Third Argument Against Existence of God Discovered

St. Thomas, who always tried to be thorough and fair, surveyed the whole history of human thought and could only come up with two really decent arguments against the existence of God. For all of history up to the present, all really good atheist arguments boil down to one or both of these, repeated and elaborated up with varying emotional appeals, illustrations, and putdowns. All the *other* atheist “arguments” boil down to fallacious crap, emoting, grandstanding, posturing, non sequiturs, blather, and sneering. That atheism so often moves past the two good arguments and lards on fallacious crap is one of the telling tics that gives away the fact that atheists aren’t as confident of their case as they often insist they are.

However, thanks to modern biological research, we may have a third argument that can help the atheist case: really big scary spiders.

Some of my readers will argue that this spider is a restatement of the Problem of Evil. Let me explain it in the manner of reddit.atheism: SHUT UP! BIG SCARY SPIDERS! ARE YOU BLIND *AND* STUPID? NO GOD! SHEESH!

It’s hard to argue with that.

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  • Luke Shea

    They clearly missed my favorite line in the whole bible, where God creates the Creeping Things.

  • Korou

    The main atheist argument is: “What evidence do you have to believe that God exists?”
    It’s been asked plenty of times, and hasn’t had a satisfactory answer yet.

    • J. Horne

      To which the philosopher replies:, which doesn’t prove the existence of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and the Judeo-Christian revelation that comes with belief in Him, but certainly does prove that some “God” must necessarily have existed since the beginning of what we understand to be time.

      • Ashley

        The page you link doesn’t prove the existence of a god. It proves the ease with which we are fooled by imitations of reason. For example, the claim “every whole is greater than its part” is a meaningless statement made to sound reasonable by equivocation.

        You cannot prove or demonstrate the existence of a thing by slipping it in through a philosophical back-door, because philosophy is only a self-referential logic game. You need observation.

        • SteveP

          Regarding observation, I’ve never had the opportunity to observe your great-great-great-grandmother; surely she never existed and, consequently, we can deuce your lineage involves spontaneous generation – probably involving big spiders somehow.

        • Mike in KC, MO

          So, in other words you’re saying: “SHUT UP! …. ARE YOU BLIND *AND* STUPID? NO GOD! SHEESH!”

          If you had included something about spiders, I might be an atheist now.

        • Jon W

          philosophy is only a self-referential logic game

          Where did you observe t

          • Jon W

            Full reply:

            Where in nature did you observe that philosophy is only a self-referential logic game?

            • Ryan O’Shea

              High five. (not a substantive reply, to be sure, but there is no ‘like’ feature here)

        • Knower

          That “every whole is greater than its part” is admittedly not self-evidently true if taken too generally. But if taken in the restricted sense that every whole qua whole is greater than its part qua part of that whole, how is it not self-evident?
          Anyway, here is my NON-philosophic, intuitive argument for a Creator’s existence:
          I see it as intuitively evident that I would have been just as much ME had my individual nature been that of a Chinese peasant, or of a medieval knight.
          What then determines me to be precisely me? — or you, precisely you yourself? For although my bodily make-up is indeed extremely complex, it seems evident to me that I — my very self, I mean: I’m not talking about my psychological personality or personas — I myself am not any *feature* or *character* or *mark* or *note*; nor any ensemble of genetic or other *factors*: I’m quite simply just me. So then, Why do I and not someone else look out from behind these eyes of mine? Why are they MY eyes? Quite evidently, for absolutely no reason in NATURE.
          In view of this, What reason can there be why precisely I have this individual nature — indeed What reason why precisely I exist at all, if not that my absolutely ineffable identity itself — and the intimate identity of you, and of every other human self — is a Creator’s expressly intended and utterly free “invention”?

          • j. blum

            You are you because of a very long chain of contingencies. A mediaeval knight or Chinese peasant would not have had your parents and ancestors back to the proverbial Adam (or lungfish as you prefer). You would not have had the same genetics, same upbringing, etc. So, no, you would not be you. We are not the reincarnating monad of the Pythagoreans or the Jains, but uniquely created souls uniquely situated in history.

          • Knower

            Actually, except for one single “reincarnation” at the Resurrection on the Last Day, I too reject reincarnation. And even on that Day, I hold, we’ll each be enfleshed in basically the same body in which we are now. I simply maintain that my deep identity is only contingently connected with my genetic makeup, even if that makeup remains the same when I’m “raised up on the Last Day”.

        • Epicus Montaigne

          Hurray for positivism! Where the logic is made up and the conclusions don’t matter!

        • Mark Shea

          philosophy is only a self-referential logic game. You need observation.

          Can you please establish that claim by observation?

          Another tragic case of intellect worship rather than intellect use.

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          For example, the claim “every whole is greater than its part” is a meaningless statement made to sound reasonable by equivocation.
          The full statement is
          “Thus, when the nature of a whole and of a part is known, it is at once recognized that every whole is greater than its part.”
          scito enim quid est totum et quid pars, statim scitur quod omne totum maius est sua parte.
          Thus a resolution of the conundrum suggests itself in bolface.
          Perhaps our interlocutor believes that a dog is not larger than his leg; or that a man is not larger than his spleen. Or that a sack of potatoes is not larger than a potato. Or that the mereological sum of Mark Shea and the Sun (the Sunshea) is not greater than the Sun alone.

          It is odd how often when people dislike some theorem in Euclid they immediately pounce upon as meaningless; such that X < {X, Y, Z}

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Added in post-post: The irony is that this whole>part is raised in the context of Thomas rejecting Anselm’s Ontological Proof.
            In any case, it would be courteous of Ashley to demonstrate how the statement is meaningless or equivocal, always keeping mindful that the statement was made in Latin, not modern English.

          • your old pal ken

            While it is true that you can’t be smaller than any of your parts, it is also true that you can’t reach into IN, because your arms are too long.

        • Doorman

          The funny thing is, if humans were limited to learning only from observation, we would be no more advanced in our thinking than apes. The fact is, the genius of human intellect is the ability to conjecture beyond mere observation. All of known material science is the ability of the human brain to conjecture a theory, then test observation against it. I would love Ashley to state this at a forum for Theoretical Physics. Now if we can conjecture on the principles of material science, we can certainly conjecture on transcendent truths. Can you observe and create a mathematical model for justice, mercy, love, compassion, empathy? Of course, all humans know these to be true and valuable human characteristics and pursuits. Let’s go beyond these and conjecture those un observable truths like, the beginning of the Universe, the Cause behind the beginning etc… All of these things can be discussed logically and reasonably, without having to rely upon only observational truths. Of course, like all logic, they cannot be contrary to observed truths. Ashley, try to move beyond what is merely observable, and ponder transcendent truths. You may find, as many others have, that this is where humanity truly differentiates itself from the mere apes and other animals.

        • Caspar

          Couldn’t get my original response past the spam filter, so here. Links in the original.

          Plenty of other commentators respond with philosophical reason, but we can answer the second part of the challenge as well as refuting the premises of the first. You want observation? We’ve had observation. Will it prove anything to you? Not necessarily. Why? Because they are not your personal observations; because it is possible to doubt anything one is presented with, even an appearance of God himself right in front of you; because the inquiry must be an honest one, made with an open mind, before one can permit oneself to see what’s right in front of them. But if you truly want to know when God or his supernatural agents have been observed, here–I give you a small smackeral:

          John Wright’s Conversion
          The Apparitions at Fatima
          The Apparitions at Kibeho
          Conversion of Roy Schoeman
          Conversion of Alphonse Ratisbonne
          Apparitions to St. Faustina
          The Christian mystical tradition

          And there’s lots more where that came from. But again, as C. S. Lewis portrayed with the dwarves of the Last Battle in Narnia, people could be in paradise and refuse to accept the evidence of the world around them, of God at their back and imperishable heaven at their feet. John Wright summed it up best:

          …You might wonder why, if God can convince atheists to worship Him merely by dropping by for a visit, He does not do it more often. The reason is that it does not help, not at all, not a bit. When I suffer doubts, when my faith gets weak, my faith in my memory gets weak too. Faith and faithlessness have NOTHING TO DO with evidence presented to reason or senses. It has to do with a humble will and an upright heart. If God presented evidence to skeptics, all that would happen is that skeptics would doubt their evidence. If God gave a logical argument to prove His own existence, all that would happen is that skeptics would doubt the power of logic to prove anything.

          Skepticism pretends it is all about open-mindedness and evidence. Not so. Skepticism is about suspicion and pride and self-will. It is about pretending you are smarter than people who, if you only knew, are actually wiser than you and your sneering questions and foolish word-tricks. The only place we ever see a humble skeptic is in the physical sciences, because scientists are willing to let their conclusions be ruled on by nature…

          And finally, there’s the argument laid out throughout Scripture (alongside, of course, all those accounts of people observing God):

          For what can be known about God is evident to them, because God made it evident to them. Ever since the creation of the world, his invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what he has made. As a result, they have no excuse…–Romans 1:19-20

          The world exists–blessed be the One at the back of all things! For more, see New Proofs for the Existence of God: Contributions of Contemporary Physics and Philosophy, Modern Physics and Ancient Faith, Chance or Purpose? Creation, Evolution and a Rational Faith.

          • Irenist

            The reason is that it does not help, not at all, not a bit. When I suffer doubts, when my faith gets weak, my faith in my memory gets weak too.

            This is very true. When I was a kid, my sister and I saw a ghost. Later, as an atheist teenager and young adult, I thought it was easier to assume that we had been hallucinating than that the secular worldview might be false. I didn’t revisit my skepticism of my own experience until long after Thomism had brought me back to the Church.

        • thesauros

          You mean like:
          . I believe that material things can begin to exist without an external cause because this has been observed, tested and verified?
          . I believe that everything material can come from literally nothing material without an external immaterial cause because this has been observed, tested or verified?
          . I believe that an infinite regress of cause is tenable even though this has been scientifically refuted?
          . I believe that the material infinite is tenable even though this has been scientifically refuted?
          You mean that kind of logic?

        • Frederick Non-Nietzsche

          3/4 is greater than 1; Ashley’s arm weights more than her body; $2 will buy more than $10. Yep, meaningless, self-referential logic game.

          Now where did I put the iPad I bought for 50 cents at the Apple Store.

        • Thorgasm

          “Another tragic case of intellect worship rather than intellect use.”

          Ashley’s comment is also another example of scientism, a philosophical position. So by rejecting philosophy she embraces it. Her atheism is incoherent.

        • Jacob S

          Philosophy a self reverential logic game, and only observation matters? That’s interesting, because in addition to you not being able to observe that statement in nature, as Jon noted; it’s also a philosophical claim. Meaning that it’s self referential nonsense, by your own admission. And in that, at least, we agree.

    • Tom K.

      “It’s been asked plenty of times, and hasn’t had a satisfactory answer yet.”

      The second assertion is empirically false. Lots of people are perfectly satisfied with the answers that have been given. That some people aren’t satisfied doesn’t prove the fault lies with the answers.

    • Mark Shea

      Ah! The Argument from Personal Incredulity. Another case of intellect worship vs. intellect use.

  • Mike Doyle

    There have been many satisfactory answers convincing billions of people since Christ’s arrival alone. God is just not bowing to your demand for evidence as if he were a bug under a microscope.

    Reason alone shows to all but the materialist evidence of the spirit and from there it is not far to see that the longing of our spirits have a logical conclusion.

    From there (From humility) faith can be invited in . . .

  • Joachim

    Singing: “All things dull and u-g-ly, / all creatures short and squat …”

    • Dan Berger

      That made my lunch hour.

  • Jmac

    This is the spider that they’re describing as “face-sized” right? Yeah, that removed about 75% of my will to live.

  • Renata

    According to Aquinas and to Catholic teaching, God is not just another “being” along the lines of dogs, trees, spiders, cars, etc., — that would be the univocal use of the word “being”, and would make God just one more thing — but is Being Itself, that is, self-subsistent existence itself, that which holds everything in Being (this is the “analogy of being” which says that while the word “being” does not apply to the created order and to God in exactly the same way – univocally – the word is not utterly incomprehensible, as it would be if the meanings were equivocal).

    We do use the term “Supreme Being,” as if God were the biggest, baddest and best in a large group of beings, but that is a misunderstanding. He is the Supreme Being because He and ONLY He is self-subistent being. Everything else is held in existence, is a complex thing that does not call itself into being, hold itself in being, nor remove being from itself.

    There can be people who deny that God is Triune, or that Christ is God; people who have never sensed, perceived, intuited, reasoned to, felt, or been graced with the living Presence of God as a friend. But to deny God – to be an “atheist” – is an exercise in utter futility. Every single argument I have ever heard from an atheist falls into the fallacy of thinking Catholics see God as something like a flower, or an invisible physics particle, or an imaginary being like a unicorn, and thus the trump card: “You cannot prove God exists!” That very sentence is ludicrous. God IS existence. This general revelation is available to everyone, as St. Paul reminds us.

    Even the most cursory study would show them what is meant by “God” and the analogy of being. I find all their arguments embarrassing – philosophically naive. However, I should add that it is not the most important thing in the world to understand basic philosophical thinking. I for one did not need to reason my way to God, but to see that His existence does not go against reason is a good thing.

    • Jon W

      +100 points to Renata. Nice summary.

      • Irenist

        Agreed. Well said.

  • Ben @ 2CM

    I think an honest atheist would be very disappointed in this “new” argument.
    I know about the problem of evil. What is the 2nd Thomistic argument against the existence of God??

    • Tom K.

      Everything that exists can be explained without reference to God. (“I have no need of that hypothesis.”)

      • Benjamin

        This is the one I happen to subscribe to. The problem of evil argument can get a little silly since nature itself knows nothing of “evil”, it’s a human construct.

        The ancient Greeks thought the sun was a golden chariot of a god, that lightning was from Zeus, that plagues were punishments from the gods, etc. We can now explain all those things from nature. There is no need for gods. Monotheism is a bit more sophisticated but has been undermined again and again by the discoveries of the last 500 years, beginning with Galileo and ending with Hawking. There is no longer any need for the hypothesis of God, we don’t need him to explain the universe, anymore than we need to explain the sun as a golden chariot.

        • Mark Shea

          The question is not “What causes lightning?” but “Why is there anything and why is it intelligible?” I don’t think you’ve really engaged St. Thomas’ reply to the second objection: Also, your chronological snobbery is showing, since you overlook the fact that Thomas, living centuries *before* Galileo is already quite aware of the fact that natural processes have natural explanations. The notion that SCIENCE[TM]! has revealed this in the past 500 years is one of the many provincial conceits of moderns and postmoderns. Also, Dante knew the world was round, as did all educated medievals.

          Oh, and Hawking? Please.

          • Benjamin

            I realize most ancients and medievals knew the world was round, Mark, but they still thought it to be the center of the universe. When it was revealed, however, that we are not in fact the center–but a tiny island speck in one remote corner of a vast galaxy-that makes the idea of God that cares what we do as insignificant little specks, what we eat, what liturgies we observe, and who we sleep with more than a little absurd, and first raised the spectre that maybe the universe was NOT designed with us in mind after all!

            • Dan Berger

              Not the center. The bottom. The garbage pit. The lowest point.

              There’s a difference.

            • Dan Berger

              Oh, and the ancients knew well that we were a tiny speck. Just because they thought the stars were close enough that they ought to show parallax if the Earth were moving, doesn’t mean they didn’t understand that the stars were *really far* away.

            • Mark Shea

              You are padding the case for the new atheism with a couple of fallacies here (as is the custom of that movement). The Argument from Physical Location overlooks the fact that, for medievals, God was a circle whose diameter was nowhere and whose center was everywhere. (Relativism didn’t start with Einstein.) Likewise, the Argument from Feeling Really Insignificant overlooks the fact that ancient cosmology placed the earth in the *lowest* place (save hell) and that the insignificant size of the earth was perfectly well known to them. You overlook Psalm 8: “When I consider heavens, the works of your fingers, the sun and the moon which you have appointed, what is man that you are mindful of him?” Again, you suffer from the modern and postmodern conceit that you have only recently discovered the universal human phenomenon of feeling insignificant under a summer night sky. It is… telling… that you number “who we sleep with” in your catalog of things God is not supposed to care about. (As one wag has remarked, the man who are argues “The modern critical intellect can no longer accept the primitive metaphysics of Aristotle nor the savage philosophies that gave rise to St. Thomas’ Five Demonstrations of the Existence of God” often means “I’m sleeping with my neighbor’s wife.”) But, in fact, all that prejudice and projection and pre-emptive striking against a God you fear might have something to say about your moral choices is getting way ahead of the argument. The reality is that the physical location and size of man have absolutely no bearing on the question of God’s existence. To the declamation “Man is insignificant in comparison to the size of the universe!” Chesterton long ago replied, “Man is insignificant in comparison to the size of the nearest tree.” So what?

              • Guest

                “It is… telling… that you number “who we sleep with” in your catalog of things God is not supposed to care about. .

                Exactly. This is also why the New Atheists rag on Christianity almost exclusively.

                • Benjamin

                  Yes, because Orthodox Judaism, Islam(!), and Buddhism are all known for their loose sexual ethics! Lol. If anything all three are more strict than Christianity. Ever seen the YouTube video “Dali Lama or Pope?”

                  I put it number two because it just plain strikes me as the epitome of pettiness that an all powerful creator of the universe would be *that* concerned with genitalia, up to and including making masturbation of all petty things “mortal sin”. But what you eat and the liturgies you do or don’t observe or whether you sleep in on Sunday or not are all prett petty things for an all powerful being to concern himself with. I think if he existed he would have better things to do.

                  • Noah D

                    Y’know that stuff that comes out of you when you masturbate?

                    That’s half of what you need to create new life, a new human being, where before there wasn’t one.

                    Tell me again how ‘petty’ it is.

                    • Benjamin

                      Every sperm is sacred.
                      Every sperm is great.
                      If a sperm is wasted,
                      God gets quite irate.

                    • Mark Shea

                      See, if you don’t want people to think that a wish fulfilment fantasy about God not interfering your sex life is not the *real* engine of your supposedly “rational” rejection of God, you should stop dragging the conversation back to this.

                  • Mark Shea

                    Yes, because Orthodox Judaism, Islam(!), and Buddhism are all known for their loose sexual ethics! Lol. If anything all three are more strict than Christianity. Ever seen the YouTube video “Dali Lama or Pope?”

                    Then why do you talk as though concern about sexual morality is somehow uniquely the concern of Bronze Age peoples?

                    I put it number two because it just plain strikes me as the epitome of pettiness that an all powerful creator of the universe would be *that* concerned with genitalia

                    Ah. The Argument from Personal Incredulity. Good one.

                    I think if he existed he would have better things to do.

                    Unless, of course, God is love and is therefore deeply interested in the question of how we love one another.

                    Funny how it keeps coming back to the insistence that God can’t exist because your sex life demands it. And they say *belief* in God is wishful thinking. :)

                    • Benjamin

                      I could have chosen the Middle Eastern God’s pork obsession, or his concern with what kind of fibers we wear, or his micromanagement of the details of animal sacrifice, etc, or any other number of things to illustrate the pettiness of it all.

                    • Mark Shea

                      And, again, the response we be that we receive according to the mode of the receiver. Ancient Bronze Age peoples, like modern people, have various taboos they observe. The claim of Catholic revelation is that God made use of such taboos according to the mode of the receiver in order to get across certain spiritual lessons he wished to reveal, just as parents begin with baby talk in order to lead their children on to integral calculus when they are ready.

                      Note how, again, you’ve wandered off, yet again, to pad the case for atheism with irrelevancies and fallacies. The question is, “Does God exist?” not “Do I agree with his pedagogical strategies for revealing himself to Bronze Age peoples?” The Argument from Pettiness is yet another restatement of the claim that humans being physically small is somehow evidence against the existence of an omniscient God. It’s not. That’s just your personal incredulity talking, not reason.

                    • Benjamin

                      And I appreciate the attempt to make it all about me, but I’m afraid my sex life is boringly conventional. If the Christian God demanded we all had huge temple orgies of sex and drunkeness instead of mass, I still wouldn’t believe.

                    • Mark Shea

                      I didn’t make it about you. You made it about you when you said that God doesn’t exist because you feel personally incredulous about a point of morality that is a part of universal human experience: namely, concern about sexual ethics. You’re the only person who keeps dragging sex into the discussion. The issue is the existence of God, not sex.

                    • The True Will

                      We can use… French ticklers! That’s what being atheist is all about!

                  • Dan

                    Aside from imposing your own ideas and standards on a Being who differs in degree and kind, what argument is there that such a being would *not* be concerned with anything and everything? As held by thomists, God didn’t just create the world and let it spin, he makes the world, the whole of it in its entirety from moment to moment, bringing things out of potency and into act and vice versa.

                  • enness

                    Dear Benjamin: Allow yourself to step out of your ego long enough to meditate on the fact that you and God are not one and the same, and so things that a small mortal mind considers petty may actually be of vital importance.

                • Benjamin

                  But you know who is really, really, really concerned with genatalia and who is sleeping with whom? Human males in Bronze Age societies. So it’s no wonder the god they created is, too. The fact that the OT god acts almost exactly like a tyrannical Ancient Near East Emperor is no coincidence, either.

                  • Mark Shea

                    But you know who is really, really, really concerned with genatalia and who is sleeping with whom?

                    The producers of almost every TV show? All human cultures throughout history? The notion that sexual morality is somehow peculiarly the concern of Bronze Age humans is one of the weirder arguments against the existence of God I’ve ever heard.

                    The fact that the OT god acts almost exactly like a tyrannical Ancient Near East Emperor is no coincidence, either.

                    Of course it’s not. God reveals himself in the mode the receiver can grasp. So what? The 18th century deist saw God as a clockmaker too. The Argument from Limited Human Perceptual Abilities is a fine argument about what people are made of and how they filter reality. It is not an argument that there is no reality to filter.

                    • The True Will

                      “Desmond Morris says the Lepchas are obsessed with sex. (The Lepchas say Desmond Morris is obsessed with sex.) — John Sack, REPORT FROM PRACTICALLY NOWHERE.

                  • Noah D

                    As it is no coincidence that today we tend to look at everything and think ‘computer!’, even going so far as to speculate that all of our reality might just be a simulation running in some vast PC somewhere.

                    (Which I can’t tell if they’re coming around to the idea of God as Programmer, or just re-embracing Gnostic claptrap…)

            • Irenist


              insignificant little specks,

              You might enjoy the “Dream of Scipio,” which comprises the sixth book of Cicero’s De Re Publica, written around 51-54 B.C. In it, the narrator, a Roman general, travels to the heavens in a dream. An excerpt:

              And as I surveyed them from this point, all the other heavenly bodies appeared to be glorious and wonderful,—now the stars were such as we have never seen from this earth; and such was the magnitude of them all as we have never dreamed; and the least of them all was that planet [i.e., the Moon], which farthest from the heavenly sphere and nearest to our earth, was shining with borrowed light, but the spheres of the stars easily surpassed the earth in magnitude—already the earth itself appeared to me so small, that it grieved me to think of our empire, with which we cover but a point, as it were, of its surface.

          • Benjamin

            Oh, and I don’t assume I am more intelligent than ancients or medievals, just less ignorant, which is not the same thing. Nor is it snobbery, it’s just a fact that for example a 9th grader with a B average and a 100 IQ knows far more about biology than Thomas Aquinas, even though the latter is far more intelligent.

            • Knower

              Two points here:
              One: Not only did educated medievals know the earth is round, they knew also, as Aquinas observed in his Commentary on Aristotle’s “Physics”, that the Sun is much, much bigger than the Earth. (They just mistakenly thought the giant Sun went around the tiny Earth.)
              Two: We humans are “insignificant little specks” in “a vast galaxy”?
              Actually, a mere moment’s reflection is enough to show that bigness and smallness are really utterly, radically relative and comparative: something is thought of as “large” or “small” simply because it’s bigger or smaller than something else. (When we speak of “large” or “small” without explicit comparison, we just mean something is bigger or smaller than what we reckon usual.)
              Clearly, then, there’s absolutely no reason at all why an entire solar system, even an entire galaxy, couldn’t be the size of your keyboard, say. (Supposing, at any rate, that it were somehow insulated from any interference from our galaxy’s gravitational/magnetic “fields”, or the like.)
              But what we experience, especially since the advances of modern astronomy, is that our whole observable universe seems to be on one SAME scale. Is randomness sufficient to account for this observable phenomenon of uniformity of size-scale?

              • Jon W

                Besides, who freaking cares how big something is compared to something else? The planet Neptune is 2.5 septillion times bigger than my little sister, but if I had to choose between one or the other, I’d pick my sister every time. (Assuming, of course, that missing one of the outer gas giants didn’t somehow cause the destruction of all life on earth.)

            • Mark Shea

              It’s not a question of assuming more intelligence. It’s a question of assuming that the availability of more information about the metric properties of time, space, matter and energy somehow gives you superior insight into an essentially metaphysical question, when in fact you demonstrate by every word you say that you don’t even understand what that question is. You could bring Thomas up to speed on DNA and protein folding and the Hubble and nothing about his metaphysical argument for the existence of God would change one whit.

              • Benjamin

                I think Darwin would at least make Thomas think twice, at the very least.

                • Mark Shea

                  No. He really wouldn’t. Evolution is, for a Thomist, a mild confirmation of Thomas’ view of creation. On the lips of the atheist materialist, the claim that evolution “eliminates the need for a Creator” is one more reformulation of Objection 2 (“Everything works fine without God.”). As a secondary matter, the atheist also likes to trot it out as support for Objection 1 (the problem of evil) with “How can a good God create a nature red in tooth and claw?”. Thomas answers both objections.

                  Nature is nothing but the plan of some art, namely a divine one, put into things themselves, by which those things move towards a concrete end: as if the man who builds up a ship could give to the pieces of wood that they could move by themselves to produce the form of the ship.
                  – Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Physics II.8, lecture 14, no. 268

                • Mike in KC, MO

                  You mean it would make him question his metaphysical arguments?

                  It strikes me that you probably haven’t read either one.

            • Ye Olde Statistician

              Thomas Aquinas: Species, also, that are new, if any such appear, existed beforehand in various active powers; so that animals, and perhaps even new species of animals, are produced by putrefaction by the power which the stars and elements received at the beginning.
              – Summa theologica, Part I Q73 A1 reply3
              Today we know the putrefaction is called mutation, and that the active powers the elements received at the beginning are called reproduction, DNA replication, etc.
              You are assuming that the mere accumulation of facts has something to do with human understanding. But this is not true even for the natural sciences. As Poincare said back in the final generations of modern scientists, a pile of facts is no more a science than a pile of bricks is a house.

          • Theodore Seeber

            I know Dante knew the world was round, I’m just wondering why Purgatory is in Hawaii.

            • Irenist

              Answered on the most recent episode of “Mad Men.”

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          We can now explain all those things from nature.
          But that assumes natures exist. The Orthodox and Catholics hold that Nature is writ by God; and in fact, Thomas’ Fifth Way argues to the existence of God from the existence of natural laws. Yours is a bit like arguing that we can explain all those notes in the Waldstein Sonata from the piano and the physics of vibrating strings. There is no need for the Pianist Hypothesis.

          There is no longer any need for the hypothesis of God
          But God is not an “hypothesis,” trotted out to explain this or that detail of creation, save by atheists (to deny it) or fundamentalists (to acclaim it). God is a conclusion, not a hypothesis. Beside, as long as the shoemaker sticks to his last, he has no need for the hypothesis of natural selection. It is not needed in cobbling. Similarly, if a scientist sticks to his trade – describing the metrical properties of tangible matter – he has no need of God. He simply assumes that an objective universe exists, that his senses (whether augmented by instrument or not) are by and large reliable, that the universe is lawful (rationally ordered), that these laws are accessible to human reason, etc. No scientia can demonstrate her own postulates. The postulates of physics can only be explored with something “behind” the physics, i.e., meta-physics.

  • A Philosopher

    Just for you, Mark, here’s a more interesting third argument:

    1. Omniscience requires knowledge of all true propositions.
    2. De se knowledge consists in grasp of propositions that are essentially only graspable by a single person.
    3. There is more than one person.
    So, there is no omniscient being.

    There are more where that came from. Any chance we can drop the “only two good arguments” chestnut?

    • Maiki

      God can’t make a square circle or a rock so heavy it can’t be lifted. Logical impossibilities are often the fault of the definition of God. Omniscience is knowing all that is knowable. If something is not knowable, it is not included in that set. Alternatively, we don’t know that there is any De Se knowledge: if that set is null, than there being multiple persons is irrelevant.

      • A Philosopher

        Right, but the de se propositions are knowable. They’re just not knowable by thinkers other than the subject. And the standard arguments for the existence of de se knowledge look pretty good. Perry’s example: A and B are in the woods, and A at a distance sees a bear approach B. B climbs a tree; A shoots the bear. A and B share all the same objective beliefs and desires, so what explains the difference in action? Proposal: difference in de se knowledege. B knows de se that he himself is threatened by a bear; A knows merely de re that B is threatened by a bear.

        • Ye Olde Statistician
        • S. Murphy

          Can you explain what you mean by ‘de se’ knowledge a little better? Your example of the 2 guys in the woods doesn’t help me. First, their behavior would still be as it is in the story if they were perfectly telepathic/empathic so that B saw A’s sight alignment/sight picture while A felt B’s adrenaline rush – just for tactical reasons. You don’t need subjective inside knowledge to explain it. Second – again, how does the idea that I know stuff about myself within the privacy of my own mind, that you don’t know, make it impossible for there to be an omniscient first cause who knows what I know and how I feel, as well as what you know and how you feel, as well as everything else?

        • Guest

          “A and B share all the same objective beliefs and desires, so what explains the difference in action?”

          A has a gun and B doesn’t? ; )

          • Beadgirl

            That’s what I was thinking! Could not the differences in the their responses have nothing to do with whether they have the same objective beliefs and desires, and everything to do with whether they have the same skills and tools?

        • Alexander Anderson

          Wouldn’t de se be a way of knowing, not a category of knowledge, then? If both A and B know that B is threatened by the bear, don’t they have the same knowledge even if they have it in different ways? My belief that God is omniscient commits me to the proposition that He knows all things. It does not commit me to the proposition that He knows all things in all ways. Even if it did, the argument wouldn’t be an effective argument against the existence of God. Spinoza thought that God knew all things in all ways and solved this problem by making God the only substance and having subjective minds be finite modes of that substance. Addmittedly, Spinoza’s pantheism has its own problems, but it is a sort of theism that avoids your objection, so if I’m right on my assessment of what your argument is, no, I don’t think it qualifies as one of the “good” arguments against God, however it is very interesting when talking about omniscience.

    • jcb

      Why is this an argument against the existence of God, rather than an argument against a particular definition of omniscience?

      • jcb

        After all, if our motivation for saying God is omniscient is a sort of Anselmian greatest possible being theology, and, and it’s impossible for God to get at other’s de se knowledge, then his failing to do so wouldn’t prevent him from being Anselm’s greatest possible being along cognitive lines.

        • A Philosopher

          Sure, you can always pick a different premise to deny. (I have no zero-premise arguments against the existence of God.) But there will be costs. If, for example, you go your route, you have to drop the thought that the truth of p is grounded in God’s knowledge that (or God’s thinking that) p.

          • jcb

            That seems like a fairly low cost to me.

            • A Philosopher

              That’s fine. (I’m inclined to think that it’s an indication that you’re setting the aspirations of your theology too low, but I can’t imagine why you’d care what I think on the matter.) I’m not trying to disprove the existence of God here; I’m just trying to make the case that there are interesting atheistic arguments other than Mark’s favorite two. Any argument involves cost-weighing; the fact that one is willing to pay the costs doesn’t automatically make the argument uninteresting.

          • An Aaron, not the Aaron

            If God knows what I know and, therefore, co-knows what I know, how is what I know not grounded in God’s knowledge?

    • Ben @ 2CM

      A contradiction has no “being”. It is “no-thing”. It is nothing, and nothing is impossible for God.

      • A Philosopher

        From the claim that contradictions are nothing, it follows that there are no contradictions. There are, however, contradictions, so contradictions are not nothing.

        • Kristen inDallas

          I would like to see some objective labratory proof of these contradicitions actually existing in the universe. Otherwise, we could go in circles all day with “I can imagine a contradiction using my mind, so your God doesn’t exist” … “No, I can concieve of a God in my mind, so your contradiction doesn’t exist.” …

        • Jon W

          From the claim that contradictions are nothing, it follows that there are no contradictions.

          Okay. I’m not following all your arguments, not having the education or the time to do so right at the moment, but I know that a well-informed Thomist would tear that statement to shreds.

    • The True Will

      “Fallacy somewhere, I fancy.”
      Probably equivocation about “knowledge”.

    • Pavel Chichikov

      Yeah, you would have to be God to get around that one.

    • Guest

      “3. There is more than one person.
      So, there is no omniscient being.”

      Again the assumed fallacy that God is being like any other human and with the same limitations.

      • A Philosopher

        Nothing in my argument assumed any degree of similarity between God and humans, or imputed any limitations to God. I agree that I did make use of the possibility of existential generalization on claims about God, so a really hard-core apophatic theology might be able to evade the argument. But then, it’s never been very clear to me what the difference between hard-core apophatic theism and atheism, anyway.

        • Guest

          “Nothing in my argument assumed any degree of similarity between God and humans, or imputed any limitations to God.”

          How’s that? It was there in the first 2 statements and the statements were offered as your suggestion for a 3rd argument against the existence of God.

          1. Omniscience requires knowledge of all true propositions.
          2. De se knowledge consists in grasp of propositions that are essentially only graspable by a single person.

          Your argument for de se assumes an omniscient being ‘knows’ in the same way a human knows. You assume an omniscient God couldn’t know what is in a human’s mind because they are separate beings.

    • Jon W

      I’m not 100% sure how to reply to this, but I do know that Thomists deny that God is a person like we are. Therefore, he doesn’t know things like people know them, including “de se” knowledge. God doesn’t know that we’re thinking something and also what we’re thinking. He’s thinking through or in us. Therefore, he knows our thoughts as we know them, from the inside.

      2. De se knowledge consists in grasp of propositions that are essentially only graspable by a single person.

      This is where I think the problem is. I’d be interested to know what the problems are with this objection to your argument.

    • Michael Bolin

      Ah, a Kretzmann classic. Either premise 1 or premise 2 is false, depending on how we interpret “proposition.”

      Knowledge is not of propositions but of things, about which we formulate propositions to express our knowledge. De se knowledge as opposed to knowledge of oneself by another, since it is not knowledge of something else, is not distinct knowledge but knowledge in a distinct mode. What I know in knowing that I am in my living room, for instance, is not something other than what my wife knows when she knows that I am in my living room, but knowledge of the same thing in another mode. Now, omniscience is knowledge of all things in whatever mode is appropriate to the knower, not knowledge of all things in all modes; this latter would not even be a perfection, since it is more perfect to know in a higher mode.

      Consequently, if we understand a “proposition” to be such that the de se and the de alio expression of the same fact are distinct propositions, then we are incorporating modality into the content of the proposition, and premise 1 is thus false. If, on the other hand, we distinguish content from mode, then de se propositions are in fact knowable by others, though in a different mode, and premise 2 is false.

      Incidentally, many of Kretzmann’s arguments, including the related one that if God is outside of time then he can’t know what time it is now, are like this in the sense that they would not have given even a moment’s pause to the actual historical proponents of classical theism, such as Aquinas, because they are so easily refuted in light of the philosophical framework within which these authors were working. But the past few centuries’ advance in scientific knowledge seems to have gone hand in hand with an almost complete collapse of philosophical knowledge. James Chastek put it best when he said once that asking a modern philosopher to say something intelligent about the Five Ways is somewhat like asking Aquinas to build a laptop computer.

      • A Philosopher

        Knowledge is not of propositions but of things, about which we formulate propositions to express our knowledge.

        That’s going to make knowledge of negative existentials rather hard to come by. (A point that’s come out rather clearly during the “almost complete collapse of philosophical knowledge” that is the golden age of philosophy we currently live in.)

        • Irenist

          That’s going to make knowledge of negative existentials rather hard to come by.

          Different definition of knowledge there, I think.

          the golden age of philosophy we currently live in

          More good technical work than ever before; that’s true.

        • Michael Bolin

          This illustrates my point rather nicely. It is, of course, true that knowledge of negative existentials is hard to come by in the sense in which knowledge of existent things is had; but as Irenist indicates, “knowledge” is an analogical term. There can be knowledge of negatives, but it is knowledge in a removed sense, being understood by reference to the prior and more proper sense of knowledge. The same applies to “true,” I would note. It is true that I am sitting, and true that I am not standing on my head, but the term is not univocal in the two cases, and in the latter can only be understood by reference to the former.

          Now, as to how this illustrates my point: It could, in theory, be true that philosophers in the Aristotelian (and later developments of it, such as the Thomistic) tradition simply didn’t notice, when they noted that knowledge is of things, that there are existential negatives; but it is not true in fact. Aristotle himself noted that even non-beings such as privations are said to be, and this precisely in the context of developing the analogy of being. In other words, the objection had already been anticipated and answered in the original golden age of philosophy, and the inheritors of the tradition would hardly have been blindsided by it. But as they say, there’s nothing new under the sun.

    • Theodore Seeber

      Only when you come up with a formulation that isn’t one of the two arguments. This one happens to be the second.

  • jcb

    After all, if our motivation for saying God is omniscient is a sort of Anselmian greatest possible being theology, and, and it’s impossible for God to get at other’s de se knowledge, then his failing to do so wouldn’t prevent him from being Anselm’s greatest possible being along cognitive lines.

    • jcb

      And of course there’s no way to delete the double post. Sorry.

  • Roberto

    I have noticed an interesting fact about any discussion of this kind. Participants quickly forget that all logic systems consist of two parts: a set of unproven starting points (axioms) and a set of procedures that allow you to go from one proposition to another. The diatribes above mostly stem from the fact that the starting points are different, so people are actually talking about different things with the same words. That is the essence of the second Thomistic argument. Starting from a different set of axioms, ones that do not include God, one can still, somehow, explain reality.
    Trying to debate the merits of certain propositions by using different sets of axioms is a waste of time. Even our beloved A Philosopher seems to ignore (as in “avoid”) this issue.

    • Jon W

      I don’t think it is, actually, because I think the point of Thomas’s arguments is that any set of axioms robust enough to fairly well account for all the phenomena of the universe will entail the existence of what we all call “God”.

      Everybody tools on the New Atheists because their set of axioms includes only physical phenomena and so is fantastically incomplete even for their own purposes, but they keep pretending that it’s not. They smuggle absolutely binding morality and free will and human intellect – things that don’t fit within their own system – into their philosophical world but refuse to acknowledge the extra axioms needed to account for them.

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      That is the essence of the second Thomistic argument. Starting from a different set of axioms, ones that do not include God, one can still, somehow, explain reality.

      God is not an axiom of the Second Way.
      In the world of sense we find there is an order of efficient causes.
      There is no case known (neither is it, indeed, possible) in which a thing is found to be the efficient cause of itself…
      Now in efficient causes it is not possible to go on to infinity… (if there be no first cause among efficient causes, there will be no ultimate, nor any intermediate cause. But if in efficient causes it is possible to go on to infinity, there will be no first efficient cause, neither will there be an ultimate effect, nor any intermediate efficient causes; all of which is plainly false.)
      Therefore it is necessary to admit a first efficient cause, to which everyone gives the name of God.
      That the first efficient cause is what we call God is fleshed out (so to speak) over the next several hundred pages.
      Notice that each of the premises is defended, not simply asserted. (It is logically impossible, for example for a cause to cause itself since, prior to being caused it does not exist, and something that does not exist cannot cause diddly squat.)

    • Irenist

      Jon W and Y.O.S. have already handily answered your substantive point, but I want to chime in to suggest you might enjoy googling the Wikipedia (or Stanford Encylopedia) article on the Münchhausen trilemma (a.k.a. the Agrippan trilemma). The trilemma addresses a similar insight into where philosophical arguments run off the rails. Enjoy.

  • Roberto

    Oh, and as for the early comment by Korou, need I mention Godel’s incompleteness theorem, according to which in all logic systems that include whole numbers (I trust we all allow them) there are infinitely many propositions that are true, but cannot be proved or disproved?
    So, why is the absence of a proof that convinces YOU, show that there is no God? Better minds than me have repeatedly sated that absence of proof is not proof of absence. Spiders are a better argument than this.

    • A Philosopher

      Peano arithmetic (Robinson arithmetic, even) is Sigma-1 complete, so I don’t see the relevance of Godel in this context.

      • Irenist

        I think we’re dealing with a case of “Godel overgeneralization” here. I blame the post-Hofstadter trendiness of Godel talk.

  • An Aaron, not the Aaron

    I can’t tell how big that thing is from the picture. Mark, go stand next to it so we can get some idea of its size.

  • Pavel Chichikov


    See the salamanders’ color-harmonies,
    Or lizard chasubles and serpent tapestries,
    Glazed carapaces, emeralds and blacks
    On throats and thoraxes and supple backs,
    Then ask why should the Christ serene give thus?
    Like saffron from the stigmas of the crocuses
    The body rings of bees and like obsidian
    The blackness of greater bees, their abdomens

    There is upon the world munificence
    Of powerful and consecrating elegance -
    Look and watch and know it is the trace
    Of innocent and sanctifying grace
    Foretelling in the colors of the visible
    What will await the spirit, now invisible,
    For if such colors now can overthrow
    Our unbelief, what will the blessed know?

    April 8, 2013

  • Pavel Chichikov

    As for protein folding, how large is the number of possible foldable configurations? The size of the number might surprise you.

  • Pavel Chichikov

    As we all know, the subject of the plays and poems of Shakespeare is iambic pentameter. He wrote about iambic pentameter. Hamlet and Lear are emergent properties of iambic pentameter.

    This is not only drivel, if stubbornly adhered to it is certifiably insane. Functionally, in an intellectual sense, psychotic. Fortunately for them, most materialists don’t live according to their mad theories.

    But if you ever do meet someone who really thinks he is a machine or the pure emergence of reductive processes, speak very softly and don’t get them excited.

  • Pavel Chichikov

    What’s wrong with spiders? You have something against different body plans?

  • Pavel Chichikov

    Benjamin, what the hell are you doing here? A serious question.

  • Pavel Chichikov

    The first principle of theism is derived from being alive and seeing, feeling, knowing that there is a creative force, presence, activity, active will that manifests itself in life, in existence, in the world. You don’t have to be a monotheist to feel it.

    Those who cannot feel it are not fully alive. They are disabled, the living dead.

    AT LAST…

    April now the pallid beech leaves
    Fling along the ground at last,
    Hurried by the winds they leave
    As if impelled by urgent tasks

    If this were the final vision,
    Apocalypse or some like end,
    It would be full enough of heaven
    Calling souls it would befriend

    Each one to its destination,
    See it if you use your eyes,
    All is well and of intention,
    Even winter leaves are wise

    The animists were not all wrong,
    The handiwork of God declares
    How sentient it is and strong
    And how the life of Man prepares

    April 1, 2013

  • Pavel Chichikov

    St. Gregory of Tours writes that God created in the world *in Christ.*

    It may be that there are differing levels of life, of being alive, just as Christ transfigured and resurrected was of a body glorified and not in and of a body as we are now.

  • Pavel Chichikov

    I feel sometimes that atheists are bound in a nut shell, not the hazel nut of Dame Julian’s Christ, but the nut in which Hamlet said he could be bounded. Small, neat, regular – and suffocating.

  • Pavel Chichikov

    Their noses pressed up against the horizon.

  • IB Bill

    I am a Catholic Christian and I have never been convinced by logical arguments for the existence of God. I certainly was never convinced by arguments against the existence of God, as one can’t prove a negative. These arguments occasionally helped bolster my faith post-conversion. But beforehand, they did not convince me in the least. Nor do I find pro- and anti-arguments all that super-convincing now.

    “Who are you?”
    “Come and see.”

    That’s where my faith comes from.

    Do you want to know Jesus Christ? Respond to his invitation to come and see. One cannot have faith unless the one who sent him revealed it to you. If you believe in your heart that Jesus was the Christ and that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. Pray for faith. Pray to understand. Be grateful.

    • Pavel Chichikov


      I am not an intellectual, nor even very clever, and so if I were tempted to accept an intellectual argument alone, I would always wonder what it was actually worth.

      God presents Himself before our very eyes and for our attention. Either open your eyes or walk into a ditch.

    • Irenist

      I am a Catholic Christian and I have never been convinced by logical arguments for the existence of God.

      Okay. By all means, follow Christ as best you can. But the Church says that God is logically demonstrable, so if the arguments work for others, they’re certainly okay for nerds like me that need them to get us on the Way to Christ.

      • Pavel Chichikov

        That’s also obviously a good way, because any way that leads to Christ is good.

    • Jordan Bissell

      IB Bill-Your position reminds me of Cardinal Newman. No one in their right mind could accuse Newman of being an intellectual lightweight, and yet the proofs for God were not a great source of consolation to him:

      “I am far from denying the real force of the arguments in proof of a God, drawn from the general facts of human society, but these do not warm me or enlighten me; they do not take away the winter of
      my desolation, or make the buds unfold and the leaves grow within me, and my moral being rejoice.” (Apologia)

  • http://pathos tim

    It is better to be Celibate than Married.

  • http://pathos tim

    No you must be born of the spirit to enter the kingdom of god.

  • Tom K.

    The Argument from De Se Knowledge worries me. It is so transparently *not* a good argument against the existence of God, it’s invalidity so trivially demonstrated, that I have to wonder what it is that A Philosopher has in mind when he proposes it. There must be *something* there, right, some insight into existence that wasn’t long ago understood and taught by the Scholastics. But what?

  • Jordan Bissell

    This humongous spider, like moray eels, is a vindication not of atheism but of the Manichean confession.

  • eddie too

    reality (being or existence or give it whatever name you prefer) is necessarily unlimited. a person cannot rationally (reasonably) argue that existence is limited. therefore, existence by its very nature is infinite.

    something cannot come from nothing. to postulate the opposite is to in fact make nothing something, i.e. the originator of something. therefore, existence by its very nature has always been, i.e. is eternal.

    so human reason can conclude that existence is necessarily both infinite and eternal.

    infinite and eternal are two of the attributes of the One God.

    after that, it is nothing if not totally presumptuous for finite and mortal human beings to place any limitations on the infinite and eternal being. limitations such as that eternal and infinite being is somehow less knowing, understanding, loving or any other human characteristic than we finite and mortal humans.

    that infinite and eternal being is perfectly loving is best demonstrated by the Life, Death and Resurrection of the Incarnate Word before which all else pales in comparison.

    that is how i see it, and, although i will listen to any objections someone else might have to my conclusions, i have yet to hear or read an argument that reasonably and adequately refutes them.

  • Timrford

    Part of the problem is that the GNU atheists only recognize as “proof,” that which comes from the five senses. That is fine only so far, for God is pure spirit, and outside all dimensions, and there is nothing we can use to sense Him externally (ignoring the fact that we can know Him indirectly). Since the search for him must be inward, where the five senses cannot go, they (the atheists) have the advantage of denying the existence of God. In the last century, several totalitarian atheistic regimes, made the successful effort to put to death at least 120 million believers. Certainly there have been crimes committed in the name of Christianity, and although some may argue successfully, that they were not living up to their labels as Christians, these people were not acting in a Christian manner, the obscene actions of atheists far outweighed anything that anyone else has ever done in the history of the world, Yet, when those regimes and their atheistic principles failed, you can see how fast the general populace returned to the practice of the Christian and Jewish Faith. It would appear to the world, that atheism has little to propose itself as a suitable substitute for believers. Incidentally, there are more than 2 billion Christians today, and regardless of all else, Christianity is the fastest growing religion. Atheism wishes to ignore the contributions of freedom integral not only to religion but to secular life, including art, music, universities, hospitals, and schools for the poor. I did see one section of highway in the Northwest that an atheistic society paid to have picked up, though. I guess that when one gets tired of slaughtering believers, one must clean up the highway to get respectability. I do not recall if it was Dawkins or Hitchens who called Mother Teresa an atheist and a whore. Nice people.

    • keddaw

      You know there are more than 5 senses, right?

      You also know that many proofs come in the form of logic and/or mathematics which don’t apply to the senses?

      You are further aware that there is no such thing as atheistic principles I assume?

      Finally, since you have so much to say about atheists, I assume you also know that atheism, in as much as there is a thing, is not a substitute for believers, it is a statement about the likely state of affairs in the universe?

      If not then please take these questions as statements of fact and rethink your attitude, if for no other reason than it is ignorant statements like this that push adolescents and young adults away from faith because they know atheists and know these kinds of mistakes do not fit reality.

  • fats

    I’ve asked atheists who say God doesnt exist, ” prove to me that God doesn’t exist” , and their response is always ” you cant prove a negative”. My question about that response is, ” you can prove that it’s nighttime when it becomes dark, and that is the absence of light” , somehow, that applies both in the physical world, and in this case, the spiritual one too :>)