Showing posts with label Thomas Aquinas. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Thomas Aquinas. Show all posts

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Ten Things Christians Should Keep in Mind When Debating Atheists Number Three

Based on my post back in December about trying to break my writer's block (obviously it didn't work), I'm tackling this list of ten things Christians/theists need to keep in mind.  See this link for number one and here for part two, this is the third point:

There is a gap between natural theology and revealed theology. Arguing for a prime mover is not the same thing as arguing for any faith tradition.

This is a tough one to tackle in a whole blog entry because I totally agree.  Thomas Aquinas and others' "prime mover" argument for God really only gets to the first point of theism.  However, if just this initial part of the argument stands, at the very least atheism is false.

P1) All things that begin to exist have a cause for their existence
P2) The universe began to exist
C1) The universe has a cause

That is just the beginning of the argument.  That only gets to the point that there is some sort of God that created the universe.  That basic argument does not get us to the Christian God.  However, if we add these next few premises we can come to that conclusion:

P3) The cause for the material universe cannot be material itself
P4) The cause for the material universe cannot be with the scope of time
C2) The best description of such a Being is found within Christianity

Also, there is a long and complex argument for Christianity from historical facts:

P4) If Christ rose from the dead, He is God incarnate
P5) Christ rose from the dead (and there is historical evidence to support this)
C3) Christ, as revealed in the Bible is God (the God described above)

So there you have it; there is a gap between natural/general and revealed/special revelation, but it is not a huge gap and easy to cross.  Show me another religion that can claim anything near as powerful as the arguments for Christianity and I'll at least give it some thought.  Though I've done quite a bit of comparative religious studies and I've found other views wanting.

Denominational differences are another question altogether and doesn't belong in this particular discussion, so I'll leave that for another day.

Photo credit goes to my beautiful wife, Michelle Ronicker

Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Philosophy of Thomas Aquinas: Part 8: Aquinas’s Metaphysics Part 2

I tried this with the part 1 of this lecture, but it didn't seem to shorten it at all!  I used the the text of the lecture and just commented on what I thought interesting.  Too much of it seemed important and the entry ended up much longer than I wanted.  So here goes part 2.

Here lies an apparent contradiction how is there unity in the diversity of the universe.  Even the word bespeaks of the contradiction, uni and diverse share roots with universe.  Parmenides denied one half of the apparent paradox, manyness.  This eliminates change as well because change is just a manyness in time, before and after.  He was a monist/pantheist everything is one god, the universe, everything because there is only one thing.  The direct opposite can be found in Heraclitus he denied any permanence, saying that all reality was like a river that you could never step into twice.  Plato resolved the problem by distinguishing two worlds, matter where there is manyness and the world of the forms where there was unity.  Aristotle joined Plato’s two worlds with substance being matter and form together.

Aquinas commented on the error of Parmenides and other monists with this:
“They fell into error because they dealt with being as though it were a univocal concept and an essence . . . this, however, cannot be done, for being is analogous . . . Parmenides argues as follows: outside of being there is nothing but nonbeing, and that which is not being is nothing. Since being is one, whatever is outside the one is nothing.’ From this argument of his it is clear that Parmenides was thinking of the concept of being, which appears always to be one and the same, and univocal, for it is unthinkable that something be added to the concept of being so that one concept of being be distinguished from another. For that which would be added to being must necessarily be something outside of and distinct from being. But the only thing outside of or extraneous to being is nonbeing or nothing. Hence it appears that the notion of being cannot be modified, cannot be anything but one, unique, and univocal.”
If there is only one thing, individuality is an illusion.  However, radical pluralism is nominalism: it denies universal ideas existence, and reduces them to mere words.  But, the evidence of our senses shows us both oneness and manyness.  Any good philosophy has to account for all possibilities, not ignore what we don't like or want to understand.

As Professor Kreeft says, "Aquinas explains the oneness of beings by the fact that they all share the act of existence, which is itself one and the same simple act.  But beings are different because this act of existence is received into many different essences."

I also like this quote, "Aquinas calls God the pure act of existence unlimited by any finite essence."

This is not to reduce God to a philosophical abstraction, just a way of talking about God that makes sense.  This does not change how God is the God of Abraham, Isaac etc.  This isn't about just philosophy, it's about the real world as well.

Everything that is real shares a kinship in the act of existence.  And, as God is the infinite pure act of existence this is one way in which God is omnipresent.  "God is existence itself, and existence itself is most intimately present at the heart of every being. Therefore God is most intimately present at the heart of every being."

So here we have it, God is everywhere but this is NOT pantheism, because it’s the act of existence and that transcendent fact that so is intimately present to everything.

Prof Kreeft goes into a long discussion about Angels and their differences from humans, but I'm not going to go into it here.

This is important to Aquinas' philosophy: "Like Aristotle, Aquinas defines change as the transition from potentiality to actuality, and he distinguishes two different kinds of change: accidental change and substantial or essential change. When I get older, smarter, or fatter, that’s only change in accidents, but when I die, that’s a change in essence."

Something remains the same in accidental changes, I am still me even though my entire body's cells have died and been replaced by new cells.

Each person also goes through essential change twice, when we are conceived and when we die.  Corpses are not people nor any kind of a person.

Again "following Aristotle," seems Aquinas was quite enamored with Aristotle's philosophy, "Aquinas distinguishes four causes, four kinds of causality: form and matter are the two intrinsic causes, the formal cause and the material cause; and the efficient and final causes are the two extrinsic causes."

This final point, which Aristotle and Aquinas call a "final cause," has fallen out of modern usage, possibly because it's not considered scientific.  All things act in definite ways.  Puppies always become dogs (assuming they don't die prematurely),  Birds fly, fish swim etc.  Puppies never become horses and rocks can't swim and never will.  This is final causality, things are directed to their specific ends.

As Aquinas argues in one of the five ways, everything that begins to exist needs an efficient cause to account for its existence.  If a thing itself were its own sufficient reason, it would have to exist always.  Either this sufficient reason is eternal or it would have to give existence to itself—which is impossible: nothing can give what it doesn't posses.

Again, sorry no picture!

Monday, June 2, 2014

The Philosophy of Thomas Aquinas: Part 8: Aquinas’s Metaphysics Part 1

Part 8 is the beginning of a series of lectures that follow a philosophical order rather than the Summa’s theological order. First is metaphysics and the following lectures will cover philosophical anthropology, epistemology, and ethics.  Metaphysics is foundational because it deals with what is, what is real and what reality even means.  Everything depends on metaphysics.  If one is a materialist then in philosophical anthropology one will have to deny that humans are essentially different from animals, the materialist denies the soul.  The materialist's epistemology will necessarily be a strict empiricism, without a distinction between immaterial, intellectual, rational knowledge and sense knowledge.  Lastly the materialist will concentrate on material goods only.

Some modern philosophers deny the legitimacy of metaphysics.  This is a materialist position, claiming that metaphysics has no distinctive subject because its subject falls outside the material on which the hard sciences and other specific realms of philosophy focus.

Sciences look at beings, but metaphysics looks at universal properties and laws and principles.  What it means to be a being.  As Prof Kreeft says of Heidegger, Western metaphysics after Plato, is guilty of a “forgetfulness of being” because they focused on what things are forgetting to think about the fact that they are.  Aquinas does consider this and the primacy of the act of existence is at the very center of his view of metaphysics.

Another objection to metaphysics is that it claims a kind of God’s-eye point of view.  Looking at the whole of being as if one could do so from outside, forgetting that we are only part of the whole. Aquinas quotes Aristotle that “philosophy begins in wonder.”  He notes that the wonderis not just about some certain beings but about being as a whole. The very fact that we can raise questions about being in general indicates that we are not merely part(s) of that whole.  We can only wonder about something if we are outside that something.  This idea reminds me of the Gödel Escher Bach book by Douglas Hofstadter.

Hobbesian or Humean empiricism, seems to ignore the very mind that’s doing the reducing of itself to “the scout for the senses.”  These views don't seem to account for the very self that’s asking the questions about oneself.  The argument that this goal of knowing what existence is like this.  The very fact that we have the desire to know what existence is like belies that it is knowable.  We wouldn't have a thirst for a knowledge that we couldn't possibly have would be absurd.

Then we have the principle of analogy.  The principle of analogy solves the problem of how we can know anything about God.  If we view God in human terms it's anthropomorphic: we drag God down to the human level, if the terms used for God apply to humanity.  However, if the terms are equivocal, they tell us nothing about God and we cannot know anything about God.  If the attributes of God are analogical, then we know some reflections of God, though pale and remote—we can know something of God.

The first task in analogical analysis is distinguishing between actual existence and merely mental existence.  Aquinas uses the act of existence to separate the two types of existence.  Actual existent things exist by themselves, but mentally existent things do not.  Things that only exist in the mind cannot give real existence to things because they cannot give what they do not themselves posses.

To Aquinas the “second act” is activity and the “first act” is that of existence.  Existence is always acting, always giving itself to something ontologically—self-giving is built into the very nature of existence.  A theological reason for this is that existence is rooted in the very nature of God as self-giving love, and everything else is in the analogical image of God.

This brings us to unity.  Unity is also analogical, I like the way Prof Kreeft puts this: "God is more one than a human soul; and a human person is more one than an animal, because we can meaningfully say 'I;' and an animal is more one than a plant. And even a plant is more one than a rock, or an atom, or a subatomic particle."

This lecture is too long and complicated to give it a fair treatment in one blog post, so I'll save the second half for another entry.  Unfortunately, I don't have a good picture to include with this entry.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Philosophy of Thomas Aquinas: Part 7: Aquinas’s Cosmology: Creation, Providence, and Free Will

Sorry for the long time between posts on this topic, I've been on various other projects including classes online, a Dawkins book review, and other things.  From the lecture notes: "'Cosmology' means the logos, or rational science, of the cosmos, or the universe. It used to be a major division of philosophy, but many of its questions—questions about time, space, and matter—have been answered by modern science. Still, many philosophical questions remain, especially questions about the relations between God and the cosmos."  I disagree with the spirit of this idea, that science has answered many cosmological questions.  It seems that science holds no power when it comes to much of philosophy.  There may be some answers available about certain cosmological mysteries available in science, but they focus on the how of things, the real questions of philosophy are still completely unanswered, namely the why.  On this topic Prof. Kreeft tackles twenty questions about cosmology from Thomas' philosophy:

About Creation

1. Why did God create the world?  God has no need for anything, as such He is the perfect giver, He created the universe for our (mankind's) benefit.  Out of His "pure generosity, unselfish love, charity—which according to Christian theology is the very essence of God."

2. But how did He create the world?  He used nothing to make nothing. Thomas defends the idea "creatio ex nihilo,” creation out of nothing.  That DOESN'T mean space/empty space, formless matter, or even potentiality.  This is quite different than other "creation" stories, including Greek mythologies that have god(s) creating the universe from matter.  This reminds me of the "kalam cosmological argument."

3. But is this creation possible?  It seems that it’s like “an infinite distance cannot be crossed, but infinite distance exists between being and nothing.”  This is a false concept, God created time itself there is no previous state of the universe.  We can understand what it is not, as this discussion points out, but we can know it analogically via our own creative processes.

4. Is the universe infinitely old?  Thomas knows that this is an important point since Aristotle, one of his primary sources of logic and reason, so he needs to do more than rely on theological dogmatism to say that the earth/universe is not eternal.  Thomas says, “the newness of the world cannot be demonstrated from the world itself, nor from its efficient cause, God, for God acts by will, and the will of God cannot be predicted by reason.”  To which Prof. Kreeft responds, "Of course, we know now that Aquinas was wrong about the first of those two points. Scientists have demonstrated, from the world itself, that it is only about fifteen billion years old."  This is one of my biggest problems with this lecture series, Prof. Kreeft seems to constantly put his opinion into Thomas' mouth.  Though I agree with this idea: "The Big Bang doesn't prove the universe was created by God, but it does prove the world has not always existed."  That's actually been the primary point of the Lee Strobel book (at least the first couple chapters) that I'm reading, the theory of Evolution is not for sure, and the Big Bang theory is one of the best pieces of evidence for God.

5. Since God is perfect, and acts perfectly, did God create the best of all possible worlds?  According to the lecture, "Leibniz argued that He did, and Voltaire brilliantly satirized that idea in Candide.  Aquinas goes with Voltaire and common sense here, as he always does, and admits that this is clearly not the best of all possible worlds."  Philosophically, the concept of other worlds might be possible, but according to science, there's no evidence for other worlds (universes).  I think this is clear from theology that the reason this world is not perfect has to do with sin, not that God didn't make things perfect.

6. Is this the only universe?  Again, it's philosophically possible, but there's no evidence.

7. What about evolution? Does it contradict what Aquinas means by creation?   Again, Prof. Kreeft puts his view that Thomas would wholeheartedly accept Darwinian Evolution.

The Relation Between God and the World

8. Does God love everything in the world?  Yes: “God’s will is the cause of all things. It must needs be, therefore, that a thing has existence, or any kind of good, only inasmuch as it is willed by God. To every existing thing, then, God wills some good.  Hence, since to love anything is nothing else than to will good to that thing, it is manifest that God loves everything that exists.”  This is a very telling definition of love, to will good towards something/someone.  Obviously, a very general overarching definition, but interesting nonetheless.

9. Does God love all things equally?  No: “since God’s love is the cause of goodness in things, as has been said, no one thing would be better than another if God did not will greater good for one than for another.”  The universe is full of hierarchies.  God loves humans more than cows which is why humans are more valuable than cows (that's not to say that cows aren't valuable).  Equality among people is a noble good, but the cosmos is not a democracy.  What would that look like?  Should we weigh the desires of mosquitoes when going camping?  If humans hold no more value than cows, I don't want to join you at your house for dinner.

10. Why did God make the universe so diverse?  Did "the multitude and distinction of things come from God?”  Yes, it comes from God's will, that not only is there hierarchy in life but there is diversity, and everything has it's strengths/weaknesses and works well with other things.  This is in direct contrast to pantheism.  In pantheism everything is united, everything is indistinguishable from god--what a boring universe.

11. Do creatures lead us away from God or to Him?  There is a danger of worshipping the creature not the Creator, but there is nothing inherently bad about created things (see #5).

12. “Whether the cosmos as well as man has God as its end?”  Yes, later in ethics, Thomas will try to prove that God is the chief end of man and the whole cosmos because of final causality.  There is a point to the cosmos (and mankind) the earth is set up to be our home, the universe is more like a house in which mankind is meant to dwell.  It is not purposeless.  God is the source and essence of all existence as well as it's chief end.

What Goes On in the World

13. On chance.  Thomas says “Everything is subject to the providence of God.”  Like “the meeting of two servants, although to them it appears a chance circumstance, has been fully foreseen by their master, who has purposely sent them to meet at the one place in such a way that the one knows not about the other.”  This includes the ideas of quantum theory, it just means we don't know what that the two things were meant to be, we see it as chance or random, but in reality it is God's hand at work.

14. How does divine providence work?  God governs the universe via his middle managers (Prof. Kreeft's analogy).  Again I think he assumes too much when he says, "This is the most basic reason why Aquinas would have no theological difficulties with evolution.  In fact, he would see the use of natural forces such as “natural selection” as showing more perfection in God than special creation of each species by miracle."  God doesn't directly cause everything, He indirectly causes through other agents that He has made, including nature.

15. On free will Thomas writes, “nothing can happen outside the order of the divine government,” but “it is part of the divine government that natural things happen by nature and free human choices happen by free will.”  He doesn't see God's foreknowledge as affecting free will.

16. On miracles, can "God can do anything outside the established order of nature?” YES, because God "is not subject to the order of secondary causes, but on the contrary this order is subject to Him.” It seems funny to me, that people often criticize Christianity for its acceptance of miracles.  Even Jefferson (and other deists) were well known for their denial of miracles because it contradicted what they thought of as God.  But, it is a strange idea to doubt miracles taken in light of the creation of the universe.  God, Who created the entire universe in the Big Bang would have no problem performing a comparatively simple thing like walking on water or raising from the dead.

17. Does the cosmos include angels, pure spirits? Yes, the cosmos is more than just the physical so it's reasonable that spirits without bodies, in contrast to humans that are bodies with spirits, would exist.  It's not absolutely certain but it's not illogical.

Good and Evil

18. Are the evils in the world are willed by God?  No, because God wills things that exist, evil doesn't exist in the same manner that a tree or an animal exists.  Evil is a deprivation that is in something that is good.  God created metals and things that explode when they reach certain temperatures, but He did not will that mankind would take those good things and use them as weapons to do evil things (not that guns are only used as evil tools).

19. Can evil corrupt the whole good?  No, because like a parasite that consumes it's entire host if evil were to completely consume all things, the death of the host would also cause the death of the parasite, evil.

20. Which of the two kinds of evil is worse, pain or fault?  Most of the arguments from evil (against God), focus on pain, or natural evil.  But, Thomas sees it the other way around, much like Socrates taught that it is better to suffer evil than to do it.  Because suffering evil hurts one's body, but doing evil hurts one's soul.  This may seem callous, but it's a method of managing the universe.  God in His providence uses suffering evil to prevent some from doing evil.  This final point I don't know that I agree with theologically.  I do agree that doing evil is worse than suffering evil, I don't see it as a providential means for God to manage the universe.  I agree (and it's biblical) that God can use evil to bring about goodness e.g. Joseph.  But, I don't think that all suffering is necessarily the same.  Sometimes it just rains, again God set up the laws of nature to govern the world, and He doesn't always intervene, so sometimes it rains on both the just and the unjust.

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Philosophy of Thomas Aquinas: Part 6: What Is God? The Divine Attributes

Continuing this series on the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas given in fourteen lectures by Professor Peter Kreeft, professor of philosophy at Boston College and King's College.  A short note before I dig into this lecture.  I've noticed that these entries are getting way too long.  I think I need to pare down some of the lecture notes and only give a bullet point style outline of the lectures (of course when I came to the end I noticed I really hadn't shortened it much).

First about Thomas' philosophy in general, three things: disciplined, only going as far as logic takes it, his abstract deduction is fruitful from small premises a great edifice is built, although theoretical in nature Thomas' philosophy is full of powerful practicality.

To answer this question, "What is God?"  Thomas starts off, we can't know exactly what God is only what He is not.  All of the divine attributes are negations.  Infinite: not finite, Eternal: no termination, immutable: not changing, even oneness has a meaning that includes not divisible.  He starts off with and finishes with, God's unity.

Here are some of the compositional possibilities that Thomas proves cannot be within God:
He is not composed of material parts, of matter and form, of subject and nature, or substance and attributes, of essence and existence, of genus and difference, of substance and accident, of any other composition at all, or of composition with other beings.
God doesn't lack any perfection which exists within any genus.  The "argument" for God's perfection doesn't seem like an argument so much as an assertion.  God is such and such.  E.g. beauty, whatever beauty we recognize in the things we see, is in God fully actualized and whole, without limits.  A detachment from worldly beauty is a deeper appreciation of beauty because true beauty is in God.

The goodness of existence has two proofs for Thomas, one that all desire goodness, and perfection is only as far as a thing is actual, existence is what makes all things actual, existence is goodness.  That's not to say there isn't evil, that's from moral choices.  Just that existence itself is good.  Also, everything that exists is either the Creator or the creation.  The Creator is perfect goodness and anything the perfectly good Creator makes must also be good.  Thomas agrees with Aristotle that there are "three kinds of goodness: the pleasant, the useful, and the virtuous."  All things are created with these three things, it's only moral choices that can be virtuous or vicious.

The next feature is infinity.  An interesting comparison with Greek and Roman philosophy here, because in Greek and Roman thought infinitude is a negative thing.  Prof Kreeft's reasoning is that they were thinking too concretely/literally when it came to God.  They envisioned things in the physical sense.  God being infinitely tall or big would be a negative concept.  That's evident in their theology, even the greatest of their gods had physical bodies, physical attributes.  The God of Judaism and Christianity is infinite in His spiritual characteristics wisdom, goodness etc.

Next on omnipresent:
“God is in all things not as part of their essence nor as an accident but as an agent is present to that upon which it works . . . And since God is being itself by His own essence, created being must be His proper effect, as to ignite is the proper effect of fire. Now God causes this effect in things not only when they first begin to be, but as long as they are preserved in being (that distinguishes him from Deism), as light is caused in the air by the sun as long as the air remains illuminated. Therefore as long as a thing has being, God must be present to it. (Now watch what second premise he adds to this first premise to prove his stunning conclusion.) But being is innermost in each thing and most fundamentally inherent in all things. Hence God is in all things, and innermostly.” (Quote from lecture notes.  Prof Kreeft's interjections in parentheses.)
I could be mistaken here, and I don't want to try to claim that science has proven God or even described God per se, but I see an interesting parallel between Thomas' arguments and the idea of strong and weak nuclear forces (or all four of the "fundamental forces").  Prof Kreeft goes on to say that God is more present to everything than that thing is to itself.  God is more present to you than you are to yourself.  This does not contradict God's transcendence, see above God is not "of composition with other beings," because God is not in a way physically present in everything (that's why I'm not so sure about the fundamental forces parallel), rather God is present in everything as a mind or will.  God's transcendence is such that He's not limited by space (or time).

Next is immutability: "God is pure actuality, without potentiality. All mutability, all change, begins with something potential and actualizes it. If there’s nothing potential in God, there’s no change in God. If there were, then some new perfection would be gained or some old perfection would be lost, and then God would not be perfect at every moment."  (Quote from lecture notes, not Thomas' writings.)  Part of immutability is wrapped up in eternality, that is to an eternal being there is no future, no change, no movement through time.  As humans we move through time one moment at a time, to God all moments are simultaneously now.  As a side note not really mentioned in the lecture.  Coming from this argument it's a simple step to say God is omniscient.  If God is everywhere, at all times obviously He knows all things.

Lastly, unity (against polytheism):
“The unity of God is proved from the infinity of His perfection. For it was shown above that God comprehends in Himself the whole perfection of being. If then many gods existed, they would necessarily differ from each other. Something therefore would belong to the one which did not belong to the other. And if this were a privation, one of them would not be absolutely perfect; but if it were a perfection, one of them would be without it. So it is impossible for many gods to exist.”
How does this work with the Trinity?  The concept of the Triune God doesn't conflict with this concept of oneness as much as people think.  Thomas' theological points on this matter echo or quote Bernard of Clairvaux, that God, is love and the unity of love is stronger and more perfect than the unity in the mathematical unit, one.  Real love binds people together in such a way that one would die rather than let his or her beloved be harmed.  This is why the unity of the Trinity is greater than any other unity.

Sorry that this entry has been so long in coming.  I've been taking a break while I completed this semester of classes and I've been busy with other things.  Also, in all honesty, this one was quite difficult for me.  Some of the arguments seem circular though I think part of it is Prof Kreeft's style.  He doesn't seem to follow a clear, concise, flowing outline with bullet-points, introductions and conclusions.  He seems to have written these lectures in stream-of-consciousness style and they are often difficult to follow.

HDR from the Cub Scouts campout on Saturday

Friday, August 23, 2013

The Philosophy of Thomas Aquinas: Part 4: The Case Against Aquinas’s God and Proofs

Continuing this series on the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas, lecture four deals with rebuttals to Thomas' ways/proofs for god as we looked at in lecture three.  One thing of note before I move on though, I never answered the question posed in the title of that lecture.  Can you prove God's existence?  It seems clear that the answer is, no, but it is certainly a logical position to take.

To start out, it's important to note that in most of Thomas' works he finds three or four counter arguments for his assertions, but for his five ways, he only finds two counter arguments against God, they are, the problem of evil and science.  These two objections have been used throughout history as the primary arguments against God, though really only one of the two arguments actually claims to show that God doesn't exist, the other arguments merely claim that one shouldn't believe in God, not that God does not exist.

Thomas' phrasing of the problem of evil goes like this:
It seems that God does not exist, because if one of two contraries be infinite, the other would be altogether destroyed. But the word “God” means that He is infinite goodness. If, therefore, God existed, there would be no evil discoverable; but there is evil in the world. Therefore God does not exist.
However, good and evil are not contradictories, rather they are opposite qualities.  Opposite qualities can coexist even at the same time in the same person.  Prof Kreeft uses the example of visible and invisible, how every person is both, at the same time.  Because one's mind is invisible, but one's body isn't.  Good and bad is another example, pain is bad, but the pain one experiences because of a good tough workout is good!  One thing to note here is that, in some ways, Thomas' answers are not of his own making.  Augustine uses much the same arguments against this objection.

One of the most powerful statements about evil is how God can bring about good from evil.  Thomas uses the word “allow;” God does not do evil, but He allows it.  He created us, He does not kill, but He created beings that are mortal.  God does not sin, but He created beings with free will who can sin if they choose.  This explanation works for both moral and physical evil.  God doesn't create physical evils but he created a world wherein natural disasters/physical evils can happen.  One of the important things to note about this is how untenable the alternative is.  Either God creates life with the freedom to choose to do evil or God creates life that is completely robotic, devoid of all choice.  This objection does leave room for doubt, just as the Ravi Zacharias quote I mentioned from lecture two, faith is reasonable, but reason alone is not enough.

The second objection is from science.  Like many of the other objections that have come up since Thomas' day, this objection doesn't really show that God doesn't exist rather that belief in God is superfluous.  This objection is often called the principle of parsimony or Ockham's razor.  The basic idea is that if one already has an explanation that accounts for all the variables then one shouldn't add any more explanations.  Thomas' response is that science doesn't have all the answers, that the five ways show that there are questions that only God can answer.

Prof Kreeft points out that one of the weaknesses in Thomas' ways is in the unmoved mover concept because Thomas didn't know the second half of the Law of Thermodynamics that objects in motion tend to stay in motion.  An interesting objection, but it still doesn't account for everything, because even if things stay in motion, nothing is set in motion of its own accord.  Also, remember that Thomas' way doesn't simply mean physical motion, but also change, and the philosophical idea of how things have come about, not necessarily physical movement and change.  Prof Kreeft also points out that other philosophers like Hume have doubted the idea of causality in general, which is an odd, completely skeptical position to take.  One would have to admit that one's parents were not necessarily involved in causing oneself.

Another objection Prof Kreeft brings up against Thomas' ways is rather confusing to me.  He says that people claim that "God transcends logic" or that one cannot say anything logical about God.  Statements like that, while illogical, still fall within the purview of logic and are contradictory.  People that hold views like this see faith and reason as opposites, which is exactly the opposite of what Thomas is showing here.  I've heard this view called "fideism" which I've seen reflected in counter arguments.  For example, in a recent Facebook conversation about religion someone said that we (those who defend faith) have this "trump card" that says, "We don't need evidence or reason. We have faith."  I've seen arguments that end that way and it saddens me, because there is so much logic and reason that corresponds to faith.

Another objection brought up, which I totally agree with and it seems that Thomas saw this as well, says that what the ways prove only a "thin slice of God."  Much like the Deists' "watchmaker god" idea which Pascal said was "almost as far removed from Christianity as Atheism" (quote from Peter Kreeft's lecture, I don't think he was quoting Pascal).  As I see it, yes in a way, these prove only a small part of a much more complete picture of God, that doesn't mean that the rest of the picture isn't there, but that some of that picture has to be taken on faith.  One doesn't have to prove the full picture of the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Christianity one only has to prove that God exists and then through careful study of faith one can come to know more fully the Christian God.

Next is a psychological objection which says that Thomas' ways are just camouflage for his faith.  That he is only making these arguments because he grew up believing in God and these ways are just his rationalization of his faith.  This is a genetic fallacy just because something has a particular origin, doesn't discount the veracity of the claim or the logic of the argument.  The same can be said of Marx's objections.  Opiate of the oppressed people?  So what?  The logical arguments still work and God is still proven to exist.  Nietzsche offers an even harsher psychological reproach to Thomas' ways to God.  There are two absolute demands in Nietzsche's writing: "to be God yourself rather than bowing to another, and to bow down to the objective truth that you are not God" (quote from Prof Kreeft's lecture notes).

The final objections come out of some misunderstandings.  One, comes from the idea that infinite regress cannot exist, after all infinite regress is happens in mathematics, however, real things are not numbers.  Here's another, why can't the universe be the first cause?  That is answered by the third way.  Contingent things require a necessary being in order to exist.  Related to this, the "who created God?" question is a misunderstanding of what God is.  How can you ask who created the uncreated?  By definition God has no cause and no beginning, He is the very essence of existence, so this question is a misunderstanding of what God is.

I don't know how to summarize this next part so here's another quote from the lecture notes:
"[T]he objector might say, then isn’t there a self-contradiction in the proofs? They all conclude to a God who doesn’t need a cause, but they begin with the principle that everything needs a cause."

This is actually an embarrassingly poor objection, although it’s found in the writings of no less a genius than Bertrand Russell. And the answer is simply that Aquinas never says that everything needs a cause. He says that everything in motion needs a cause, everything that begins to exist needs a cause, everything contingent needs a cause, everything imperfect needs a cause, and every unintelligent being that acts for an end needs a cause. If you read the actual arguments carefully enough, these misunderstandings disappear."
To sum this up, these aren't the end-all-be-all for all the arguments for God.  Thomas doesn't close the issue of God, even God doesn't do that.  He still leaves it open for faith.  Sorry again for the long delay in writing this, I've been busy with school and work, thank you for your patience with me.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Philosophy of Thomas Aquinas: Part 3: Can You Prove God’s Existence?

As mentioned in the last lecture, Thomas presents five ways to argue for the existence of god.  Rather than calling them proofs, Thomas wants these points to lead people to believe that god exists.  Also, since the lecture series is following the Summa Theologiae these are only short summaries of the arguments presented in the Summa Contra Gentiles.  Before looking at Thomas' arguments Prof Kreeft asks the question, why is this an important question?

Why is belief in God important?  To answer that question Prof Kreeft quotes Nietzsche:
Where is [g]od? I shall tell you. We have killed him, you and I . . . But how have we done this? How were we able to drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What did we do when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we all moving now? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there any up or down left? Are we not straying as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is not night and more night coming on all the while? . . . Who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves become gods simply to seem worthy of it?
And Sartre:
God does not exist and we have to face all the consequences of this. The existentialist is strongly opposed to a certain kind of secular ethics which would like to abolish [g]od with the least possible expense . . . something like this: [g]od is a useless and costly hypothesis; we are discarding it, but meanwhile, in order for there to be an ethics, a society, a civilization, it is essential that certain values be taken seriously and that they be considered as having an a priori existence. It must be obligatory a priori to be honest, not to lie, not to beat your wife, to have children, etc. etc. So we’re going to try a little device which will make it possible to show that values exist all the same, inscribed in a heaven of ideas, though . . . [g]od does not exist . . . 
Without god there's no source of a priori goodness, no foundation for any moral system.

Of the three types of arguments for god, cosmological, experiential (moral), and ontological, all of Thomas's five ways are cosmological arguments because they deal with cosmology, how we see the universe. Thomas rejected St. Anselm’s “ontological argument” which totally makes sense to me.  All five of the ways are approached in basically the same format, they each start with an observation of one of five features of the universe: motion, causality, contingency, imperfection, and order.  Then, after considering the only two answers possible (either there is or isn't and uncaused first cause), it explains how one answer fails to explain the universe.  Then the opposite must be true.  After both sides are considered and one comes out wanting, Thomas adds a tag, "this is what people call 'god.'"  As I countered Prof McGinn's arguments before, Thomas isn't trying to prove the God of the Bible, just make a way towards showing that a god exists and therefore secular humanism is wrong.

Way #1: Motion/Change

This is his longest, partly because Thomas feels it's the most manifest and probably because the others are related to the first so some of the others can be included in this argument.
It is certain and evident to our senses that in the world some things are in motion. Now whatever is in motion is put in motion by another. For motion is nothing else than the reduction of something from potentiality to actuality, and nothing can be reduced from potentiality to actuality except by something in a state of actuality. Thus that which is actually hot, such as fire, makes wood, which is potentially hot, to be actually hot, and thereby moves it. Thus whatever is in motion must be put in motion by another.
Now if that by which it is put in motion is itself put in motion, then
this also must be put in motion by another, and that by another again. But this cannot go on to infinity, because then there would be no first (unmoved) mover, and consequently no other mover, seeing that subsequent movers move only inasmuch as they are put in motion by the first mover, as the staff moves only because it is put in motion by the hand.

Therefore it is necessary to arrive at a first mover, put in motion by no other.

And this everyone understands to be God.
The "first mover" can't be the universe itself, because neither a thing in itself can't move itself nor can the complete chain of events start itself.  Like a chain of dominoes, someone has to push the first one, no matter how complex the chain is.

Everything in the material universe needs some kind of explanation.  Even miracles need a sufficient reason, and that reason is a miracle maker.  He uses the example of a rabbit...  If a rabbit suddenly appeared on your desk, you'd immediately start looking for a reason.  Did it fall from the ceiling, jump up from the floor, magician pull it from a hat, or God just create a rabbit on your desk?  There has to be a reason for its existence.

Way #2: Existence
In the world of sense we find that there is an order of efficient causes. There is no case known, nor is it possible, in which a thing is found to be the efficient cause of itself; for if so, it would be prior to itself, which is impossible.
Now in efficient causes following in order, the first is the cause of the intermediate cause, and the intermediate cause is the cause of the ultimate cause, whether the intermediate cause be several or one only. Now to take away the cause is to take away the effect. Therefore, if there be no first cause among efficient causes, there will be no ultimate, nor any intermediate cause. But if in efficient causes it is possible to go on to infinity, there will be no first efficient cause, either will there be an ultimate effect, nor any intermediate efficient causes; all of which is plainly false. Therefore it is necessary to admit a first efficient cause, to which everyone gives the name of God.
 Prof Kreeft's analogy for this one is a book (=existence).
Me: There's a book that explains the entire universe.
You: I'd love to borrow it.
M: Well, I don't have it I have to get it from a friend.
Y: Okay.
M: Well, he doesn't have it, he has to borrow it from the library.
Y: When will that happen?
M: Well, it's not at the library they have to get it from the store.
Y: Is it coming out sometime then?
M: Well, no one really has it...
My children have existence because I gave it to them (in a way, really I just played one small part).  I got my existence from my parents and so on.  The same is true with the entire universe.  Nothing that is created can create itself or else it must have existed before it created itself which is impossible.

Way #3: Contingency
We find in nature things that are able to either be or not be, since they are found to come into existence and go out of existence, and con- sequently they are able to either be or not to be. But it is impossible for any of these beings to exist always, for whatever has a possibility not to be, at some time is not. Thus if everything has the possibility not to be, then at one time there could have been nothing in existence. But if this were true, then there would not be anything in existence now, because that which does not exist cannot begin to exist except by means of something already existing. Therefore, if at one time nothing was in existence, it would have been impossible for anything to have begun to exist, and thus even now nothing would be in existence—which is absurd. Therefore not all beings are merely possible but there must exist something whose existence is necessary.
This one is tough.  If there is no god, the universe could have no beginning - infinite.  If the universe is infinite then all contingencies would be possible, including the end of all things.  So, given an infinite amount of time everything ends and if everything ends then the universe would be nothing and it cannot restart itself because nothing comes from nothing.  I've used a similar type argument using entropy, saying that everything is moving from more ordered to less ordered.  Given an infinite universe there should be nothing left.  Also, given that whole galaxies are moving (the so called "red shift") then given an infinite universe they should be an infinite distance away by now.  The so called, god cannot have a beginning, he is a necessary being that has his existence of himself alone.

Way #4: Imperfection
The fourth way is taken from the gradation to be found in things. Among beings there are some more and some less good, true, noble, and the like. But “more” and “less” are predicated of different things according as they resemble in their different ways something which is the maximum

. . . so there is something which is truest, something best, something noblest, and consequently something which is uttermost being . . . And this we call God.
This only works if one accepts a ranking of things.  If humans are no better than vegetables, then one that holds that view, would reject this way out of hand.  However, Prof Kreeft quips that if you hold that humans are not better than vegetables, please don't invite him over to dinner.

Way #5: Design

By far his most popular argument I've seen this argument used alone and Prof McGinn treated this as its type of argument for god.
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 by chance but by design do they achieve their end. Now whatever lacks intelligence cannot move toward 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 being exists by whom all natural things are directed to their end; and this being we call God.
Prof Kreeft uses the arrow analogy, the universe is like an arrow flying along a specific trajectory, it's not random everything has a design or an end that is seeks.  And the book analogy, the universe (I'd say most evident is DNA/RNA) is more like a book than an explosion in a print factory.  He brings up a good point, the more design you find the less likely things have happened by chance.  Like a letter 'S' written in the sand, sure wind/waves/the elements could form the letter, but if you find "SOS" you're more certain you're looking for an intelligence, even more so if you find the first page of Hamlet written in the sand.

Prof Kreeft shoots holes in the famous (possibly Bertrand Russell) quote about a million monkeys with a million keyboards for a million years, could type out Shakespeare.  It's possible but no one says that's the explanation of Shakespeare, why would we make the same assumptions about the universe?  Also, Prof Kreeft mentions that a mathematician actually crunched the numbers and said it would take more like a trillion monkeys a trillion years to get just the first paragraph.

One last comment, "intelligent design" scientists claim that irreducible complexity scientifically proves this point.  Prof Kreeft says that he thinks Thomas would not have agreed, that this is a philosophical proof, not a scientific proof.  Prof Kreeft thinks that Thomas would have accepted Darwinian evolution as the design tool that God used to make humans/life as we know it.  As such he wouldn't get the intended insult of the metal bumper emblem of the fish with Darwin's name in it.  He would think it's an argument for theism.  I don't know about this last point and I disagree in general (based mostly on faith/theological interpretation of the Bible, I've written about it before), but that doesn't lessen the impact of the arguments, and I'm sure Francis Collins would agree with these assessments/arguments.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Philosophy of Thomas Aquinas: Part 1: Aquinas’s Importance and a Short Biography

Before I start to tackle summarizing this first lecture on Thomas Aquinas' philosophy I'd like to introduce the professor that's giving these lectures. Peter Kreeft is a professor of philosophy at Boston College, and he has written over fifty books.  He's a passionate fan of Aquinas' work and makes no apology for his passion.  It makes sense because, and I agree with this sentiment, one learns the most about someone or something from someone who passionately agrees with that subject.  The teacher that disagrees with what he or she is teaching will never give the topic a fair shake.

Introduction: Why is Thomas important?  Well, the answer is fairly easy, almost every philosopher agrees that in the almost two thousand years that passed between Aristotle and Descartes, he was the most influential philosopher.  The fact that Thomas was a Catholic theologian does nothing to lessen his impact as an influential philosopher.  Also, his philosophy and teachings don't just appeal to Catholics, I'm a protestant (an aint-a-baptist, but that's another story) and I'm a big fan of Thomas for his theology and his philosophy.  This course will be seeking to deal with his works from a philosophical perspective.

Prof Kreeft lists eight things that make Thomas a great philosopher.  First and most importantly is his inclusiveness.  I love this particular concept as I try to use the same methods in developing my own philosophy. Unfortunately in modern philosophy there are so many dividing lines: rationalist/empiricist, idealist/realist, ideologically Right/Left, but for Thomas everything was middle ground.  I (more or less) agree, there are so many things where it's best to take a stance somewhere in the middle.  Obviously, there is still right and wrong, and I believe that one needs to seek truth and stick with it.

Second and related to the first is Thomas' ability to show how faith and reason, religion and philosophy are all perfectly compatible, in fact they are mutually beneficial.  He's a master synthesizer of views philosophical and religious.  He draws from virtually every philosopher and the many different views of those philosophers and combined them together before the modern age came and divided the different philosophical pursuits again.  Prof Kreeft also admires Thomas' ability to write both profoundly and clearly, though I don't have any personal knowledge of that idea.  I will probably pick up and read some of Thomas' works as a result of listening to these lectures.

Thirdly, is Thomas' longevity in his philosophical works.  Not only was he able to combine all those that came before him, but he set up philosophical ideas that are still applicable and moldable today.  It's a living philosophy that is able to include "new" ideas and keep changing and yet stay the same.  Fourth, is his patients and ability to slowly process things and then give the best most practical answer without oversimplification or over-complication.  The fifth is related, in that he had so many practical answers and a strong grasp on common sense.  I love Thomas' cure for depression "three things: a hot bath, a large glass of wine, and a good night’s sleep." (Quote from the modern scholar lecture notes.)  That seems so practical to me, and for all his aloofness Thomas seems very down to earth at the same time.

I also like this quote from the lecture notes, "[T]here are only three meanings to the term “good,” only three kinds of things that are really good, and thus worthy of our desire and attention: the moral good, the useful good, and the delightful good. So if it doesn’t make you a more virtuous person and if it isn’t a practical necessity that you really can't do without, and if it doesn’t give you pleasure, fagettaboutit!"

Next (sixth) is his simple, clear arguments.  He speaks quite a bit in syllogisms, the most basic form of logic.  Seventh, is the profound topics Thomas deals with, now to be fair philosophers often think about profound topics and Thomas is no exception.  Topics that are prevalent throughout his works: "God, man, life, death, soul, body, mind, will, passions, good, evil, virtue, vice, truth, beauty, time, eternity, being itself."  Amazing to think he was able to take such deep concepts and put them into simple syllogisms.

I'm not going to include all the biographical information Prof Kreeft talks about but if you're interested, read the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on Thomas, Prof Kreeft's book Summa of the Summa, and/or G.K. Chesterton's St. Thomas Aquinas: 'The Dumb Ox'.

I'm really looking forward to continuing this lecture series!

Monday, July 29, 2013

New Series or What to do Next

In case you're just joining me, welcome, and we're just finishing up the Discovering the Philosopher in You lecture series (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 13 response, 14) by Prof Colin McGinn.  My plan is to start a new series on the Philosophy of Thomas Aquinas by Peter Kreeft so far I've only listened to the first two episodes and I will write an entry about them as I have some time.

Other than this promising looking philosophy series are you, my readers, interesting in hearing from me on a specific topic?  I've solicited recommendations before but that has always been one of the things that constantly disappoints me in these entries.  I know I have readers, people have told me that they read my stuff and Google tracks pageviews and it says I have just over 13,000 pageviews.  I've written on about trying to earn money with my writing but I haven't made any headway on that front.  I'm not thinking that I can quit my job in the Air Force and write full time or anything, just that turning a hobby into a paying gig is one of my dreams.  Since I doubt anyone will pay to see this fat guy run, and I'm not good enough at chess or photography to get people to buy my services.  I think my best chances of selling my intellectual property comes through philosophy (and maybe a book on language learning).

I hope you'll stay with me for this next series because it looks to be very interesting.  Thomas Aquinas was undoubtedly one of the greatest philosophers and definitely the greatest of his own time period.  I look forward to sharing my thoughts on this great man's philosophy throughout the next few months.  As always, I appreciate your appreciation of my sharing on this simple blog.

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