Saturday, October 27, 2012

On Thomas Aquinas' Summa Theologica: 'God'

(I wrote this for my Educ1b subject when I was in college - hence, the poor organization of ideas. It may not reflect my present views of the metaphysical, but it does comfort me to know that I have thought of these before. :)

One of the greatest discussions and debates on the early cold centuries of humanity is the the existence of a god, or a transcendent being – the ultimate reality that rises above all other existences. Throughout civilization, loads of theologians and philosophers have come up with various propositions and philosophical ideas to disprove or approve the existence of a higher being. The debates never really ended as it was, at a point, not really understood – many modern thinkers have regarded it as if it was without a purpose, nor a meaning.

It was on the 11th up to the 15th century when much of the theologians used rationalization and reason to justify a higher being’s existence. It was called scholasticism, which was primarily employed by Thomas Aquinas – one of the great Christian theologians who used this mode of thinking at that time. He published the Summa Theologica in hopes to enlighten the world, and resolve the existential debates, but just like most discoveries and works of man, it faded – buried by tons of counter-prepositions and principles.

One primary flaw of Thomas’ Scholasticism is its very own design. Faith, in which the movement should protect, had been ironically made an option -- scholasticism created a world where reason and faith co-existed (perhaps a perfect excuse to cure its imperfections). However, faith can never be one with reason. The Judeao-Christian concept of faith is to believe without question, that is faith. It will be a great contradiction for Christianity to betray its own foundation by engaging itself to the same weapon which was mainly used by its enemies and critics – logic and reason. It is also very interesting to note that Aquinas used limited objectives on the complicated question of whether a god exists or not. He did not consider any  ‘other’ objectives that ‘may be’ present outside his own mind. Many philosophers, especially existentialists and atheists had come up with hundreds of objectives and questions which were challenging even for Aquinas to answer using his few objectives and propositions (the biggest is Science). In the later years after he died, numerous critique by modern day philosophers dug a pit for his work by citing a comical  cherry-picking on the application of faith and reason in interpreting the bible. From Noah's ark to Yahweh's 'favoritism'.

Thomas Aquinas’ main idea of a 'main mover' in his ‘God’ chapter actually encompasses his sum of five ways. Considering that he used the realm of logic to explain an illogical phenomenon is not just ironic but irresponsible on his part ("since everything that is moved has a mover" logic). The bible cannot explain the universe, at least logically; it cannot explain the event when a woman sprouted from a man’s rib, the  friendly co-existing animals in the garden of Eden, among others. In the realm of reason, the bible stories play like myths and fairy tales. It is also inconsistent to select which part of the bible uses logic, and which part uses faith. If we think that, say, an eternally burning bush is logical, then we are betraying our faith; if we use faith to validate such unusual experience, then we cannot be logical in its sense. See, no matter how impossible and illogical an existence can be, if a person has faith, then he or she must not need any explanation. That is faith, far from the logic used by Scholasticism. To use the Scripture to explain a universal existence damages the fact that other civilizations believe in their own god, outside the Jewish and Christian belief of ‘God’. Would it not constitute prejudice to the different civilizations on the corners of the world to assert a predisposition which intends to serve a selfish desire of personal salvation? Or the; “if you don’t join us, then burn in hell” mentality? Perhaps faith, is simply a belief taught by a society which one, in the sheer accident, belongs to - I, for instance, would've been a muslim if I was born in an Arab country.

Another of Thomas Aquinas’ greater flaw is to 'assume'. How could he be sure that all his reasons exist in such a very enlightened mind (such like his)? How could he assume that there should be an order and a mover? How could he use the system governing the inexplicable universe  in explaining the system that could explain a god’s existence? What made him rank his ways into a more obvious or not? If there is really a prime mover, how could he be sure that the prime mover was the Christian God? How could he say that ‘all man’ recognized the Christian God as their own god? What made him think that he can lay and post his own premise and answer it in his own theories alone?


See, ‘truth can only be achieved when it survives numerous questions’. Throughout centuries, the existence of a god was mostly reduced from a debate to a choice – only the person can choose and decide what to believe in. In the 16th century, Agnosticism was developed for people who choose the middle ground. It proposes that we cannot talk of something that is beyond the facts that we know. That, our minds, which is capsuled in a mere piece of flesh, cannot grasp something that is really vast and transcendent. In the words of a philosopher; ‘how can a god, who has thoughts higher than us, expect us to think like him and know what is to be expected from us?’ Can we really prove or disprove the existence of a god? Whether it is just a concept created by mankind to justify their own existence, whether we created god, or God created us, may not be as important as it was before. A certain joke proposes that ‘debating whether a god exists or not is like lice or flea debating if there is a dog; debating who the real god is like those lice debating the name of the dog’. A drunk I overheard at a bar even shouted, ‘Yes, God can do everything except for one thing…to show himself to us!’. We have to wonder why, just like that drunk; why not show himself and command us lower beings? Why not show him once and for all to settle the minds of the skeptics?…but then, when all questions have been raised, all the faithful will comfort us with the same idea(excuse) that the god/s who can’t show himself/themselves only wanted us to have faith in him/them, even without seeing anything. Faith and reason may never blend.

Just like the tiny ant who will never know the name of the American president, or the dog who will never know the Diplomat of Iraq, our limited consciousness is only restricted by what we experience – far from the knowledge of the gods we want to covet to understand the world, and our existence. We are mere dust and this vast and limitless universe that we know or we wont ever know, and we are only sure of one thing – life. And, if there is that one good thing which can come up from these debates, it is humility and humanity. That, our short lives may be spent for the purpose of living and co-existing with other lives in this world of nations and institutions which pale in comparison with the size of the universe and vast ideas that we will never know. Perhaps, that is what matters most.

(Read Thomas Aquinas' Summa Theologica here