Summary Against Modern Thought: Periodic Review

This may be proved in three ways. The first...
This may be proved in three ways. The first…
See the first post in this series for an explanation and guide of our tour of Summa Contra Gentiles. All posts are under the category SAMT.

Let’s catch up so that we’re not in danger of forgetting where we came from, where we are, and where we’re going. I do not mean here to give complete arguments. That has already been done in the original posts. What follows is only a sketch to reorient and reinvigorate us. Don’t be lazy.

Does God exist? How do we know? Given the logical implications of answering those questions, how do we explain what can we know about God? What can we know about God? Well, some things, but not every thing. But more than you’d guess. These questions, all worthy and deserving of our attention, form the discourse of Book One of SCG. Let’s review.

Our efforts will not be in vain. From Chapter 3: “Now in those things which we hold about God there is truth in two ways. For certain things that are true about God wholly surpass the capability of human reason, for instance that God is three and one: while there are certain things to which even natural reason can attain, for instance that God is, that God is one, and others like these, which even the philosophers proved demonstratively of God, being guided by the light of natural reason.”

Let’s don’t be lazy; let’s attack each point assiduously, as argued in Chapter 4. Why? Because “the checking of presumption which is the mother of error” Chapter 5. Repeat that thrice. Most of what we believe is given to us. Let’s think things through, guided by those of superior intelligence. God is an embarrassing subject for our world, except to denigrate religion or sneer at theology, these unthinking irrational ill-educated attitudes being thought a mark of sophistication. Don’t be lazy.

The proof, using only reason and not a whit of divine revelation (beyond that which we all possess) which forms the backbone of Aquinas’s efforts, is that of first motion, which begins in Chapter 13 (part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5; don’t be lazy).

3 The first way is as follows. Whatever is in motion is moved by another: and it is clear to the sense that something, the sun for instance, is in motion. Therefore it is set in motion by something else moving it. Now that which moves it is itself either moved or not. If it be not moved, then the point is proved that we must needs postulate an immovable mover: and this we call God. If, however, it be moved, it is moved by another mover. Either, therefore, we must proceed to infinity, or we must come to an immovable mover. But it is not possible to proceed to infinity. Therefore it is necessary to postulate an immovable mover.

This simple and quite beautiful eminently reasonable and (thus far?) irrefutable argument has never stopped being misunderstood. Aquinas, and we following him, went to great pains to show that this movement is here-and-now. That which accounts for how any movement, which is to say how any change, happens must be because of a First Mover, an Unchanging Changer.

From this argument we learned (among other things) the concepts of act and potential. Something actual changes a thing from one “state” to another “state”, which before the change was only a potential. It cannot be the potential that is an efficient cause, it must be something actual.

What follows from this is that, because for any and all change there must be a First Changer, that God is not only “everywhere”—but not in the pagan sense; in the sense that if God did not exist, the universe would immediately cease—but God is also eternal, outside time, because time is the measure of movement, and God is Unmoving, Chapter 15. Few of these terms carry the same colloquial definitions we ordinarily carry, so don’t be lazy: read the original argument.

Another consequence is that God does not have any passive potentiality, Chapter 16.

2 For everything in whose substance there is an admixture of potentiality, is possibly non-existent as regards whatever it has of potentiality, for that which may possibly be may possibly not be. Now God in Himself cannot not be, since He is eternal. Therefore in God there is no potentiality to be

Not surprisingly, from these we learn that God is not made of matter. He is not physical stuff, Chapter 17. God is not the god of the atheists; He is not a clever, long-lived alien being composed (say) of energy fields. God is beyond matter: He is spirit.

It immediately follows that God is not made of parts, that he is “simple”, Chapter 18.

1 For in every composite thing there must needs be act and potentiality: since several things cannot become one simply, unless there be something actual there and something else potential. Because those things that are actually, are not united except as an assemblage or group, which are not one simply. In these moreover the very parts that are gathered together are as a potentiality in relation to the union: for they are actually united after being potentially unitable. But in God there is no potentiality. Therefore in Him there is no composition.

Another consequence: there is nothing in God against Nature, Chapter 19, and that God is not a body, Chapter 20, the simplest demonstration of which is, “For since every body is a continuous substance, it is composite and has parts. Now God is not composite, as we have shown. Therefore He is not a body.”

This brings us up to date. God exists, is responsible for the universe remaining in existence and is the ultimate cause of all change, that He is eternal, that He has no potential, that He is not made of stuff and is not a body. Well, fine. But that doesn’t tell us much. This could all describe the some kind of weird immaterial physical uber-field. Though we’ve gone a great distance, we haven’t really done much. We haven’t come close to describing God in full.

But we still have 80 chapters to go! Don’t be lazy.


  1. 1) That there is exactly 1 First Mover hasn’t been shown yet. Aristotle, the inventor of the argument, had at least 47.

    2) “time as the measurement of change” makes a specific assumption about time: If there is no change, time doesn’t exist. That is not quite the same as stating that time exists, but its progress cannot be measured without things changing. Also, consider that space doesn’t exist either if there’s nothing in it, as you have no way to check you much you have moved if there are no points you can measure your progress against.

    3) not matter being spirit has not been shown.

  2. “He is not made of stuff and is not a body.”

    Jesus is a person, Jesus has a body, Jesus is God, Jesus ascended with his body into heaven.

    Therefore God has a body in heaven.


  3. Hans,

    That objection has been dealt with on the Chapter God is not a Body.

    A more interesting question is, given we know our intellects are non-material (i.e., if you like, spiritual) how is it they “work” with our material selves. Figure that one out with a simple syllogism and the world will love you.

  4. Sander,

    (1) That there must only be one first mover was, in fact, shown. But we’ll come to it more when it is demonstrated that God is “simple”.

    (2) If I understand you, it seems like you’re in agreement here.

    (3) It has. God is not made of parts nor does He have passive potentiality, nor is He matter. We had a chapter on each. But maybe I didn’t understand your point.

  5. Briggs could you be more specific? As you know where to look and I don’t.
    So either: Jesus is not God, or Jesus’ body is not in heaven, I thought both statements are Catholic dogma.

  6. 2) I don’t think so. Actually, this is two different points

    2a) General Relativity has no problem with a Universe that consists of Space and Time only. The formulae work fine, and there are in fact a number of solutions that assume there is no matter at all in the universe.

    Aristotle, OTOH assumes that Time does not exist when nothing changes.

    So Aristotle is not talking about the same universe as GR

    2b) If Aristotle assumes that Time only exists when things change, then he should make a similar argument for the existence of Space. Space only exists if you can measure your position in relation to other objects. If there are no objects, Space doesn’t exist.

    But the only way to know that there are other objects in the Universe, you need to move to a position where there is one, or you need to be able to see it, i.e, receive messages from it (like photons). And that means change, objects moving around.

    Which means that you cannot have Space without Time. And therefore no place for an Unchanged Changer.

  7. @Sander van der Wal,

    “But the only way to know that there are other objects in the Universe, you need to move to a position where there is one, or you need to be able to see it, i.e, receive messages from it (like photons). And that means change, objects moving around.

    Which means that you cannot have Space without Time. And therefore no place for an Unchanged Changer.”

    The answer of course is that the first mover is outside of the universe, and there fore outside of both space and time as well. Neither space nor time needs to have a place for an Unchanged Changer.

  8. @Matt

    Thomas’ First Mover is specifically outside Time only. He probably has to, for to be actual without any potentiality you have to be everywhere. And to be anywhere, let alone everywhere, you need Space.

  9. Crucifixus etiam pro nobis sub Pontio Pilato, passus et sepultus est,
    et resurrexit tertia die, secundum Scripturas,
    et ascendit in caelum, sedet ad dexteram Patris.

    Ergo God the Father has a right hand side, which means He has dimensions in space, therefore He does not exist outside time.

  10. Hans,

    Dude. Way, way too literal. You’re starting to sound like a Protestant. See the original post, and also the comments.

  11. Briggs, I really enjoy this series and wish it could move on faster. This statement of yours confuses me though “You’re starting to sound like a Protestant.” in response to Hans. It has been my experience that with the exception of some fundamentalists, Roman Catholics are considerably more literal than most Protestant Churches. The latter more often going for the symbolic interpretation. I believe that it is still the Catholic position that all others are denied salvation and perhaps this is the source of the antagonism. Don’t take me wrong, as much like the great Martin Gardner, I have religious beliefs and sensibilities. They are just often confused and so any religious questions that I ask are meant to be honest. A closing question: how does one know where to be literal and where to be symbolic? The cosmological argument, as fascinating as it is, I see as separate from this question.

  12. Scotian,

    Don’t forget it was one of the (many) branches of Protestantism that claimed the earth was only 6,000 years old, based on their Hans-like literal reading of Genesis.

    Where to be literal and where symbolic or allegorical is a good question. This is what tradition and hundreds of years of scholarship is for. This is why we’re going so carefully through Aquinas’s book, to avoid glib errors like Hans is making.

    There’s a famous passage from St Augustine, relevant here:

    It not infrequently happens that something about the earth, about the sky, about other elements of this world, about the motion and rotation or even the magnitude and distances of the stars, about definite eclipses of the sun and moon, about the passage of years and seasons, about the nature of animals, of fruits, of stones, and of other such things, may be known with the greatest certainty by reasoning or by experience, even by one who is not a Christian. It is too disgraceful and ruinous, though, and greatly to be avoided, that he should hear a Christian speaking so idiotically on these matters, and as if in accord with Christian writings, that he might say that he could scarcely keep from laughing when he saw how totally in error they are. In view of this and in keeping it in mind constantly while dealing with the book of Genesis, I have, insofar as I was able, explained in detail and set forth for consideration the meanings of obscure passages, taking care not to affirm rashly some one meaning to the prejudice of another and perhaps better explanation.

    This hints as to why it’s absurd take a passage which says (for instance) “Seated at the right hand of God” and conclude from it “Aha! God has a right hand! That means He has a body.” Sheesh.

    But I suspect Hans doesn’t believe a word of what he’s writing, and he’s just casting stink bombs for the fun of it.

    Speaking of Martin Gardner, I do have an obit I wrote about him, deist that he was. He believed in the efficacy of prayer, for one thing, a matter which made his fellows paranormal skeptics uneasy (I’m speaking of the old CSICOP days).

  13. Briggs, I am showing you the litteral text of the Nicean creed, in which is stated that God with Jesus has a body in heaven. That is catholic dogma. If Aquinas also proves that God does not have a body, several options exist:
    1 Aquinas is right, then all catholics are muslim, because Jesus’ body is not in heaven.
    2 The Nicean creed is right, then Aquinas is a heretic.
    3 Both are right: then God does not exist, as a square circle cannot not exist.
    4 Both are wrong: then God does not exist and atheists are right

    I second, of course, the fourth option.

  14. Hans,

    Say, you forgot Genesis 3:8, “When they heard the sound of the LORD God walking about in the garden at the breezy time of the day, the man and his wife hid themselves from the LORD God among the trees of the garden.”

    God was walking! He must have un-detachable legs! Now I wonder where He stores those legs in heaven. And He can’t be that bright either if two grown naked people can hide from Him.

    A knock down argument. Yes, sir. One which no theological or philosopher ever considered. How could they? It’s irrefutable!

  15. Briggs, You don’t have to prove to me that the bible is a bundle of made up stories, but the Nicean creed does not state that they are made up.
    I don’t follow the Nicean creed, you do. Then accept the implications of God having a body in heaven: Aquinas is a heretic by stating that God does not have a body.

  16. Hans,

    Good grief.

    If you’re genuinely interested (which is doubtful) go back and review the arguments Aquinas made in the chapter “God is Not a Body”. These are convincing. That you insist on a literal reading of the Bible where the text is clearly analogical is, as I said, a common fallacy. There seems no clear way of talking you out of it.

  17. 3, the first way:

    This is not as “irrefutable” as you suggest. Is everything moved by the motion of something else? It’s the curvature of spacetime due to mass which is the ultimate cause of motion. If there were only two objects in the universe, they would move towards each other due to each others’ gravitational attraction – where is the infinite regress there? In any case, why is it assumed that infinity is impossible? The universe might very well be infinite in spatial extent, that is currently not known.

    Q: Would god (if he/she/it existed) be able to move an object if it was the only object in a hypothetical one-object-only universe?

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *