Does God Exist? Going Against Aquinas

This is the term paper I wrote for my Introduction to Philosophy course at Miami Dade College.

The Philosophical Question at Issue:

Does God Exist?

Author’s Thesis:

1. The Argument From Motion: Everything that moves has a prior cause.

2. The First-Cause Argument: The cosmos has a first cause.

Author’s Argument:

1. The Argument From Motion: Everything that moves has a prior cause. If things are moving something else caused them to move. And this ‘something else’ also had something else that made it move and that something else also had another something else, and so on. But this series of things-moving-other-things can’t go on forever, because then there would not be something that started all the moving. There must be an initial mover, something that put the universe in motion but it's not itself moved, and this being we call God.

2. The First-Cause Argument: The cosmos has a first cause. Everything has a cause and nothing can cause itself. Neither can something be caused by an infinite regress of causes. But we need a first cause. Therefore, the first cause is what we call God.

Both of these arguments essentially state the same thing: (1) The universe must have had a beginning - a first cause/mover; (2) An infinite regress of causes is not possible; (3) The universe could not have come from natural processes, so God must be invoked to terminate this infinite regress; (4) It follows that God exists and that he was the first mover/first cause - God created the universe.

My Thesis:

The universe arose from natural processes and requires no supernatural God for its creation.

My Argument:

In order to refute Aquinas’ argument for God’s existence, we must find evidence that (1) some things are uncaused, and that (2) the universe did not have a beginning. After showing that Aquinas’ argument is flawed, I will provide evidence that the universe arose from natural processes and requires no supernatural God for its creation.

Aquinas claims that everything in motion was put in motion by something else, with no justification other than what is “evident to our senses.” The same type of senses that would tell us that the earth is flat. In reality, some things are uncaused. There is a strong scientific consensus among quantum physicists that some events in the universe are completely uncaused. According to quantum physics, subatomic particles pop in and out of existence randomly - they appear and disappear without a cause. It follows from these findings that the universe might have popped randomly into existence, without a first mover. Here is how one scientist puts it, “The idea of a First Cause sounds somewhat fishy in light of the modern theory of quantum mechanics. According to the most commonly accepted interpretation of quantum mechanics, individual subatomic particles can behave in unpredictable ways and there are numerous random, uncased events.” Aquinas’ first premise, the assertion that everything must have a prior cause, is unfounded - the universe does not have to have a cause. We have revealed Aquinas’ argument to be flawed and we haven’t even gotten past the first premise. Nevertheless, let’s carry on.

Aquinas also claims that the universe must have had a beginning, and he calls this beginning God. I find that to be misleading. It is misleading because when people think of God, they usually think of a supreme being, and they attribute the qualities of omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, and omnibenevolent. Allow me to point that some of these qualities are logically inconsistent: Can God create a rock so heavy that he can’t lift? If the answer is yes, then he is not omnipotent; if the answer is no, then he is not omnipotent. Or, can omniscient God, who knows the future, find the omnipotence to change his future mind? If the answer is yes, he is omnipotent but not omniscient; if the answer is no, he is omniscient but not omnipotent. Either way, in this argument, Aquinas only referred to God only as the “first cause.” But why call that God? Why not give it a more simple name, like the big bang singularity? Calling it God is misleading. In any case, we are totally clueless as to what happened before the big bang - that is, before the universe started to expand. According to physicist Victor J. Stenger, we have no reason to assume the universe began with the big bang because the same cosmological equations used to describe the early universe apply to the other side of the time axis. In short, Aquinas’ claim that the universe had a beginning is unfounded.

Furthermore, the universe could have risen from completely natural processes without violating any laws of physics. We know that matter can’t be created nor destroyed, everything is just re-arrangement of already existing matter. But where does matter come from? We know, thanks to Einstein’s theory of relativity, that matter can be turned into energy and vice-versa: E=MC² (Energy = Mass * The Speed of Light²). The existence of matter violates no laws of physics, mass can come from energy. But where does energy come from? The conservation of energy states that energy must remain constant within a closed system. It turns out that the total energy of the universe is 0: positive energy (matter) and negative energy (gravity) cancel each other out. No laws of physics need to be violated for matter and energy to exist. Based on our current understanding of cosmology, the universe could have arisen from natural processes and it requires no supernatural God for its creation.

Criticism Against My View:

1. If the total energy of the universe is 0 because positive and negative energy cancel each other out, then where does positive and negative energy come from?

2. Why is there something rather than nothing?

3. Science has been wrong before, how do we know it is not wrong about this now?

My Response to the Criticism:

1. We know that not only is positive energy (matter) canceled out by negative energy (gravity) but also the total amount of positive charge and negative charge in the universe cancel each other out - it is 0. Furthermore, the total amount of spin of all the galaxies cancel each other out - it is 0. In other words, the universe has 0 spin, 0 charge, and 0 matter-energy content. Some physicists might speculate that in quantum mechanics, any process that is not strictly forbidden by the law of conservation of energy has a non-zero probability of happening at some point. Implying that there is nothing to prevent such a universe from being spontaneously created.

2. Theoretical physicist and Nobel laureate Frank Wilczek asserts that the answer to why there is something rather than nothing is because “nothing is unstable.” This idea may sound ridiculous to the average layman, but physicists argue that this conclusion follows naturally from science’s two most powerful and successful theories: general relativity and quantum mechanics.

Unfortunately, I am no quantum physicist, but I can assure you that invoking God because our current understanding is not sufficient to explain this phenomenon is not the right way to go. As evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins wrote, mocking intelligent design theorists, “If you don’t understand how something works, never mind: just give up and say God did it … You don’t know how the nerve impulse works? Good! Don’t understand how memories are laid down in the brain? Excellent! … Please don’t go work on the problem, just give up and appeal to God.” That type of attitude has no place in scientific or philosophical inquiry.

3. Science has never been wrong. Scientists may have been wrong in their speculations or interpretation of the data, but objective scientific facts have always remained true. Like astrophysicist Neil Degrasse Tyson puts it, “if you have an experimentally determined result, and it’s verified, and double-checked, and triple-checked, that will not later be shown to be false.” However, at the end of the day, it is your choice whether you believe in science or not. And if you choose not to believe in the law of gravity, good luck out there.

I did not mention this in the paper, but regarding point 2 under "Criticism Against My View": the question should not be "Why is there something rather than nothing?" but rather "How is there something rather than nothing?". That's an important distinction we need to make. In truth, I have no idea how. I am not claiming I know. No one knows. But the burden of proof falls on the people arguing that God is the answer to that question.

Please feel free to leave your comments below.