Could an Evil God Exist? Thoughts on Classical Theism and Definitions of God

The week before last I reviewed the book An Atheist and a Christian Walk into a Bar, coauthored by theist Randal Rauser and atheist Justin Schieber. Once again I must reiterate that it is really quite an important book, in terms of its unique approach to dialoguing such matters. I do highly recommend giving it a read.

In the book, both Rauser and Schieber give several arguments each for their respective positions, which they then proceed to discuss together. Both focus on evidential arguments that are fairly representative of typical contemporary philosophy of religion. In this post, I want to discuss one part of their discussion that I found problematic. Continue reading

Aquinas’s Argument from Degrees of Perfection Part 4: Conclusion

This is the fourth and final post in our series examining Aquinas’s Fourth Way, or the Argument from Degrees of Perfection for the existence of God. In the previous part, we looked at a common Platonic misinterpretation of the argument; then we delved into the argument itself. Here we shall more fully explain what was presented before, as well as conclude the argument and answer a few lingering questions.

To begin, I think it will be useful to examine certain objections that might arise, since doing so will prepare us to grasp a fuller understanding of the argument itself. Surprisingly, despite its relative obscurity and philosophical technicality, the argument is treated in Richard Dawkins’s infamous The God Delusion. By “treated”, I mean that it receives one entire paragraph. First Dawkins presents his “interpretation” of the argument:

“The Argument from Degree. We notice that things in the world differ. There are degrees of, say, goodness or perfection. But we judge these degrees only by comparison with a maximum. Humans can be both good and bad, so the maximum goodness cannot rest in us. Therefore there must be some other maximum to set the standard for perfection, and we call that maximum God” [1].

In all honesty, I’m not really sure from where Dawkins contrived this bastardization of the Fourth Way, but it certainly wasn’t from St. Thomas himself, or any serious commenter/defender that I’m aware of. What’s much worse, however, is his attempt to “answer” the admittedly horrendous caricature Continue reading

Aquinas’s Argument from Degrees of Perfection Part 3: Hierarchy of Being

In the first post in this series on Aquinas’s Fourth Way, we compared his Argument from Degrees of Perfection to modern moral arguments, showing that the latter are based on the assumption of a “fact/value” distinction in nature, which is completely antithetical to Aquinas’s own view. In the second, we explored the classical understanding of “the good” as being based objectively in the very structure of reality itself; and then introduced the doctrine of “the Transcendentals”, which argues that there are certain transcending properties of all existing things that are over and above all categories, classes, aspects, and individuals. These are being, goodness, truth, and unity. In this post, we will present the argument itself. Continue reading

Aquinas’s Argument from Degrees of Perfection Part 2: Goodness and Being

In the first post in this series on Aquinas’s Fourth Way, we discussed modern “moral” arguments for the existence of God, considered how such arguments are based on the modern “fact/value distinction”, and how this modern assumption is completely antithetical to the classical view of “the good” as an entirely objective feature of reality. In this post, we will examine the classical view of the good.

As we saw, Hume famously posited that one cannot derive an “ought” from an “is”; in other words, we cannot say something about what ought to be the case based purely on what is actually the case. “Oughtness” thus comes to have a certain level of subjective sentiment involved. How far removed this is from Plato’s theory of knowledge, in which the highest, purest, most real knowledge is the knowledge of the Good itself, while knowledge of other things is more obscure and not as definite: Continue reading

Aquinas’s Argument from Degrees of Perfection for the Existence of God: Introduction

Over the course of the last eight months I’ve written around fourteen articles on the first three of Aquinas’s famous “Five Ways” or arguments for the existence of God. Those first three, collectively, are all categorized as Thomistic cosmological arguments, because of their similarities in structure, method, and end point. All three argue from some feature of the world to the existence of a Being of Pure Act, or Subsistent Being Itself, based on the impossibility of infinite regress in essentially ordered causal series. Their individual distinctiveness comes from their starting points: the First Way starts from motion, the Second starts from efficient causation in general, and the Third from generation and corruption of beings.

The Fourth and Fifth Ways, however, are markedly different from the first three, and are not considered cosmological arguments. The Fifth Way, as we shall see when we turn to it, is often classified as a type of “Teleological” argument (although it differs greatly from most modern formations of such), thus leaving the Fourth Way as the “odd man out”, a unique species of argumentation in its own right. Continue reading