Summary Against Modern Thought: Failed Arguments For The Eternity Of The World I

This may be proved in three ways. The first...
This may be proved in three ways. The first…
See the first post in this series for an explanation and guide of our tour of Summa Contra Gentiles. All posts are under the category SAMT.

Previous post.

I’m departing from the usual format for this and next week. In Aquinas’s next six chapters, the first three are arguments for the eternal existence of things; the following three are his refutations of the same. I’m doing one of the arguments today; rather, highlights from it. The A reference are those arguments in favor of things existing eternally from the point of view of God, and the B reference are Thomas’s refutations. I’m highlighting only the most interesting arguments on both sides, else this post would run to 4,000 words.

A REFERENCE: Chapter 32 Arguments of those who wish to prove the eternity of the world from God’s side of the question (alternate translation)

B REFERENCE: Chapter 35 Solution of the foregoing arguments, and first of those that were taken from the standpoint of God (alternate translation)

A Every agent that acts not always, is moved either per se or accidentally: per se, as fire which was not always burning, begins to burn, either because it is newly lit, or because it is newly transferred so as to be near the fuel:–accidentally, as the mover of an animal begins anew to move the animal with some movement made in its regard; either from within,–as an animal begins to be moved when it awakes after its digestion is complete,–or from without, as when there newly arise actions that lead to the beginning of a new action. Now God is not moved, neither per se nor accidentally, as we proved in the First Book. Therefore God always acts in the same way. But created things are established in being by His action. Therefore creatures always have been.

B For it does not follow that God is moved either per se or accidentally if His effect begin to be anew; as the first argument pretended. Because newness of effect may argue change of the agent in so far as it proves newness of action: since it is impossible for a new action to be in the agent, unless the latter be in some way moved, at least from inaction to action. But newness of effect does not prove newness of action in God, since His action is His essence, as we have proved above. Neither therefore can newness of effect argue change in God the agent.

A Again. The effect proceeds from the active cause by the latter’s action. But God’s action is eternal: else He would become an actual agent from being an agent in potentiality: and it would be necessary for Him to be reduced to actuality by some previous agent, which is impossible. Therefore the things created by God have been from eternity.

B And yet it does not follow, if the action of the first agent is eternal, that His effect is eternal, as the second argument inferred. For it has been shown above, that in producing things God acts voluntarily. Not, however, as though there were an intermediate action of His,–as in us the action of the motive power intervenes between the act of the will and the effect,–as we have proved in a foregoing chapter: but His act of understanding and willing must be His act of making.

Now the effect follows from the intellect and the will according to the determination of the intellect and the command of the will. And just as every other condition of the thing made is determined by the intellect, so is time appointed to it: for art determines not only that this thing is to be such and such, but that it is to be at this particular time, even as a physician determines that a draught is to be taken at such and such a time. Wherefore, if his willing were per se efficacious for producing the effect, the effect would follow anew from his former will, without any new action on his part. Therefore nothing prevents our saying that God’s action was from eternity, whereas His effect was not from eternity, but then when from eternity He appointed.

Notes Don’t forget “eternity” means outside of time, not existing on a time line indefinitely. Time is change; if everything were always actual and changeless, like God, there’d be no potentiality, and no time. So God exists necessarily and is outside of time, but His creations are in time, and so there can be a beginning of time. Some of A’s premises are true (the implied one about God not being in potential).

A Moreover. Given a sufficient cause, its effect must necessarily be granted. For if, given the cause, it were still unnecessary to grant its effect, it would be therefore possible that, given the cause, the effect would be or not be. Therefore the sequence of the effect to its cause would only be possible: and what is possible, requires something to reduce it to actuality. Hence it will be necessary to suppose some cause whereby it comes about that the effect is made actual, and thus the first cause was not sufficient. But God is the sufficient cause of creatures being produced: else He would not be a cause; rather would He be in potentiality to a cause: since He would become a cause by the addition of something: which is impossible. Therefore it would seem necessary, since God is from eternity, that the creature was also from eternity.

B Hence it is also clear that, although God is the sufficient cause of bringing things into being, it is not necessary to suppose that because he is eternal His effect is eternal; as the third argument contended. For if we suppose a sufficient cause, we suppose its effect, but not an effect outside the cause: for this would be through insufficiency of the cause, as if for instance a hot thing failed to give heat. Now the proper effect of the will is for that thing to be which the will wills: and if something else were to be than what the will wills, this would be an effect that is not proper to the cause but foreign thereto. But just as the will, as we have said, wills this thing to be such and such, so does it will it to be at such and such a time.

Wherefore, for the will to be a sufficient cause, it is not necessary for the effect to be when the will is, but when the will has appointed the effect to be. On the other hand, it is different with things which proceed from a cause acting naturally: because the action of nature is according as nature is; wherefore the effect must necessarily follow if the cause exist. Whereas the will acts, not according to the mode of its being, but according to the mode of its purpose. And consequently, just as the effect of a natural agent follows the being of the agent, so the effect of a voluntary agent follows the mode of his purpose.

Notes A is a clever counter-argument and it ought to be studied for its form, to show how easy it is to be confused when discussing infinities/eternities and chains of causes, and in particular the tacit arguments about the primary and all secondary causes. Now just how (and why) God, who is timeless, causes things to be in time I have no idea.

I left off four other arguments, which you can and should read. I don’t include them because I think the point is already well made, and because next week we have another group of similar arguments and rebuttals (from a different perspective).


  1. Sander van der Wal

    Most of the things that exist in the universe are pointless if they do not change. Take a violin for example. It produces a sound only if the strings vibrate. If it cannot make a sound the’s no point in having it. In other words, for violins it is essential to exist in time.

    The same for a star. If it doesn’t make neutrino’s and photons trying to balance gravity it is not a star, just a weird gas cloud.

  2. God is not necessary to anything. Of all the discoveries of causes ever made, not once has God shown to be one, save only for what people said has motivated them, and sadly, often motivated them to do really, truly horrible things.


  3. Oldavid

    The most really, truly horrible things people do is to egotistically assume that reality is a construct of their own convenience and self aggrandisement, i.e. the paranoid illusion that if God exists He would be their servant and a slave of their capricious whims.

    Such narcissists are always bitter because reality stubbornly refuses to submit to their fancies and what is true and good remains what it is regardless of how the narcissist seeks to demean it for his own aggrandisement.

  4. Oldavid

    As usual, Ole Tom’s lengthy discourses can be summarised and simplified by combining them with intuitive, pragmatic observations common to realists both ancient and modern.

    Time and eternity. (Similar distinctions between “place”, or space, and omnipresence can be made).

    Time is “the succession of events” or, as might be more useful for most usual conceptions of time: “the relative rates of successions of events”. No “succession of events” = no time. Time, therefore, must be some division of a succession of events between the first event and the last. How time is measured is a fairly arbitrary convenience based on some fairly reliable repetition of events… say the rotation of the Earth or its repeated orbit of the Sun… and some convenient division of such repeated events into, say, hours, minutes, seconds, nanoseconds etc.

    Eternity cannot exist as an “infinitely long” succession of events. There can be no “second event” or “umpteenth event” except for following a “first event”. Without getting too carried away with the absurdity of time being a succession of events receding and proceeding infinitely before and after our now, it should be apparent with some reflection that there can be no succession of events in eternity. The old (Scholastic) thinkers simply said that “God lives in an eternal now”.

  5. Ye Olde Statistician

    God is not necessary to anything.

    These theorems are cumulative. It was shown earlier that God is Being (and Truth and Beauty, the transcendentals being interchangeable) a/k/a Existence Itself. Existence exists; in fact, it must exist. And it is necessary for anything else to exist.

    As to whether it can be discovered scientificalistically, as if Existence were simply one more efficient cause within the material world, the notion is absurd. Existence is a precondition for any material world and is assumed by natural philosophers/scientists. You don’t “discover” your preconditions.

    Yet another pitfall for fideists and personalists who elevate the will above the intellect.

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