In my ongoing debate about God’s existence with biologist Jerry Coyne, who writes at Why Evolution Is True, frequent reference is made to Aquinas’ Five Ways, particularly to his Prime Mover argument. It is the most popular formal argument for the existence of God, and it is often misunderstood and, when understood, often misrepresented. Atheists, in my experience, never get it right. If they did, they wouldn’t be atheists.
The first three of Aquinas’ Five Ways share a similar logical structure, and are called the cosmological arguments. More precisely, these arguments probably ought to be called the cosmogonical arguments, because they are proofs based on origins of things. I’ll stick with habit and call them cosmological, but keep in mind that what ties them together is that they are proofs of God’s existence based on the beginnings in nature.
In this post I’ll lay out the logical structure, and in coming posts I hope to apply the structure to three kinds of beginnings in nature: the beginning of change, the beginning of causes, and the beginning of existence itself.
The cosmological arguments have two cornerstones: the law of non-contradiction, and the metaphysics of potency and act. Both principles are Aristotelian, developed in fullest form by St. Thomas Aquinas.:Michael Egnor, “ Introducing Aquinas’ Five Ways” at Evolution News and Science Today
Most people today may not have learned in school that the Scholastics, including Aquinas, restored the importance of classical Greek and Roman learning in Europe, incorporating the thinking processes into philosophy, including natural philosophy (later, science) and theology. So, although Aquinas was a theologian and, in the Catholic tradition, a saint, much that he talks about is not especially “religious.”
But here’s Aquinas in “religious” mode, in case you wondered:
More by neurosurgeon Michael Egnor on how the mind differs from the brain:
Science points to an immaterial mind. If one did not start with a materialist bias, materialism would not be invoked as an explanation for a whole range of experiments in neuroscience.
Neuroscientist Michael Graziano should meet the p-zombie. To understand consciousness, we need to establish what it is not before we create any more new theories.
Further reading on the abstract nature of thought:
A simple triangle can disprove materialism. Conventional descriptions of material processes do not help much when we are trying to account for abstract thought.
Four researchers whose work sheds light on the reality of the mind: the significance of Wilder Penfield, Roger Sperry Benjamin Libet, and Adrian Owen. The brain can be cut in half, but the intellect and will cannot, says Michael Egnor. The intellect and will are metaphysically simple.
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