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What is the argument in this Paragraph (Aquinas's Five Ways):

The fifth way is taken from the governance of the world. We see that things which lack intelligence, such as natural bodies, act for an end, and this is evident from their acting always, or nearly always, in the same way, so as to obtain the best result. Hence it is plain that not fortuitously, but designedly, do they achieve their end. Now whatever lacks intelligence cannot move towards an end, unless it be directed by some being endowed with knowledge and intelligence; as the arrow is shot to its mark by the archer. Therefore some intelligent beings exist by whom all natural things are directed to their end; and this being we call God.

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This is the classical argument from design. Though the concept of intelligent design is a fairly ancient religious inclination, Aquinas's Fifth Way appears to be the first attempt at a philosophically rigorous formulation.

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The fifth way is taken from the governance of the world. We see that things which lack intelligence, such as natural bodies, act for an end, and this is evident from their acting always, or nearly always, in the same way, so as to obtain the best result.

Empirically we observe that things in the world seem to act towards goals or purposes despite not being intelligent entities.

Hence it is plain that not fortuitously, but designedly, do they achieve their end.

It's clear that this can't just be by chance.

Now whatever lacks intelligence cannot move towards an end, unless it be directed by some being endowed with knowledge and intelligence; as the arrow is shot to its mark by the archer.

If something isn't an intelligent entity, the only way it can act towards a goal is if some intelligent entity causes it to.

Therefore some intelligent beings exist by whom all natural things are directed to their end; and this being we call God.

Therefore there must exist some intelligent entity which directs the universe (or everything in it) towards goals, and that entity is God.


Note that it's not exactly a strong argument, both in terms of logical structure and its empirical claims.

  • could u also state the premises and conclusions he derives from this argument? – Junior Oct 30 '13 at 5:11
  • @Junior Didn't he do exactly that? Premise 1 is "things which lack intelligence, such as natural bodies, act for an end", et cetera. The conclusion is "some intelligent beings exist by whom all natural things are directed to their end". – David H Oct 30 '13 at 5:32
  • @Junior The conclusion is the line beginning 'therefore' (that's often a hint that a conclusion is coming). The propositions (statements) before the conclusion are the premises. Your question is starting to sound more like homework by the minute, but whatever, it's the middle of the night here and I wouldn't mind someone writing my essay for me about now either. – dbmag9 Oct 30 '13 at 5:40
  • @dbmag9 Thanks for the help as well ! Yes I can understand it does look like I am asking for help. But the thing is, this is the first ever philosophy course I have taken... I am yet weak at extracting premises and conclusions... And I am more of a visual learner thats why I asked, to understand how the structure works. But thank you again indeed ! – Junior Oct 30 '13 at 19:15
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    @Junior No problem, hope this was helpful. In any argument, once you've found the conclusion strictly speaking every other sentence is a premise - the hard this is figuring out which premises are necessary (and which are missing). If you select my answer as 'accepted' it gets a shiny tick mark and I get an ego boost, by the way... – dbmag9 Oct 31 '13 at 10:12
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The fifth way is taken from the governance of the world. We see that things which lack intelligence, such as natural bodies, act for an end, and this is evident from their acting always, or nearly always, in the same way, so as to obtain the best result.

Things that lack intelligence, that is what he calls natural bodies, like stones, planets, water act for an end, that is purposefully; and this is because they act, in the same way - that is regularly; he also notices things like water do not act regularly, but they almost do - that is despite their irregularity, there is in fact regularity in their motion.

He also notes that they act in the best way. One can say that the best way is to follow a law, which is exactly what they do; they follow a natural law. A concrete example may help here: what is the purpose of a stone? It is to follow law - that is Gods law. And because it follows Gods law it is following the 'best' law. One might think of here of Liebnizs 'best of all possible worlds', or in natural science, the trajectories of particles follow the 'best' line - geodesic.

The uncertainty in quantum motion isn't a problem here; as he explcitly says 'nearly always' in the same way. Variation is allowed as long as it is ordered.

Hence it is plain that not fortuitously, but designedly, do they achieve their end. Now whatever lacks intelligence cannot move towards an end, unless it be directed by some being endowed with knowledge and intelligence; as the arrow is shot to its mark by the archer. Therefore some intelligent beings exist by whom all natural things are directed to their end; and this being we call God.

This is the argument from design. Its often treated quite dismissively. But I believe Kant treated it with a great deal of respect.

With what we now know about the world & the universe; its far better to say that the laws are 'designed' so processes like evolution can occur whilst following natural law.

He also implies that without God that motion cannot happen. Physics describes motion, it doesn't explain how. For example take Newtons firs law: a body moves in a straight line. This is a description. But why it moves from one point to another, and how it does so cannot be explained. Of course I've simplified the scientific explanation for the purposes of clarity. One can go a bit deeper into the physics of it. But, just as in mathematics, when one reduces to the axioms, and one can ask why these axioms - the only proper reply is that they are self-evident; as they are to those that take the trouble to understand them. If this sounds circular - it is.

What is self-evident is where we start from. Even Descartes famous 'cogito' the exemplary doubt is self-evident.

It's a strong argument and I don't believe it can be refutable from logic. This doesn't mean that the argument doesn't need updating or generalising to make it more transparent for the modern era, as in fact it seems that Aquinas himself did for his time; but that of course does not mean one has to accept it.

Its noticeable that many creaton myths across many cultures use this argument, but of course in the idiom of myth.

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In a much simplified gloss:

P1: There exist things in nature (call them N) that lack intelligence.

P2: Those same things in nature N act to serve a purpose.

P3: Anything that serves a purpose must be guided by an intelligence.

P4: In order to be guided by an intelligence, things must either have intelligence or be created by an intelligence.

C1: (by P2 and P3) N must be guided by an intelligence.

C2: (by C1 and P4) N must either have intelligence or be directed by an intelligence.

C3: (by C2 and P1) N must be directed by an intelligence.

Aquinas then states that the intelligence that directed N is what we call God.

NOTE: There exists an atheist counter argument, most notably favored by the biologist Richard Dawkins, that accepts the same argument largely as given, but identifies the "intelligence" as evolutionary forces instead.

EDITED: In light of comments below.

  • I'd be careful with the word 'created' over 'directed' - while his archer analogy suggests created (since the archer doesn't control the arrow once in flight) the argument doesn''t quite say that). I also disagree with your characterisation of the atheist response: most atheists deny P2, and then the whole argument falls. Evolution and the like are an explanation for the appearance of design, not for design. – dbmag9 Oct 31 '13 at 15:25
  • Yes, that's a good caveat on "created" versus "directed". As far as the note about the counter-argument, I think it's a fair characterization of Dawkins. His line of argument is far from universal among atheists, and I in no way wished to suggest that it was. – Chris Sunami Oct 31 '13 at 15:40

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