Taking on the Quinque Viae

aquinas
Quinque Viae: Primitive Arguments Made by Primitive Man

Yeah, I know.  Say what?  But this is really where a lot of apologist arguments either started from or are most concisely described and a Catholic debate partner demanded that I handle these arguments because they absolutely prove God is real.

Well… not so much.

The Quinque Viae, or the “Five Ways” are supposed to be five proofs of the existence of God, put together by 13th century apologist Saint Thomas Aquinas, summarized in his book, Summa Theologica.

Of the five, I’ve already gone into detail on one argument, the Argument from the First Cause, and two others are basically modified restatements of the same sort of argument, the Unmoved Mover and the Argument from Contingency.

I will briefly examine those first two, only because they go to some strange places, and the last two, The Argument from Degree and the Teleological Argument because they deserve some deeper examination.

The argument of the unmoved mover, or ex motu, tries to explain that God must be the cause of motion in the universe. It is therefore a form of the cosmological argument. It employs Aristotle’s dichotomy of potentiality and actuality. It goes thus:

  • Some things are in motion.
  • A thing cannot, in the same respect and in the same way, move itself: it requires a mover.
  • An infinite regress of movers is impossible.
  • Therefore, there is an unmoved mover from whom all motion proceeds.
  • This mover is what we call God.

This argument suffers from the same inherent problem that the other cosmological arguments do, the fact that it makes an unjustifiable claim, that an infinite regress of movers is impossible.  We just don’t know what physical laws are present in the larger multiverse that almost certainly exists beyond the boundaries of our own universe.  As such, statement #3 above is completely unverifiable and thus, the argument, since it relies on that statement, fail.

Another face of the cosmological argument, argument from contingency (ex contingentia):

  • Many things in the universe may either exist or not exist. Such things are called contingent beings.
  • It is impossible for everything in the universe to be contingent, for then there would be a time when nothing existed, and so nothing would exist now, since there would be nothing to bring anything into existence, which is clearly false.
  • Therefore, there must be a necessary being whose existence is not contingent on any other being or beings.
  • This being is whom we call God.

There’s so much wrong here it’s hard to know where to start.  I recognize that the reason so many of these argument  have problems is because they were originally formulated before we had modern knowledge about the universe.  Back in the dark ages when Aquinas came up with it, they were pretty bloody ignorant of the way the world around them worked.  We know better today.  Unfortunately, you have theists who, even though they ought to know better, are so wrapped up in their fanatical religious beliefs, they’ve got no more sense than the 13th century apologists who came up with these now-wrong ideas.  Once we recognize the primitive thinking present, we can do away with the whole concept of non-contingent beings because there simply is no evidence for them.

For the Argument from Degree, Wikipedia summarizes it thus:

The argument from degree or gradation (ex gradu). It is heavily based upon the teachings of the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle. It goes thus :

  • Varying perfections of varying degrees may be found throughout the universe.
  • These degrees assume the existence of an ultimate standard of perfection.
  • Therefore, perfection must have a pinnacle.
  • This pinnacle is whom we call God.

In more modern terms, the argument can be summarized simplistically as “God is something for which no more perfect thing can be imagined”.  However, I can certainly imagine an infinitely better God than the one in the Bible.  Just give me an all-powerful entity that isn’t a fucking dick.  Anyone who can’t come up with a better deity than the one that appears in the Bible or the Qu’ran or any other book suffers from a lack of imagination.  But it’s really not hard to demolish this argument.  Just imagining something doesn’t make it real.  For example, I can claim that I can imagine the most perfect car conceivable.  It flies, it’s free and it runs on air, among other characteristics.  It is the most amazing automobile anyone has ever come up with.  So where is this wonderful car?  It doesn’t exist.  It’s, a fantasy, just like God is.  The ultimate perfection that anyone can imagine not only is not necessarily real, but it is virtually never real because the universe doesn’t operate perfectly.  In fact, I can’t think of many natural, existing phenomena that I couldn’t improve on in short order.  I could improve gravity, evolution and human physiology without breaking a sweat, all of them are real natural processes, yet none of them remotely approach any version of perfection I can imagine.  That said, even if  do come up with superior versions of all of these things, none of the superior versions I’ve invented actually exist.

So one more argument down.

For the Teleological argument, Wikipedia says:

The teleological argument or argument from “design” (ex fine), which claims that many things in the Universe possess final causes that must be directed by God:

  • All natural bodies in the world act towards ends.
  • These objects are in themselves unintelligent.
  • Acting towards an end is characteristic of intelligence.
  • Therefore, there exists an intelligent being that guides all natural bodies towards their ends.
  • This being is whom we call God.

That’s all well and good except it’s laughably wrong.  All natural bodies in the world do not act towards ends.  The moon is a natural body.  What end is it working toward?  I can pick up a rock.  What end is it working toward?  If I drop that rock at the shoreline and leave it there, the wind and the waves will eventually reduce it to sand.  Was that it’s goal, or is it something outside of it’s control that occurred to it?  See, you can tell this is a faulty argument the second you read the words “act towards ends”.  That implies a will and an intelligence to pursue that will.  Obviously, rocks don’t have that.  The moon doesn’t have that.  The asteroid that exploded over Russia didn’t have that.  Clearly, this is a fallacious argument when it starts off with a false claim, that things act towards ends, then acknowledges that falsehood by agreeing that non-intelligent objects are incapable of doing such.  Then it tries to desperately rationalize away the first falsehood it made, therefore God.

Seriously?  Are these people really that stupid?

The biggest problem and instant failure of all of these arguments is what I pointed out in my previous article, something I’ll call “the argument from assertion”.  Every single one of them simply asserts specific characteristics belong to God, yet they cannot show that God even exists, much less that he demonstrably has any of these characteristics.  I could just as easily assign any of these characteristics to the Flying Spaghetti Monster, it’s just as likely to be real as God is, and then claim the FSM is the prime mover of the universe.  Do we think apologists would be impressed?  Then why should we be impressed when they do it?

Yet this is the problem that virtually all apologetic arguments for the existence of God have.  They assert God can do this, God can do that, God is like this, God is like that, yet none of them can demonstrate that God even exists in the first place.  If you cannot even show that God is real, how can you arbitrarily assign characteristics to God and expect them to stick?  They wouldn’t accept if we assigned characteristics to the Flying Spaghetti Monster, they cannot have, no matter how much they might want it, special treatment for their own imaginary friend in the sky.

So no, the Quinque Viae fails, along with every other apologetic argument I’ve examined, and for most of the same reasons.  Can’t theists come up with anything better?

10 thoughts on “Taking on the Quinque Viae

  1. As we all know, apologetics starts with an assumption of god, then reverse engineers arguments to prove their conclusion. Nothing new here, but a great takedown of the Quinque Viae.

  2. "I can certainly imagine an infinitely better God than the one in the Bible. Just give me an all-powerful entity that isn’t a fucking dick."

    Brilliant!

    To the rest of your post, I can see the frustration in your writing that I feel whenever I look into apologetics. Early on in my own blogging, I had planned on really digging in to some apologetic arguments and see if I could provide some good counter arguments. I thought it would be fun and challenging, it turns out it is neither. The arguments are so bad the hardest part is knowing where to start. The arguments are so bad it's hard to believe anyone takes this stuff seriously. And yet they do…boggles the mind.

    My recent post What Does the New Testament Say About Binary Thinking?

    1. The thing is, it's not hard to come up with good counter arguments because most of these apologetics are so simplistic and stupid to begin with, tearing them apart is easy. The problem comes in when you realize that doing so is meaningless, that the people putting forth these arguments aren't going to listen to anything you have to say, no matter what you say.

      1. The fact that it is so easy to tear them apart is actually a big part of the problem. There's just nothing to them. I naively expected that there would be SOMETHING to them and tearing them apart would be difficult and stimulating, but it's just stupid. It seems that anyone who would buy into those terrible arguments is not interested in logic at all, they are just looking for an excuse to believe. Because of that, as you said, they won't listen to your rebuttal.

        My recent post What does the New Testament Say About Wealth?

        1. As I pointed out over on Reason Being, nobody with modern sensibilities would ever fall for any of these arguments, they're just absurd. You have to look at them from a 13th century perspective and a total ignorance of modern science, as well as a fanatical devotion to the religious underpinnings, to have any hope of them being taken seriously. The fact that they are so widely used proves that not only are there a lot of these crazy people about, but most people just throw them around without bothering to examine or think about them at all.

  3. This is one of the funniest parodies of internet atheism I've come across in a while. It's so well done I can almost imagine the writer with his very own "Are you rockin' with Dawkins‽‽‽" tee shirt that hasn't seen the inside of a washing machine since Jon Bon Jovi was still single.

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