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Does God Exist Essay, Research Paper
Does God Exist?
Since the beginning of time, man has been struggling to answer the question, how did we get here? What or who was responsible for the creation of life and the cosmos? It seemed natural to conclude that there must have been a higher power that created the reality known by man. However, how does one prove the existence of such a God? This has been the major preoccupation of theologians and philosophers which began several hundred years before Jesus Christ, and has continued to be the subject of heated debate ever since. We readily accept the universe and everything contained within it, but can’t seem to agree upon how it got here in the first place. After all, stating that God exists and then actually proving His existence are two different things, and the latter can prove to be a rather daunting task.
Most early philosophers maintained that God most certainly did exist and attempted to use scientific arguments to prove their point. However, perhaps the most quoted philosopher on the absolute existence of God is not a scientist, but rather, perhaps more appropriately, a theologian. St. Thomas Aquinas was a student of philosophy and was influential in incorporating philosophy into the religious doctrine, which provides the foundation for the modern-day Roman Catholic religious beliefs. Aquinas examined the question of God’s existence in great detail in his philosophical works, Summa Theologica and Summa Contra Gentiles. He wrote, “Beginning with sensible things, our intellect is led to the point of knowing about God that He exists, and other such characteristics that must be attributed to the First Principle” (Thompson, 59). Aquinas had the typical philosopher mentality by asserting that it cannot be just merely accepted that God exists, since this contention is not immediately evident. It is a declaration that must be proven. In other words, faith alone is not sufficient enough evidence to conclude that God exists. Aquinas pointed out that what may be conceived in the intellect does not necessarily exists in reality (Grace, 1996). To make his own case regarding this issue, Aquinas established his five criteria on the existence of God through Summa Theologica, the first three of which became known form the basis of the cosmological argument confirming God’s existence.
The five ways Aquinas used to confirm the existence of God all stemmed from a first cause argument (Titus and Smith, 242). In other words, life perpetuates itself as one cause prompts the occurrence of an event which becomes the cause for a subsequent event and so on through infinity. However, at some point, there had to be a first cause, which set these wheels into motion, which is the being commonly referred to as God (Titus and Smith, 242). In the First Way, Aquinas established that everything that is finite undergoes change, and by following these successive changes, finite man is eventually led to God. Until this happens, finite objects cannot be changed. Aquinas’ Second Way is based upon the theory of causality, which is a detailed explanation of how the first cause is the only explanation for continual “cause and effect” of the universe.
Next, Aquinas established the criteria of a ‘necessity’ of being. In other words, something cannot come from nothing. There had to be a transient being in place for all existence to evolve. He wrote, “We find in nature things that are possible to be and not to be?. But it is impossible for these things to always exist, for that which is possible not to be at some time is not. Therefore, if everything is possible not to be, then at one time there could have been nothing in existence” (Porter, 144). In other words, if there were no existence historically, nothing would exist at the present time. Since existence is not in question today, there must have been an eternal existence which started it all — God (Porter, 144).
By the nineteenth century, philosophers were not quite so content to blindly accept the existence of God. A certain skepticism began to prevail, and this was reflected in the philosophy of the time period. Perhaps one of the most articulate spokesmen who argued against the existence of God was British philosopher David Hume, the founder of the ’skeptical school of philosophy.’ He openly criticized Aquinas’ “first cause” theory as an ineffective argument, asking, “What was the cause of the First Cause?” (Titus and Smith, 344). He and others pointed out, quite rightly, if every occurrence must have a cause, what makes anyone conclude that it began with God? There has never been a valid argument establishing God as the ‘First Cause’ according to David Hume (Titus and Smith, 344). Of course, it should perhaps be pointed out that opponents of Hume have taken the theological “high road,” maintaining that it is assumed that in the moral order, everything begins with God, and this is a process that is beyond question.
Furthermore, according to Hume, Aquinas’ argument is philosophically flawed because he makes the assumption that the characteristics of the parts equal the characteristics of the whole. In other words, just because some consequences in the universe may be attributed to a cause does not mean that the entire universe can be traced to one root cause. After all, if God is the cause of the universe, this means that God is a cause onto Himself. Why can’t the creation of the universe be explained in similar terms? Remaining always the skeptic, Hume’s argument stops short of claiming that God does not exist, which would be atheism. Rather, he regarded his task as casting reasonable doubt as to whether or not God exists, which is agnosticism (Stairs, 1998).
David Hume further expounded on his unconventional religious philosophy in his 1757 essay, The Natural History of Religion. He suggested that people continued to believe in the existence of God because they were conditioned to do so. Hume wrote:
Our ancestors in Europe, before the revival of letters, believed, as we do at present, that there was one supreme God, the author of nature, whose power, though in itself uncontrollable, was yet often exerted by the interposition of his angels and subordinate ministers, who executed his sacred purposes. But they also believed, that all nature was full of other invisible powers; fairies, goblins, elves, sprights; beings, stronger and mightier than men, but much inferior to the celestial natures, who surround the throne of God (12).
Hume’s implication is clear: If man did not believe in the existence of God, he would incur considerable wrath from above.
Hume continued by asserting that literature had much to do with public perception of God and of His existence. Ancient Greek poets bestowed upon their esteemed Gods human qualities they knew their compatriots could easily relate to. It was this ‘ignorant’ ancient Greek view of God offered by the Greek poets and Aristotle, upon which the God’s existence theory of Thomas Aquinas was based.
Hume asserted that the original faith placed in God’s existence grew from the uneducated masses who developed the myth of an all-powerful Perfect Being who was responsible for the creation of everything that could not be explained. These people could not explain such natural phenomenons as lightning or earthquakes so they attributed them to some higher power. Today there are empirical, scientific explanations for these occurrences. The possibility exists that someday science will somehow be able to prove or disprove the theory that God exists.
With both points of view presented, which, if either, is correct? Aquinas’ argument, an admirable model of deductive reasoning, is lacking in scientific validity. Hume argued, perhaps correctly, that this historical description of a natural and moral order only grew from man’s desire to live an ordered existence, not from God’s existence.
People will forever be arguing around their dinner tables about the existence of God. Many take comfort in the belief that there is one Creator who still exists in the universe, a perfect being who watches out for His ‘imperfect’ children. However, the argument that God exists because he was the ‘First Cause’ of everything is too simplistic for the sophisticated intellect to accept. It may be spiritually comforting to believe in the existence of a higher power, but there is no irrefutable evidence to suggest that God was ‘the cause’ of everything, hence proving His existence. As we approach the new millennium, skepticism prevails and continues to reign supreme.
Grace, R. Jeffrey. “A Report on Summa Contra Gentiles Book One: God by Thomas Aquinas”
[Online]. October 1996. Available: http://www.electriciti.com/~rjgrace/scg.htm.
Hume, David. “The Natural History of Religion” [Online]. 1757. Available:
Porter, Burton F. (editor). Religion & Reason: An Anthology. New York: St. Martin’s Press,
Stairs, Allen. “The Cosmological Argument” [Online]. March 1998.
Titus, Harold H., and Smith, Marilyn S. Living Issues in Philosophy (Sixth Edition). New York:
D. Van Nostrand Company, 1974.
Thompson, Karl F. (editor). “Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Contra Gentiles.” Classics of Western
Thought: II. Middle Ages, Renaissance, and Reformation. New York: Harcourt Brace
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