The Five Ways as manifesting nature

Since all of St. Thomas’s proofs for God’s existence speak of a finite causal sequence leading to the divine, then why not just take any causal sequence back a few steps until one hits God? It should be simple enough to do this, right?

In fact, it is. It is never too hard to analyze an action back till we see it proceeding from some nature, the next step back hits the divine. The trick is to see why nature is simply a way of being open to divine activity. St. Thomas argues that nature is a source of action that moves others only by being itself moved; causes only by itself being caused; is from another, even when it’s necessary; is finite though it manifests the reality of what is not finite; is directed by another.

Once one sees what nature means in the five ways, the conclusion to the supernatural and divine is immediate.

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5 Comments

  1. Peter said,

    December 26, 2009 at 10:07 pm

    Do you think this, or something like it, allows us to say something about the first moved (in contrast to the first mover)?

  2. PatrickH said,

    December 27, 2009 at 6:58 am

    I just read last night an assessment of the First Way (by Joseph Magee at aquinasonline.com) that concludes that the First Way fails because motions are the result of forces intrinsic to objects (strong, weak, electromagnetic, gravity) and do not operate as an interlocking set of subordinated per se causes. Do you agree with this assessment?

  3. December 27, 2009 at 12:21 pm

    AHHHGG!

    I saw that a few weeks ago. With friends like these…

    The video is right to point out that St. Thomas believed that the path to the divine went through the causality of the stars, so far as the stars were the principles of generation. But to deny that the stars are the principles of generation does not change the conclusion of the proof. The proof requires only that the series of movers be finite, not that one of those causes in the finite series be the stars, even though St. Thomas though that the stars were in fact a cause in the series.

    One extremely irritating feature of those videos is that he did not recognize that the power to do something is act- it is first act that is in potency to operation. Given this, to say that motion does not require a pre-existent act is the same as to say that motion (even in its inception) does not require the power to move something. Good luck moving somethign without admitting the necessity of some force, energy, body, etc that does not have the power to move it.

  4. Ed L said,

    December 31, 2009 at 3:54 pm

    @PatrickH: Sean Collins wrote an article in the Aquinas Review which made the assertion that what modern science calls a “force” is an instrumental cause. Since every instrumental cause requires a prior efficient, it would follow that the existence of the forces implies the existence of a prior efficient cause.

  5. Brandon said,

    December 31, 2009 at 5:05 pm

    One of the things that aggravates me about Magee’s video is that it talks as if Aristotelians had never, ever talked about natural inclinations; such discussions are obviously relevant to the question of whether and in what way the general principles can be consistent with something like an intrinsic force.


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