St. Thomas Aquinas sought to prove the existence of this â€œfirst mover,â€ which he deemed to be God, through his series of five cosmological arguments referred to as the â€œFive Ways.â€ In his first of the five cosmological arguments, Aquinas draws upon the existence of motion in order to offer an explanation for the existence of God. However, although his argument appears to be very sophisticated and logical, there are potential objections to be found with the premises themselves. After evaluating the Aquinasâ€™ cosmological argument and its premises, it can be assessed that the argument of motion fails to prove the existence of God.
The domino effect can best be defined as a single event that sets off a chain reaction of similar events. An individual domino, however, is incapable of setting off an entire domino reaction. Whether it is the act of a human or an act of nature, there must be something to push the first domino in order for the reaction to occur. St. Thomas Aquinas sought to prove the existence of this “first mover,” which he deemed to be God, through his series of five cosmological arguments referred to as the “Five Ways.” In his first of the five cosmological arguments, Aquinas draws upon the existence of motion in order to offer an explanation for the existence of God. However, although his argument appears to be very sophisticated and logical, there are potential objections to be found with the premises themselves. After evaluating the Aquinas’ cosmological argument and its premises, it can be assessed that the argument of motion fails to prove the existence of God.
In his argument, Aquinas argued for the existence of God through the argument of motion. Aquinas drew his inspiration for his argument from Aristotelian physics, more commonly known as “natural philosophy,” which studies change and motion in the physical world. His first premise was that it is observed that some objects in the world are in motion. However, in order to gain a better understanding of Aquinas’ first cosmological argument, it is important to first understand what it means to be moved in terms of the argument of motion. To be moved does not refer to physical motion or changing an object’s location by the act of pulling, shifting, etc. To be moved refers to the change from a state of actuality to a state of potentiality or from a state of potentiality to a state of actuality.
Aquinas’ next premise follows by stating that objects in motion must be set in motion by still another object preceding it, and so forth. As Aquinas states, nothing is capable of being moved other than it is in “potentiality to that towards which is moved” (Sober, 38). This assumes that an object’s state of potentiality has to originate from outside of itself. For example, without the exertion of a potter, a mass of clay will not form itself into a pot. The clay always has potential for the pot to be formed, but it requires an external force to mold and shape the clay in order to achieve the finished product.
Aquinas’ third premise stated that there could not be an infinite number of “movers” and “moves,” and that there must be a “first mover.” Since everything in the world in constantly in motion, whatever object is in currently in motion must have been set in motion by another object; or, in the words of Aquinas, “whatever is moved is moved by another” (Nichols, 54). This claim asserts that nothing in motion is itself self-generated into motion. Therefore, if the premises are true, Aquinas proceeds to conclude that there is a first unmoved mover, which Aquinas deduces to prove the existence of God. In essence, it is God who pushed the first domino.
There are many potential objections in response to Aquinas’ first chronological argument. Aquinas’ first premise is a statement that can be agreed upon; however, his other premises are ones that stir up a bit more controversy. Aquinas’ claim in premise two is that no object in the natural world, or “nothing that does not have free will can move itself” (Reinchenbach). However, natural changes, such as an atom undergoing radioactive decay, seem to be the result of internal processes instead of changes that are brought about by external forces to the phenomenon in question. As time has passed and science has advanced, quantum physics has further evidence to prove that the rules of causation do not apply to various microscopic particles. Scientists currently use the big bang theory to replace Aquinas’ cosmological argument for God’s existence based on the theory of initial cause. With the big bang theory, science has replaced the word God in Aquinas’ argument to explain the phenomena of motion.
Another objection to the validity of Aquinas’ set of premises is the fact that he appears to contradict himself. In premise two, Aquinas states that objects in motion must be set in motion by still another object preceding it, and so forth. However, Aquinas seems to exclude this premise from applying to the “first mover,” or God. It seems to be the case that the “first mover” would need a “first mover.” If it was to be implied that God was excluded from this premise, Aquinas should have clearly stated this within his first cosmological argument.
There is also fault to be found with Aquinas’ third premise: there cannot be an infinite number of “movers” and “movees.” In Aquinas’ time, it was an assumption taken as fact that there could not be an infinite anything. However, Aquinas appears to contradict himself in this premise. If the “first mover” would need to have a mover, and so on and so on, it would go on for an infinite amount of time. Another question to ask here is, is there ever a moment in time when motion will eventually cease? If motion is incapable of having a definite ending, it is obviously also incapable of possessing a definite beginning. It is therefore logical to propose that motion is not capable of being neither created nor destroyed.
Another objection to Aquinas’ argument of motion is the Birthday Fallacy. The Birthday Fallacy follows the simple argument that everyone has a birthday; therefore, there must be one day that is everyone’s birthday. Of course, this is a mistake to assume that because everyone has a date of birth, that everyone shares the exact same date of birth. Aquinas made this mistake when he assumed that every object set in motion could be traced back to a single common cause, or God’s initial cause. It is at least possible that there could have been more than one “first mover” and separated chains of events.
Finally, even if all the premises were established as being true, proving the existence of a “first mover” does not prove the existence of God. Aquinas was trying to prove the existence of a God that knows all, is all-powerful, and is perfectly good, but a God possessing those characteristics cannot be proved with the given premises and conclusion. If God’s existence is to be established, it must be with a different argument.
Aquinas’ proofs start from some general feature of the world around us and argue that there could not be a world with this particular characteristic unless there was also the ultimate reality of God. There are several substantial problems with Aquinas’ first argument for the existence of God, including all of the arguments that exclude the first premise. The objections given in response to Aquinas’ first cosmological argument include the argument of asking why couldn’t there be infinite movement, of asking who moved the “first mover,” and the Birthday Fallacy. These objections offer a better argument in countering Aquinas’ argument of motion than the actual argument does.
After evaluating the Aquinas’ cosmological argument and its premises, it can be assessed that the argument of motion fails to prove the existence of God based on the numerous objections and the contradictions found inside the argument itself, advancing scientific hypothesis and observations, and the fact that the argument does not even begin to prove God that is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good. Based on these criteria, it is safe to say that the argument was proved invalid and not sound. So, the question still lies: who did push the first domino?
Nichols, Aidan (2003). Discovering Aquinas: An Introduction to His Life, Work, and Influence. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. 45-57. Print.
Reinchenbach, Bruce, “Cosmological Argument,” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2006 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL <http://plato.stanfor.edu/archives/fall2006/entries/comological-argument/>
Sober, Elliott. Core Questions in Philosophy: A Text with Readings, Macmillan, 1990; 5th edition, 2008. 37-42. Print.