Aquinas - the cosmological argument for the existence of God
The cosmological argument stems from the idea that the world and everything that is in it is dependent on something other than itself for its existence. Even though the world may appear to be self-perpetuating, it is necessary to understand the source. Before Thomas Aquinas, both Plato and Aristotle too argued that something could not come from nothing. There has to be something, which exists to cause a movement. The three major arguments put forth by Aquinas known as the Cosmological Argument will be discussed here.
In his work, Summa Theologica Thomas Aquinas offered five 'proofs' for the existence of God. The first argument was the Argument of Motion. Aquinas’s argument has to be understood keeping in mind Aristotle’s discussion of Astronomy. Aristotle argued that the planetary position, which causes the seasons to change, requires an unmoved mover to maintain the order of things. Aquinas’ argument was based on this very premise that without God the heaven and earth would not exist. This implies that any event in the universe is the result of some cause.
The argument is that this chain of events either has a cause or does not. While Aristotle left it at the Uncaused cause Aquinas named this uncaused cause as ‘God’. Astronomers refute this theory and rely on the Big Bang Theory, which is the scientific theory that the universe emerged from an enormously dense and hot state nearly 14 billion years ago. Bertrand Russell too disagrees and says that the ‘universe just is’ without any cause.
Aquinas further argues that there can be no effect without an ‘efficient cause’. There is nothing in the world that can be the efficient cause of itself. To take away the cause is to take away the effect. Therefore, if there were no first cause among efficient causes, there will be no ultimate, or intermediate, cause. There cannot be an endless regression of cause and effect and hence the first cause must be God.
The third argument is based on possibility and necessity. According to Aquinas, it is logically possible that the universe has already existed for an infinite amount of time, and will continue to exist for an infinite amount of time. If the universe could exist or could not exist, that is to say, it is contingent, then its existence must have a cause. Objects have contingent existence but God has necessary existence. Aquinas argues that if everything can not-be, then at one time there was nothing in existence. 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.
Aquinas further argues on the degrees of perfection and goodness that can be seen in the world. Humans have the capacity for both good and bad deeds. Therefore, the maximum in the genus (group of things) of morality must be God (the perfect being), who is the ‘first cause’, or source, of all goodness and perfection.
The cosmological argument not only seeks to reason the existence of God but could also be said to provide a meaning to life in the world. For instance, if we know where we have come from then surely, it could be argued, we have some idea of where we are going. Hence, Aquinas comes to the same conclusion that God exists, whether there was a first event in the universe or not.