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Frank Sheed is considered one of the best Thomistic theologians of the twentieth century. He is known for presenting St. Thomas' 5 proofs in a very clear way.

If we consider the universe, we find that everything in it bears this mark, that it does exist but might very well not have existed. We ourselves exist, but we would not have existed if a man and a woman had not met and mated. The same mark can be found upon everything. A particular valley exists because a stream of water took that way down, perhaps because the ice melted up there. If the melting ice had not been there, there would have been no valley. And so with all the things of our experience. They exist, but they would not have existed if some other thing had not been what it was or done what it did.

None of these things, therefore, is the explanation of its own existence or the source of its own existence. In other words, their existence is contingent upon something else. Each things possesses existence, and can pass on existence; but it did not originate its existence. It is essentially a receiver of existence. Now it is impossible to conceive of a universe consisting exclusively of contingent beings, that is, of beings which are only receivers of existence and not originators. The reader who is taking his role as explorer seriously might very well stop reading at this point and let his mind make for itself the effort to conceive a condition in which nothing should exist save receivers of existence.

Anyone who has taken this suggestion seriously and pondered the matter for himself before reading on, will have seen that the thing is a contradiction in terms and therefore an impossibility. If nothing exists save beings that receive their existence, how does anything exist at all? Where do they receive their existence from? In such a system made up exclusively of receivers, one being may have got it from another, and that from still another, but how did existence get into the system at all? Even if you tell yourself that this system contains an infinite number of receivers of existence, you still have not accounted for existence. Even an infinite number of beings, if no one of these is the source of its own existence, will not account for existence.

Thus we are driven to see that the beings of our experience, the contingent beings, could not exist at all unless there is also a being which differs from them by possessing existence in its own right. It does not have to receive existence; it simply has existence. It is not contingent: it simply is. This is the Being that we call God.

All this may seem very simple and matter of course, but in reality we have arrived at a truth of inexhaustible profundity and of inexhaustible fertility in giving birth to other truths.

(via insidescoop)

From an atheist philosophical standpoint, how is existential contingency explained or accounted for?

In other words, who or what is the big banger?

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    The argument that is the hardest to refute means nothing. You can trivially make lots of argument that would have been very hard to refute, like the existence of Russel's Teapot is hard if not impossible to disprove, but it still meant nothing. – Lie Ryan Aug 17 '13 at 22:53
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    "Most effective" as in "most commonly used"? Which criterion is one to use to determine effectiveness? If there's no single criterion, the answer to this question remains subjective. – iphigenie Aug 18 '13 at 9:19
  • This isn't a question of philosophy, it's a question of demographic statistics - but I don't think anybody has ever researched which of his five proofs have convinced more atheists. – medivh Aug 19 '13 at 9:03
  • See my edit. I hope I've narrowed it down sufficiently. – Charles Alsobrook Aug 19 '13 at 12:15
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    Necessary or uncaused? Necessity is the third way of the five, causality is the second. I think you are mixing them both in the question, and so are doing the answers. The third way is a non-sequitur fallacy, the second is wrong in the axioms (there is no causality without time and time behaves in complex ways due to relativity). – Trylks Aug 26 '13 at 15:31
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From the link you quoted:

Thus we are driven to see that the beings of our experience, the contingent beings, could not exist at all unless there is also a being which differs from them by possessing existence in its own right.

The fallacy in this argument is called Special Pleading. If there is at least one being that could is possessing existence in its own right, without anything that it is contingent to, then it is certainly possible that it isn't the only being that possesses that property.

The biggest issue with Aquinas proofs are that they were developed under the assumptions of classical mechanics. In the modern picture of the quantum mechanics, it has been shown that a lot of the intuitions that appears to be incontrovertible truth in the macro scale, weren't true in the quantum scale. The laws that comes into question includes cause and effect and the creation of matter from nothing.

  • So as of right now its just assumed that the question of how matter came into existence cant be answered from a finite existential standpoint? How is the Copenhagen interpretation considered to be the final renunciation to causality? en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… – Charles Alsobrook Aug 19 '13 at 15:51
  • This isn't special pleadings, because the five ways are not about the nature of God per se. For this one to work Aquinas only needs to prove that at least one necessary being must exist. The remark about QM is also a non-sequitur for two reasons. First, this is bout necessity not causality. If anything, QM reinforces this since what the equation dictates does happen even if when it require intermediate steps of infinite energy (e.g. hydrogen pumps). Second, the sort of things that obtain on a quantum level don't scale up. They are instead narrowly limited and occur under limited conditions. – virmaior Sep 15 '14 at 11:12
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Contrary to what Frank Sheed (as quoted at the top of this page) writes, it it is obviously not "impossible to conceive of a universe consisting exclusively of contingent beings". The whole point and basis of the Argument from Contingency is that the universe, and everything in it, does indeed consist exclusively of contingent beings, events and objects etc. That is the very reason why it is allegedly necessary to posit the existence of a necessary being or beings as well, self-existing outside or beyond or prior to the universe itself, and everything in it? Who has ever imagined or argued for the existence of a necessary being or beings etc, self-existing within the universe itself? Certainly not Aquinas.

  • I had a hard time following this answer. Can you split it into paragraphs that address the contingent being problem and then your take on Aquinas' position with respect to it? – virmaior Jan 18 '18 at 13:34
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From an atheist philosophical standpoint, how is existential contingency explained or accounted for?

From your link:

Thus we are driven to see that the beings of our experience, the contingent beings, could not exist at all unless there is also a being which differs from them by possessing existence in its own right. It does not have to receive existence; it simply has existence. It is not contingent: it simply is. This is the Being that we call God.

This Atheist answers: "Bad word choice. 'God' implies certain traits when written in our cultural context, none of which are in evidence. Literally the only trait logically guaranteed to be shared between the first cause of the Universe and the hypothetical being named 'God' is that it was the first cause; Comparing 'There was a first cause, God' with 'There was a first cause, the latter is a strictly simpler."

(And if you don't know how "Strictly Simpler" is a Word of Power when spoken by a Reductionist, this explanation will make no sense to you.)

  • I'm ok with taking the label"God" out if the picture as long as the root of the question is addressed, which is"who or what makes existence exist?" Whatever that is is the creator of existence? Does atheism reject God label or existence creator as well? – Charles Alsobrook Aug 19 '13 at 15:08
  • But as soon as you remove the label "God," it becomes trivial - instead of "God" "Upholds Reality," you get "[Label for what principle is necessary, which may or may not exist]" "[Upholds reality to the degree that it is necessary, which may or may not be no degree at all.]" but that is a useless maximum-entropy answer. – medivh Aug 26 '13 at 7:01
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What strikes me as misleading in this proof is that some sort of conservation law for existence seems to be suggested. If we recognize that there is no such law, all that remains is the question why the world itself exists at all. This is certainly a good question. I have no good answer for it. But does this prove that god is responsible for its existence?

I guess god created the natural numbers, including 42. And 42 is the answer why the world itself exists at all. But how could god create the natural numbers, if they didn't exist already? Well, perhaps god just created and maintained the order between them. So does this mean that god created and maintained the order of our world? The atheists prefer explanations like evolution instead. Even if evolution would not be the whole truth and competing theories like catastrophism should turn out to contain some truth, no god is required to explain the order of our world.

  • I wouldn't call it "a conservation law." It's a type of origination law. More along the lines of, you don't find blood splattered everywhere and bullets on the ground without a gun fight but on a scale that cannot be staged. You cannot find children with my DNA of which I am not the father. / But maybe reworded in the more normal vocabulary is you can choose to accept a real infinite regress of contingent beings (which Aristotle and Aquinas reject but the Stoics accept). – virmaior Sep 15 '14 at 11:15

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