In previous posts, our attention has been on the cosmological argument, its strengths and weaknesses, its proposition and objections. In this final post, we leave that discussion behind us a little to consider what value the argument has when we think of religious faith.
Does the argument strengthen faith? Or does it weaken faith? Could it convert someone to believing in God? Could the objections convert someone away from believing in God?
In his Summa Contra Gentiles, Aquinas wrote:
‘There is a twofold mode of truth in what we profess about God. Some truths about God exceed all the ability of human reason . . . but there are some truths which natural reason is able to reach. Such as God exists.’
Aquinas argues that there are two types of knowledge about God. One of these, the second one he mentions, is knowledge that can be worked out using natural reason, that is, human reasoning, human thinking. Using our experience of the world around us and our own intellectual efforts, we can work things about God. This is called natural theology – truths about God worked out by human thought.
The cosmological argument is an example of natural theology – it is based on observational evidence and uses human intellect, for example, when rejecting the possibility of infinite regress. For Aquinas, the conclusion ‘God exists’ can be established using natural theology – by our own intellectual efforts.
There is, however, another way of knowing about God; truths that cannot be worked out by human thought. This is called revealed theology, truths about God that have to be revealed to us, that have to be shown to us. For Aquinas, these included concepts such as incarnation, Trinity and resurrection. These are truths about God that humans cannot work out by themselves and so they must be revealed to us.
Having understood this distinction leads us to the idea of faith. Aquinas was interested in both natural and revealed theology, but it is revealed theology that concerns us most when we consider faith. For Aquinas, faith could not be founding the capacitance of what is shown by reason. Accepting the conclusion of the cosmological argument that ‘God exists’ is not faith. You can think that the cosmological argument works as a piece of philosophical argument, but that does not mean you have faith in God. Faith rather is related to revealed truth. Obedient acceptance of revealed truth is what faith is about. Faith is about seeing and knowing some truth that cannot be seen or known through human reason.
For Aquinas, then, the cosmological argument, as natural theology, has little relevance to faith. It is supportive of faith and brings understanding to faith. This is a case of fides quarens intellect – faith seeking understanding. Having faith in God, Aquinas would argue, leads to seeking understanding of that God and it is in this area of understanding a belief that is already there that the cosmological argument may be of some value.