I recently had a rather humorous experience on Twitter. An atheist gave an open challenge to prove the existence of God from the existence of belly-button lint—so I did. I essentially articulated St. Thomas’ First Way, since belly-button lint (like all material things) is a mixture of potentiality and actuality, and is thus as good as anything else to take as a starting point. The proof itself required 9 steps to demonstrate the existence of what I called an unactualized actualizer (i.e. an unmoved mover) but because I like to tie things up neatly, I ended with two more steps:
10. But an unactualized actualizer, a being which itself is pure actuality without potentiality, is what we call God.
11. Therefore, God exists.
The part I found amusing was that most of the atheists objected only to steps 10 and 11, which really weren’t part of the demonstration at all. In other words, they had accepted the validity of the demonstration of the existence of an unactualized actualizer, and therefore of theism—but absolutely balked at using the term “God.”
In adding steps 10 and 11, I was merely following St. Thomas, who in the Quinque viæ, tends to end with a phrase equating what he has proven to exist with God, i.e.
- et hoc omnes intelligunt Deum, “and this everyone understands to be God”
- quam omnes Deum nominant, “this everyone gives the name God”
- quod omnes dicunt Deum, “this everyone calls God”
- et hoc dicimus Deum, “and this we call God”
- et hoc dicimus Deum, “and this we call God”
Neither in my demonstration nor in St. Thomas’ is this concluding phrase intended as part of the argument.
I bring this up because yet another of many atheistical absurdities that I frequently encounter is the claim that, at the end of a highly technical metaphysical proof of something like the Unmoved Mover (First Way) or the Necessary Being (Third Way), that theists generally or Christians specifically simply stick the name “God” onto the thing they have proven to exist, and assume without any further ado their preferred, theologically rich understanding of God.
Now it would of course be stupid and absurd to prove the existence of the Unmoved Mover (which Aristotle did centuries before St. Thomas) and then simply assume that the Unmoved Mover has all the characteristics of the Christian God. And since it would be stupid and absurd, St. Thomas does not do this.
Since I’m sick and tired of atheists making this preposterous claim, I’m going to catalogue how St. Thomas gets from the Unmoved Mover or the First Cause to the God of Christianity.
So let’s break it down. St. Thomas’ Summa Theologiae has three main parts, a supplement, and two appendices. Most of the direct questions of God are dealt with in part one, which is comprised of 119 Questions which Thomas takes up, each of which is broken up into 3-12 Articles. The existence of God is proven in Question 2, which contains the Quinque viæ or Five Ways. Here, indeed, all that is proven is the bare existence of a something X which is pure actuality. How does Thomas get from there to the Christian God?
Question 3 demonstrates the divine simplicity.
Question 4 demonstrates the perfection of God.
Question 6 demonstrates the goodness or omnibenevolence of God.
Question 7 demonstrates the infinity of God.
Question 8 demonstrates the omni-presence of God in things.
Question 9 demonstrates the immutability of God.
Question 10 demonstrates the eternity of God.
Question 11 demonstrates the unity of God.
Question 14 demonstrates the omniscience of God.
Question 18 demonstrates the life of God.
Question 19 demonstrates the will of God.
Question 20 demonstrates the love of God.
Question 21 demonstrates the justice and mercy of God.
Question 22 demonstrates the providence of God.
Question 25 demonstrates the power of God.
Questions 27-30 demonstrate the persons of God (the Trinity).
I’m going to stop here, because Thomas grows ever more specific, discussing each of the divine persons in great detail. Remember, we got to Question 30, and there are 119 in the First Part alone, so we still have 89 to go. And then there are 303 Questions in the Second Part, 90 in the Third Part, 99 in the Supplement, and a few more in the two Appendices. And remember that each Question contains multiple Articles which are the specific demonstrations.
In brief: If an atheist claims that theists, or Christians specifically, or St. Thomas more specifically, simply give a metaphysical proof of something abstract like the Unmoved Mover or First Cause and then simply pretend or assume that this entity has all the characteristics of the Christian God without any need to show this, said atheist simply has no idea what he is talking about. Just because he stopped reading a book that is several thousand pages long at page fifteen, doesn’t mean that Thomas didn’t actually write those thousands more pages of demonstration and argumentation.
Tell said atheist that he needs to do his homework and read at the very least several hundred pages more after the demonstrations of the bare existence of God if he wants to understand why it is rationally necessary that the Unmoved Mover or First Cause is, e.g. alive, or loving, or personal, etc.
I really wish so many atheists weren’t so stupid as to think Christians are so stupid as they seem to think we are.