The Fifth Way

Hello everyone and welcome back to Deeper Waters where we are diving into the ocean of truth. We’ve been working on getting a good doctrine of God and a good systematic theology helps with that. Why not go to one such as Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologica? That is what we’ve been using and you can find it online at Before we get to tonight’s argument, I wish to present my prayer requests. First will be for my continued Christlikeness. Second, help with my financial situation as I have some major expenses coming I need help with. Finally, I ask for prayer for a third related area of my life. For now, let’s get to tonight’s argument for God’s existence.

The fifth way is one of the most misunderstood arguments I find by atheists, including Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion. When many an atheist comes to this they read it through modern eyes and think that Aquinas is talking about something along the lines of the Intelligent Design movement or the Watchmaker argument of Paley.

Now those are fine arguments I think on their own, but those are also arguments I do not wish to get into here, at least not from a scientific perspective. I will say that one could be a theistic evolutionist and still have no problem whatsoever with the fifth way of Aquinas because it is dealing with something different.

In Aquinas’s day, he was not dealing with the internal make-up of what he saw in the creation. He was not saying “Look at how complex a fish is! It must have a designer and therefore, there must be a God!” Naturally, he does speak about things that are designed, but that is because he is talking about things that exist in the known universe and if someone is going to argue for a case from a more empirical perspective, they will have to use items in the known universe to make their case.

Aquinas instead speaks about arrows being guided by archers and about bodies being guided along on a natural path and it seems that they are on this consistently as they always seem to move about the same way in reaching their goal.

But like the arrow that is flying towards its target, in order for something to be heading towards a path, it must have something that put it on that path. The arrow is not suddenly going to jump and go flying for the target and hit the bullseye. The arrow will only move if it is guided by an archer.

Now in the case of an animal, you could argue that it was self-guided, although it is doubtful Aquinas would even allow that. He would say that creatures like ourselves are moved to actuality not solely from within but also from without as we are all created to seek the good as a final cause and thus God is in that sense the cause of our actions as we all seek the good.

However, leaving out animals, you could not say that planets are guided by intelligent forces from within. (Well you could, but that would be your argument to make and it would be amusing to see it done.) However, they are moved on their path and in order for them to be guided on a path, there must be a supreme intelligence that is guiding them. This is because the knowledge of that end is not internal to the object that is moving. It must be something external.

Thus, this argument is not one about design so much as about providence. Design is not about that which is internal to the object but about that for which the argument acts, its final cause, hence this being called the teleological argument.

While there is truth I believe to the design argument, that is not Aquinas’s argument and we must understand that.

Tomorrow, we begin the doctrine of God and we start with simplicity. This will be a tough one. Be prepared.


3 Responses to “The Fifth Way”

  1. Glenn Says:

    Quite right. It’s more of an argument from purpose than from design. It’s not about things showing empirical evidence that they were designed, but rather about arguing that it looks like things were designed FOR something.

  2. Joel Gonzaga Says:

    Thanks for posting that. I too, like it when people construe that argument as it was intended. I very much like the Paley and such design arguments.

    I may have little to say in coming blogs. I pretty much part ways with Thomism when it comes to simplicity and similiar Aristotelian dogmas.

  3. The Apostle’s Creed: In God | Deeper Waters Says:

    […] that God exists. The first can be found here, followed by the second, third, fourth, and fifth. In fact, you can also listen to a debate I did on the Razor Swift podcast on the First way of […]

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