Saturday, June 04, 2022

The Mystery of Piety 1.4.1&2


Fourth Part of the First Question

1.4.1 On Divine Uniqueness

It is a grave error to think that beings are wholly disparate and unconnected. There are ways in which being is linked to being, and by considering three of these, to wit, potentiality, participation, and tendency, we kept coming to the conclusion that there was some first that a reasonable person would consider divine. This suffices for the question of whether anything divine actually is. However, it is worth pausing to consider, since long historical experience has shown it to be the first question that is asked, and because it is useful for consolidating the argument, whether we are in each of these cases reaching the same divine.

We have seen, then, that there is reason to conclude, from change, that there is a prime mover; from composition, that there is a first efficient cause; and from what we have called limited ability, that there is a cause with unlimited ability to be. In each of these ways, we are considering potentiality in a different context of thought, and in each of these ways, the potentiality of beings requires actuality from another, which cannot infinitely regress and thus must ultimately be due to something that is pure act. 

We have seen likewise, that when we begin with things that have present in them something shared or in common, in such a way that they are graded, that this indicates participation in some way in something primary that communicates what is in common. There are, however, things that are attributed in the manner of a transcendental, so that they are in some way presupposed for those things to be classifiable at all. First of these is being, which, shared in a graded way, involves participation in what communicates being, which is that which is unparticipating, subsistent being itself. There are other transcendental attributions that are convertible with being, however, and therefore, each traces back to being itself under some convertible aspect. Thus there is gradation of unity, which must be due to the one itself, which must be being itself; there is gradation of truth, which is due to the true itself, which must be being itself; there is gradation of goodness, which is due to the good itself, which must be being itself; there is gradation of beauty, which is due to the beauty itself, which must be being itself; there is gradation of nobility, which is due to the noble itself, which must be being itself; and there is gradation of order, which is due to what is first in order, which must be being itself. Without doubt, there are many others that could be chosen. None of these transcendental terms are synonymous with being, and each has its own quirks that must be navigated, but they are all convertible with being when properly understood, and therefore they all are communicated by subsistent being itself. 

We could, in fact, give additional arguments to this same conclusion in each case, based on the particular aspects of each. For instance, actual being is the good of each being; but God not only has actual being, He is subsistent being itself, and therefore is also goodness itself. Likewise, we could give additional arguments for the same conclusion based on considering the disjunctive transcendental terms related to each convertible transcendental. But by considering the matter in terms of participation of convertible transcendentals, we see immediately that subsistent being itself must be subsistent good itself, and so forth.

And finally, we considered the nature of causing, which ultimately depends on the final cause, and therefore we considered the tendency to an end in the three narrowing bands of nature, intellect, and love of wisdom as the natural expression of our intellectual nature. As there are natural ends, we can identify for a given chain of ends an ultimate superordinate end; this is true as well of the natural end, whose end is the infinite intelligible; this infinite intelligible is the architectonic wisdom that sets all things in order.

From everything that has been said, we can connect more of these conclusions and recognize that pure act must be subsistent being itself, and vice versa. Nothing is more properly called being than what is actual, so nothing more properly called being itself or subsistent than what is purely actual and thus not dependent on anything else. Likewise, what involves potentiality participates actual being; and all actual being with potentiality thus participates what is purely actual, which is that which has in pure form what is shared by participation by everything else. Thus pure act is being itself. And on the other side, being itself must be purely actual, because if it had potential being this would indicate that it participates something that more purely is, which is absurd.

Likewise we can see that pure act must be supremely architectonic wisdom, and vice versa. It can be argued that since God is pure act and any material cause is, as such, potential, that God is immaterial spirit; but immaterial act is the ground of intellectual operation, because it is able to take universals as objects. Further, being a first mover seem to be an intellectual property, because we find nothing so capable as intellect of using all other things directly or indirectly as instruments, and thus as moved movers. The prime mover is a universal source of change; every source of change aims at some form in its act of changing something else, so it would seem that the prime mover would aim at some universal form, but direction to universal rather than particular form is something distinctive of intelligence. It seems there can be nothing more architectonic than pure act, on which all other act depends, and therefore pure act must be wisdom, that is, architectonic intelligence, and it is first in its order, so it is supremely so. Similarly, as act it must be intelligible; but act is only limited by potential, so pure act must be infinite. Therefore pure act must be an infinite intelligible. On the other side, what is an infinite intelligible must be actual to be intelligible, since nothing is intelligible except insofar as it relates to what is actual, and to be infinitely so, nothing can limit it, so it must not be restricted by potentiality, and therefore is pure act.  

And, of course, for similar reasons, subsistent being itself must be supremely architectonic wisdom, and vice versa. Since being itself is good itself, it must be ultimate end, and therefore all things both depend on it and are ordered by it. Likewise, an ultimate end would need to be good per se, without limitation by another end, and therefore would be coextensive or convertible with being itself. Furthermore, it seems that to be an end in some way is itself a transcendental, since everything actual is an end of some actual thing, either itself or another, and therefore by the argument noted above, end itself is being itself. Likewise, everything is intelligible insofar as it is, and many things are intelligible in various gradations. Thus they participate what is more intelligible, and indeed, what is most intelligible, that is, what is intelligible infinitely or without limit, and as everything is intelligible insofar as it is, this infinite intelligible must be being itself, and vice versa, and the infinite intelligible, as we have seen, is architectonic wisdom. 

A good thing that is not its own good is good by participation, and derives its goodness from some more complete goodness. Good, however, has the nature of an end, so the more complete goodness is the end of the participating goodness; and there cannot be an infinite regress among final causes, so there must be some first and most complete goodness, which will also be the superordinate end of all things that are good. But everything that is good is so insofar as it is, and therefore it will also be being itself. Therefore being itself must be a superordinate end for all of nature, including intellectual nature. Likewise, anything can be something to which another tends only insofar as it is an end; but goodness has the nature of being with this character of tendency -- we call good most properly things that have the nature of end or more broadly things that are ordered to an end. Thus the most superordinate end will be that from which all things will have the fact that they are good, and therefore it will be, as St. Augustine says (DT 8.3) the good of every good.

Given this, we can note that pure act, subsistent being itself, and supremely architectonic wisdom must be that than which no greater can be thought, and also that that than which no greater can be thought is not multiplied into different instances. As Bonaventure says (Sent 1.8.1.2), God, or the highest truth, is being itself, than which nothing greater can be conceived.  Considered simply in itself, being is infinite, since there are finite and infinite modes in which being can be had. Thus if some being is finite, it must be limited by something other that is somehow its cause; but if there is uncaused being, there is nothing to limit it. But if there is nothing to limit it, there can be nothing greater. Since we cannot conceive the unintelligible, we cannot conceive anything greater than the infinite intelligible, and what is supremely architectonic has no superior. That than which no greater can be conceived, however, cannot be multiplied, because all multiplication requires that there be some limitation to the divided individuals, which there cannot be in that than which no greater can be thought. It would, of course, make no sense to say that there could be many different instances of being itself, or to say that there is not merely truth itself but also another truth itself.

Therefore, given any of these divine titles, we can reach the others.

All of this is as one would expect; if there are many divines, then they share divinity in common, which seems to require that there be some divinity itself which all these different and differently divine things participate. We would also expect this on other, dialectical grounds. The divine would seem to be something that has especially full of being; from which we would expect, as Stein notes (PA 38), that the divine essence, encompassing all fullness, cannot exist in more than one instance. It also seems that multiple partial causes cannot by themselves be disposed to one effect unless either there is some unifying higher cause, or they are intelligent. If there are many intelligent first causes working cooperatively, either each of these causes is incapable of producing the whole universe without the help of others, or, if they could, they have nonetheless agreed to divide the effect among themselves. If the first, it follows that each cause is limited; but in that case it could not have as its effect actual being. And if there were a multiplicity of first causes, they would seem to be defective and inadequate even in the aggregate, because what is due to aggregation is to that extent limited and defective.  Further, the world seems unified, and people have often concluded from this that there must be a unifier for it, because things that are diverse only combine in a unity when there is a unifying cause of order. It seems likewise that positing many things that are divine is something that should not be done without reason; as Aquinas says (SCG 1.42.4), What is accomplished adequately through one supposition is better done through one than through many, and (In Phys 1075), Finitely many principles are better than infinitely many, and one is better than many

The primary dialectical reason why one might not expect a unique primary divine is that this is not immediately obvious when one reflects on various purported experiences of the divine. These purported experiences are often very different, so it can be difficult to see in what way they could be one thing. This objection is correct in recognizing that there are many 'divine things' as far as experience is concerned. But even if one assumes that there are many different divine things, it would not follow from this that there was no primary divine thing on which all other divine things depended. Thus, given the above arguments, even if we assume polytheism, there must be something supremely divine. We can think of it in this way. Just as, in approaching metaphysics, it is reasonable and natural to begin with the material cause, so it is reasonable and natural in first approaching religion by reason to begin materially, and in this way one would not immediately assume that all divine objects of experience are the same. In this way, and to this extent, we can recognize polytheism as having a kind of dialectical priority, an immediacy of salience in inquiry analogous to that of the material cause. However, just as it becomes clear that material causes alone cannot be a fully adequate explanation of what we find in the world, so too it is clear that polytheism cannot be a fully adequate explanation. If there are many gods, they share divinity in various ways; this communion requires participation in that which is divinity itself. But divinity itself is that than which nothing more divine can be conceived. Very much the same reasoning applies if we appeal to diversity of sects rather than diversity of experiences.

Thus we may say of God, uniquely divine, that God is incomparable. Divine incomparability is indeed the primary thrust of Scriptural claims about divine unity; that is to say, the primary interest is authority as divine, not on counting. Even in Scripture we find things sometimes described as divine in looser senses than that which applies to the one Lord God; this does not, however, in any way make God comparable to other things. We see this very clearly when we look at, say, Baruch, which argues against idolatry on the ground that it is beneath us; that is to say, we have, in at least some indirect way, a proportion to the ultimate divine, so that to worship in the full and proper sense to lesser things is to denigrate ourselves.


1.4.2 On Arguments Against the Existence of God

In arguing that something does not exist, one argues by identifying an impediment to any conclusion that it is, which will involve some defect or lack of what would be required for it to be. Such a defect might be a defect of internal coherence or intelligibility, so that it involves a contradiction or intrinsic compatibility; or it might be a defect of external coherence, so that features of what is otherwise known to be are recognized to be incompatible with its actual being; or it might be a defect of needfulness, so that nothing requires it to be. People have attempted to argue in each of these ways against the claim that God actually is, and indeed atheistic arguments in general will fall into these three families. Each of the supposed kinds of impediment are worth considering.


I. The Supposed Impediment of Defect of Intelligibility. One way in which one may object to the conclusion that God exists is by arguing that such a conclusion is unintelligible. We may regard something as unintelligible in several different ways. One way a thing is unintelligible is due to a lack of intellectual ability for understanding it, either simply or due to lack of the relevant training or skill. This kind of unintelligibility may be set aside here, since an atheist will want to argue that the defect is on the side of the claim that God exists, not on the side of his own mind.

The most common family of arguments based on this supposed impediment of unintelligibility in the claim that God exists, is the family of arguments that are sometimes called incompatible properties arguments. These arguments attempt to derive a contradiction from some definition or description of God. There are potentially endlessly many of these, because, given any two properties of a thing, one may with appropriate additional assumptions derive a contradiction. Thus attempts are made to derive contradictions from virtually all combinations. One will try to argue that immutability is incompatible with omniscience, another that it is incompatible with omnipotence, another that it is incompatible with divine freedom; and so it will go in every combination of all things attributed to the divine.

There is initial reason to doubt that this kind of argument is viable, in that it requires that one say that many intelligent people, reasoning actively on these matters, have not found this supposed conceptual dissonance. This at least raises the question of whether arguments like these may simply involve misunderstanding of the concepts involved. This is particularly true given that any argument of this kind would need to rely on additional assumptions beyond the concepts themselves, from which there follows the possibility that any incompatibility may actually be imported by a flawed assumption. But looking closer, we may find a more serious problem that would need to be surmounted. 

It is pointless to say that something is impossible if we are talking about the cause of a known effect. When once one recognizes that we reach the divine rationally by causal inference, incompatible properties arguments run into the problem that they seem to depend on arbitrary attribution. In reality, when we attribute anything to a cause, we do so on the basis of the causal inference, and whatever is inconsistent with such an attribution, assuming that the causal inference is good, is simply incorrect and to be discarded. However, all arguments that something divine actually is are causal arguments of some kind. The most common attempt to avoid this conclusion is to claim that causation is in some way confined to the purely empirical. As this is clearly not obvious to most people, and is inconsistent with our usual ways of speaking, this claim necessarily depends on the account of causation being assumed In particular, it requires an account of causation that understands cause and effect to apply to sensible appearances, taken as objects of the sensory powers, and not further, the usual form of which is to say that causation is just a regular relation between sensible appearances. This is implausible for a number of reasons, not least that it does not seem to make sense to speak of 'sensible appearances' except as effects of something that is not merely a sensible appearance. Most fundamentally, however, such an account of causation is simply incorrect; causation is fundamentally an action, which is why we most commonly find causation discussed in active terms. Sensible appearances, for instance, are due to actions of things in the world on the sense organs insofar as they are capable of sensing, which lets us conclude that things are not merely sensible appearances.

The most general problem with incompatible properties arguments is that people falsely assume that the divine attributes are arbitrarily chosen -- that, for instance, people have agglomerated independently understood properties together. But this is not true; we attribute things to God on the basis of His effects, whether this be the natural world or revelation, and this causal inference constrains what can be attributed to God, as well as how it is to be understood. When we are determining what to attribute to the cause we recognize to exist on the basis of the effect, the causal inference guarantees the compatibility of the attributions. The only way in which an incompatibility could enter is if we are mistaken about what our causal inference implies; but this does not affect the existence of the cause that we reach by causal inference.

Some people give an argument that is related to the incompatible properties arguments but is not quite the same, and this is the argument that talk about the divine is in itself already meaningless or unintelligible. This runs into the difficulty of what is meant by saying it is meaningless or unintelligible. When we call something unintelligible, it might be relatively so or properly so. An example of the relatively unintelligible would be something that a particular person cannot understand, due to failures of their intelligence, even though some other intellect could find it intelligible. This obviously cannot be what is meant here. In properly unintelligible things, we typically mean either (1) it is inconsistent with the conventions of language; or (2) it is inconsistent conceptually; or (3) it is beyond the bounds of what we can understand.

 It is clear, however, that talk of the divine is not unintelligible with respect to linguistic conventions, in the sense that it is inconsistent with how people actually use language, for there are many words in many languages that are used apparently to describe divine things. Thus the person who argues in this way must argue that the appearance of meaningful language is an illusory appearance, and that words like 'God' are meaningless in some way that makes it easy to mistake them as meaningful. Since words express and are signs of concepts, this can only be either if such words actually gather together inconsistent concepts, or if, since human concepts are formed on the basis of experience, there is no possible way to conceive anything beyond some boundary, and that boundary is one beyond which alone divine things may be found. Thus one finds arguments taking each of these paths. Both argue that there is contradiction in talk of divine things, but the first argues that there is a contradiction in the talk itself, while the second argues that there is a contradiction between the use of language in this way and the conditions of any meaningful language use.

It is clear enough that neither suggestion is plausible here. The words in which we talk about the divine are common words; they belong to kinds of words found throughout the world, and endless numbers of intelligent people not only use them but reason with them, discuss them, and closely analyze them without noticing anything indicative of the first path. When we speak of the meanings of words, there is a consensus of people that, at the very least, our languages and our capacities to use them meaningfully extend far beyond what the second path suggests. Thus any argument of this sort would need not only to give reasons for its claim, but also explain how so many intelligent and competent language users, of so many diverse backgrounds that mere cultural prejudice or ideological bias cannot easily be blamed, can be so confused. Consensus gentium therefore establishes that talk of the divine is neither meaningless nor unintelligible.

 Nor is it reasonable to respond by rejecting consensus gentium entirely, for it is clear that the general consent of people is relevant to any field that either depends on consent or relative to which general consent can be an effect or sign and therefore evidence. For instance, if someone were to deny that a mathematical principle were self-evident, it would be irrational to reject the response that almost everyone thinks it obviously so, simply on the basis that self-evidence is not a matter of vote. For while it is true that self-evidence or its lack is not a matter of vote, nor is itself affected by how many people note it, the general consent is real evidence that the principle can be taken as self-evident; and where this is wrong, it would require independent argument and an explanation of the error to show it. This is clearly the case here, for the fact that nearly everyone uses it as meaningful is, in the absence of proof showing that this is illusory due to a contradiction, itself evidence that it is meaningful. 

Further, the words that are used to talk about the divine are not used in abstraction from all experience. Since experience itself cannot be inconsistent, and anything that can be experienced can at least somewhat be understood, it is clear that religious experience establishes that talk about the divine is neither meaningless nor unintelligible. 

On all these grounds we can recognize that meaningless arguments fail; there is no relevant account of meaninglessness or unintelligibility that can apply to all talk about the divine. Further, as we have noted, if anything is intelligible, there must be something divine, because if anything is intelligible, there must be intelligibility as such, which must be being itself, which all call God.


II. The Supposed Impediment of Defective Explanation. A different line of argument is that God is fundamentally defective qua explanation, and therefore there is no point in positing the existence of anything divine. The primary argument for this is what might be called the argument from superfluity. For instance, one might argue that everything that could be explained by God is explained by other things, and as there is no point in positing what is not needed, there is no point in positing the existence of God. 

This kind of argument is less straightforward than it might seem. We start with an explanandum; we then recognize that we have an adequate explanans for the explanandum. Let us assume for a moment that it is so for absolutely anything on which one might base an argument for the existence of God. This is not, however, the whole story. The explanans itself might be regarded as in need of an explanation; that is to say, to be an adequate explanans is not necessarily to be a first or primary explanans. Thus this argument could only work if everything to which we appealed as an explanans in these cases were such that it had no features in need of explanation. This is not easy to establish, and, indeed, when people make this argument it seems clear that they are at least usually just guessing that their proposed explanans would be in no need of further explanation.

Further, at least many of these explanations will be causal. But if anything is caused, God exists, as we have argued before, since he is the primary final cause all other causation presupposes. As St. Thomas says (ST 1.2.3 ad2), Since nature works for a determinate end under the direction of a higher agent, whatever is done by nature must needs be traced back to God, as to its first cause. So also whatever is done voluntarily must also be traced back to some higher cause other than human reason or will, since these can change or fail; for all things that are changeable and capable of defect must be traced back to an immovable and self-necessary first principle. Therefore if anything can be explained by any kind of causal explanation, God must exist.


III. The Supposed Impediment of Defect of Good. Another family of arguments against God's existence is that which attempts to base the rejection on the lack of some good, nobility, or perfection that is taken to be required if God exists, of which the most common forms are known as arguments from evil. There are at least four typical forms, based on four imperfections or failings: moral evil, suffering, unbelief or obscurity of divine existence, and diversity of sects or confusion about divine being. Thus one may argue that, if there were a God, there would be no moral evil, because moral evil is a failing that would not be allowed by God; but there is moral evil, therefore no God. And we can make versions for the other kinds of imperfection or failing, as well.

There are at least three initial reasons to doubt whether these arguments are viable, based on the limited nature of each argument, on their tendency to appeal to things that would require omniscience fully to understand, and the fact that the path of proof is often not clear. 

First, each argument seems to be of a very limited nature, and therefore unable to rule out anything that might be considered divine. Even if we assumed the arguments to be sound, they would just rule out something divine that was simply and purely inconsistent with that specific failing or imperfection existing in the world. It does not on its own give us any reason to think that this is the only thing that could be considered divine.

Second, it seems we would need to be omniscient to know that these arguments were sound. We know that things may seem imperfect from one perspective and not from another in cases in which the one perspective is missing something relevant. We know that we cannot consider all the different lights in which everything can be considered. Yet the argument seems to require us to say that the failing is such that even omniscience could not think of a good reason for it. As we do not have omniscience, this must either be a mere guess or must be based on some demonstrated contradiction. But there seems to be no contradiction. People will accuse theists of believing that God exists solely for consolation or wishful thinking; this in itself establishes that they, at least, do not think it is self-evident that imperfections imply that God does not exist, because there is no way that God's existence could be a consolation for an imperfection to any number of intelligent people if the imperfection obviously excluded God's existence. What is more, we find moral arguments for God's existence, which again seem to indicate that intelligent people are often not inclined to think that moral failures and imperfections imply divine nonexistence. Thus one cannot merely assume that the one excludes the other; it would need to be established.

A more serious problem can be seen if we consider that all arguments in this family depend on the assumption that some good, being fragile, is not worthy of being. Imperfections and failings arise because the goods of the world are not always able to guarantee their best state; they are fragile and subject to fail. However, it is an error to conclude that because a good is fragile that it is not a good at all. Nor can it be said that it is an imperfection for the world to have fragile goods; fragile goods are good, and they can contribute to the world as such. A flower that dies swiftly does not, from its death, cease to contribute something valuable, and if something were simply incapable of dying, it would not be the same kind of good, and could not contribute to the goodness of the world in the same way. Of some goods it may be said that it is better to have them even if they can fail. Certainly if one wishes to hold otherwise, one must establish otherwise.

A related problem is that arguments in this family generally assume that bad or evil is in some way the contrary of good, whereas in reality bad or evil is opposed to goodness by privation. Failings and imperfections arise from a lack of being, or a lack of order, or a lack of proportion, or some mix of the three. But privation of good in such-and-such way does not affect inferences drawn directly from actual good in such-and-such other way. But the latter is sufficient to argue for the existence of good itself; and since evil or failing is a privation, it is explained by that in which it is a privation, and there is not corresponding evil itself. These arguments that a defect excludes divine existence seem generally to assume a symmetry between good and bad, or perfection and imperfection, that does not exist.

In general we can recognize that the structure of the argument is such that it is difficult to see how it could work. Consider the essential argument:

(1) If God is, this good is.
(2) This good is not.
Therefore God is not.

For this to be sound, the first premise must indicate a necessary connection. A mere probability would not rule out divine existence when combined with (2), and if (1) were a material implication that was not based on a more fundamental necessary connection, it seems it could not be established without already knowing whether God exists; it tells us what goes with God existing, but if it's not doing so on necessary grounds, it must do so on grounds of what actually always happens, which would require knowing what happens in actual cases in which God exists. Thus we either must have experience of what happens in actual cases when there is a divine, or we must have necessary knowledge of what would happen if God exists. The first is useless for arguing against God's existence. The second seems to require that we have a profound understanding of God that we could only have if God existed. It is rare to find any arguments on grounds of evil or defect that even attempt to address these issues properly.

And indeed, if any failure, error, or evil exists, God exists, for reasons that we have previously noted: failure, error, and evil presuppose final causes, from which we can conclude that there is an ultimate end, which all call God. As St. Thomas says (SCG 3.71.10), There would be no evil if the order of good were taken away, since evil is its privation; but this order would not exist if there were no God.


When reasonable people accept arguments that lead to wrong conclusions, there are usually two reasons why people are persuaded. The first arises from human failing, as human assessment of arguments is affected by prior judgments and passions We may, however, set aside this for the moment. The second, and more important for our purposes, is that they each are related to a truth, although either they use this truth in an inappropriate way or they do not quite attain to it, but only to a false semblance of it. When intelligent people go wrong in the pursuit of truth, it is most commonly because they reach for a falsehood that in some way mimics a truth, or they accept a truth in an inadequate way that mingles it with falsehood. In each of the three kinds of arguments mentioned above, we find some truth that sometimes serves as a mask for the error.

There is, for instance, a proper sense in which divine things are beyond human reason and capacity to understand, but the reason is due to the abundance and not lack of intelligibility. As Milton says in Paradise Lost, "Dark with excess of bright thy skirts appear." We are more easily able to say what God is not than what God is, because divine being exceeds our intellectual capacity, but from this it does not follow that talk about God is unintelligible. First, when we are talking about being, we may either denote the act of being itself, or we may indicate the intellectual composition of predicate and subject into an enunciation or proposition. In the first sense our intellect cannot reach to divine being; we have no direct intellectual grasp of God. In the second, however, we may form on the basis of causal reasoning meaningful propositions, such as "God exists." These latter we may refine by removal of anything that would be inconsistent with divine being as it is known from its effects. 

Likewise, there is a legitimate sense in which natural things are adequately explained by natural things. If one wishes to explain the bare movement of a ball, it is generally adequate to explain it by its being hit with a stick; this can be true even if the whole movement of stick-and-ball is to be explained as part of the action of another cause, like an athlete. Causes are not necessarily exclusive of each other, and one cause may be instrumental to or subordinate to the causal action of another, in such a way that for many purposes the subordinate cause is all that needs to be considered. When there is a primary cause that makes a secondary cause to cause an effect, as we often start with the effect, we will then move from there to the secondary cause, and only after, and sometimes through a chain of many causes, to a primary cause. Likewise, for most explanations of the natural world, we will be able easily to identify the most immediate secondary causes from the effects, and from this understand a great deal; but we can then push our explanation back further, without detriment to our original explanation in terms of the immediate secondary causes. As we go further back the chain, it becomes harder to gather the evidence required to identify and specify the higher cause. However, as we have already argued, we know, from the very nature of the causation, that there must be a primary cause, regardless of how many intermediaries there might be. Thus for many things identifying the primary cause will in many kinds of inquiry be superfluous to our explanatory needs; but the primary cause is not superfluous simply speaking, because it is a necessary condition for all other causes.

In addition, there is a genuine sense in which defect has a kind of opposition to the divine. But the error, as noted above, is to think that it is contrary to divine goodness rather than a privation in a derivative and more fragile good. As a privation, it presupposes the positive; and the positive requires the divine, as we have seen with truth, with beauty, with goodness, and others.

All these things will be discussed more fully in their appropriate places, but this shall suffice for our current purposes, which is to consider more fully what has been demonstrated in demonstrating that God actually is. Here we have looked at how it leads us to regard arguments against that conclusion; we now must return to what this demonstration lets us know and, since names are instruments of inquiry, how we name what we know.

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