The Instigator
lunartrashcan
Pro (for)
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The Contender
CaptainScarlet
Con (against)
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Is God Real?

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 5/27/2016 Category: Religion
Updated: 6 months ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 231 times Debate No: 91944
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (1)
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lunartrashcan

Pro

Nothing gets people talking like proving the existence of God, so yeah.
A philosopher claimed in the 11th century to have come up with a deductive proof of God's existence for what we know as the Ontological argument. Almost 200 years, atheist and philosopher Thomas Aquinas encounter this other philosopher's argument, but like many others, he just didn't buy it. Aquinas did believe in God, it was just as a philosopher, he felt it was important to have evidence for your beliefs. He knew if he was going to dismiss in this argument, he'd have to come up with something better. So he set out to construct five arguments that would prove God's existence once and for all. Yeah, five. Apparently, he was concerned 1 wasn't going to do it, so he made five. His first four arguments are know to be the Cosmological arguments to prove God's existence through the necessary facts about the universe. Maybe the most striking thing about the Cosmological arguments of Aquinas, at least to modernize, is that some of them are firmly based in the natural world. Even though he lived in a pretty unscientific time, Aquinas argued for the existence of God through his understanding of science, with the help of what he thought was physical evidence.
For example, the first of his Cosmological arguments is know as the Argument from Motion. In it, Aquinas observed that.
"We currently live in a world in which things are moving, Movement is caused by movers or things that cause motion. Everything that's moving must have been set into motion by something else the was moving. Something must have started the motion in the first place."
Otherwise, you'd be stuck in a philosophical quandary know as an infinite regress. You get an infinite regress when in a chain of reasoning, the evidence for each point along the chain relies on the existence of something that came before it. Which in turn, relies on something even further back, and so on, with no starting point. Basically, Aquinas thought the very idea of infinite regress was absurd, logically impossible. Because it implied that any given series of events began with nothing, or more accurately, never really began. Instead, it could have been going on forever. In the case of physical motion, Aquinas wanted to trace the cause of the movement he saw in the world all the way back to its beginning. And he figured, there must have been a beginning. Otherwise, for him, it would be like watching dominos fall and being told that nothing ever pushed the first one over. Instead, they had always been falling down forever, backward into eternity. There must have been a time where nothing was in motion, Aquinas thought, and there also must have been a static being that started the motion. And the being, according to Aquinas, was God, the unmoved mover. So, his argument for motion ran some like this,
"Objects are in motion. Everything in motion was put in motion by something else. There can't be an infinite regress of movers. So there must be a first mover, itself unmoved, and that is God.
Once someone objects to this, I will post the last three arguments.
CaptainScarlet

Con

Thank you to Pro for offering a debate on the classical approach to Christian apologetics. Aquinas was one of the foremost Catholic thinkers of his time, and created a tradition in the church of attempting to use greco-roman philosophy to prove the existence of god by logic. His legacy should be applauded, if for nothing else than moving Catholicism away from its most mystical elements and towards at least some limited Aristotelian approach. His famous 5 proofs are, of course, long since refuted, but that should not take away from his achievement.

In this debate I will take the poisition of Con. I will attempt to show that Aquinas' proofs of god are flawed and fail to achieve the purpose of proving god exists or is real. In keeping with Pros wishes I will address, perhaps his most famous, 'motions' argument first and will save discussion of his other proofs as and when Pro wishes to enter them into the debate.

The motions argument or prime mover is essentially: "The chain of causation for moving objects cannot regress infinitely because an infinite regression is impossible [since there would be no initial cause] therefore there must have been an initial first mover that required no cause for itself to begin motion."

Refutation

1. Assumes being at rest is the default state of everything

Aquinas' entire argument is based on the assumption that "rest" is the default state and starting point for all matter. However this is assumption is never explained nor validated by Aquinas. If matter is naturally in motion rather than starting at rest at some defined point, then his argument is inavlid. There is no logical necessity to believe or assume that rest is the default state of any fundamental aspect of nature. Infact there are reasons to believe the opposite is true. The uneveness and gradients (gravitational, temperature, electromagnetic etc) of the fabric of space, induces motion and that without motion, matter itself would not exist. Matter may well be just excitations of quantised fields in motion, thus motion is an intrinsic part of nature requiring no prime mover.

2. Compoisition fallacy

Aquinas relies on extrapolating facts about things which exist (existents), to the universe as a whole. We see a planet in orbit, it is moving, therefore the whole universe was set in motion at some to point. This extrapolation is a problem because he is arguing from part of a set to the whole set, and this cannot be justified logically. It is similar to saying every sheep has four legs, therefore the flock has four legs.

3. Special pleading

Aquinas assumes without reason that god is unmoved. Why is god exempt from needing to be in motion, to set motion on its way. The only answer we have is that Aquinas did not like it because it leads to an infinite regress. But not liking it, is not a reason to halt regress by fiat, and declaring god.

4. Mystery solving a mystery

To halt infinite regress Aquinas proposes an infinite being (god). He has therefore failed to solve the problem he sees. Instead of an infinite regress of causal motions, we now have an infinite regress of intentional mental states in gods mind. God has to transverse an infinite number of thoughts to arrive at the need to set the universe in motion, and this is no more possible than the problem Aquinas sees with his infinite regress of motions. It is a mystery solving a mystery.

5. Incoherency

The notion of a timeless creator god is incoherent. The god concept has serious definitional issues rendering both it and arguments relying on it meaningless. It means nothing to say god is outside time and stands relationally causal to the universe, as causality needs time in which to operate.

Thanks Pro for starting this debate, I look forward to the next round.
Debate Round No. 1
lunartrashcan

Pro

Now the second Cosmological argument of Aquinas was a lot like his first one. Here he proposed the argument from causation and it too sets out to avoid the problem of an infinite regress. But instead of it explaining the motions of objects, it set out to explain causes and effects in general, all over the universe. The argument went along these lines,
"Some things are caused. Anything that's caused has to be cause by something else (since nothing causes itself). There can't be an infinite regress of causes. So thee must have been a first causer, itself uncaused, and that is God. Just like with the argument with motion, the point here is pretty simple. Effects, have causes.
Argument number three is Argument from Contingency, let's step back and get a little history for this one.
In philosophy, we often like to distinguish between necessary beings and contingent beings. Contingent beings, simply as put, are beings that could not have existed. That includes you. Sure, you do exist, but you could not have. If you never were born, the world would go on. Yes, things would be different, we've all seen It's a Wonderful Life, but the world would go on. Instead, your existence is merely contingent on the existence of other things. In your case, you only exist because a certain sperm and a certain egg swapped some genetic information. You're basically a fluke, but what does that have to do with God? Well, again, Aquinas believed there had to be something that prevented an infinite regress of contingency. That would mean the contingency, on which everything existed, would keep going back in time. And,
"We can't have a world where everything is contingent, because then-by definition- it all could easily not have existed."
So he needed at least one necessary being, a being that has always existed, that always will exist, and that can't not exist in order to keep everything going. And the necessary being, is God. Aquinas spelled out the reasoning for his argument this way,
"There are contingent things. Contingent things can cause other contingent things, but there can'y only be contingent thing. Because that would mean that there's an infinite regress of contingency, and a possibility that nothing might have existed. An infinite regress regress is impossible. So there must be at least one necessary thing, and that is God."
CaptainScarlet

Con

In Round 2 Pro has introduced the third of Aquinas' proofs. This is an argument from contingency, implying that everything in the universe (including beings) are contingent and that this causal chain must terminate in a necessary being at some point. Of course this argument suffers from similar objections to the first one. But we should take a more detailed look at the argument and ask first what is a true contingency?

1. Contingency

We often think of things as contingent in the sense that they could have been different. But there is huge issue as pointed out by William Rowe amongst others. If god has the attributes Christians ascribe to him: that he is all loving, all powerful, all knowing etc and his will must be done. Then humanity has to be created, there is no option for god. This is because god is said to want a relationship with humanity. In order forgod tohave a relationship and fulfil his will he has to create, knows in advance that he will do it and has the power to do it. No option for god is no option. Thus in what sense are humans contingent if ll this is true? A necessary being with god-like attributes creates other necessary things (in the sense that it could not do otherwise).

Secondly a true contingency is really only that created out of a field of potentiality, where the end result is uncertain. We find this at the fundamental level of nature, given the weirdness of the quantum world. But we do not find it in Aquinas' use of 'things that could be otherwise'. Aquinas' really wants everything a have a reason (Leibniz wanted everything to have a sufficient reason), but this is not the way the world works at a fundamental level, and just because Aquinas believes everything should have a reason it does not mean that it does.

Taking the 2 points together, there is sufficient reason to doubt we can even get the notion of Aquinas' view of Contingency off the ground with respect to a creator deity.

2. Special pleading

No reason is given by Aquinas as to why god is not contingent. The classic response of atheists has been 'who created the creator'. This is brushed aside by theists, who in turn claim that god is infinite and is uncreated, then label the atheist as unsophisticated. This is an unimpressive rebuttal, the christian and Aquinas have assumed god is infinite, made a definitional move by defining god as such and then declared check mate. No evidence is ever provided that anything attracting the title of 'a being', could be said to be infinite and necessary. Until that is forthcoming (traditionally Christians have invoked the bankruptcy of the ontological proof), atheists are justified in asking this question, as it appears to be just special pleading by the theist.
Debate Round No. 2
lunartrashcan

Pro

lunartrashcan forfeited this round.
CaptainScarlet

Con

Firstly thank you for initiating this debate it is an interesting subject. I am not sure what the purpose of the debate was for you, as you appeared to state just 2 of Aquinas' 5 proofs, without arguing for their veracity.

It is clear however that his proofs for the existence of a god are riddled with informal fallacies, assumptions that do not hold up and incoherency/definitional issues (common to all arguments pro the god-concept). We should not forget the contribution made by Aquinas to Western thinking, although his proofs have now been eclipsed.
Debate Round No. 3
1 comment has been posted on this debate.
Posted by missmedic 6 months ago
missmedic
The question of God's existence is a bit pointless until we establish what, exactly, we are talking about when we use the term "God." Although that makes some logical sense, the fact remains that people spend a lot more time discussing the existence of God than discussing the nature and attributes of God - why is that? People do have some idea already of what they mean by "God," thus rendering discussions about God's existence meaningful to them. Unfortunately, it's not necessarily "meaningful" in the same way to the others involved in the discussion.
In other words, the term "God" may not carry the same meaning to all of those engaged in a debate about the existence of God. One person may be asserting the existence of one god while another person may be denying the existence of another god entirely; thus, they are just talking past each other rather than communicating meaningfully. This is an example of a common problem: getting involved in a complicated discussion without defining and explaining the most critical concepts. Debating the existence of God is pointless unless people take the time to set some "ground rules," including what they mean by "God."
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