Saturday, January 28, 2012

Aquinas Regarding Contingency

Today is the feast day of St. Thomas Aquinas, someone I like to refer to as “scary-smart”. Anyone remotely interested in the topic of existence should give him a serious look.

Theologically, God is existence itself; not some being contained within existence like a ghost, a fairy in the sky or a flying spaghetti monster. This is the elementary blunder of most atheists. When asked His name, God answers, “I am that I am” (Ex 3:14), hinting that He is “being” itself. I think of the ocean as a metaphor. We generally don’t say there is water in the ocean. We are more apt to say the ocean IS water.
I especially like Aquinas’s theory of contingency as a proof for the existence of God. With help from other theologians that explain Aquinas, I describe contingency like this: Every effect must have a cause. We cannot logically trace back causes to infinity. We can logically trace back to a first cause, sometimes called an uncaused cause. A first cause, by necessity, would need to be simultaneously whole and non-composite, meaning totally self-sufficient and having no parts. Nothing is needed for its own existence, not even time or space and nothing can be added or taken away, not even knowledge or power (or else it cannot be the first cause). From this premise flows that there can only be one first cause which must encompass all knowledge, all power, etc, etc.
I struggled with the idea that we cannot logically trace back causes to infinity. I thought to myself, “why not?” Then I read a good analogy for it in a book entitled, How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization by Thomas E. Woods Jr.
Suppose you are at a deli counter to buy meat and you are told to first take a number. You are then told that you must take a number in order to take a number and this process of taking numbers to take the next will continue to infinity. You will realize that you will never reach the deli counter. You then notice that others have meat in their cart from the counter. You conclude that the processes of taking numbers must have ended at some point, at least for those with meat. It logically could not have continued to infinity as evident by the meat existing in the cart.
Here’s another way to think about contingency. Everything receives its existence from something else. You are here because your parents met. A valley exists because a river flowed there at some point. Try to imagine a universe where everything is a receiver of existence and nothing is a sender. If you showed someone from the far past a television set and explained that it receives signals and turns them into pictures and sound, the time traveler can logically conclude that there must be, somehow, a “sender” of the signal.
Modern physics now teaches that space & time do not go back to infinity, but have a certain beginning point. It’s not well advertised that the Big Bang Theory was first proposed by a Roman Catholic Priest and scientist, Monsignor Georges Lemaître.

Monsignor Georges Lemaître meets with Albert Einstein
Both science and religion lead to the truth. Seems after all these centuries science is finally starting to catch-up to Catholicism…took’em long enough.


  1. I couldn't resist...

    The name of your blog makes me want to purchase a hamburger and move my furniture to a new home. ;)

  2. Very obscure of me!

    Here are the links I should have added:

    FIVE GUYS Burgers


    Two Guys and a Truck

  3. The latest multiverse theory would seem to suggest that even if our universe had a beginning, universes have always been popping into and out of existence forever. Thus, while any particular universe may be contingent, the conditions for the existence of universes have always existed. This condition being eternal and infinite, the creation of our current universe would be inevitable. Thus, what the theist would call "God", the atheist simply calls the eternal conditions. There is no need to ascribe any particular intelligence to these conditions. Just as thunderstorm clouds can pop into and out of existence under the right atmospheric conditions, each one of those storms is contingent, but the atmospheric conditions may have existed eternally.

    1. Actually, the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin Theorem proved that any universe that has been expanding through its history must have had a beginning. This means that while our universe MAY be part of a multiverse, the problem is that the multiverse itself must have had a beginning.

      It is really well-stated by William Lane Craig here: and

      The multiverse hypothesis doesn't avoid the problem of beginnings or of infinite regression.

    2. What Aquinas refers to as an uncaused cause you seem to be calling an uncaused eternal condition. I think these ideas are basically the same thing. Even without complex physics we can reason the following:

      If one can accept, as possible, that intelligent beings originate from an UNintelligent “eternal condition” with no absolute proof, then one should be able to accept as possible that intelligent beings can originate from an intelligent “eternal condition” with no absolute proof.

  4. Only to add that "conditions for the possibility" and efficient or final causality are not the same things. That there are conditions for lightning, still cannot explain "why" lightning strikes at t1 and not t2 when the conditions were present at both t1 and t2. Thus, the existence of lightning at t1 would still require some other explanation.

    Aquinas was adamant that "the universe could have been eternal. If it was, we would certainly expect that the conditions for the possibility of such a word would exist!" Now write down on a piece of paper everything I put in quotations and draw a circle around it. What was the cause of that? That is the essence of the problem contingency.

    I also recommend Scotus's argument from contingency in the De Primo Principia.

  5. Monsignor Digby in his 'We Believe' says he has 'almost an obsession' with the Aquinas contingency proof and he meditates on it delightfully for hours. It is not just a 'formula' but a source of endless wonder.

    1. Thanks. I’ll need to look that up. I too often comtemplate “The First Cause”.