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A Resource Guide for Philosophy Students

Created by Jennifer Leslie Torgerson, MA

This page last modified:  October 15, 2012

© copyright, 1997 - present


School of Athens


The Question of God & The Problem of Evil




Saint Anselm.  The Prayers and Meditations, with the Proslogion.  (New York, NY:  Penguin Books, 1973).

Aquinas.  Selected Writings of St. Thomas Aquinas; Robert P. Goodwin, Translator.  (New York, NY:  MacMillan, 1965).

Augustine.  The Confessions.  (New York, NY:  Doubleday, 1960).

__________,   The Essential Augustine; Vernon J. Bourke, Editor.  (Indianapolis, IN:  Hackett Publishing, 1974 [1947]).

__________, City of God.  (New York, NY:  Penguin Books, 1984 [1972]). 

__________,  Against the Academicians and The Teacher.  (Indianapolis, IN:  Hackett Publishing, 1995).

Boethius.  The Consolation of Philosophy.  (New York, NY:  Penguin Classics, 1969).

Peter Brown.  Augustine of Hippo, A Biography.  (Berkeley, CA:  University of California Press, 1969 [1967]).

Martin Buber.  Good and Evil.  (New York, NY:  Charles Scribner Sons, 1953 [1952]).

__________,  I and Thou.  (New York, NY:  MacMillan Publishing Company, 1958).

Frederick Copleston, S.J., A History of Philosophy:  Book One.  (New York, NY:  Doubleday, 1985 [1944]). 

__________, A History of Philosophy:  Book Two.  (New York, NY:  Doubleday, 1985 [1944]). 

__________, A History of Philosophy:  Book Three.  (New York, NY:  Doubleday, 1985 [1944]). 

__________, Aquinas:  An Introduction to the Life and Work of the Great Medieval Thinker.  (New York, NY:  Penguin Books, 1955).

Johann Fichte.  The Vocation of Man.  (Indianapolis, IN:  Hackett Publishing Company, 1987 [1800]). 

Neil Gillman.  Sacred Fragments:  Recovering Theology for the Modern Jew.  (Philadelphia, PA:  Jewish Publication Society, 1992 [1990]). 

John Hick.   Philosophy of Religion, Fourth Edition.  (Englewood Cliffs, NJ:  Prentice Hall, 1990 [1963]).

__________,  The Existence of God.  (New York, NY:  Collier Books, 1964).

__________,  Classical and Contemporary Readings in the Philosophy of Religion, Third Edition.  (Englewood Cliffs, NJ:  Prentice Hall, 1990 [1964]).

__________, Evil and the God of Love, Revised Edition.  (New York, NY:  Harper Collins 1977 [1966]).

David Hume.  An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals; J. B. Schneewind, Editor.  (Indianapolis, IN:  Hackett Publishing, 1983).

__________, Enquiries Concerning Human Understanding and Concerning the Principles of Morals, 3rd Edition; P. H. Nidditch, Editor.  (Oxford, UK:  Clarendon Press, 1995 [1902]).

William James.  The Varieties of Religious Experience.  (New York, NY:  Penguin Books, 1985 [1902]). 

W. T. Jones.  A History of Western Philosophy:  The Classical Mind, 2nd Edition.  (San Diego, CA:  Harcourt Brace, 1980 [1952]).

__________,  A History of Western Philosophy:  The Medieval Mind, 2nd Edition.  (San Diego, CA:  Harcourt Brace, 1980 [1952]).

__________,  A History of Western Philosophy:  Hobbes to Hume, 2nd Edition.  (San Diego, CA:  Harcourt Brace, 1980 [1952]).

__________,  A History of Western Philosophy:  Kant and the Nineteenth Century, 2nd Edition.  (San Diego, CA:  Harcourt Brace, 1980 [1952]).

__________,  A History of Western Philosophy:  The Twentieth Century to Wittgenstein and Sartre, 2nd Edition.  (San Diego, CA:  Harcourt Brace, 1980 [1952]).

Immanuel Kant.  Critique of Pure Reason, J. M. D. Meiklejohn, Editor.  (Buffalo, NY:  Prometheus Books, 1990). 

__________,  The One Possible Basis for a Demonstration of the Existence of God.  (New York, NY:  Bison Books, 1994 [1979]). 

SØren Kierkegaard, The Present Age.  (New York, NY:  Harper & Row, 1962).

__________,  Fear and Trembling.  (New York, NY:  Penguin Classics, 1985).

Giovanni Pico della Mirandola.  Oration on the Dignity of Man.  (Washington, D.C.: Regnery Gateway,  1992 [1956]).

Peterson, Hasker, Reichenbach, Basinger.  Reason & Religious Belief:  An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion, Third Edition.  (New York, NY:  Oxford University Press, 2003. 

Robert C. Solomon.  Introducing Philosophy:  A Text with Integrated Readings, 9th Edition.  (Oxford, UK:  Oxford University Press, 2008).

Christopher Stead.  Philosophy in Christian Antiquity.  (Cambridge, UK:  Cambridge University Press, 1996 [1994]).

Ken Wilber, Editor.  Quantum Questions:  Mystical Writings of the World’s Greatest Physicists.  (Boston, MA:  Shambhala, 1985). 

NOTE:  This topic has been limited to material covered in my Introduction to Philosophy course only.  This page does not represent everything covered in my Philosophy of Religion course, which also includes topics of comparative religion and the varieties of religious experience.


Augustine and the Problem of Evil

Ontological argument for the existence of God

Faith and Reason as compatible

Cosmological argument for the existence of God

The Teleological argument for the existence of God

Augustine and the Problem of Evil

St. Augustine (354- 430 CE)

Biography [material from (a) Great Traditions in Ethics, and (b) Copleston's A History of Philosophy]

(a) "St. Augustine lived in a crucial period in the history of Christianity: in 313, the emperor Constantine granted liberty of worship to Christians, and in 325 the Council of Nicaea defined the basic Christian doctrine, declaring all other interpretations heretical. In the attempt to put down the heresies, Saint Augustine was a powerful influence. He was born in Tagaste (in the province of Numidia, on November 13th, A.D. 354), a small town in North Africa. His mother, though not his father, was a Christian, and until Augustine's conversion to Christianity in his thirty-second year, his life followed the pattern of the typical young Roman provincial of the times. However, his boyhood pranks, his pride in his proficiency in the schools of the Roman rhetoricians, and his indulgence in sensual pleasure became a source of self-reproach when he viewed them in retrospect as a mature man and pious Christian.

(b) Before his conversion, Augustine was a teacher of rhetoric. During this phase of his career, his philosophical position shifted several times in his search for a satisfactory set of beliefs. He joined for a time the sect of Manichaeans, who explained the universe through the dualistic doctrine of God (or Ormuzd) and Satan (or an evil principle, that of darkness, Ahriman) engaged in a struggle to dominate the world. Dissatisfied with their answers to the questions which troubled him (for example, the problem of the source of certitude in human thought, the reason why the two forces were in eternal conflict, etc.), he turned to Greek philosophy and in particular Neo-Platonism (Plotinus) (which freed him from the shackles of materialism and to facilitate his acceptance of the idea of immaterial reality). Here he met with no better success, although the Neo-Platonic teachings later stood him in good stead. He rejected the pantheistic conception that the human soul is part of the World-Soul, but incorporated in his own theory of knowledge the Neo-Platonic doctrine that the ultimate in knowledge is a mystical intuition of the Supreme Reality, which only a few can experience. Augustine came at last under the influence of Saint Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, who reinforced the efforts of the young man's mother, Monica, to turn to Christianity. He had a decisive inner experience (hearing a child's voice crying the repeated refrain Tolle lege! Tolle lege! from over a wall, when he randomly looked into the Bible and read the words of St. Paul in the Epistle to the Romans, which sealed his moral conversion) in (the summer) of 386, and he was then baptized by Saint Ambrose the following year.

Augustine entered the priesthood in 391, rising in the course of time to become Bishop of Hippo. He applied his great talent as a thinker and a writer of philosophy to the study of the Holy Scriptures and other teachings of his new religion, producing numerous works on Christian doctrine. His Confessions, while they contain abundant autographical detail, are primarily a eulogy of God and a declaration of devotion and love for Him. The City of God, on the other hand, is an extensive philosophy of history in the framework of the Christian religion, and its functions as an elaborate theodicy - a justification of the ways of God to humans. The Enchiridion, a work of his later years, is a manual in which he sets forth the meaning of the virtues of faith, hope, and love. The clearest expression of Augustine's theory of knowledge is to be found in the work, De Musica. His other contributions to Christian philosophy and theology include: On the Nature of God, On Free Will, On the Immortality of the Soul, On Nature and Grace, and On the Trinity, The Teacher.

Three important examples of Augustine's adaptation of concepts from Greek philosophy are: (1) the incorporation of Plato's conception of the "Good" in the characterization of God, (2) the use of the Neo-Platonic idea of the mediating function of the Logos (the Cosmic Reason, or Divine Word), in interpreting the role of Jesus Christ in the Holy Trinity, and (3) the use of the Neo-Platonic definition of evil as the absence of good in the resolution to the "Problem of Evil". "

The Problem of Evil

With a God which is:

*         All good (omnibenevolent),

*         All knowing (omniscient),

*         All powerful (omnipotent), and

*         Knows the past/present/future at once or it is all present (omnipresent),

Why does evil exist in the world in both moral and natural forms?

God is also transcendent, which means he transcends his creation, and our experience, or God is beyond knowledge literally.  Thus God is not literally omnipresent. 

Moral evil: evil that results from personal depravity. (Murder, torture, evils caused by man upon another man)

Natural evil: evil that results from natural causes (disease, deformity, natural disasters, etc.)

In any case, evil is considered to be unnecessary suffering. But why doesn't God eliminate this unnecessary suffering?

Some Traditional Solutions to the Problem of Evil


(1) Retributive justice: or payback

Law of retaliation (lex talionis)

An example of retributive justice is presented in Hittite treaties:

a) The parties involved.

b) History of relationship

c) New agreement (stipulations)

d) Blessings and curses

e) Sealing ceremony, usually an animal sacrifice

Genesis Ch 15: Abram makes a treaty with God, to lead the nation of the Hebrews.


(2) Contrast theodicy: from the Greek, theos = god, and dike = justice.

Evil exists so that you know what the good is (balance). How much evil do you need? Just enough evil to contrast with the good. Some suggest that there is too much evil in the world, but others disagree (such as C.S. Lewis, 'the problem of pain'). But the sole reason of evil is so that you know what the good is.


(3) Not enough evil to cause a "problem of evil" (again, C.S. Lewis, and the 'problem of pain').


(4) Free will defense:

We are free to choose good or evil. It is evidential that people will choose evil. To some extent, we lost some free will when Adam and Eve choose to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge (Genesis). This is called Original Sin. All men are tainted with this Original Sin, but through God's Grace (Augustine); some are able to overcome Original Sin. Therefore, some individuals are determined to be evil, since they do not have Divine Grace, but still they are acting as God wills.


(5) Divine Plan:

Evil is just part of the big picture. If you could understand God's mind, then you could understand the purpose of evil. Therefore, what is prima facie evil, or what appears at first glance to be evil, is really part of God's plan. The Book of Job presents a good example of this solution.


(6) God is finite:

This position is not supported by the Judeo-Christian concept of God, which contends that God is infinite. Therefore this is not an adequate solution to the Problem of evil, and of course, neither would claim that God is not truly omnipotent. Any limit such limit placed upon God is contradictory to the definition provided by Judeo-Christians. Evil can be explained without compromising God's attributes. Augustine has explained this in his Enchiridion. "For we do not put the life of God or the foreknowledge of God under necessity that if we should say that God should live forever, and foreknow all things; as neither is His power diminished when we say that He cannot die or fall into error, - for this is impossible to Him, that if it were possible for Him, He would be of less power. But assuredly He is rightly called omnipotent, though He can neither die nor fall into error. For He is called omnipotent on account of His doing what He wills, not on account of His suffering what He wills not; for if that should befall Him, He would by no means be omnipotent. Wherefore, He cannot do some things for the very reason that He is omnipotent." (BK V: 9-10). This is NOT A SOLUTION BUT DISSOLUTION.

Saint Anselm: (1033- 1109)


Ontological argument for the existence of God


What does 'to be' mean? Ontological arguments for the existence of God start with a definition of God and then claim that God necessarily exists by definition. Existence is part of the nature of God. Ontology is usually the study the essential characteristics of Being in itself apart from the study of any particular existing things. But there is only one God, so we must in this instance study His particular Being. [ontos = being in Greek].


Anselm's ontological argument for the existence of God

(from Proslogion, Ch. 2)

(1) Now we believe that Thou are a being that which none greater can be thought.

Or can it be that there is no such being?

(2) For it is one thing for an object to be in the understanding, and another thing to understand that it exists.

(3) But clearly, that than which a greater being cannot be thought cannot exist in the understanding alone.

(4) For if it is actually in the understanding alone, it can be thought as existing also in reality and this is greater.

(5) Therefore, if that which a greater cannot be thought is in the understanding alone, this same thing than which a greater being cannot be thought is that than which a greater can be thought. (Contradiction)

(6) (Implication) Therefore there exists (without doubt) both in the understanding and in reality something than which a greater cannot be thought.


Anselm's ontological argument for God as Necessary Being

(from Proslogion, Ch. 3)


(1) And it certainly exists so truly that is cannot be thought of as nonexistent.

(2) For something can be thought of as existing, which cannot be thought of as not existing, and this is greater than that which can be thought of as not existing.

(3) Thus, is that than which a greater cannot be thought can be thought of as not existing, this very thing, that which a greater cannot be thought is not that which a greater cannot be thought.

But, this is contradictory.

(4) So, then (by implication), there truly is a being that than which a greater cannot be thought-- so truly it cannot even be thought of as not existing.

To see Descartes' version of the argument, go to the summary of the Third and Fifth Meditation of First Philosophy. In his Meditations on First Philosophy, Descartes presents both a causal (Third Meditation) and an ontological (Fifth Meditation) argument for the existence of God.


Anselm has two difficulties

(a) Concluding that God exists in reality from the understanding of the concept of God in thought - which predicates the 'fullness of perfection' (to use Descartes' term) which includes existence, to the subject God, is invalid. As Immanuel Kant (1724- 1802) said in his Critique of Pure Reason, " 'Being' is obviously not a real predicate; that is, it is not a concept of something which could be added to the concept of a thing, or of certain demonstrations, as existing themselves. Logically, it is merely a copula (something that links together, i.e. verb) of a judgment. The proposition, 'God is omnipotent,' contains two concepts, each of which has its object- God and omnipotence.

The small word 'is' adds no new predicate, but only serves to posit the predicate in its relation to the subject. If, now, we take the subject (God) with all its predicates (among one is omnipotence), and say 'God is,' or 'There is God,' we attach no new predicate to the concept of God, but only posit the subject in itself with all its predicates, and indeed posit it as being an object that stands in relation to my concept . [...] By whatever and by however many predicates we may think a thing- even if we completely determine it- we do not make the least addition to the thing which we further declare that this thing is."

Judgments about existence cannot be merely analytic (S>P, all info. in P contained in S), or tautological. Synthetic statements are used when making judgments about existence (information in P goes beyond S). Synthetic judgments are based on, or contingent upon experience, for verification. Therefore we cannot just look into the meaning of the terms, analytically, to demonstrate existence.   We will discuss Kant's position in more detail later in the course.

(b) Although we know the difference between having a concept in the understanding and yet another for it to actually exist, Anselm thinks that God is a special case, in that He is unlimited, therefore He cannot be limited in existence either. To say that concept x correlates to being x out in the world, it is contingent upon seeing x out in the world. God is not self-evident to our limited perception (St. Thomas). (Self evident = the meaning of S is contained in P).  Therefore we cannot prove ontologically the existence of God.  Anselm also assumes that existence in reality is greater than only knowing a concept in the understanding. Cardinal numbers do not exist in reality, but are very beneficial.


Anselm replies to the objections

From Reply to Gaunilo

But you say, suppose that someone imagined an island in the ocean, surpassing all lands in its fertility. Because of the difficulty, or rather the impossibility, of finding something that does not exist, it might as well be called the "Lost Island." By reasoning like yours, he might then say that we cannot doubt that it truly exists in reality, because anyone can easily conceive it from a verbal description. I state confidently that if anyone discovers something for me, other than that "than which a greater cannot be thought," existing either in reality, or in thought alone, to which the logic of my argument can be applied, I shall find his lost island and give it to him, never to be lost again. But it now seems obvious that this being than which none greater can be thought cannot be thought of as non-existent, because it exists by such a sure reason of truth. For otherwise it would not exist at all. In short, if anyone says that he thinks this, he thinks of something than which a greater cannot be thought, or he does not think.

Maimonides (Moses ben Maimon)


Maimonides was born in Cordova Spain, but later settled in Egypt (1165).  Maimonides was a rabbinic scholar, a philosopher, and a physician.  His Guide for the Perplexed was written in Arabic in 1190.   It was written to help Jews who were perplexed by conflicting claims of religion and philosophy.  Maimonides shows the importance of negative attributes of God (such as he is not finite).


Faith and Reason as compatible

Thirteen Principles of Faith

1.  I firmly believe that the Creator, blessed be his name, is the Creator and Ruler of all created beings, and that he alone has made, does make, and ever will make all things.

2.  I firmly believe that the Creator, blessed be his name, is One; that there is no oneness in any form like his; and that he alone was, is, and will ever be our God.

3.  I firmly believe that the Creator, blessed be his name, is not corporeal; that no bodily accidents apply to him; and that there exists nothing whatever that resembles him.

4.  I firmly believe that the Creator, blessed be his name, was the first and will be the last.

5.  I firmly believe that the Creator, blessed be his name, is the only one to whom it is proper to address our prayers, and that we must not pray to anyone else.

6.  I firmly believe that all that words of the Prophets are true.  

7.  I firmly believe that the prophecy of Moses our teacher, may he rest in peace, was true; and that he was the chief of the prophets, both of those who proceeded and of those that followed him.

8.  I firmly believe that the whole Torah which we now possess is the same which was given to Moses our teacher, may he rest in peace.

9.  I firmly believe that this Torah will not be changed, and that there will be no other Torah given by the Creator, blessed be his name.

10.  I firmly believe that the Creator, blessed be his name, knows all the actions and thoughts of human beings, as it is said:  "It is he who fashions the hearts of them all, he who notes all their deeds." (Psalm 33:15)

11.   I firmly believe that the Creator, blessed be his name, rewards all those who keep his commands, and punishes those who transgress his commands.

12.  I firmly believe in the coming of the Messiah; and although he may tarry, I daily wait for his coming.

13.  I firmly believe that there will be a revival of the dead at a time which will please the Creator, blessed and exalted be his name forever and ever.

In the Guide for the Perplexed, Maimonides used Aristotle's Metaphysics to formulate his arguments for the existence of God.  Maimonides uses the argument from motion, the argument from efficient causes, and the argument of from possibility and necessity.  These arguments are cosmological arguments for the existence of God.  Maimonides, in following Aristotle, has used an a posteriori method for his demonstration, beginning with sensible things like motion and change. 

St. Thomas Aquinas (1224/5 -1274)


Cosmological argument for the existence of God


"In common with the whole Catholic tradition, Aquinas taught that the existence of God could be philosophically demonstrated. In a famous passage [...] from his Summa Theologica he offers five proofs, the first of which are forms of the cosmological argument. [4th is enological (degrees of perfection), the 5th is teleological, which are also cosmological, and all five Ways are also a posteriori demonstrations]. The background of the presupposition of these arguments is the Aristotelian philosophy which had been rediscovered in Europe in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. In his Metaphysics Aristotle had argued that change implies an ultimate source of movement; for there cannot be an infinite regress of causes. "But if there is nothing eternal, then there can be no becoming to be: for there must be something which undergoes the process of becoming, that is, that from which things come to be; and the last member of the series must be ungenerated, for the series must start with something, because nothing can come from nothing." (Metaphysics 999 b). This principle is employed by Aquinas in his first three Ways, as is also the Aristotelian distinction between potentiality and actuality." [From Copleston, History of Philosophy]


Aquinas' cosmological argument for the existence of God

Any of the arguments for God's existence which precede from what are regarded as observed facts about the universe, such as motion, cause, contingency, to the conclusion that God exists as the origin and ground for these facts. (I.e. Prime Mover, First Cause, Necessary Being).  [cosmos = universe in Greek].


The Five Ways as in Book 1.a, 2nd question, article 3 of the Summa Theologica

Can the existence of God be demonstrated?

Thomas answers that he can demonstrate the existence of God in five ways:

(1) The first and more manifest way is the argument from motion. It is certain, and evident to our senses, that in the world some things are in motion. Now whatever is moved is moved by another, for nothing can be moved by another, for nothing can be moved except it is in potentiality to that which it is moved [principle of motion]; whereas a thing moves inasmuch as it is in act. For motion is nothing else than the reduction of something from potentiality to actuality. But nothing can be reduced from potentiality to actuality, except by something in a state of actuality. Thus that which is actually hot, as fire, makes wood, which is potentially hot, to be actually hot, and thereby moves and changes it. Now it is not possible that the same thing should be at once in actuality and potentiality in the same respect, but only in different respects. For what is actually hot cannot simultaneously be potentially hot; but it is simultaneously potentially cold. It is therefore impossible that in the same respect and in the same way a thing should be both mover and moved, i.e., that it should move itself. Therefore, whatever is moved must be moved by another. If that by which it is moved be itself moved, then this also must needs be moved by another and that by another again. But this cannot go on to infinity, because then there would be no first mover, and consequently, no other mover, seeing that subsequent movers move only inasmuch as they are moved by the first mover; as the staff moves only because it is moved by the hand. Therefore it is necessary to arrive at a first mover, moved by no other; and this everyone understands to be God.

[This is why the 1st Way is called the argument from motion]

(2) The second way is from the nature of efficient cause. In the world of sensible things we find there is an order of efficient causes. There is no case known (neither it is, indeed, possible) in which a thing is found to be the efficient cause of itself; for so it would be prior to itself, which is impossible. Now in efficient causes it is not possible to go on to infinity, because all efficient causes following in order, the first is the cause of the intermediate cause, and the intermediate is the cause of the ultimate cause, whether the intermediate cause be several or one only. Now to take away the cause is to take away the effect. Therefore, if there be no first cause among efficient causes, there will be no ultimate, nor any intermediate, cause. But if in efficient causes it is possible to on to infinity, there will be no first cause, neither will there be an ultimate effect, nor any intermediate efficient causes; all of which is plainly false. Therefore it is necessary to admit a first efficient cause, to which everyone gives the name God.

a priori demonstrations:

cause to effect

a posteriori demonstrations: effect to cause

(also called inductive generalization)

(3) The third way is taken from possibility and necessity, and runs thus. We find in nature things that are possible to be and not to be, since they are found to be generated, and to be corrupted, and consequently, it is possible for them to be and not to be. But it is impossible for these always to exist, for that which can not-be at some time is not. Therefore, if everything can not-be, then at one time there was nothing in existence. Now if this were true, even now there would be nothing in existence, because that which does not exist begins to exist only through something already existing. Therefore, if at one time nothing was in existence, it would have been impossible for anything to have begun to exist; and thus even now nothing would be in existence- which is absurd. Therefore, not all beings are merely possible, but there must exist something the existence of which is necessary. But every necessary thing either has its necessity caused by another, or not. Now it is impossible to go on to infinity in necessary things which have their necessity caused by another, as has been already proved in regard to efficient causes. Therefore we cannot but admit the existence of some being having of itself its own necessity, and not receiving it from another, but rather causing in others their necessity. This all men speak of as God.

[Note the law of non-contradiction (something cannot both be and not-be simultaneously)]

[From nothing, nothing comes: ex nihilo, nihil fit]

(4) The fourth way is taken from the gradation of being to be found in things. Among beings there are some more and some less good, true, noble and the like. [Remember Plato?] But more or less are predicated of different things according as they more nearly resemble in their different ways something which is the maximum, as a thing is said to be hotter according as it more nearly resembles that which is hottest; so that there is something which is truest, something best, something noblest, and, consequently, something which is most being, for those things that are greatest in being, as written in Metaph[ysics] ii.. Now the maximum in any genus is the cause of all other in that genus, as fire, which is the maximum of heat, is the cause of all hot things, as is said in the same book [referring to Aristotle's Metaphysics]. Therefore there must also be something which is to all beings the cause of their being, goodness, and every other perfection; and this we call God.

[The fourth Way is also called henological, which means degrees or gradation of perfection (excellence).  Also note how this resembles Plato's Form of the Good, and how all else is only a gradation from that Form.]

(5) The fifth way is taken from the governance of the world. We see that things which lack knowledge, such as natural bodies, act for an end, and this is evident from there acting always, or nearly always, in the same way so as to obtain the best result. Hence it is plain that they achieve their end, not fortuitously, but designedly. Now whatever lacks knowledge cannot move towards an end, unless it be directed by some being endowed with knowledge and intelligence; as the arrow is directed by the archer. Therefore some intelligent being exists by whom all natural things are directed to their end; and this being we call God.

[Remember the first line of Aristotle's Metaphysics? "All men by nature by nature desire to know." (980 a 1) This is called natural appetite.]

[God is this pure act intellect, and is thought thinking itself]

[The Fifth Way is teleological (telos = end in Greek) since all things strive toward the end, which is perfection, or God. This is also called the exemplar cause, or final cause.]



Note that Aquinas has a vertical, and not a horizontal hierarchy of causation:

God, or First Mover

intermediate cause (I move pen)

ultimate cause (pen moves)

While time may be seen as horizontal, and extending to infinity, cause, according to Aquinas, cannot continue to infinity, but time is infinite. Ex nihilo, nihil fit which the meaning of "from nothing" is "not out of anything." Something must have always been. God is eternal, and hence is infinite. But God does not exist in this time, space world of corruption. Time represents change, and God cannot change.  Copleston's commentary about Aquinas confirms this:   "But mention of a mathematical infinite series is irrelevant to a discussion of his [Aquinas'] arguments. And it is a point which I have been trying to make clear."  Just because God, as infinite, is the source of all other finite causes, is no reason to assume that He exists in a time continuum; certainly Aquinas did not mean this what so ever.


Some criticisms of the cosmological argument, as presented by Aquinas

Cannot know anything of cause.

David Hume (1711- 1776) in his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion Hume discusses this critique. But even Hume did not have a good grasp of the cosmological argument. He called it an a priori demonstration, and he thought this, perhaps, because in contrast to the teleological argument, the cosmological argument is actually more a priori in nature. Hume was more concerned with the teleological argument in his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion.

The criticism of Hume in regards to the cosmological argument is that we cannot know anything of cause, especially not infinite cause. Hume rejects the demonstrative proof of an existential proposition (i.e. the proposition of the form "x exists," including "God exists"). Hume makes a distinction between "matters of fact" and "relations between ideas". Logical proof only applies to the latter sphere, or "relations between ideas". For example relations between ideas are as such: "2+2=4"; "if A is larger than B and B is larger than C, then A is larger than C." But matters of fact about existence can only be demonstrated empirically; for example if one cat is larger than another can only be demonstrated by various avenues of experience, but NOT by studying any relation of the terms involved. Relations between ideas do not grant actuality of the ideas in reality.

As Hume puts it "there is an evident absurdity in pretending to demonstrate a matter of fact, or to prove it by any arguments a priori. Nothing is demonstrable unless the contrary implies a contradiction. Nothing that is distinctly conceivable implies a contradiction. Whatever we can conceive as existent, we can also conceive as nonexistent. There is no being, therefore whose nonexistence implies a contradiction. Consequently there is no being whose existence is demonstrable." Hume also adds the point that even if we could validly infer that there is a necessarily existent reality it would not follow that this reality is anything other than the physical universe as a whole. For this might itself be eternal and uncaused. Perhaps all beings are merely possible beings, as our observations indicate, and necessary beings, of any kind, do not actually exist, necessarily. 

Hume was an empiricist. This is why he cannot know an essence of a thing, for this is an intellectual report. Although the cosmological argument is causal, it is deductive, and it is the only metaphysical argument which holds for the demonstration for the existence of God. The arguments are sound. But for Hume, the only valid demonstration is to show the impossibility of the opposite (for example A is not B, and A is B presents a contradiction), but this is a limited notion of demonstration. Essence and nature cannot be demonstrated by empiricists. So why must rationalists accept their narrow and limited view of demonstration?

The Teleological argument for the existence of God as presented by William Paley


William Paley (1743- 1805) was Archdeacon of Carlisle, and wrote Natural Theology (or the Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity collected from the Appearances of Nature) in 1802.

Definition for teleological arguments for the existence of God: The universe as a whole has a purpose (design, end) which was created and is sustained by God. Things in the natural world appear to be ordered to an end. (telos = end in Greek).

First Paley starts with the watch he found upon the ground. It appears to have been made by some designer. Why should not the stone upon the ground also have a designer? The human eye presents a better example of natural things which appear to be ordered for some end, because the watch was only a mere artifact and the stone does not have an obvious order to the naked eye. The eye just couldn't be ordered in structure that allows it to see by chance; a random chance explanation doesn't seem plausible to Paley. Some being must have designed the eye to enable it to function in the way that it does. God is the designer of this order according to Paley.


Criticisms of the teleological argument for the existence of God

(1) Just because there is an ordered purpose to things, it does not follow that these things were created for that purpose, or that there is a creator. Paley has made an inductive leap. The argument he presents only gets you to an architect and not God.

(2) The world is more like a vegetable than a well designed machine. It appears to have been made by a half-rate deity on an off-day according to Hume in his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion. We will discuss Hume's position in more detail later in the course. The Problem of Evil is the best evidence offered against a so-called orderly universe, and this is the evidence Hume uses.  Did God not know that the world would be as it is, or was he not powerful enough to create the best of all possible worlds, or is it that he really isn’t benevolent after all?