Last week, I posted on the Argument from Final Ends of St. Thomas Aquinas. This week, I consider objections to the argument and respond to those objections.
Objections to the Argument from Final Ends
How can an actor act toward a final end that doesn’t yet exist?
One of the objections to Thomas’ Fifth Way is the claim that the final end toward which the actor acts must draw the actor toward it even before that final end exists. So, the oak must somehow draw the acorn toward it, since the oak is the final end toward which the acorn acts. But, how can this be? The oak doesn’t yet exist!
When a man builds a car, he has in mind the end result. Indeed, the final end (the built car) exists in his mind, in his intellect, Thomas would say. But, surely, the acorn doesn’t have within itself the idea of the oak. The acorn doesn’t possess consciousness, much less intelligence, to direct itself through the various stages of tree life toward the final end of the oak tree. The final end, however, must exist somewhere, or we couldn’t call the oak the true final end of the acorn, but just the lucky coincidental result of the acorns haphazard and random growth. This won’t do, of course, because it’s absurd to think that actors would “always or almost always” act toward a particular final end if their acting were haphazard and random. It’s the regularity that we observe in nature that requires an explanation, not the randomness we sometimes see. So, where do these final ends exist?
There must, Thomas concludes, be an intelligent Being that exists outside of creation that directs these actors toward their final ends. It’s in the intelligence of this Being, in the mind of God, that the final ends of all actors in the created order exist. What’s more, this Being must exist in the here and now, and not merely in the distant past, in order to direct the actors in the created order toward their final ends here and now. This is how the Argument from Final Ends differs dramatically from the classical design argument of William Paley, who argued that the existence of a watch presumed the existence of a watchmaker. In Paley’s design argument, once the watch is made, the designer is no longer needed. As with the Argument from Efficient Causes, for Thomas, the intelligent Being did not merely set things going then leave the scene. He continues to direct things toward their final ends, and we see this because we observe things acting toward their final ends here and now.
This is ridiculous! We know perfectly well why acorns grow into oak trees and certain molecules join to form certain substances. It’s called the Laws of Nature and the Laws of Physics. We don’t need to conjure some supernatural being to explain such things.
While it’s true that the Laws of Nature and Physics explain how things in nature act, they fail to explain themselves. Such laws describe reality, they don’t create the reality they describe. There’s still the question: Why are the Laws of Nature and Physics the way they are? Who or what determined that the Laws of Nature and Physics would be this way, rather than some other way? To claim that these laws developed randomly, or that they developed over the course of an infinite number of millennia by way of a multi-verse, is nothing more than speculation based on nothing more than, well … faith. What is randomness, after all, other than a series of events without a pattern? But, is the development of the Laws of Nature and Physics truly random, or simply the result of a pattern, a plan, that lies outside our limited ability to comprehend? And what of the multi-verse? While a multi-verse might help explain how the Laws of Nature or Physics developed and how they came to be what they are, just as human evolution helps explain why humans are the way we are, there would still be the need to explain the multi-verse itself by means of a Being that directs all things toward an end. The multi-verse would simply be one of those things directed toward an end. Recall, too, that the scientific method requires a hypothesis that can be tested by an experiment that is reproducible. The multi-verse, while legitimate speculation, isn’t strictly scientific speculation, because there’s no way to test for it’s existence.
There are only two ways to explain the final ends we see in Creation: either accept that there must be a Being Who is directing all things toward their final ends, or reject that final ends exist at all, and conclude that the purposefulness of nature is an illusion and everything is random. But, this latter option relies on faith. What’s more, it’s blind, unreasonable faith, for it demands assent even in the face of evidence to the contrary.
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.