BITE-SIZE PHILOSOPHY (79) – How does induction lead us to the Unmoved Mover?

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– Rev José Mario O Mandía

It seems that God does not exist,” Saint Thomas writes (Summa Theologiae (S Th) I q2 a3 objection 1), “because if one of two contraries be infinite, the other would be altogether destroyed. But the word ‘God’ means that He is infinite goodness. If, therefore, God existed, there would be no evil discoverable; but there is evil in the world. Therefore God does not exist.” You probably have heard this argument from many a doubting friend: there is no God because there is evil in the world.

Moreover, he adds that “it seems that everything we see in the world can be accounted for by other principles, supposing God did not exist. For all natural things can be reduced to one principle which is nature; and all voluntary things can be reduced to one principle which is human reason, or will. Therefore there is no need to suppose God’s existence” (S Th I q2 a3 objection 2). Doesn’t this reasoning remind you of Stephen Hawking and Richard Dawkins?

Saint Thomas replies to these objections, making use of ideas of Greek philosophers Aristotle and Plato. As we have seen last time, Saint Thomas argues that one can demonstrate a cause that is not known to us by way of its observable effects in a process called induction.

He presents “five ways” that begin from observable facts and conclude with their cause. These observable facts, which serve as starting points for his arguments, are as follows:

(1) The fact of change (Aquinas uses “motus– “motion”). To change (“movere– “to move”) is to bring something from potency (potentiality) to act (such as when a cold piece of paper is set on fire).

(2) The fact of efficient causality (such as a carpenter making a chair, or parents engendering a baby).

(3) The fact that things do not necessarily exist, that they are “contingent”: here today, gone tomorrow.

(4) The fact that we observe around us degrees of perfection, of being, of truth, of goodness, of beauty.

(5) The fact that every process in nature seems to have a purpose (“final cause”).

In order to understand well these demonstrations, we need to have a good grasp of several metaphysical concepts we have previously studied: “being” (ens) and the “act of being” (esse) (see Bite-Size Philosophy – BSP 22); “act” and  “potency” (BSP 29); “cause” (BSP 35 & 36).

In previous essays, we have touched a bit on the third way (BSP 23), the fourth (BSP 30 and 31), and the fifth ways (BSP 37 and 38).

The first and second ways are quite similar to each other. The first one can be summarized as follows: we observe things “in motion” i.e., we see them changing, from being potentially something (e.g. being a doctor) to being actually something. There is a passage from a real capacity or “potency” to possess some perfection to actually possessing it. St Thomas calls this “motion.” But for the motion to happen, a “mover” (another thing which already possesses the perfection) is needed. Because something that is in potency does not possess the perfection yet, and it cannot give (to itself) what it does not have. St Thomas argues that one cannot have an infinite series of “movers” because an infinite series cannot explain the source of the perfection or act. So, he says, there must be a “Prime Unmoved Mover.” “Therefore it is necessary to arrive at a first mover, put in motion by no other; and this everyone understands to be God.” (S Th I q2 a3)

In the first way, St Thomas concludes with the Unmoved Mover; in the second, with the First Efficient Cause; in the third, with the Necessarily Existing Being; in the fourth, the Cause of all Perfection; and in the fifth, the Intelligence who directs all being.

The Prime Mover, the First Efficient Cause, the Necessary Being, the Cause of all, the Intelligence is what we call “God.”

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