A viral YouTube video titled “Aquinas and the Cosmological Arguments” (750,000+ views) claims that Thomas Aquinas’ arguments for God have been decisively refuted. But have they? Bishop Barron responds to the video and shows that when properly understood, Thomas’ arguments are as strong today as ever before. A listener asks whether death is natural.

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Topics Discussed

  • 0:05 – Introduction, Bishop Barron describes the Facebook headquarters
  • 5:30 – Why have multiple proofs for God’s existence?  If a singular argument is truly a proof, should not one be sufficient?
  • 8:44 – Where did Thomas Aquinas come up with these arguments?
  • 12:50 – Do Aquinas’s observations from nature hurt his argument given the fact that modern science has proven some of his examples to be inaccurate?
  • 15:33 – What’s wrong with using dominos to illustrate Aquinas’s argument from motion?
  • 26:50 – What’s the difference between a hierarchal and a temporal causal series? And why is this so important for understanding Aquinas?
  • 31:35 – Did the philosopher David Hume defeat Aquinas’s arguments?
  • 34:24 – Question from listener: Is death natural?

Bonus Resources

 

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3 comments on “WOF 096: Aquinas and the Arguments for God (Part 1 of 2)

  1. Bishop Barron,
    What do you think about the Law of Alignment argument for God? All things that require alignment and realignment to function eg. the world, eco system etc. Require an aligner. Because random perfect alignment and realignment is impossible.

  2. tom hrdlick Oct 11, 2017

    I am a long-time listener of the WOF show, and this was another great topic and show. Thanks for this podcast and for all you guys are doing to educate and evangelize. All that said, intellectually, I struggled with the distinction you were trying to draw between the chain-of-domino’s infinite regression in time (which I think you are saying is NOT what Aquinas is referring to and rejecting through his Argument from Causation Proof of God’s Existence) and the infinite chain of wishes/desires/explanations for why something here and now is actualized (exists). I’m sure even the foregoing description itself is not entirely right in terms of the distinction you are attempting to draw. In any event, I’m still not sure what the latter is as opposed to the former — is there a book/text I can get that goes into more detail and which might help me understand the distinction? Is that maybe what Feser’s book provides? I had always thought Aquinas WAS talking about the impossibility of an infinite chain of material causes and thus the need for a single, uncaused, immaterial cause that started everything, which was God. It sounds like you guys are saying Aquinas is getting at something else entirely . Can you clarify? Thanks!!

    • Brandon Vogt Oct 17, 2017

      Hey, Tom! Really great questions. Thanks for asking them!

      It sounds like you’re trying to better understand the difference between a “per accidens” causal series and a “per se” causal series, which as we mentioned in the episode is a key prerequisite for properly understanding Thomas’ arguments.

      On this point, I’d *definitely* recommend Dr. Edward Feser’s books because they go over this distinction in great detail and with great clarity, especially his two books “Aquinas” and “The Last Superstition.”

      Also, here is a great post from Dr. Feser’s blog on the topic:

      http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2010/08/edwards-on-infinite-causal-series.html

      To put it quickly, the difference is that in a “per accidens” series (e.g., dominoes) the causal power of each element in the series DOES NOT depend on the activity of earlier causes. So again, to use the domino example, once domino #1 falls over, each of the next dominoes (e.g., #2, 3, 4) will cause the successive domino (e.g., #3, 4, 5) to topple over, regardless–and here’s the key–of whatever happens to the previous domino (i.e., #1) Once a domino falls, it has no effect on the rest of the chain. Earlier dominoes could be destroyed, they could be stood back up, they could start a new chain of dominoes, etc. It doesn’t matter. Once domino #1 acts on domino #2, the causal power of domino #2 is then independent of whatever happens with domino #1.

      The grandfather/father/son analogy is another popular example of a “per accidens” series. Once a grandfather begets his son (the father), the father’s causing of his son (the grandson) is independent of what happens to the grandfather. In fact, as sometimes happens, the grandfather could die even before the father begets a new son (the grandson). Again, this is a “per accidens” series because the causal power of each element is NOT essentially derived from the prior cause. Whether the father causes a new son is independent (i.e., disconnected) from the causal influence of the grandfather.

      Now compare that to a “per se” series, in which each causal element *DOES* depend, here and now, on prior causes. For instance, consider a system of gears, where gear #1 turns #2, and #2 turns #3, etc. In this case, all of the gears are in a “per se” series because they each depend on prior causes, here and now, for their causal power. In other words, gear #2 can only turn gear #3 if, and only if, gear #1 is here and now turning it. The same holds for every gear (e.g., gear #4 can only turn gear #5, if and only if, gear #3 is here and now turning it.) These elements are ordered “per se” because each element essentially depends on prior members for its causal power.

      But here’s the key insight: when we say “prior members,” we DON’T mean prior in terms of time; we meant prior in terms of metaphysical hierarchy (or ontological hierarchy, to use the technical term.) Gears #1, 2, 3, 4, etc. all turn simultaneously so it doesn’t make sense to say gear #1 turns prior to gear #2, at least if we’re talking in temporal language, in terms of time. What’s different is their metaphysical hierarchy: we know that gear #1 is at the “highest” level, since it’s the ultimate cause of all other gears turning, and it thus “prior” to gear #2. And then gear #2 is next highest, ontologically, since it depends only on gear #1, and so forth.

      What Thomas Aquinas understood, correctly, is that no matter how big that system of gears is, whether it includes five gears, five hundred gears, or even an INFINITE number of gears, if the gears are to turn at all, there needs to be SOME gear (i.e., gear #1, or whatever powers gear #1) that does NOT depend on other gears to turn it. Otherwise, think about it: if each gear depends hierarchically on an infinite string of gears to get turning–if, to number them backward, gear #1 depends on gear #2, and gear #2 depends on gear #3, etc., etc., all the way to infinity–then NONE of the gears will ever turn! But if we observe they ARE turning, then we know they MUST have an ultimate cause, a gear or device that explains itself, that isn’t caused by another gear or something else to begin.

      That, in a nutshell, is the difference between the “per accidens” and “per se” series, and why once you see this distinction, you realize that an infinite “per se” causal series is impossible without an Uncaused Caused, or in Bishop Barron’s language, without an Unconditioned Cause.

      Hope that helps!

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