4. Philosophical Theology
4.1 The classic arguments
From a historical perspective one can say: Since the beginning of occidental philosophy there have been attempts to prove the existence of God. As the awareness rises that the divine or the gods cannot be apprehended like anything else in the world, the problem of making sure of them rises accordingly. Seemingly it was nobody but Sokrates (approx. 470-399 BC) who first developped a relevant thought. In Xenophon‟s “Memorabilia” he infers from the obsevation of a beautifully ordered
nature an intelligent instance which constitutes this order:
“And especially the divine being, which orders the whole universe
with all its beautiful and good things and keeps it together and
presents everything intact and sound and everlasting in spite of
constant use and makes it serve flawlessly quicker than the
thought, this divine nature becomes obvious in its enormous works.
1However, even in this process of creation, it stays invisible for us.”
The first one who intends to develop a real proof of the existence of gods is Plato (approx. 427-347 BC) He develops this thought by a detailed argumentation with lots of detours, to make it the basis of his theory of the state. Concerning its structure it is basically an argument to avoid a “regressus in infinitum” (i.e. a “regression into the infinite”) – and this is
nothing but already the backbone of a person‟s argumentation, who for first time laid down a formal proof of the existence of a god: Aristotle (384-322 BC). Strictly speaking, this is the starting point. In the following
time a surprisingly high number of attempts to prove the existence of God have been developped from this point. Partly these are derivatives of the basic models just mentioned, partly these models are combined with other motives of Plato and Aristotle or they are combined with inspirations from other contexts, e.g. the Stoa. In the encounter with Christian thinking this topic is not only subject of reception, but it is combined with biblical features. Therefore it is of course not only a task to think an original cause for everything and an absolut being; it is rather important that what can be intellectually achieved in such a way, must be explicitly identifiable with the God of the Bible and that it therefore can be thought personally. In the following course of history three big innovative philosophical waves can be observed, in which it comes to a great
thdensity concerning proofs of the existence of god: First of all in the 11
thcentury by Anselm of Canterbury (1034-1109), in the 13 century by
thThomas Aquinas and in the 18 century by Kant. These are the three
thought patterns we have to investigate in the following, because todays discussions about this topics are still under their spell and they are still thriving on them. Nevertheless I want to give a frame to these three big arguments by presenting at least in minisketches the whole of the types of arguments that are being advocated. The following types or
2typegroups can be distinguished:
a. The historical or ethnological proof of the existence of God:
thThe name “historical proof of the existence of God” goes back to the 19
century but the matter itself goes back to Greek and stoic beginnings. The one who developped the classic formulation was Cicero (106-43 BC), actually a very important instance for the topic of natural theology, since
there has been preserved a complete work of his with the title “De natura deorum” – “The nature of the gods”.
“There is no people, that would be so savage, and noone, who
would be so coarse, that it did not carry the thought of the gods in
his mind – a lot of people think wrong about the gods (but this is
usually due to a bad way of life) – nevertheless everyone believes
that there is a divine power and nature; however, this doesn‟t
cause a consensus between the human beings, furthermore this
assumption (of a divine power) is not enforced by institutions or
laws; the unison of all peoples concerning this matter must
3therefore be taken as a law of nature.”
It is remarkable that this argument was not used during the golden age of proofs of the existence of God, namely the medieval philosophy. On the other hand it becomes more and more important with the rise of historical awareness; Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831) mentions it as well, even though he does not consider this thought to have a metaphysical-argumentative character. Today this thought is important to a certain extent in connection with the extent of empirical data of religious studies, that has been achieved today: If the thought of god was a mistake under the given conditions, it would be such fundamental mistake, that the ability of reason as a whole to apprehend truth would become doubtful. Or, to say it pointed with a formulation of Ludwig
4Wittgenstein (1889/1951): “For a mistake, it is simply too enormous.”
Irrespective of that, this argument remains a very weak one: On the one hand it is obtained inductively, on the other hand, concerning the differences between the different forms of religion, one can only speak of
a very unspecific concept of God. As far as that goes one can cannot really speak of a proof of the existence of God.
b. The axiologic or eudaimonologic proof of the existence of God:
ththAgain a name – a product of the new scholasticism of the 19 and 20
century – represents an old thing: Real human life is characterized by striving for values. (that explains the name: from Greek: “axios” = “value”) However, all the wordly values as such are limited. As a consequence of that the necessity of a supreme good or value has to be presumed, otherwise this fundamental tendency of the existence would become absurd. We are dealing with the eudaimonological proof of the existence of God, when this striving is specified as striving for happiness (Greek: eudaimonia). The basic form can be found in Plato‟s “symposium” in form of the loving striving for the beautiful as such; the same thought appears with Plotin (approx. 204-270) and with Thomas Aquinas. To a certain extent the modern metaphysics of knowledge by Joseph Maréchal makes use of it as well, as long as the condition of the possibility of a concrete judgement is seen within the existence of an absolute being, from which the act of judgement starts.
Even the early Karl Rahner (1904-1984) has made use of this thought
c. Noetic, ideological or nomological proof of the existence of God
Again these are young names for an old thought. This thought goes back to Augustine (354-430) and is explicitly explained as proof of the
6existence of God in “De libero arbitrio”. It works with the concept of truth
and goes like this: There are three levels in the existence: Whatever is, but neither lives nor cognizes, whatever is, lives, but doesn‟t cognize and
whatever is, lives and cognizes. The latter applies to the reason. Reason is the highest Being. But as long as reason is alterable, there has to be an unalterable, eternal truth above it, which is either God himself or a truth above which stands God himself. Augustine explains this mainly with mathematical theorems. The necessity of this connection reveals itself in the fact that the reason meets timeless and generally binding laws, by which it has to orientate its judgements. Therefore these laws can neither stand beneath the reason, for then they could not have a normative effect, nor can they lay within the reason, for then they would be alterable like the reason itself, so they have to stand above it.
The scholarly objection to the noetic proof of the existence of God is, that it objectivizes something, which is a feature of statements – truth – to an
independant reality called truth. From a formal point of view this is right, but it is not quite appropriate concerning the neoplatonic background of this Augustinian argumentation, for in this thinking Being and Being true are closely connected, they “swing into each other”. This argument does not play any role during the high time of proofs of the exintence of God either. It is Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716) who develops a similar thought pattern with an explicit reference to Augustine: For him the eternal truths have to do with ideal objects in form of beings and possibilities, and these can only be understood with God as their cause. This version of Leibniz is called “Gottesbeweis ex possibilius” – “proof of
the existence of God from the possibilities”.
I name only briefly the other types of Arguments, as they are altogether the substance of the big and influential theories.
d. The “proof from levels” which goes back to Augustinian motives,
and which we first find in Anselm of Canterbury‟s “Monologion”, later
and much more elaborate with Thomas Aquinas. The basic thought:
Whatever is true or good or great, etc. is that what it is from a Being
true itself, Being good itself, Being big itself – i.e. from a Supreme
True, Good and Great.
e. A big group is the group of cosmological arguments – the name
comes from Kant. It goes back to Plato and Aristotle. These thought
patterns have to do with the concept of a beginning of all, with
causality and with contingency. We will find this version with Thomas
f. Closely connected to the cosmological argument, but clearly to
distinguish from it, is the teleological, or, as Kant calls it, the
“physicotheological” argument (argument from design), which is
related to the functionality and the objective orientations in nature.
g. Different to all those strategies, which are led by experience, is a
strategy which works with a conceptual analysis. It represents the
most famous and most infamous proof of the existence of God: The
“ontological Argument”, developped by Anselm of Canterbury. Its
name, however, goes back to Kant again. More than any other proof
of the existence of God he has not let the minds come to peace up to
today (even those who normally have a reserved relationship to
With the types e) – g) the proofs of the existence of God, which can be obtained by the speculative use of reason are mentioned completely. Kant justifies this completeness like this:
“All ways, one can go with this intention, begin either with a certain
experience and the realized special constitution of our world and
climb from this after laws of causality up to the highest cause outside
the world; or they just are just empirically based on an undefined
experience, i.e. an existence; or they finally abstract from every
experience and infer the being of a highest cause entirely “a priori”
from simple terms. The first proof is the physicotheological, the
second one is the cosmological, the third one is the ontological proof.
7There are no more and there cannot be more.”
In Kant‟s opinion the transcendental concept of reason is the actual driving force behind the two argumentation strategies that work empirically. Furthermore – Kant says - one can observe an increasing
“nesting” of these three types of proof – he wants to say that the
physikotheological argument encloses the cosmological and the cosmological the physicotheological argument. Therefore the decisive clarifications have to happen in dispute with this one. This will happen, as soon as we have analyzed the arguments themselves in their own features. After having gone through Kant‟s criticism of proofs of the existence of God we finally have to:
f) investigate the deontological, ethicotheological or moralic proof of
the existence of God, which Kant himself developped using some older forms and which used to be seen as the only possible form of a proof of the existence of God. At the same time the connection of Kants criticism of the proofs of the existence of god and his own conception of such a proof will be the background for the then following turn to the reasons and forms of modern new justifications of the problem of proofs of the
existence of God. This is the scenerio, in front of which we now want to confront ourselves with the classic big arguments of philosophical theology.
4.2 The “quinquae viae” of Thomas Aquinas
The “quinquae viae” (five ways) of Thomas Aquinas represent one of the most prominent texts of Occidental Philosophy. On the other hand there is none of the five perspectives of argumentation, that has not been there before in its basic forms or preforms. Moreover, not all of the five ways can be equally named “classic”. There are differences between them concerning their coherence and there persuasiveness. The originary achievement of Thomas Aquinas is the fact that has homogenized and fused a whole bunch of partly very different patterns of arguments. But before going on to talk about it, let us hear at least some passages of the text itself:
“There are five ways to prove the existence of God. The first and
most obvious way takes the movement as a starting point. It is a
certain fact, reliably guaranteed by the testimony of the senses,
that there is movement in the world. However, everything that is in
motion, is moved by something else, as something can only be in
motion, if it is on its way towards the destination of the movement.
Something can only move something else, if it somehow already
stands in the destination. To move (in its widest sense) actually
means nothing else but: To take a thing from its possiblities into the
respective realities. This can only happen by a Being, that stands
already within the respective realities. Thus, something that is
“actually” glowing like fire causes that something else, e.g. a piece
of wood, one of whose possibility it is to glow, to become now
“actually” glowing. Thus, the fire moves the piece of wood and
changes it by doing so. But it is impossible, that one and the same
thing, concerning the same perfection of being, “already” is and at
the same time is “not yet”, what it could be. This is only possible
concerning different forms of being or perfections of being. What,
for example, is hot in reality cannot be hot concerning its ability at
the same time, but concerning its ability it is cold. The same applies
to the fact, that one and the same thing concerning the same
Beings moving and moved in one and the same movement at the
same time, or –what is the same- : It is impossible that something
[strictly speaking] moves itself. Therefore, everything that is in
motion, has to be moved by something else. If therefore that, by
which something gets in motion, moves itself, it has to be moved by
something else, and this again by something different. However, it
is impossible that this goes on into the infinite as we would then not
have anything that moves first and, as a consequence of that,
nothing that is in motion. The later movers move only out of the
power of the first mover, as a stick can only be in motion, as long
as he is moved by a hand. Therefore, we absolutely have to come
to a first moving, which is moved by nothing. This first moving is
8meant by everyone, who talks of “God”.
The detailed explanation Thoams gives for the first way, makes it quite
obvious, that this argument has Platonic, but even more Aristotelian
origin and reveals its systematic structure. What we have here is a
classic inferential definition: Starting point is the empiric date of movement. Two premises have to be included for this phenomenon: On the one hand the principle of causality, on the other hand the avoidance of a “regressum in infinitum” (regression into the infinite), as otherwise the movement would kind of evaporate.
Conclusion: There has to be given a first moving that is unmoved itself. And – last step – theological interpretion of what is gained by conclusion.
The last step just mentioned – the theological interpretation - is the
aspect within the course of the argument which causes the fewest
9problems, even though it might seem different when you first look at it.
This “et hoc omnes intelligunt Deum” (And this is what everyone understands as God) or ,with the other ways, the “et hoc dicimus Deum” (And this is what we call God) comes very suddenly – but only if the
“quinquae viae” were taken as isolated metaphysical argumentations. This is, however, exactly not what they are. They are rather embedded in a principal theological intention and – this is the decisive point - together
with this intention they are connected by the semantic (concerning the theory of meaning), i.e. a linguistic philisophical level, which makes the sentences of identification at the end each via just quoted impossible to overlook. Besides, this is nothing special for Thomas. His entire work is run through by an ontosemantic character, i.e. a way of speaking about the being, which keeps the constitutive meaning of language aware, in the course of talking about being and does reflect it as well.
It‟s worth looking at this connection, concerning the case of “quinquae viae” itself. The identifying conclusion sentences introduce the expression “Deus” (God) without any further definition or description.