Thomas Aquinas’ first Mover Argument

Thomas Aquinas’ first Mover Argument

Article by I. Hofmann, July 2024. All right reserved. Published with permission on Translation by J. Hofmann.


Thomas Aquinas- (1225-1274) the first mover argumentThomas Aquinas is a well-known Roman Catholic philosopher and theologian from the 13th century. He lived from 1225 to 1274 and was declared a saint in 1323, 49 years after his death. During his lifetime, he worked to reconcile the ideas of Aristotle and the doctrines of Christianity. This led him to come up with five – logic-based – proofs of God. Of these, we scrutinise three, which are close in content and elaboration, answering questions about form – a priori or a posteriori – and have a look at the renowned Richard Dawkins’ counterarguments to these theories.

A priori and a posteriori

But first, what are a posteriori and a priori? These are the two scientific ways of obtaining from a given (something we already know), information from another, related subject. In practice, this usually involves the connection between cause and effect. In a posteriori – Latin for ‘from what comes after’ – reasoning, you start with the consequence and try to find out the cause from that, so this is an inductive form of reasoning. In the case of a priori – Latin for ‘from what comes before’ – reasoning, the given is the cause, and you try to find out what the consequence is, this is a deductive form of reasoning.

Aquinas’ proofs of God

The three we study in this piece all boil down to the same thing: Everything that moves must first be set in motion. So everything has a cause, but since nothing can cause itself, all causes also have a cause. By this reasoning, we are sucked into an endless regression of cause and effect. However, nothing in our world is endless, everything around us has a beginning and an end; from this we can infer that there must have been something that set everything in motion. However, this ‘something’ must have been separate from this regression to be the first; it must not have been bound by the natural laws of our world; it had to have been completely free and infinite. We call this ‘something’ God, and this reasoning is called the first mover argument.

What is the form of reasoning here?

When we use the first mover argument we look at the surrounding things, in other words: The effects, from there, we go backwards and try to discover the cause: This is a clear case of a posteriori reasoning, because we go from front to back. In an a priori, we would start with God as the cause and then figure out the effects of his actions; i.e. reasoning from back to front. This, however, is not the case here.

Richard Dawkins’ counterargument

According to philosopher Richard Dawkins (1941 – present), the assumption that God himself is immune from all regression is completely unfounded. He thinks that conjuring up an end to something infinite is an illicit luxury. Even if we were to take this luxury, he believes we could not attribute all those attributes: Omnipotence, omniscience, goodness, and design ingenuity to this ‘God.’ According to Dawkins, you cannot stop the problem of eternal regression by assuming that there is a mover who has not moved because we cannot base this on anything and thus, according to him, only shift the problem to who set this mover in motion.

The Rebuttal

It is extraordinary that Mr Dawkins basically believes that The Creator must be bound by the natural laws of his own creation, by claiming that he (The Creator) must also be bound by regression. The illogic behind this can be seen by looking at the programming of a computer system, the programmer here is The Creator and encodes the rules according to which the machine must work: When A is pressed, B must happen. Now, is the programmer himself bound by this rule? No, that rule is limited to the system. The same applies to God and the rules he has programmed into the universe.

Richard Dawkins’ second argument is about attributing properties to this first mover: The properties of omnipotence, omniscience, goodness, and design ingenuity. However, each of these properties are necessary for the creation of a universe. Starting with omnipotence: having omnipotence is logically necessary in order to be able to make ‘something’ out of nothing, and have rules and systems in operation there that were not there before. To be able to make something, you have to know all about it, so omniscience is also necessary. The fact that The Creator has design ingenuity also speaks for itself, if you see how perfectly the universe works and functions; from the mechanisms in the smallest insects to keeping the planets balanced by gravity, everything oozes perfect design. Finally, there is goodness. When most people think of the word goodness, they think of moral laws and rules, but it means much more than just that. Things are also ‘good’ the moment they work the way they are supposed to, and so ‘good’ also do what they are supposed to do. So the moral and natural laws work together. So, to have an excellent working universe, God must also have goodness.

The Conclusion

The first mover argument holds up again. It is and remains one of the strongest arguments since the Middle Ages for the existence of God because it scientifically (a posteriori) shows the need for a creator who possesses omniscience, omnipotence, goodness, and design ingenuity.







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