The Middle Ages: Classic Formulation
the fall of the Roman Empire interest in the natural world dwindled and with it
the pursuit of science and natural theology (Emerton 1989, p. 132). It was not until the 13th century that long
lost classical philosophy and science were rediscovered. With this turn the argument from design
reemerged (Emerton 1989, p. 132) and received its classic formulation. Aristotelian physics with its emphasis on
causality became widely influential.
Purely physical processes were frequently explained in terms of
will recall that for Aristotle there were four distinguishable types of cause:
Final cause: is at the level of the maker of an object
Formal cause: is the design or blueprint according to which
it is made
Material cause: is
the raw material from which it is made
Efficient cause: is
the effort applied in actually making the object
The point of our exploration
seems to be to discuss whether there is a formal cause (a design) and the
theological argument proceeds from there to final cause. If there is a design there must be a
Thomas Aquinas - like most good
theologians! - was conversant with the science and philosophy of his day. Aristotelian physics shaped his
theology. The assumption that an effect
cannot be greater than the cause and that something can be known of the cause
by observing the effect; these became building blocks of his formulation of the
argument from design.
Thomas's arguments for the
existence of God work a posteriori from some observed facts of existence -
effects - to their ultimate cause.
The most famous of his arguments are the "five ways":
The First Way begins with the point that
things in the world are always changing or moving. Yet they lack the consciousness to be self-moving/changing and
therefore must be moved and changed by another. This all has to stop somewhere.
Thomas concludes the existence of one, Unmoved Mover.
The Second Way
argues from the observation that nothing is self-caused else it would have had to
precede itself. But again the series of
causes must stop somewhere, thus the need for a First Cause.
The Third Way
reasons from the contingent character of things in the world (none of this has
to be) to the existence of a totally different kind of being, a Necessary
Way argues from the gradations of goodness, truth, and nobility in the things
to the existence of a being that is most true, most good, and most noble - one
who is the cause of these things in others.
(Similarly fire - the hottest thing - is the cause of the heat in things
that are hot).
The Fifth Way,
perhaps the closest to our present concern, starts from the orderly character
of mundane events. Things meet their
goals, even things that lack consciousness. Yet nothing that lacks awareness can tend toward a goal without
direction from something that has awareness.
As an arrow requires an archer to reach its goal, so also universal
order points to the existence of an intelligent Orderer of all things. (Thomas,
Summa Theologica, Part I Question 2, Article 3).
At the end of each
"way," Thomas simply comments "and this is what everybody
understands by God" (Thomas, Part I, Question 2, Article 3).
case he is arguing from what is evident in the world (as an effect) to what
must be the case in the way of a Cause to bring about such an effect. Thomas seems to have favored the first form
of the argument presenting God as the "Unmoved Mover" he treats this
one most extensively. Remember that in
the science of his day, 13th century physics and astronomy, the four basic
elements were thought to be under dynamic influence of the stars, and lower
celestial bodies were considered to be moved about by those at greater distance
from the earth. Everything that moved
did so because it was moved by something else.
God is the Unmoved Mover behind all the motion.
Contributed by: Dr. Anna Case-Winters