Last week, I presented St. Thomas Aquinas’ Argument from Degrees of Perfection. This week I present an objection to this argument and my response to this objection.
Objection to the Argument from Degrees of Perfection
So, God possesses perfect smelliness?
Richard Dawkins famously protested in his book, The God Delusion, that one may as well argue that God possesses perfect “smelliness.” But, smelliness, as it should be clear from the discussion of Thomas’ argument from degrees of perfection, is not a perfection, but a privation. Things smell badly not because they possess the perfection of smelliness, but because they lack the perfection of cleanliness. God possesses all perfections and wants for nothing. Therefore, God cannot be smelly!
At a more serious level, of course, Thomas isn’t really concerned about smelliness or cleanliness, or other mundane attributes things may possess. The examples he uses are intended as helps to understand what he is talking about: namely, that those qualities that are transcendent, toward which all things are drawn by their very nature, are measured as better or less in any particular thing according to a hierarchy of perfection. But, this hierarchy of perfection, to which we all submit (for we regard it better to be truthful rather than untruthful, to be noble rather than ignoble, to be morally good rather than immoral, and even to be rather than to not be) depends on some standard of perfection from which all others attain their own degrees of perfection.
If you have an orange bouncy ball, for instance, we can see that a bouncy ball shares in a higher degree of being than the color orange, for the ball has actual substance, while the color orange depends on the existence of a material substance in order to exist (in other words, the color “orange” doesn’t exist out there independent of things that are orange). Angels possess a higher degree of being than bouncy balls, for angels don’t depend on material substances to exist, and don’t share in the tendency of material things to corrupt. God, then, possesses an even higher degree of existence, because His existence is dependent on nothing else. Indeed, God is the Being on which all others depend. We see this hierarchy of being, then, and recognize that it only makes sense in light of the existence of that Being Who possesses all perfections and no privations.
We can take this hierarchical principle that applies to the quality of existence and apply it to the other transcendent qualities: goodness, truth, nobility. We see that some things are more good, more truthful, and more noble than other things. Again, this only makes sense in relation to a Being Who is perfectly good, perfectly true, perfectly noble; in other words, a Being Who possesses every perfection and no privations.
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.