Cosmological Argument, Sufficient Reason, & Causality

by Glenn Smith

Thomas Aquinas, in his massive work Summa Theologica, included five logical explanations for the existence of God. If people know anything about Aquinas, they know the five ways. Unfortunately, Aquinas is often misunderstood. A key, but often misunderstood concept is this: Aquinas’ work was not meant to be an apologetic to convince nonbelievers, but was instead a theological explanation for seminary students. As proof, in the very first question of the Summa, before he deals with any other subject, Aquinas addresses the question of whether we can arrive at Christian truth through human reasoning. His answer is a resounding no. Thomas states clearly that attempts to reach God through human wisdom will end in error, and we therefore must rely on revelation from God for Christian truth. Aquinas’ heavy use of logic is often misunderstood as trying to get nonbelievers to reach divine conclusions through human origin, rather than what he is actually doing, which is explaining to seminary students what has already been revealed to us by God.

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Further, in Aquinas’ small work Rationibus Fidei: Reasons for the Faith Against Muslim Objections, under the section titled “How to Argue With Unbelievers” he states “First of all I wish to warn you that in disputations with unbelievers about articles of the Faith, you should not try to prove the Faith by necessary reasons. This would belittle the sublimity of the Faith, whose truth exceeds not only human minds but also those of angels; we believe in them only because they are revealed by God.”

Be that as it may, Aquinas’ Five Ways do still hold up logically, as long as they are properly understood. Richard Howe maintains that at least half of introductory philosophy texts misunderstand Aquinas, mainly due to thinking that Aquinas’ use of causality is sequential, when in fact it is simultaneous…

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