Jerry Coyne, commenting on a post by Jim Manzi:
Faitheist philosophers are always telling us that we don’t grasp the subtleties of theological argument, but that won’t wash here: Manzi’s argument is identical to that made by Aquinas and refuted by Hume and his successors. It ain’t subtle (ht).
So Coyne is claiming that there can be no question of whether he is missing something subtle in a theistic argument, so long as the argument comes from St. Thomas. Maybe or maybe not, but it’s an easy enough claim to verify, since it only involves asking Coyne some basic textual questions about the 1100 word essay in which St. Thomas gives his five very well known arguments for the existence of God. Notice that this is not a question of whether Coyne is missing the subtleties of St. Thomas’s arguments- we are simply asking that he understand the words on the page. This is not a matter of agreeing with what St. Thomas said, but of understanding what he actually argues- which involves being able to give acceptable answers to these questions, among others:
1.) The first way is an analysis of motion in terms of potency and act. Give a basic account of “potency” and “act”, and explain what St. Thomas is doing when he gives an account of motion that makes it neither simply an act nor simply a potency.
2.) Explain what “infinite” means in the context of the first and second way.
3.) Explain what St. Thomas means when he says “to take away the first cause, is to take away intermediate causes”. How does this relate to St. Thomas starting his proof by not arguing from efficient causes as such, but from the order of efficient causes? [N.B. The first thing given in the proof is “In the world of sense we find there is an order of efficient causes”.]
4.) In the third way, St. Thomas distinguishes contingent existence, necessary existence, and God. Explain.
5.) In the third way, St. Thomas cites an argument in the second way. What is the argument?
6.) In the fourth way, St. Thomas speaks about “good, true, dignity” and “other such things”. What sort of things is he speaking about? St. Thomas further cites an argument in the second book of Aristotle’s Metaphysics. Give a brief summary of the argument.
Next, a few things widely agreed to be necessary to St. Thomas’s arguments:
1.) St. Thomas denies the infinite regress of per se causes, not the infinite regress of per accidens causes. Explain the difference between the per se and the per accidens. How does this apply to movers and mobiles? Specifically, explain what it means to say that the first mover is not in motion either per se or per accidens.
2.) St. Thomas recognizes different genera of causality. Which genus (or genera) is (or are) spoken of in the fourth way?
3.) Give a sense of “infinity” that is not being used in the proofs.