bookmark_borderI Don’t Care – Part 3

According to the Christian philosopher Peter Kreeft, and many others, Aquinas gives five different arguments for the existence of God.  In the Handbook of Christian Apologetics (IVP, 1994; hereafter: HCA) by Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli, there is a chapter that lays out twenty different arguments for the existence of God, and the first five arguments are versions of Aquinas’ Five Ways:
A word about the organization of the arguments.  We have organized them into two basic groups: those which take their data from without–cosmological arguments–and those that take it from within–psychological arguments.  The group of cosmological arguments begins with our versions of Aquinas’ famous “five ways.” (HCA, p.49)
Kreeft is Catholic, so it is not surprising that he puts these arguments by Aquinas at the front of his list of arguments.  On pages 50 through 58 of HCA, Kreeft and Tacelli lay out five different arguments for the existence God that they take to be versions of five different arguments for the existence of God presented by Aquinas in Summa Theologica (Part I, Question 2, Article 3: Whether God Exists?).
I believe, however, that Kreeft and Tacelli are WRONG on this point, and that Aquinas has only ONE argument for the existence of God, or possibly TWO arguments.  I will need to study the details of Aquinas’ case for God a bit further in order to make a final determination on whether he has ONE argument or TWO arguments for God.  (Note: This alternative way of understanding the Five Ways passage is presented by Knut Tranoy in A Critical History of Western Philosophy; see pages 110-112).
Kreeft and Tacelli, I suspect, were deceived by the misleading title of the famous Five Ways passage in Summa Theologica:  “Whether God Exists?”.   Since Aquinas gives five different arguments in that passage, this makes it seem as though he was giving five different arguments for the existence of God.  But this is a gross distortion and a serious misunderstanding of the Five Ways passage.  There are exactly ZERO arguments for the existence of God in the Five Ways passage.
The problem is that Aquinas does not define what he means by “God”, and that what he apparently means by “God” is NOT what the word “God” means in the English language, especially in relation to the Christian religion and Christian theology.  So, in the Five Ways passage, Aquinas does NOT argue for the existence of “God” in the ordinary sense of the word, as used by Christian believers and Christian philosophers and apologists.
The word “God” is a proper noun, the name of a single being.  The meaning of this name is based on a definite description, a list of properties or characteristics that (allegedly) belong to one, and only one, person.  A bare-bones definite description of this person would include the following properties (at least in relation to the use of the word “God” by Christian believers, and especially Christian philosophers and apologists):

  • the creator of the universe
  • an eternally bodiless person
  • an eternally omnipotent person
  • an eternally omniscient person
  • an eternally perfectly morally good person

Although the ordinary use of the word “God” probably does not entail the possession of each and every one of these properties by the being in question (because the ordinary use of famous names typically is criterial  and thus allows some wiggle room, allowing the name to be properly applied so long as the being in question possesses MOST of the properties in the definite description and no other being possesses MOST of the properties), it is clearer, logically cleaner, and more theologically conservative to treat the list of properties in this definite description as necessary conditions for the proper application of the name “God” to a particular being, and to take them jointly as a sufficient condition for the proper application of the name “God” to a particular being.
What Aquinas actually argues for in the Five Ways is the following five metaphysical claims:
(MC1) There exists an AP being.  
(“an AP being” = a being that is actus purus, i.e. pure act)
(MC2) There exists an FEC being.  
(“an FEC being” =  a being that is a first efficient cause)
(MC3) There exists an IES being.
(“an IES being” = a being that is ipsum esse subsistens, i.e. its own self-subisting existence)
(MC4) There exists a COP being.
(“a COP being” = a being that is the cause of all perfections)
(MC5)  There exists an IDN being.
(“a IDN being” = a being that is the intelligent designer of nature)
Aquinas goes on in OTHER passages of Summa Theologica to use (MC3) as the basis for an argument for the existence of God (in the ordinary sense of the word that I have outlined above), and one could argue that he has a second argument for the existence of God that is based on (MC1).  Each argument can be summarized as a modus ponens that contains a metaphysical claim as the first premise and a conditional claim that links the metaphysical claim to the existence of God:
THE IES ARGUMENT
(MC3) There exists an IES being.
(CC1) IF there exists an IES being, THEN God exists.
Therefore:
(G) God exists.
 
THE AP ARGUMENT
 (MC1) There exists an AP being.
(CC2) IF there exists an AP being, THEN God exists.
Therefore:
(G) God exists.
It might be the case that Aquinas intended for the two key metaphysical claims to function together in a single argument for God (or possibly although this was not his intention, this might be an improved way to make use of Aquinas’ reasoning about God to formulate an argument for the existence of God):
THE COMBINED IES & AP ARGUMENT
(MC6)  There exists a being that is both an IES being and an AP being.
(CC3) IF there exists a being that is both an IES being and an AP being, THEN God exists.
Therefore:
(G) God exists.
Whether Aquinas gives ONE argument or TWO arguments for the existence of God, it is clear that the Five Ways passage contains arguments for only five metaphysical claims, and contains ZERO arguments for the conditional claims in the above modus ponens arguments for the existence of God.  Crudely speaking, the Five Ways passage is concerned with only HALF of Aquinas’ argument for the existence of God: the metaphysical claim but not the conditional claim.
But, more accurately, MOST of Aquinas’ reasoning about the existence of God is found in later sections of Summa Theologica that contain a lengthy and complex chain of reasoning consisting of four or five phases (see  post 2 of the I Don’t Care series for a chart that lays out the phases) in order to support the conditional claim(s) in the above argument(s).  So MOST of Aquinas’ argument for the existence of God is found OUTSIDE of the Five Ways passage.
Each of the conditional claims in the above modus ponens arguments is a summary of a lengthy and complex line of reasoning by Aquinas and can be broken down further into a series of conditional claims of the following form:
(P1) If there exists a being with property W, then there exists a being with properties W & X.
(P2) If there exists a being with properties W & X, then there exists a being with properties W & X & Y.
(P3) If there exists a being with properties W & X & Y, then there exists a being with properties W & X & Y & Z.
Therefore:
(P4) If there exists a being with property W, then there exists a being with properties W & X & Y & Z.
(P5) If there exists a being with properties W & X & Y & Z, then God exists.
Therefore:
(CC) If there exists a being with property W, then God exists.
Aquinas provides reasoning in support each of the conditional claims in this more complex argument, but he does so OUTSIDE of the Five Ways passage.  Thus, MOST of the reasoning that Aquinas provides in support of the existence of God is OUTSIDE of the Five Ways passage.
This means that Kreeft and Tacelli (and many others as well) have completely misunderstood Aquinas’ argument(s) for the existence of God and have only touched upon a small portion of the actual reasoning that Aquinas puts forward for the existence of God in Summa Theologica.
Given this point of view, let me re-state and clarify the meaning of the title of this series of posts:
I DON’T CARE about the first five arguments in Chapter 3 of HCA by Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli, because those arguments are gross distortions and serious misunderstandings of the actual argument(s) for the existence of God given by Aquinas in Summa Theologica.
HOWEVER, I am very much interested in the actual argument(s) that Aquinas gives for the existence of God in Summa Theologica, and I plan to study his reasoning on this issue more closely and then present it in greater detail in future installments of this series.

bookmark_borderHow Many Ways to Analyze the Word ‘God’ – Part 7

My last post on this subject (How Many Ways to Analyze the Word ‘God’ – Part 6) was from way back in February of 2011.
In that post I claimed that one can generate over 233 million definitions of ‘divine person’ from a set of just four attributes:
1. power
2. knowledge
3. freedom
4. goodness 
Since the word ‘God’ can be analyzed in relation to the phrase ‘divine person’, this means that one can generate over 233 million definitions of ‘God’.
Recently in looking over my previous analysis of how many definitions one can generate from a set of just four divine attributes, I noticed that my possible specifications concerning the degrees of strength of these attributes, were missing one possible specification, and that my possible specifications concerning degrees of  duration were also missing a few possible specifications. By recognizing these additional possible specifications of degrees of strength and duration, one can actually generate over 2 billion defintions of ‘divine person’ from just four attributes.

The word ‘God’ is a proper name, and, as Richard Swinburne suggests, the meaning of this name should be analyzed in terms of a definite description, a description which can be used to pick out a single individual person who is ‘God’, if theism is true. 
The definite description to be used for this purpose can in turn be based upon a definition of the phrase ‘divine person’. In Swinburne’s view, the definite description and the associated definition of ‘divine person’ are criterial in nature. That is to say, it is not required that each and every condition be satisfied in order for a being to count as a ‘divine person’ or as the divine person; the requirement, in terms of the ordinary use of the word ‘God’ is that “many” of the specified conditions be satisfied, and that no other being satisfy as many or more of the conditions as the candidate for being ‘God’.
Swinburne goes on to propose a tightening or narrowing of the meaning of the word ‘God’ for purposes of philosophical investigation. His narrowing of the meaning of the word ‘God’ amounts to taking the conditions that define the phrase ‘divine person’ as being necessary conditions, as opposed to being criteria. In other words, each and every one of the conditions in the definition of ‘divine person’ must be satisfied in order for something to count as a ‘divine person’ and to be picked out as the individual who is ‘God’.
One of the necessary conditions specified by Swinburne is that the being be ‘eternally omnipotent’. It is important to notice that this necessary condition, although put in terms of two words, actually represents three different components. The word ‘eternally’ specifies a duration of time through which the omnipotence must be possessed by the being in question. In Swinburne’s view, one can be queen for a day, but not God for a day. In order to be a ‘divine person’ one must be omnipotent not just for a day or a year or a decade, but one must have always been omnipotent and must always continue to be omnipotent. If there was ever a period of time when a person was not omnipotent (or will not be omnipotent), then that person is not a ‘divine person’, and thus is not ‘God’, according to Swinburne.
The concept of being ‘omnipotent’ actually contains two different types of specification: a general attribute (in this case: power – represented by the root word ‘potent’), and a degree of strength of that attribute (in this case: unlimited – represented by the prefix ‘omni-‘). So, the necessary condition of being ‘eternally omnipotent’ means possessing (1) an unlimited degree of strength of (2) the attribute of power for (3) an unlimited degree of duration.

There are three degrees of strength for the four attributes:
1. human
2. superhuman
3. unlimited
These three degrees of strength can be combined into seven different specifications of degrees of strength:
1. human
2. superhuman
3. unlimited
4. human or superhuman
5. human or unlimited
6. superhuman or unlimited
7. human or superhuman or unlimited
Swinburne’s view, for example, is that it is a necessary condition that a being possess an unlimited degree of power in order to be considered a ‘divine person’. More specifically, it is a necessary condition that a being possess an unlimited degree of power eternally in order to be considered a ‘divine person’. Possessing unlimited power for a day or a year does not satisfy this requirement. So, we need to take into consideration the additional specification of the duration that the attribute (of a specified strength) is possessed by the being in question.
In the context of attempts to define the concept of a ‘divine person’ we must include the possibility of infinite durations of time, not just finite durations. In addition to finite durations there are three different types of infinite duration, for a total of four degrees of duration:
1. finite
2. infinite past 
3. infinite future 
4. eternal 
Considering various possible combinations of degrees of duration, we can generate fifteen different specifications of degrees of duration:
1. finite
2. infinite past
3. infinite future
4. eternal
5. finite or infinite past
6. finite or infinite future
7. finite or eternal
8. infinite past or infinite future
9. infinite past or eternal
10. inifinite future or eternal
11. finite or infinite past or infinite future
12. finite or infinite past or eternal
13. finite or infinite future or eternal
14. infinite past or infinite future or eternal
15. finite or infinite past or infinite future or eternal
So, the basic components of a condition in a definition of ‘divine person’ are  (a) an attribute (4 possibilities), (b) a specification of degrees of strength (7 possibilities), and (c) a specification of degrees of duration (15 possibilities).
If we assume that power, knowledge, freedom, and goodness are relevant attributes for defining ‘divine person’ and that these are the only relevant attributes (a simplifying assumption), then definitions of ‘divine person’ will include four conditions containing a specification relating to each of the four attributes. For each attribute there are seven different specifications of degrees of strength and  fifteen different specifications of degrees of duration, which means there are 105 different possible specifications of strength and duration for each attribute (7 x 15 = 105).
So, if we focus in on just definitions composed of four necessary conditions (one condition for each of the four attributes), there will be 105 x 105 x 105 x 105 different such definitions that can be generated. That means, from just four divine attributes, we can generate 121,550,625 definitions composed of four necessary conditions.
If we start looking at criterial definitions and definitions involving a mixture of criteria and necessary conditions, then the numbers expand significantly:
A. Definitions composed of 4 necessary conditions: 121,550,625 (= 105 x 105 x 105 x 105).
B. Definitions composed of 4 criteria: 364,651,875  (= 3 x 121,550,625)
(3 conditions out of 4 satisfied, or 2 conditions out of 4 satisfied, or 1 condition out of 4 satisfied)
C. Definitions composed of 3 criteria and 1 necessary condition: 972,405,000 (= 8 x 121,550,625).
(4 basic definitions, because 4 options for selection of the necessary condition, and 2 variations of each basic definition, because can either require 2 of 3 criteria to be satisfied or 1 of 3 criteria to be satisfied.  So, a total of 8 definitions can be generated from each of the 121,550,625 combinations of specifications)
D. Definitions composed of 2 criteria and 2 necessary conditions: 729,303,750  (= 6 x 121,550,625)
(6 basic definitions – because 6 options for selection of 2 necessary conditions, and no variations on those basic definitions – because with just 2 criteria you can only require satisfaction of 1 out of the 2 criterial conditions).
E. Definitions composed of 1 criterion and 3 necessary conditions0 (You cannot have just one criterion in a definition; otherwise the “criterion” simply becomes a necessary condition, since you cannot require a lower number than one condition, because requiring 0 criteria to be satisfied would make that one criterion irrelevant, and requiring one criterion to be satisfied would mean that the one-and-only criterion would HAVE TO BE satisfied, in which case it would be a necessary condition, not a criterion.
Total: 2,187,911,250 definitions of ‘divine person’ can be generated from just four basic attributes (power, knowledge, freedom, and goodness), specified in relation to three degrees of strength (human, superhuman, unlimited) in relation to four degrees of duration (finite, infinite past, infinite future, eternal), in the case where all four attributes are treated as being relevant, and where we consider four different types of definitions (purely necessary conditions, purely criteria, three criteria plus one necessary condition, two criteria plus two necessary conditions).
Hundreds of millions more definitions can be created by using only a subset of the four attributes to construct definitions (e.g. creating definitions using only three of the four attributes).  Since the word ‘God’ can be analyzed or defined in relation to the phrase ‘divine person’, we can see that over two billion definitions of ‘God’ can be constructed from just four basic attributes.