Blahc Essay

1241 words - 5 pages

Belief in the existence of an omnipotent God is the fundamental foundation upon which monotheistic religions depend. Without this conviction, there would be no justification for religious thought; religious texts would be meaningless and actions rationalized by religious belief would be nonexistent, altering history and society in unimaginable ways. This God – while not associated with a specific religion here – is theoretically a perfect being, a benevolent mastermind upon whom the world depends, separate from the constraints of space and time. Due to the distant nature of God, a being who exists in a separate realm and with whom most and arguably all people will never share direct contact, there are many skeptics of this religious belief. As an answer to skepticism, many philosophers have devoted time to defending the existence of God through a variety of arguments; the work of two such philosophers will be examined here. The first argument for existence is that of St. Thomas Aquinas, whose thinking rests on empirical reasoning and a framework of premises, and the second is of William James, who argues that metaphysical experiences and innate perceptions are a more effective justification of religious conviction. While Aquinas' argument follows a logical procedure, it contains several crucial errors, and taking into account the impossibility of acquiring scientific evidence of God's existence, James' argument for metaphysical experience is the most convincing of the two.
Aquinas' cosmological argument is found in his best-known work, Summa Theologica, in which he proposed five arguments in order to prove God's existence. The contingency argument – the third of five – is the only one which will be examined here. In it, Aquinas argues that since all physical objects or beings have the potential to both exist and not exist, logically there must have been a time when there was nothing, for “if everything can not-be, then at one time there was nothing in existence.” (129) Because something cannot be born of nothing, there are only two options concerning the creation of the world. The first, which he deems impossible, is that there is an infinite regress of dependent beings; he contends that if this were the case, “it would have been impossible for anything to have begun to exist; and thus even now nothing would be in existence.” (129) Therefore, he concludes that there must be an independent being whose necessity is innate to itself and who has the power to cause necessity in other beings, and that this independent being must be God.
There are several problems contained within this argument. The first of these is known as the “quantifier shift fallacy”, which occurs when Aquinas jumps too hastily to conclusions while discussing the ability of natural objects to be and to not-be. While it is inarguable that these dependent beings can not-be, his conclusion that “if everything can not-be, then at one time there was nothing in...

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