Five Proofs

of the Existence of God

Philosopher Edward Feser has a new book out in which he puts forth five arguments for the existence of God. These are not the “Five Ways” of Aquinas so it might be refreshing to discuss one or all of these. At the very least this OP may introduce readers to arguments for the existence of God which they had previously been unaware of.

The five proofs are:

  • The Aristotelian Proof
  • The Neo-Platonic Proof
  • The Augustinian Proof
  • The Thomistic Proof
  • The Rationalist Proof

: The Aristotelian Proof

Chapter 1 defends what I call the Aristotelian proof of the existence of God. It begins with the fact that there is real change in the world, analyzes change as the actualization of potential, and argues that no potential could be actualized at all unless there is something which can actualize without itself being actualized—a “purely actual actualizer” or Unmoved Mover, as Aristotle characterized God. Aristotle developed an argument of this sort in book 8 of his Physics and book 12 of his Metaphysics. Later Aristotelians such as Maimonides and Aquinas developed their own versions—the first of Aquinas’ Five Ways being one statement of such an argument. These earlier writers expressed the argument in terms of archaic scientific notions such as the movement of the heavenly spheres, but as modern Aristotelians have shown, the essential kernel of the argument in no way depends on this outdated husk. Chapter 1 aims to present the core idea of the argument as it might be developed by an Aristotle, Maimonides, or Aquinas were they writing today.

: The Neo-Platonic Proof

Chapter 2 defends what I call the Neo-Platonic proof of God’s existence. It begins with the fact that the things of our experience are in various ways composite or made up of parts, and argues that the ultimate cause of such things can only be something which is absolutely simple or noncomposite, what Plotinus called “the One”. The core idea of such an argument can be found in Plotinus’ Enneads, and Aquinas gave expression to it as well. Indeed, the notion of divine simplicity is absolutely central to the classical theist conception of God, though strangely neglected by contemporary writers on natural theology, theists no less than atheists. Among the aims of this book is to help restore it to its proper place.

: The Augustinian Proof

Chapter 3 defends an Augustinian proof of God’s existence. It begins by arguing that universals (redness, humanness, triangularity, etc.), propositions, possibilities, and other abstract objects are in some sense real, but rejects Plato’s conception of such objects as existing in a “third realm” distinct from any mind and distinct from the world of particular things. The only possible ultimate ground of these objects, the argument concludes, is a divine intellect—the mind of God. This idea too has its roots in Neo-Platonic thought, was central to Saint Augustine’s understanding of God, and was defended by Leibniz as well. This book puts forward a more detailed and systematic statement of the argument than (as far as I know) has been attempted before.

: The Thomistic Proof

Chapter 4 defends the Thomistic proof of God’s existence. It begins by arguing that for any of the contingent things of our experience, there is a real distinction between its essence (what the thing is) and its existence (the fact that it is). It then argues that nothing in which there is such a real distinction could exist even for an instant unless caused to exist by something in which there is no such distinction, something the very essence of which just is existence, and which can therefore impart existence without having to receive it—an uncaused cause of the existence of things. Aquinas presented an argument of this sort in his little book On Being and Essence, and many Thomists have regarded it as the paradigmatically Thomistic argument for God’s existence.

: The Rationalist Proof

Chapter 5 defends a rationalist proof of the existence of God. The proof begins with a defense of the principle of sufficient reason (PSR), according to which everything is intelligible or has an explanation for why it exists and has the attributes it has. It then argues that there cannot be an explanation of the existence of any of the contingent things of our experience unless there is a necessary being, the existence of which is explained by its own nature. This sort of argument is famously associated with Leibniz, but the version of it I defend departs from Leibniz in several ways and interprets the key ideas in an Aristotelian-Thomistic way. (Hence, while it is definitely “rationalist” insofar as it is committed to a version of PSR and to the thesis that the world is intelligible through and through, it is not “rationalist” in other common senses of that term. For example, it is in no way committed to the doctrine of innate ideas or other aspects of the epistemology associated with continental rationalist philosophers like Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibniz. And its interpretation of PSR differs in key respects from theirs.)

For whatever reason I’m starting my reading with the rationalist proof. Because, you know, everyone here is always so rational. 🙂

332 thoughts on “Five Proofs

  1. The proofs look interesting. But I’m mostly interested to know why these function as proofs of God.

    Consider the Aristotelian argument. Suppose one grants Aristotle’s account of change as the realization of potential, or the transition from potency to actuality. Fine, consider it granted. It might follow that there couldn’t be any change unless there were something that is purely actual, with no potential. Why would that be God? Aristotle’s own argument here depends on his understanding of what thinking is. He assumes that thinking is pure activity or pure actuality, then argues that pure actuality must be pure thinking — indeed, it is nothing other than thought thinking itself. Is that the God of the Bible? I don’t see how.

    Likewise, the argument from contingency does show, correctly, that there must be a necessary being. Is that the God who is revealed Himself to Moses and to Muhammad? Is that the God who become flesh in the person of Jesus Christ? I don’t see how.

    There’s always this lacuna or gap between the God of the philosophers and the God of the Bible. Sure, if you want to stipulate that the being which is non-composite and non-contingent is God, you can use the word that way if you want to. But what does that have to do with the events described in Torah or the Gospels? As far as I can tell, nothing at all. One could perfectly well accept that there must be a non-contingent, non-composite being and still be a complete atheist.

  2. Wow! Thanks Mung. You always dig out stuff I have been looking for… 🙂

    I’m reading Time Loops and Space Twists: How God Created the Universe by Fred Alan Wolf

  3. Kantian Naturalist: But I’m mostly interested to know why these function as proofs of God.

    But from reading the full content of your post that doesn’t seem to be at all what you are asking. Your actual question seems to be why these function as proofs of the God if the bible. My answer to the latter question is that I don’t know that they do. But it also seems to me that if the God of any of these arguments does exist, that makes the existence of the God of the bible more believable in that the attributes of the God of these arguments are the attributes of the God of the bible, even if the bible provides additional detail not provided by these arguments.

    But if any God exists at all, then atheism is false. I cannot grok what it would mean to be “a complete atheist” if God actually does exist. 🙂

    Now if your question is why these function as proofs of the God of the Philosophers, I’d think that would be obvious. And if that is in fact your question I can tell you that it is addressed in the book.

    See also: The God of the Bible and the God of the Philosophers (Aquinas Lecture)

  4. In further answer to the question asked by KN, Feser writes

    Each of the first five chapters of the book is devoted to one of the proofs, and each of these chapters has the following structure. First, I present what I characterize as an informal statement of the argument, in two stages. In stage I, I argue for the existence of something fitting a certain key description, such as (for example) the description “an uncaused cause of the existence of things”. In stage 2, I argue that anything fitting the description in question must have certain key divine attributes, such as unity, eternity, immateriality, omnipotence, omniscience, and perfect goodness.

    And later:

    Having presented these five proofs of God’s existence, I move on in chapter 6 to examine God’s nature and the nature of his relationship to the world of which he is the cause. These issues will already have been addressed to a considerable extent in the preceding chapters, but chapter 6 examines them in greater depth and more systematically. It begins with exposition and defense of three key background principles: the principle of proportionate causality, according to which whatever is in an effect must in some sense preexist in its total cause; the principle agere sequitur esse, according to which the way a thing behaves or operates follows from what it is; and the Thomist account of the analogical use of language. It then deploys these principles, first, in deriving the various divine attributes and addressing philosophical questions and objections that have been raised vis-à-vis these attributes. The chapter shows, to start with, that it is one and the same God at which each of the five proofs arrives, and that there can in principle only be one God. Having thereby established God’s unity, the chapter goes on to show that to God we must also attribute simplicity, immutability, immateriality, incorporeality, eternity, necessity, omnipotence, omniscience, perfect goodness, will, love, and incomprehensibility.

    This would seem to be the God of the bible.

  5. Mung,

    Since you’ve moved on to a new book, does that mean you’ve given up on defending Purpose and Desire?

    So much for “another nail in the coffin”.

  6. Feser:

    Having thereby established God’s unity, the chapter goes on to show that to God we must also attribute simplicity, immutability, immateriality, incorporeality, eternity, necessity, omnipotence, omniscience, perfect goodness, will, love, and incomprehensibility.

    Mung:

    This would seem to be the God of the bible.

    Oh, really? From a recent thread:

    God’s bad PR in the Bible isn’t limited to moral atrocities. The Good Book also portrays him as incompetent and stupid.

    Consider the Flood story. The saga begins with God regretting his big screwup:

    6 The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled. 7 So the Lord said, “I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have made them.”

    Genesis 6:6-7, NIV

    After the Flood itself, in which this psychopathic deity slaughters almost everyone on earth (including innocent children and animals) to “fix” his screwup, he realizes that the Flood was itself a screwup, and vows never to do it again.

    So what happens? Noah’s family and their descendants repopulate the earth, and humanity is evil, just like before. What did the mass slaughter accomplish? Nothing.

    It’s just one fuckup after another with this God.

    To top it off, God knows he can’t trust himself to remember his own promise. He puts the rainbow in the sky not merely as a sign of his promise to humanity, but also as a mnemonic device to remind himself not to wipe out the planet the next time he gets pissed off:

    14 Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. 16 Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.”

    So we have a doofus God who screws up right and left, and needs to tie a rainbow around his finger so he won’t forget his promise and wipe out humanity again.

    Go ahead. Try to reconcile the God of the Bible with Feser’s list of attributes.

    It’s laughable.

  7. If keiths wishes to discuss any of the five proofs he is welcome to do so. Invited to do so, even. There are already other threads in existence for discussing his grievances.

  8. Mung,

    If keiths wishes to discuss any of the five proofs he is welcome to do so. Invited to do so, even. There are already other threads in existence for discussing his grievances.

    You made the claim, Mung:

    This would seem to be the God of the bible.

    I showed that your claim is laughable.

    If you don’t want your goofy claims to be refuted, then don’t make them.

  9. Mung: If keiths wishes to discuss any of the five proofs he is welcome to do so. Invited to do so, even. There are already other threads in existence for discussing his grievances.

    This is typical with materialists: God didn’t forgive Adam and Eve but he could have (according to materialists), so He doesn’t exist.

    God/ID designed parasites, that is bad design, so the God/ID doesn’t exist…
    It’s a waste of time trying to argue this kind of fallacy…

  10. This is typical with materialists: God didn’t forgive Adam and Eve but he could have (according to materialists), so He doesn’t exist.

    God/ID designed parasites, that is bad design, so the God/ID doesn’t exist…
    It’s a waste of time trying to argue this kind of fallacy…

    I don’t make either of those arguments, J-Mac.

  11. Just out of sheer curiosity, I wonder if there are any religious schools of thought who have god(s) due to the acceptance of such logical proofs. Maybe it’s hollow skepticism on my part, but it always seems that these proofs are invariably constructed by those who already believe in the god(s) they have derived. Which is kind of like proofs that there’s no global warming ALWAYS being produced by fossil fuel industry wonks. There’s this slight smell of self-serving here.

  12. keiths: I showed that your claim is laughable.

    ok. laugh away then. 🙂

    Meanwhile, we are left with a God with the following attributes:

    Unity, simplicity, immutability, immateriality, incorporeality, eternity, necessity, omnipotence, omniscience, perfect goodness, will, love, and incomprehensibility.

    Even if this God is not “the God of the Bible,” if this God exists, then atheism is still false.

    But this thread is not about whether or not atheism is false. It’s about the arguments outlined in the OP. keiths is invited to address all of them, any of them, or none of them.

    There’s nothing in the OP about whether or not atheism is true or false.

  13. Flint: Maybe it’s hollow skepticism on my part, but it always seems that these proofs are invariably constructed by those who already believe in the god(s) they have derived.

    Do you have any thoughts about how this might apply to Aristotle and the neo-Platonists?

  14. Mung,

    Do you agree that the God whose existence Feser is attempting to prove is not the God of the Bible?

    If not, then how do you reconcile the goofy God of the Flud story with Feser’s list of attributes?

  15. I would truly like to see someone actually state and then defend any of these five proofs, rather than merely mentioning their existence and alluding to the argument. I would be interested even if the conclusion is not the Christian god but some other thing, though in that case I would like to know what the conclusion is.

  16. John,

    I would truly like to see someone actually state and then defend any of these five proofs, rather than merely mentioning their existence and alluding to the argument.

    Mung has a habit of posting OPs for books that he hasn’t read yet but is excited about. I wish he had the discipline to read the books first, then post.

  17. keiths: Do you agree that the God whose existence Feser is attempting to prove is not the God of the Bible?

    It’s irrelevant to the OP. Feel free to start your own thread to discuss the differences between “the God of the Philosophers” and “the God of the Bible.”

    If any God exists, atheism is false.

    If not, then how do you reconcile the goofy God of the Flud story with Feser’s list of attributes?

    How do I reconcile a God that can cause a worldwide flood that kills off a world full of evil people and saves only a few that are good with an omnipotent God that is perfect goodness? You must be joking.

    Please focus on the OP.

  18. John Harshman: I would truly like to see someone actually state and then defend any of these five proofs, rather than merely mentioning their existence and alluding to the argument.

    And just what do you think that the book referenced in the OP does? Edward Feser states and then defends these five proofs, rather than merely mentioning their existence and alluding to the argument.

    I love atheists. Such fertile ground. Next John will inform us that he has no desire to read the book and would refuse to read the book even if it meant being burned at the stake.

  19. keiths:

    Do you agree that the God whose existence Feser is attempting to prove is not the God of the Bible?

    Mung:

    It’s irrelevant to the OP.

    You made the claim, and I refuted it by way of the Flood story.

    If you can’t support your claim, then just acknowledge that. It’s your first failure of the thread (if we don’t count the fact that you haven’t read the book yet). I’m sure it won’t be the last.

  20. J-Mac,

    These are only examples…Yours are not much different…same line of thought…

    No, because I don’t conclude from those arguments that God doesn’t exist. I only conclude that God, if he does exist, is not the loving God that Christians and others imagine him to be.

  21. Flint:

    Maybe it’s hollow skepticism on my part, but it always seems that these proofs are invariably constructed by those who already believe in the god(s) they have derived.

    Mung:

    Do you have any thoughts about how this might apply to Aristotle and the neo-Platonists?

    Do you have any reason to suppose that Aristotle did not already believe in the God whose existence he later argued for?

  22. keiths: If you can’t support your claim, then just acknowledge that.

    For the moment, I choose to not attempt to defend my claim. I’m claiming the keiths exemption [I defend my claims unless I don’t want to].

    From this it of course does not follow that I cannot defend my claim. That would be keiths fail logic.

    I prefer to focus on the OP which presents five arguments for the existence of God. But how can that possibly be, given that every atheist here knows full well that there are no arguments for the existence of God?

    keiths: Do you have any reason to suppose that Aristotle did not already believe in the God whose existence he later argued for?

    Why are you trying to shift the burden of proof? Flint has to defend his claims or retract them. Or be expelled.

    ETA: You forgot the neo-Platonists.

  23. Mung,

    For the moment, I choose to not attempt to defend my claim.

    Because you can’t. The Flood story is part of the Bible, and the God of the Flood story is a bumbling, psychopathic killer with memory problems. Not exactly a God of “omnipotence, omniscience, [and] perfect goodness”, is he?

  24. Mung,

    You were trying to disprove Flint’s claim by providing a counterexample. Unless you can show that Aristotle and the neo-Platonists did not believe in God prior to encountering or developing their arguments, then they do not constitute a counterexample.

  25. keiths: Because you can’t. The Flood story is part of the Bible, and the God of the Flood story is a bumbling, psychopathic killer with memory problems. Not exactly a God of “omnipotence, omniscience, [and] perfect goodness”, is he?

    That doesn’t follow at all.

    For example, God cannot be omnipotent, because an omnipotent God could not cause a global flood. That’s your argument, and I’m sorry, but it’s just plainly absurd on it’s face.

    And God cannot be omniscient, because an omniscient God could not know which people were evil and which were righteous. Seriously, that’s your argument, and I’m sorry, but it’s just plainly absurd on it’s face.

    Think, keiths!

  26. Mung,

    For example, God cannot be omnipotent, because an omnipotent God could not cause a global flood. That’s your argument, and I’m sorry, but it’s just plainly absurd on it’s face.

    And God cannot be omniscient, because an omniscient God could not know which people were evil and which were righteous. Seriously, that’s your argument, and I’m sorry, but it’s just plainly absurd on it’s face.

    Neither of those is an argument of mine. Don’t try to state my arguments for me, Mung. You’re not bright enough.

  27. keiths: You were trying to disprove Flint’s claim by providing a counterexample.

    This is simply false. It’s not even rational. It makes no sense.

    Unless you can show that Aristotle and the neo-Platonists did not believe in God prior to encountering or developing their arguments, then they do not constitute a counterexample.

    False premise. And attempt to shift the burden of proof.

    You fail. Again. I thought all you atheists exercise impeccable logic.

  28. keiths: Neither of those is my argument. Don’t try to state my arguments for me, Mung. You’re not bright enough.

    Right. Sorry. I tend to forget how superior you are. Forgive me.

    So according to you, the flud establishes that God cannot possibly be omnipotent, even though he floods the whole earth?

  29. Mung,

    So according to you, the flud establishes that God cannot possibly be omnipotent, even though he floods the whole earth?

    Are you drinking? I just told you that I am not making that argument.

  30. keiths: Then what was your point in bringing up Aristotle and the neo-Platonists?

    You’re a bright boy. Far brighter than I. You can figure it out. I’ll even give you a hint.

    Flint’s comment was obviously meant to include Aristotle and the neo-Platonists. So I could hardly have been presenting them as a counter-example. That was just you, failing at simple reasoning skills.

  31. Mung,

    You crack me up. So you’re saying that Flint was right, and that you weren’t trying to come up with a counterexample?

  32. keiths: Are you drinking? I just told you that I am not making that argument.

    If you have not in fact falsified the claim that God is omnipotent, what is it that you think you have falsified?

    So according to you, the flud establishes that God cannot possibly be omniscient, even though he knows who all is wicked and who is not?

    ok, I get it. You haven’t falsified that claim either.

    So the God of the Bible may in fact be both omnipotent and omniscient, and nothing you have written falsifies either of those attributes of God.

    You really need to tell us which specific attributes of God you think you’ve falsified. You’ve already admitted in another thread that according to the bible God is love.

    Are you drinking?

  33. keiths: You crack me up.

    I crack me up too. 🙂

    So you’re saying that Flint was right, and that you weren’t trying to come up with a counterexample?

    I was not presenting Aristotle or the neo-Platonists as counter-examples. That would have been silly. Do you understand why?

    We don’t know if Flint was right. Do you really think that I have the burden of proof to show that he is wrong? Doesn’t he have the burden of proof to show that he is right?

    Flint: Maybe it’s hollow skepticism on my part, but it always seems that these proofs are invariably constructed by those who already believe in the god(s) they have derived.

    Yes, it’s “hollow skepticism” on your part, unless you can produce actual evidence to support your claims. Do you have any?

  34. Mung,

    Readers (except perhaps for J-Mac) can see right through you. You brought up Aristotle and the neo-Platonists as a counterexample to Flint’s claim, and now you’re backing away from that.

    Just chalk it up to another Mung failure.

  35. keiths, when asked if he was drinking, refused to answer.

    keiths: You brought up Aristotle and the neo-Platonists as a counterexample to Flint’s claim, and now you’re backing away from that.

    Yes, I backed away from something that I did not do. I am so ashamed.

    Bringing up Aristotle as a counter-example to Aristotle does seem a bit weird. Bringing up the neo-Platonists as a counter-example to the neo-Platonists also seems a bit weird.

    But keiths is the bright one. So I defer to his judgment.

  36. Give it up, Mung.

    If you actually had a different and plausible reason for bringing up Aristotle and the neo-Platonists, you would have told us by now.

    It was a failed counterexample.

  37. keiths: It was a failed counterexample.

    It wasn’t a counter-example at all. I am so transparent. Anyone can see that it was not a counter-example. Have you been drinking?

  38. Mung,

    You really need to tell us which specific attributes of God you think you’ve falsified.

    While it’s true that I have a low opinion of your intelligence, I believe that even you can read this and see where it conflicts with Feser’s list of God’s attributes.

  39. keiths: If you actually had a different and plausible reason for bringing up Aristotle and the neo-Platonists, you would have told us by now.

    No, there’s this one screw that you just haven’t tightened quite enough. One more turn and I promise to confess. I’ll tell you whatever you want to hear.

  40. keiths: Right. It was a failed attempt at one.

    Right!

    It was not an attempt to bring down the World Trade Center, it was a failed attempt to bring down the World Trade Center.

    Are you sure you haven’t been drinking?

  41. Forty-odd comments into the thread, and you’re still dicking around, denying two obvious mistakes.

    What a waste of time.

  42. keiths: What a waste of time.

    And it’s all my fault for failing to ask you to address the OP.

    The OP outlines five proofs for the existence of God. You’ve failed to address a single one of those proofs. Please address the OP.

    Thank you.

  43. Mung,

    You’ve failed to address a single one of those proofs.

    As John noted, you’ve failed to present a single one of those proofs:

    I would truly like to see someone actually state and then defend any of these five proofs, rather than merely mentioning their existence and alluding to the argument.

    What are you waiting for?

  44. keiths: What are you waiting for?

    I’m waiting for John to take me off Ignore.

    It’s pretty freaking silly of you to ask me to respond to someone who has me on Ignore when they won’t see what I write. But that didn’t stop you.

  45. It’s pretty freaking silly of you to ask me to respond to someone who has me on Ignore when they won’t see what I write.

    Don’t worry. I’ll quote you.

    Now get to it. What are you waiting for?

  46. keiths: Don’t worry. I’ll quote you.

    Start here

    Mung: And just what do you think that the book referenced in the OP does? Edward Feser states and then defends these five proofs, rather than merely mentioning their existence and alluding to the argument.

    I love atheists. Such fertile ground. Next John will inform us that he has no desire to read the book and would refuse to read the book even if it meant being burned at the stake.

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