Welcome back everyone to Deeper Waters where we are diving into the ocean of truth! We’ve lately been going through a video made by The Amazing Atheist on YouTube where he claims that Thomas Aquinas sucks. For all interested, so far, I have not heard from the Amazing Atheist and my attempts to post on the wall of this video have failed. My challenge is still here for him to come to TheologyWeb and challenge me on the way of his choice. Tonight, we’re going to look at TAA’s take on the Fourth Way.
#1-Objects have properties to greater or lesser extents.
#2-If an object has a property to a lesser extent, then there exists some other object that has the property to the maximum possible degree.
#3-So there is an entity that has all properties to the maximum possible degree.
TAA thinks even this is too stupid, although he has not understood it of course, and so he wants to change it to understand beings by grades.
#1-There is a gradation to be found in things. Some are better or worse than others.
#2-Predications of degree require references to the uttermost case.
#3-The maximum in any genus is the cause of all of that genus
#4-Therefore there must also be something to which all beings is the cause of their goodness and all other perfection and this we call God.
Again, let’s see what the master himself said:
The fourth way is taken from the gradation to be found in things. Among beings there are some more and some less good, true, noble and the like. But “more” and “less” are predicated of different things, according as they resemble in their different ways something which is the maximum, as a thing is said to be hotter according as it more nearly resembles that which is hottest; so that there is something which is truest, something best, something noblest and, consequently, something which is uttermost being; for those things that are greatest in truth are greatest in being, as it is written in Metaph. ii. Now the maximum in any genus is the cause of all in that genus; as fire, which is the maximum heat, is the cause of all hot things. Therefore there must also be something which is to all beings the cause of their being, goodness, and every other perfection; and this we call God.
What’s interesting for the first version TAA gave is that he gave the standard objection that Dawkins gave when Dawkins asked if there’s a most smelly being of all. TAA asks if God is the fattest and the skinniest of all, the gayest and straightest, etc. That seems to be his objection.
However, this objection fails and TAA could have just done what I did to find out why. You read more on the topic or you talk to someone who knows more. Instead, TAA goes on about how dumb Aquinas is and that refuting Aquinas is kindergarten stuff. Well, I suppose building straw men of arguments could be something a kindergarten student would do.
However, let’s get to the kinds of traits Aquinas is talking about. Note that he uses the example of fire being the maximum cause of heat. Why does he do this? Because in the medieval worldview, fire was understood as the ultimate cause of heat and the maximum heat could be found in fire. Note that Aquinas is giving an analogy here. He is using that which is understood to point to that which is not understood.
Thus, he is talking about divine attributes ultimately and so it should be obvious then that smelliness and fatness and other such qualities are not to be included. Do we have any idea what qualities he is talking about? Indeed we do. Aquinas is explaining the transcendentals.
At such an argument, TAA doesn’t even attempt a refutation. For him, just saying it’s dumb is enough. However, we must look at this more. If you have something that is of your essence to have that is a perfection, then it will be had to the maximum. Cats are fully cats. Horses are fully horses. Humans are fully human. Humans cannot have being to the full or goodness to the full for we do not have all that that entails.
God does however and God is the cause of all the degrees that we see in other beings. He is what is called the supreme being. Keep in mind that in Aquinas’s system, qualities like truth and goodness are convertible with being. He would agree with Augustine that insofar as we exist, we are good. Thus, when you speak of a being with maximum truth, goodness, nobility, etc., you speak of one with maximum being.
If a being has all perfections to the maximum, there can be no other that has that, especially since its existence is its essence. After all, how will the other being differ? Will it differ by having a perfection the other does not have? Then whatever one the other does not have, it is not the maximum of perfections.
Keep in mind also that for Aquinas, this does not just mean there could have been a God at one point that got degrees of goodness started and then went away. No. God is eternally active and is the cause of the gradation we see of goodness in beings today. As long as we have degrees of goodness, there is a maximum goodness that is out there and this, everyone knows to be God.
I will grant however that the fourth way is a hard argument to understand and I suspect that given a year or so my writing on it will be more in-depth. However, at this point, I believe this is also the closest we have to the moral argument and it’s one I wish would be used more often. After all, we sometimes ask atheists “How can you determine good actions without God?” That’s a good question! Still, let’s make it better. How can you determine the goodness of anything, even good results, without a standard of goodness?
TAA has given the standard Dawkins reply, which is interesting since he refers to Dawkins as someone smarter than him. I do not doubt that, but I also realize this shows me more about TAA’s thinking. Dawkins is a scientist. He is not a philosopher or a theologian and you need training in those areas to be able to really understand Aquinas’s arguments.
After all, if you do not understand the arguments and think you do, you could embarrass yourself in the face of someone who knows them better.
Much like TAA would with any Thomist he’d meet.
Tomorrow, we shall look at the fifth way.