To see God in the patterns of Nature
Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) was a Christian philosopher, highly inspired by Aristotle’s ontology. Aquinas’ belonged to a school of thought known as Scholasticism, a school of philosophy that attempted to reconcile religious principles of Christianity with the principles originating in the works of Aristotle and Plato. To truly appreciate and understand Aquinas’ five ways of proving God’s existence, one has to understand the basics of Aristotle’s philosophy.
Before Aquinas, Aristotle’s works had influenced important thinkers in the Islamic Golden Age; philosophers such as Avicenna (Ibn Sina) and Averroes (Ibn Rushd) both interpreted Aristotle, and wrote their own extensive works on philosophy and medicine. Avicenna’s works influenced Aquinas.
Aquinas and Natural Theology
Divine theology is the study of what is directly revealed by God, such as in holy books. Divine theology provides knowledge about the true essence of God, while natural theology provides arguments for God’s existence through sense perception and intellect. Natural theology is the study of religious beliefs through a scientific lens; one relies upon reason, observations of nature and deduction. Natural theology will avoid superstitious interpretations for phenomenon in the world; the discoveries through science can logically allude to the existence of God.
However, Aquinas pointed out that not anyone can see God in the patterns of nature, regardless of one's efforts as a scientist, or one's intelligence. To see God, something is also required from the individual, and that something is beyond intelligence or cleverness. Aquinas argued that it is the appropriate human character that is necessary to interpret the scientific findings correctly. Aquinas might have argued that God himself helps certain individuals to discover, or see God in the patterns of nature. Thus, how far an individual can seek God is dependent upon his or her character and sincerity.
Problem of language
Aquinas stated that since God is immaterial and outside of space and time, our language is not adequate in describing God. Human language relies on sense perception, such that it breaks down when attempting to describe something beyond it. Aquinas argued that the use of metaphors or ambiguous language is not good enough when trying to understand God. However, the use of analogies is sufficient since analogies can lead to logical explanations of something, as contrary to metaphors. If we say that God is good, we are saying something that we are not truly able to understand, but we can understand our intention behind such a description by analogy.