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Professor analyzes Aquinas’s view on God, good and evil

| Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Fr. Brian Davies, a distinguished professor of philosophy at Fordham University, has dedicated his academic career to studying and writing about the philosophy of religion, and has focused on the work of Thomas Aquinas. Fr. Davies explored the question of why, if God is all powerful and morally good, there is evil present in the world in a lecture held Tuesday night at Rice Commons

The lecture focused on Aquinas’s rejection of the argument against the existence of God. According to Aquinas, God is not a morally good agent, despite popular belief.

“Aquinas views that God should not be thought of as a moral agent in the first place, meaning that God should not be thought of as something either morally good or morally bad,” Davies said. “Aquinas maintains that we do not know what God is … God is strictly non-classifiable.”

Virtues are to only be associated with human beings, not God, Davies said.

“Aquinas thinks of virtues as what people need in order to flourish as human beings,” Davies said. “So he doesn’t think of God as having the cardinal virtues … Aquinas doesn’t think of God as being actually or possible virtuous.”

According to Davies, Aquinas believes it is difficult to attribute goodness to specific things, especially God, because the idea of goodness is concept-dependent.

“’Good’ does not signify some distinct property had by all good things,” Davies said. “For him, the meaning of good is noun-dependent. There are good all sorts of things, but what makes them good make them different from kind to kind — goodness is, in a sense, relative. Aquinas thinks that creaturely goodness must somehow reflect what God is.

“Aquinas doesn’t think of God as containing creaturely goodness, but rather, goodness in creatures is a dim reflection of what exists simply and undivided-ly in God”.

The same argument applies to the subject of evil, according to Davies. Like goodness, Aquinas does not view evil as something of substance.

“Many things are generally in a bad way and he thinks that the sentence ‘evil exists’ makes sense,” he said. “On the other hand, he doesn’t think of evil as a substance. Since Aquinas thinks that victims of evil suffering certainly exist, he takes it for granted that God is causally accounted for their being victims of evil suffering. He does not think that the evil in evil suffered is any kind of substance — there is only evil suffered only inasmuch there is a lack of goodness, and Aquinas does not think a lack of goodness is something ‘create-able’.”

Aquinas believed there is a problem in the world, but the problem stemmed from a lack of goodness and obligation, rather the existence of evil, Davies said.

“Aquinas recognizes that there being something to be called the problem of evil, is rather a problem of why God has not created more goodness,” Davies said. “However, Aquinas does not believe that God has an obligation to create more goodness any more than God has an obligation to create at all.”

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  • Robert Landbeck

    “why God has not created more goodness” because no one had the ‘faith’ necessary to learn the nature of true righteousness! And the primary moral insight that Jesus brought to the world, that would have delivered on the Promise of the Incarnation to defeat evil was lost to the hubris, disobedience and theological vanity of existing religious tradition. All [theology] is just chasing after wind!

  • buster01

    Good and evil are human concepts. Going a step farther, god is also a human concept. Writing or speaking about a will of “God” is rather meaningless. Cause and effect are things that humans may understand. Being focused on understanding why things happen seems much more fruitful than ascribing occurrences to a god.

  • Bemyguest

    Saying something is good vs saying how it is good is important. A good beer does not cease to be a good beer just because that beer didn’t stop the Holocaust or prevent the rise of ISIS.

    God is metaphysiclally good and ontologcically good thus God is the ground & source of all goodness in reality and it is incohernent to say God is morally good. Or rather it is incoherent to say, given the attributes and nature of God, in the classic sense, to claim that God is morally good in the unequivocal sense a human being can be morally good.

    Aquinas and Davies solve the “Problem of Evil” the way you win at a game of Global Thermal Neuclear War with the WOPPER computer from the Movie WAR GAMES. The only winning move is not to play. The “problem” of an all good vs all powerful God presuposes God’s goodness is moral goodness in the unequivical sense a human can be morally good. I love Fr Davies’ work.