Dawkins has misunderstood Aquinas completely. He has no idea whatsoever of what Aquinas meant by a mover. Far from the first three ways all being one argument, they actually are quite different. In fact, Aquinas was not trying to prove the existence of God at all. The context is all-important here. He doesn’t mean ‘prove’ in the modern scientific sense but in a much older sense, that which we still use when we talk about proving a piece of silver. He means ‘try, put to the test’. Ironically, he was being accused of atheism in the University of Paris because he accepted the atheist Aristotle’s concept of a Prime Mover that was not separate from the universe. What he is doing is putting Aristotle to a series of theological tests and showing that in each case Aristotle’s ideas are compatible with Christian orthodoxy. This is why he ends each argument not with ‘Q.E.D. God’, but ‘and this is what everybody means by God’. He does it by putting forward current theological ideas about God that he doesn’t necessarily believe himself. Indeed, the argument from the impossibility of an infinite chain of efficient causes, which Dawkins takes to be his main argument, is the one he probably favours least, as it does not sit comfortably with his underlying concept, which is that of a mover. By a mover he does not primarily mean something that kicks something else into motion, in the sense that billiard cues cause balls to roll across the baize, or a first cause that, cue to billiard ball like, brought the first thing in the universe into existence. I think it would be fair to say that what he does mean has entirely escaped Dawkins’ attention.
Aquinas doesn’t think like Paley, or as Dawkins thinks he thinks, at all. He doesn’t think of God as the Great Constructor but quite differently. He thinks of God as that in which we all most profoundly share. You are a different person to your brother. But at the same time you are not totally different, you share many of his genes. You are more different from your second cousin, but you do share a genetic family inheritance. Different as you are from an African bushman you do, nevertheless, share humanity, and both of you share the mammalian condition with all other mammals. In the end, thinks Aquinas, everything shares the sheer fact that we all exist. It is this shared existence that Aquinas means by God. Aquinas does not think that God is outside the universe, as Paley did. He thinks God is within the universe: ‘God is within the universe and that innermostly’ he wrote. God is the universe in its deepest place.
You could almost say that he thinks of the universe as God’s body. ‘This is my body’ I say, looking down at my feet and toes. Another analogy would be to say that the relation of the world to God is not like that of an inventor to his machine but more like that of an artist to his picture. Anybody could have invented the steam engine, it didn’t have to be James Watt. But only Picasso could have painted a picture by Picasso. You know the difference between a painting by Picasso and one by, say, Cezanne the moment that you see it. Each picture is full of the style, the personality, something of the very being of the artist who painted it. Indeed when a picture comes up for auction we sometimes say ‘they’re selling a Picasso’. The artist is his picture. Yet at the same time he is more than his picture. St John’s ‘The Word was both with God and was God” begins to make more sense. If we bear these two points in mind: that Aquinas was not trying to prove that God exists, and that he thought of God as not outside but within everything, animating it with its being and form from deep within it, then the Five Ways take on a quite different complexion.