Revisiting the First Cause for Moderns
Book Pick: Who Designed the Designer?
WHO DESIGNED THE DESIGNER?
A Rediscovered Path to God’s Existence
By Michael Augros
Ignatius Press, 2015
250 pages, $ 17.95 (print/e-book)
To order: ignatius.com
Equivocation is an error in logic when two people use the same term but attribute different meanings to it. Equivocation can cause real problems when it comes to proofs for the existence of God — such as the proof of a first, uncaused cause — because terms like “matter,” “simple,” “uncaused,” etc., have acquired different meanings in modern language than they did for Aquinas or Aristotle. That’s why many of the “New Atheists” get away with some of their arguments: They attack the Tradition for saying things it never said.
Michael Augros teaches philosophy at Thomas Aquinas College in California. Who Designed the Designer? is an effort to explain God as the First Cause, in order to explain how our universe needs an uncaused, intelligent designer. What’s new about this book is Augros’ style: I wish philosophy students were exposed to more thinkers like Augros!
The author proceeds, step by step, using the examples of ordinary experience to slowly, relentlessly and solidly explain how the universe requires a First Cause and what that First Cause necessarily means.
This philosopher frequently offers examples gleaned from his work in construction. No pile of boards ever randomly assembled itself into a house; why do we think something infinitely more complex — like the universe — could blindly pull that feat off?
Take his thoughts on natural selection:
“Those who see natural selection as the sole author of intelligence must see intelligence as a mere tool. It is for survival. As with any other excrescence, intelligence is not worthwhile in itself, but only because it is somehow useful for the continuation of our species. That is all. Understanding for its own sake cannot even produce a blip on natural selection’s radar. Accordingly, the atheist must endorse a rather stunted and incoherent theory of wonder. He must, on the one hand, insist on the pursuit of truth for truth’s sake, wherever it may lead, in order to maintain his credibility. On the other hand, his principles do not permit him the luxury of any convincing genealogy for the spirit of wonder. It cannot have been honed by natural selection, since wonder means the true love of knowledge for itself, precisely not just for its utilitarian ends. But natural selection is not supposed to be able to encourage anything apart from what is useful for survival, never mind something that is altogether apart from any utility” (emphasis original).
Why do we need a First Cause? Why does the First Cause have to be unchangeable? Is human imagination the measure of reality? If we say the First Cause is “simple,” how does that differ from what we usually (pejoratively) mean by “simple?” Is there no potentiality in the First Cause? How does the way the First Cause “thinks” differ — radically — from our way of thinking?
Apart from these basic philosophical queries, the author also poses some very interesting corollaries, like: Is atheism really so much a judgment of reason as a choice of will? Is our cultural allergy to a Supreme Being dictated by our want of moral autonomy? Does the presence of evil in the world contradict the existence of God?
Augros will require you to think, both because there is a lot of junk proposed in the name of philosophy and because the mindset of Aristotelian-Thomistic thought (to which he subscribes) is increasingly foreign to modern people. This book is not designed for speed reading: You will have to sit back and mull over some of the arguments. But for those interested in confronting the contemporary challenge posed by the New Atheism, this book is a great place to start.
John Grondelski writes from Shanghai, China.