Trivia Question: Which one of the Ten Commandments is broken by everyone except Orthodox Jews? No, it’s not coveting your neighbor’s ass. Everybody breaks that one. It’s #3 (“You shall keep the Sabbath day holy”) … Why? Because the Sabbath we are commanded to keep holy is, in fact, Saturday. Oops.
So about yesterday: We spent some time puzzling over what a winky dinky little amount of space our friend Thomas Aquinas devotes to proving whether God exists. His great “Five Ways” are about the only thing we educated modern people associate with his name, after all. Yet just 0.05% of his great “Summary of Theology” is devoted to this question.
Aquinas spends more time arguing against two positions widely held in his day (and today): that (1) God’s existence is self-evident (i.e., obvious), and that (2) “the existence of God is a tenet of faith alone and cannot be demonstrated.” (Summa Contra Gentiles 1:12)
Against (1) he just says: Not so much. What’s self-evident should be obvious to anyone who understands the terms. Yet plenty of people can imagine That Than Which Nothing Greater Can Be Thought and still believe it’s just that … imaginary. (So he sides with Gaunilo vs. Anselm.)
Against (2) he admits “we cannot perfectly know God as He is in His essence” . . . but we can still know that He exists. How? From observing His “effects” in the world, and reasoning backward to a cause.Where Anselm and other Platonists went top-down, Aquinas and Aristotle like the bottoms-up. Knowledge starts with what we can see. Bringing us neatly to the “Five Ways.”
But wait, girls. We’re still bothered by what a throw-away argument he’s making here. Let me ask you: when you write your incredible Summary of Theology someday, will you bury your definitive answer to the monstrous, ultimate question “Whether God Exists?” in Article 3 of Question 2 of Part I of your masterwork? Didn’t think so.
So why does Aquinas do this? Why?