laws would be needing potential to act upon, their require the contingent reality to express and be, and have unrealised potenials inherent in them assuming, which I can’t see how it is the case, since I seem them as the properties of the universe and beyond which are descriptions, but in anycase don’t see how they can exist outside or apart from the universe at had, they are contigent, unless you are going to embrace some kind of emnation or Platonic concepts. But then, you’ve left materalism far behind.

          The world salad, which my dyslexic self will accept might not have expressed correctly, was just to underline there is no possible world in which there is a state of nothing. Again since it is nothing, no thing, doesn’t exist, and so no state could be as opposed to the onsemble of contingiencies that make up our reality.

          And so you given me no reason to not see your thinking as still founded essentially on magical thinking and therefore a miracle in the face of what I can see only as impossiblity far beyond the acknowledge of a first cause.

          I would say it’s been fun talking to you, but you seem to a serious chip your shoulder, like to project to others and talk contempteously down to them and like to tell them what and why the think like they do. Again as a materalist you seem also oddly evangelical, as such I won’t make the mistake of chatting to you again.

          I do wish you well, and hope you have a good day, but as you are here, you aren’t someone with whom I could see having a fruitful and pleasant conversation despite our differences. Perhaps outside here you are great person to be around, but I’m not here to get into antagonising and rude shouting matches, I’ve had fill of those, so if you need theistis to shout at or try to convert you’ll have to try someone else to play ball after this.

          So be well, but good day and try to do something that makes you happy and more joyful then reading and commenting on theist posts (who you don’t seem to like or want any time for).


        • David says:

          “The first cause may be just the happily impersonal laws of physics”

          Well, classical theists argue that the contingency of the world requires a cause, but not just any old cause. The ‘impersonal laws of physics’ are themselves a finite and contingent system – a complex set of finite variables with values that could just as well exist in myriad different ways – which, so the argument goes, makes it just as much in need of explanation as the finite world it is seeking to explain. Instead a purely simple cause – i.e. a reality without composition, including the composition of essence and existence, possibility and reality – is said to be required. Such a reality would be infinite, and it is from this ‘infiniteness’ that classical theists derive the classical divine attributes of omniscience, omnipotence, etc.

          That is not an attempt at stating the actual argument of course – it’s just meant to indicate that the argument you’re attacking doesn’t merely attempt to establish that the universe requires a cause and leave it at that. If it did then it would indeed be automatically immune to your critique that the laws of physics could be such a cause. But that’s just not what the argument does. Instead, it argues that *anything* that is *composite* requires a *simple* cause, and that a *simple* cause must be *infinite*, and that such a reality would – albeit in an analogous way – reasonably be called God.

          There may well be holes in the argument from a finite to an infinite reality. Or one might accept the initial stages of the argument – i.e. that the world depends on a purely simple, infinite cause, and not just another finite cause which itself would need its own cause – but still not agree that such an infinite reality is best understood by the term God. But it’s still important to understand the details of these argument as they are actually made.


          • David says:

            (apologies, the above should read ‘susceptible’ rather than its exact opposite of ‘immune’ above)


    • Thomas says:

      The way St. Thomas formulated his arguments relied on a non-scientific folk physics that renders them, as stated, unsound. Moreover, some of the arguments, as stated, are not logically valid. I think most Thomists today would agree with that.

      A substantial, but smaller, subset of Thomists would argue that scientific realism depends upon the metaphysical categories used to make the argument for God.

      This view identifies form with what scientists grasp in order to formulate abstract explanatory theories. Matter is grasped indirectly insofar as scientific theories require observation (e.g., to assign particular values). Actuality is what scientists know when they have identified the conditions under which a theory is correct.

      Insofar as one is a scientific realist, one is committed to an understanding of the world in terms of matter, form, and actuality in that sense. The only further question is whether a complete explanation of the world can be had in terms of composed realities, or whether a simple reality is required as an ultimate explanation. It’s a short step from there to show that that simple, ultimate reality would have to be an infinite act of understanding.

      The only way out is to deny that the world is ultimately explainable, but this completely undermines scientific knowledge.


      • this seems to be little more than vague nonsense. Let me pick it out:

        what does “composed realities” mean?

        What is a “simple reality”?

        This seems entirely backward. “Actuality is what scientists know when they have identified the conditions under which a theory is correct.” Please explain.

        Actuality is something that is actual : FACT, REALITY. A theory is an predictive explanation of that reality.


        • Thomas says:

          Scientific knowledge consists of three components. The central component is what the scientist has to understand in order to promulgate a fully abstract theory. What is grasped on the level of theory is form. What comes under a theory but is not directly expressed by it is material (e.g., sheer spatio-temporal difference).

          But we might promulgate a theoretical explanation without knowing whether it is the correct explanation. Insofar as a theory is a matter of consideration or speculation, there’s something we don’t know. What do we know in addition to the content of a theory when we know that theory is the right explanation of the world? Not something new on the level of theory, just actuality. Actuality is the intelligibility of the factual.

          A composed reality is one which has these three components. If we were to explain the sun, there is something to be grasped directly by theory (nuclear processes), further facts which must be obtained by observation (e.g., to find the values for equations), and finally the knowledge that the foregoing is in fact correct.

          Finally, you are underestimating the power of science. It is not the case that science is merely predictive or descriptive. The empirical sciences, were we able to observe everything and reach scientific theories which rule out revision, would grasp the physical universe exactly as it is. There would be no physical reality that stands outside the ambit of such an explanation. It follows that, as scientific explanations have, in principle, three levels of explanation (experience/observation, understanding/theory, and judgment/correctness), so the physical universe also has three levels (the material, formal, and actual).

          The only way to deny that the universe is a composed reality is to deny scientific realism.


        • arthurjaco says:


          1) The fact that you do not understand what is being said does not mean that what is being said is nonsensical or meaningless.

          As a rule of thumb, it is always better (more profitable and wiser) to assume that when one does not understand whatever is being said, it is because they do not know what the terms which are being used actually mean *in the precise context where they’re being used* rather than because the terms which are being used *do not actually mean anything*.
 That’s a much more rational approach.

          I also think it obvious that this shows humility (an enviable quality, I think) and that one *might* actually get to *learn* something this way.

          I mean no disrespect (not sure we can say the same about you), but all you have managed to achieve so far – far from changing anyone’s mind – is to provide everyone with some very good pieces of evidence which demonstrate that you lack humility (which is perhaps to be expected from someone who chooses “intelligent” as the very first word to describe herself) and that you do not actually intend to learn anything at all.

          Hence my question : why have you come here, if you do not intend to learn anything?

          If you’ve come here just to lash out on people that you don’t even know, why not do something more productive and profitable such as, oh, I don’t know… Gardening, walking around, reading a book, socialising, cooking (I understand you’re a “great cook”), watching a movie, sacrificing lawyers to Beelzebub – pretty much anything, really.

          2) You seem to fail to realise that this post does *not* actually present any *fully developed* argument in favour of God’s existence.

          3) You clearly come across as not knowing anything about Classical Theism.

          4) You really do not seem to grasp what it is we are talking about (see point n°3), yet you obviously already have a very settled opinion on precisely what it is we are talking about.
Wise people usually know where their own knowledge stops and where their ignorance begins : they both know what they do know and what they do *not*.

          As far as I can tell, this constitutes an essential component of wisdom – and of humility, of course.
If you’re *really* as intelligent as you *say* you are (and *maybe* you are, I don’t know!), please demonstrate your intelligence by suspending judgment until you actually know what it is that we’re talking about, which you obviously don’t, as you’ve clearly demonstrated so far.

          You might think that I’m just *guessing* that you do not know what we’re talking about without any evidence whatsoever to back up that claim.

          I’m not guessing anything whatsoever, however : you not knowing what is meant by “composed realities” and by “simple reality” clearly proves that you do not, in fact, know what we are presently discussing at all – but hey, you can learn, isn’t it why you’ve come here in the first place?
 No? Then why are you here?
          Then, there’s your mishandling of the first cause argument… Classic, but that’s to be expected from a New Atheist who, just like *all* New Atheists (and I *really* mean “all”), doesn’t know that he (she, in your case)… doesn’t know.

          You do not know that you do not know, and so instead of passing as “intelligent”, you actually come across as… Well, things which you do not want to come across as.

          5) You clearly seem to devalue philosophy.

          First of all, the first scientists were also (and even primarily, actually) philosophers.
For instance, Aristotle, who appears to have been the very first great scientist (at least in the Western world), was first and foremost a philosopher, as you no doubt know.

          Second, a significant number of those people who we hold to be the greatest modern scientific minds, such as Einstein and Heisenberg, thought very highly of philosophy and enjoyed studying it.

          To give you a few (but oh so relevant) examples, Einstein was intensely interested in Epistemology, which is a field of philosophy (as you no doubt know) while Heisenberg had a passion for Eastern philosophy and for *some* of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s works.

          Thirdly (and perhaps most importantly), the scientific method was not just randomly discovered by some guy when he tripped on a damn rock on his way home.

          Rather, it had to be *thought*, and its forerunner was… That chap Sir Francis Bacon.

          A scientist *and* an active and passionate philosopher, that is.

          I think it obvious that people who *claim* to value modern science (and I think you do, as we all) should have the decency to value the one discipline which gave birth to it.

          Up until very recently, *many* of the most brilliant scientists did *not* believe that philosophy is irrelevant but that, quite on the contrary, science and philosophy are to go hand in hand, which is precisely why they often studied both.

          Also, being about 0,01% sure that you and I are *more* brilliant than an Einstein or an Heisenberg, I would rather side with those two rather than with you on that particular matter, if you don’t mind.

          6) One of the most popular arguments in favour of God’s non-existence, the argument from evil, *is* a philosophical argument.

          It is therefore a bit odd to say the least to see any atheist devalue philosophy the way you do!

          7) The fact that *most* philosophy books (though certainly not *all*) are “mouldering” in libraries, as you say, does not imply at all that philosophy is a worthless enterprise.

          As a matter of fact, it probably only serves as evidence that the *vast* majority of people are either unwilling or unable to study *more or less* (emphasis on “more or less”) abstract ideas and reasonings.

          That’s all.

          I do not think that this constitutes anything close to an unbelievable or revolutionary claim (nothing new under the sun, unfortunately).

          There’s only so many more points I could make, but I think seven is enough and life is short.
          I’m not that much of a believer myself although I will sometimes say stuff such as “God bless you” to friendly believers (because *maybe* there is a God, and *if* there is a God, then I would indeed like it if He could bless at least *some* people from time to time, and also because I usually like being nice).

          However, I’ve grown a *bit* tired of the incredible amount of gratuitous hostility, absolute lack of humility, absolute lack of patience, absolute lack of intellectual honesty, absolute lack of knowledge on the subject that they’re criticising, absolute amount of bad faith (need I continue?) that New Atheists systematically display everywhere around the clock – as if they were bots, really.

          You guys are not doing anyone (including yourselves) any favours and you actually come across as… Well… “Unattractive” (that’s a euphemism) to even *some* of your fellow skeptics.
I mean Jeez, if you do not know anything about what is being said, then simply ask questions politely and wait for people to teach you what you do not know, instead of calling “nonsense” what you do not know and *then* wait to see whether it actually was nonsense in the first place… Why does that seem to be so complicated to New Atheists?

          We get it that you’re annoyed by those millions of bl…dy Evangelicals that are constantly polluting US culture (that’s fine, who isn’t?) but that doesn’t justify being automatically hostile to people just because they share *some* of their beliefs…

          And if you think that I’ve been too harsh on you… Well, that’d be the pot calling the kettle black now, wouldn’t it?

          Liked by 1 person

  5. Chris Walsh says:

    Oops put my comment in the wrong place should have in the comments for the next post


  6. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    I should have anticipated this happening. Let me be very clear. Hostile anti-theists are not welcome to comment on Eclectic Orthodoxy. Henceforth your comments will be blocked or deleted.

    Liked by 2 people

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