Saturday, September 7, 2013

Faith and Philosophy Blog Carnival, September 2013, 8th Edition

Joshua Tilghman presents The Deeper Mystery of the Virgin Birth posted at The Spirit of the Scripture.

So far, this is the only entry that has fit the carnival topics of faith and philosophy.  Thank you all for your submissions so far if more submissions come in that fit the topic, I'll add them to the carnival.

The Philosophy of Thomas Aquinas: Part 5: Our Knowledge of and Language About God

Continuing the series on the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas with lecture five how much can we know about God and what we can say about God.  Let's jump right in, Prof Kreeft starts off with an analogy of the premodern thinking with a preteen child, interested in the world around them, curious and asking questions about objective reality like, "what is God?"  They spend less time than modern thinkers who asked more subjective questions like, "How can we know God?" or "How can we express our knowledge of God?"  One is not better than the other, just different.

The three questions laid out are the same anyone can ask of anything, What is it? How can we know it? and How can we express it or communicate it?  The Greek word Logos (λόγος) is a powerful word to express all these ideas together, intelligible being/reality, human knowledge/wisdom/reason/science, and language/communication.  The ancients/premoderns focused on the first part, metaphysics, and moderns, starting with Descartes, were more concerned with the second question, epistemology.

After Thomas' five ways to God he summarizes the way he's going to approach these questions about knowing God (as quoted in the lecture notes, the brackets are Prof Kreeft's interjection):
"When the existence of a thing has been ascertained, there remains the further question of the manner of its existence, in order that we may know its essence. [“Essence” means “manner of existence” for Aquinas.] Now . . . we cannot know what God is but rather what He is not . . . therefore we must consider, first, how He is not, second, how He is known by us, and third, how He is named."
Though Thomas believes that faith, divine revelation, and religious experience are all valid ways of knowing God, this discussion focuses on philosophical/epistemological knowledge by natural reason.  Thomas seeks to show that there are (at least) four metaphysical principles that answer how man can  know God: creation, cosmic hierarchy, the analogy of being, and human reason as participating in divine reason.  If any one of these weren't true then man couldn't know God by natural reason.

Creation, this doesn't tell us much about God, but it does tell us some.  As Thomas' five ways show that God created the universe, now the fact that He did so tells us a bit about Him.
From effects not proportionate to the cause no perfect knowledge of the cause can be obtained. Yet from every effect the existence of its cause can be clearly demonstrated, and so we can demonstrate the existence of God from His effects even though from them we cannot know God as He is in His essence.
So we can know that God is a God of cause by the effects we see, though that doesn't tell us much about Him.  Not a complete rationalist/gnostic or agnostic, but a little more agnostic.

Cosmic Hierarchy, implied in creation is a sort of hierarchy that God is the top of the cosmic ladder of existence and mankind is somewhere on this ladder below God.  Incidentally, Thomas didn't think you could prove the existence of angels, but he thought it would certainly make sense that there be at least one level of existence between God and mankind, just as there are different levels between mankind and a slug.

Analogy of being, this goes along the same lines as cosmic hierarchy that along the cosmic ladder of existence there are bit of analogy.  In the case of life, there is an analogy in that there are lower forms of life but they're still life and there are higher forms of life.  The highest in divine life, not that God's existence mirrors ours but that we mirror God's existence because we get our existence from Him.  This same chain of analogy is in logos/orderliness.  Even the simplest pieces of matter are orderly.  In fact, to me the more order we see at these "lower" levels is a clear indication of design.  So, along the rungs of this ladder of analogy the higher levels have more order and reflect God's orderliness (and other characteristics) better.  Until you get to the top of the ladder, God, from which all orderliness and design comes.

Divine reason, this is not some mystical experience, it's more akin to the idea that all logic and reason finds its source in God.  This part of the lecture actually reminds me of presuppositional apologetics (as I've discussed with +James Hooks a few times).  To medieval logicians there were three basic acts to the mind conception, judgement, and reasoning from judgements.  First, one must recognize concepts, "man," "apple," "animal," "is," "not" etc.  Then one judges from these simple concepts, "man is an animal," "apples are not animals."  Then finally, the reasonable moving from premises to conclusion(s) "therefore man is not an apple."  Thomas is referring to all three of these acts in saying that man's intelligence is a dim reflection of God's divine intelligence.  God doesn't have to judge and reason, He just knows everything all the time, but mankind as a small reflection of that, can only do bit by bit.  As a dim reflection of God, we share in His divine reason/intelligence as participating in His intelligence.  One of the main presuppositions in this part of the argument is that God is rational/mind, not just a blind force.  There are many assumptions in Thomas' philosophy as it's more like a mapping of a complex universe than the dry-step-by-step-deduction-only-philosophy of the moderns.

Now, in light of these four assumptions we should try to understand what Thomas actually says about knowledge of God.  Remember that he's closer to agnosticism than rationalism (gnosticism).  Prof

Kreeft has this to say about the articles immediately preceding the ways to God in the Summa, "...God’s existence is not self-evident to us, though it is self-evident in itself. So it has to be made evident to us... God is not directly and innately known—our mind is not that strong—but His existence can be made known by reason, can be demonstrated—our mind is not too weak for that."  (Quote from the lecture notes, emphasis mine.)  This is from the next part of the Summa about being able to know about God.
Since the ultimate beatitude of man consists in the use of his highest power, which is the operation of the mind, if we suppose that the created intellect can never see God, it would either never attain to beatitude or its beatitude would consist in something else besides God. This opinion is against reason, for there resides in every man a natural desire to know the cause of any effect which he sees, and thus arises wonder in man. But if the intellect of the rational creature could not reach so far as to the first cause of things, this natural desire would remain void. But no natural desire is in vain.
So, we may not be able to fully know God in this life but we will attain sure knowledge of God in the next. Thomas uses this statement many times, that “no natural desire is in vain.”  Seems reasonable to assume that the desire for a more perfect understanding of something and that that desire can be fulfilled though perhaps not fully in this life.

There are two levels of understanding here that we must distinguish.  Comprehension and apprehension, we as created beings will never be able to surround in knowledge, God.  But, we will someday, be able to apprehend God. Just how far can we get? Thomas give four things we can know: He exists, He is the cause of creation, that He has a certain deducible attributes, and what He is not: He is not a creature and not at the same level as creatures.  In His being, He is infinite, unlimited being in itself, while creatures only have being in a limited way sourced from God.

According to Thomas outside of analogical knowledge our knowledge of God is only negative.  The reason for this is the fact that we are created, finite creatures and cannot know by experience things that apply only to God, like infinitude.  We can see the art that only resembles the Artist but we cannot know all that is in the Artist.

This next bit I really liked so I'm just going to let Prof Kreeft speak for himself (quote taken from the lecture study guide):
"I suspect that most of the time, belief or unbelief in God’s existence depends on understanding the meaning of the term “God.” I never met an atheist who I thought fully understood what an intelligent theologian like Aquinas meant by “God.” After talking for a while with an intelligent atheist I always find myself agreeing with him in denying the God he denies; only I claim that’s not the God Aquinas is talking about. For instance, a God who moves around in time and changes, and therefore gets either better or worse in some way, or a God that’s timeless and changeless by doing nothing. Both of these concepts of God are imperfect. Aquinas says God’s perfection is pure act, pure actuality, and pure activity of knowing and loving. He doesn’t change, He doesn’t learn truth because He is all truth, and He doesn’t fall in love for the same reason water doesn’t get wet: because He is love. "
I've seen this in many arguments against God, including my previous series from Prof McGinn.

This next question is also eloquently answered by Prof Kreeft, it's the question commonly brought up even as recent as this post on Google+.  The answer isn't really all that complicated!  It's a linguistic problem, that goes something like this: God has infinite power so asking this question is like asking if a rock could exist that infinite power couldn't pick up.  So, the easy answer is no, but not that God isn't all-powerful, it's a misunderstanding of infinite power.  A similar answer can be given to many of the questions concerning God.  Who created God?  That's like asking, what existed/happened before infinity past?  That's a contradiction.  My personal view is that we shouldn't limit God to a logical anwer, but within our limited perspective, these questions don't make any sense.

One last point (sorry these posts tend to be so long).  There are two more critiques of Thomas' view of knowing God.  One from Hindu philosophy that sees god as a meaningless personless entity, that beings cannot be eternal.  They see one of the definitive aspects of being as finite.  The recent pope John Paul II answered this with an ontological argument that personhood is the pinnacle of being not a defect of it.  One other argument is from science/logic, that says these arguments only give a start.  Which is exactly what Thomas wants to do here.  Build a foundation upon which the rest of theology can be built.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Imagine Leads to a horrible Dystopian Future

Line by line analysis of John Lennon's "Imagine."  First off, I want to say that there are things I like about this song.  It's melodic and harmonically interesting, but the philosophy is completely flawed and doesn't take into account the ramifications of what it encourages.

Imagine there's no heaven
Heaven, the ultimate benefit of being forgiven and the ultimate rest and hope for the future.  Let's imagine all hope for the future is gone?  I'd rather not thank you.
It's easy if you try
No, it's not at all.
No hell below us
Hell, the ultimate consequences of sin and rejection of God, gone.  So no ultimate consequences?  Everyone can do as he or she pleases, sounds nice until you think about the ramifications of no consequences EVER.  Your neighbor likes your TV or your car.  Well, he just takes it.  There's no consequences outside you not liking him, and what does he care about that?  If he's bigger and stronger than you, he can do as he pleases.  So, he's held accountable by laws, well, laws based on what?  Man's authority?  What if he's very wealthy and can buy off the court system?  Without ultimate consequences, might makes right and that's not a good place to live at all.
Above us only sky
Same as before, no hope for future rest.
Imagine all the people living for today
Similar to no consequences, people living as if there's no tomorrow have no concern about the future.  They're wasteful and selfish.  Anyone who's ever rented out property can speak to this, people that don't care about the future don't care about what they do in the long run.

Imagine there's no countries
Now, this one, eh.  It'd be nice if the world were more together, and cared less about boundaries and trade disputes than they do people.
It isn't hard to do
Yeah it is, (well, the imagining part isn't hard) people fear change.  People fear the unknown.  People fear other people, especially people who are different.
Nothing to kill or die for
That would be nice, but removing territorial boundaries wouldn't do that.  People would still fight over resources just not on a national level.
And no religion too
This is reminiscent of Marx's religion is the opiate of the masses.  I don't think that ALL religion should be abolished, but people run organized religion and as long as people are in charge religions are going to do bad things.  Unfortunately, sin and evil are unavoidable human characteristics, abolishing religion won't do anything to change that.
Imagine all the people living life in peace
Again, people are going to fight, maybe not on the national level, if there are no countries, but people are still evil.

You, you may say
I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one
This is just a dream, and there's no way to make it a reality.
I hope some day you'll join us
And the world will be as one
That would be nice, but no matter how hard we try people are still going to do bad things, especially if there are no consequences.

Imagine no possessions
We could all do with a little less, except maybe people in third-world countries.  But, if people focused less on acquiring things the would would be a better place.
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
There will always be greed, as I've said several times already, the removal of consequences will worsen peoples' behaviour not make it better.
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people sharing all the world
Again, just a dream, albeit a nice one (with the exception of the rampant greed and evil that would exist in this dream).
You, you may say
I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one
I hope some day you'll join us
And the world will live as one
As I said, I don't really have a problem with the song, I just don't think people realize that taking away consequences and hope makes people behave worse not better.  When disasters strike, the people not effected join together and help those that have suffered.  However, the people in the midst of the disaster loot and steal and destroy just to gain what little they can in dire circumstances.  I don't usually like pop-culture references, but take the recent TV show Revolution on ABC.  The world goes crazy because, for no reason at all, all electronics cease working.  Is it a nice thing?  Do people all band together and love one another and share where there's abundance?  Not at all, in fact the opposite.  One powerful person takes control of a large arsenal, and leads a militia to rule about a quarter of the US with an iron fist.  Hunting down any and all that oppose him and warring to try to gain control of the rest of the former US.  Is that the kind of world you want to live in?  That's the kind of dystopian future Lennon is suggesting in this song.

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, August 6, 2013

Faith and Philosophy Blog Carnival, August 2013, 7th Edition

Sarah Bernstein presents Meditation Schmeditation posted at YourZenFriend.

Richard Toney presents The Lions Well: The Visage posted at The Lions Well.

Sophia Jevone presents Your Life Depends on This… posted at Sophia Jevone.

Tehra Burton presents Saturday. posted at sex will save us.

Ryan Tasker presents Spirituality – Why I Can’t Get Mad At People posted at Unlimited Boundaries.

Loago presents Appreciate Your Future Now posted at Blog - Law of Attraction Living and Career Coach.

Two different Sophias had entries this month what are the chances?

As usual, I don't agree with every entry. It seems that there are lots of spiritualists out there. It's sad to see faith placed in one's own ability to overcome one's own sin and brokenness. Without forgiveness all the faith in the world is worthless.  I'm considering narrowing the focus of this carnival.  Maybe taking out the faith.  I have faith, but I have faith in a creator-God that loves and cares about creation, who provided a saving sacrifice to pay the penalty for our sin.  Faith in nothing or faith in a nameless faceless power that everyone is in everyone/everything and is everyone/everything is not the kind of faith this carnival was meant to discuss.  The goal was to find philosophical, rational, evidence-based faith, not purely experience based faith.  Don't misunderstand me, I'm all for self-control and meditation of a sort, but I don't want to keep publishing a carnival that spreads spiritualism that goes against everything I believe.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

The Philosophy of Thomas Aquinas: Part 2: Philosophy and Theology, Reason and Faith

This lecture greatly appealed to me personally because I feel that this is one of the biggest challenges to faith today, that is the rational relevance and integration of faith in a rational person.  I've written about these topics here and part 2, as well as this entry about the Higgs Boson and this one about Gen 1.  Those are just some samples of how this topic has come up as discussion points, but if you're a regular reader you know that I discuss terms of faith in relation to rational thought all the time.  So, this lecture is all about Thomas' approach to how rational thought works with faith and not against it.

Thomas, as a theologian first, made his life's most important work the Summa Theologiae.  This lecture series is going to, more or less, follow that work's pattern and flow.  To Thomas, there were only three things that were important philosophy, theology, and the scriptures.  His primary goal in writing the Summa is theological education without a loss of logical integrity.  As such Thomas starts off the Summa focusing on God as the origin of everything, then moves on to the creation, mankind.  He focuses on mankind's uniqueness in free will and reason, and mankind's ultimate goal to be reunited (to use Bonhoeffer's terminology) in God's goodness.  I like Prof Kreeft's analogy (I'm not sure if he takes it from the Summa or if it's his own envisioning of the text) of the whole of creation being like a circulatory system with God at the heart and His love as the blood that God pushes out through the body, but then it returns from mankind loving God back.

So, the first question to deal with is the relationship between faith, the source for theology and reason, the source for philosophy.  Thomas sees it as a marriage, a combination of two great sources of knowledge.  Philosophy is based on human reason alone, though there is a branch of theology that relies on human reason, it's called philosophical theology, or natural theology.  Thomas' five ways to prove God's existence fall into this category, it seems to me that apologetics fits this description as well.  There are still parts of theology that are founded on faith, though that's not to say they're irrational beliefs, rather that the point of theology in general is the understanding of God's Word and the Church's interpretation of it throughout history.  Thomas uses both types of theology in his masterwork but there's a distinction between them.

The structure of his work is five parts:
First a question with only two possible answers
Then the opposition's answer summarized fairly, strongly, clearly, and succinctly
Thomas' answer starting with a quotation from authority either human or divine
Then a purely rational argument for the answer
Lastly his answer to why the objections are somewhat right but overall wrong

His first question: Whether, besides philosophy, any further teaching is required?  It may be surprising to know that he answers "yes."  Here's part of a quote about why Thomas says yes, "For man is directed to God as to an end that surpasses the grasp of his reason. But the end must first be known by men who are to direct their thoughts and actions to the end. Hence it was necessary for the salvation of man that certain truths which exceed human reason should be made known to him by divine revelation."  It's awesome to see when great thinkers agree.  Here's a quote from Ravi Zacharias in The End of Reason, "The worldview of the Christian faith is simple enough.  God has put enough into this world to make faith in him a most reasonable thing.  But he has left enough out to make it impossible to live by sheer reason alone."  You can't just use reason, and you can't just rely on faith.

Some might object that this isn't philosophy at all, but that's not how Thomas sees it.  Philosophy is the tool of theology.  And of course that's the intent, this is after all the Summa Theologiae not the Summa Philosophiea.  There are two sets of propositions being dealt with here, truth as perceived by human reason alone and truth received through divine revelation alone.  Both sets are truth and therefore cannot be contradictory.  If there's a contradiction it's not in the sets of truths, rather there is a misunderstanding at some level.  Two sets 'A' and 'B' can be related in five different manners: Some of A is B, Some of B is A, Some of A is B and some B is A, ALL A are B and vice versa, and B is contained within A.  Which is the case with reason and faith.

Some truths are known by faith, the Trinity, while some by reason alone, natural science, and some by both, the existence of God, freedom of the will, and immortality of the soul.  Kant referred to these as the "three fundamental postulates of morality."  Both are truth and truth cannot contradict truth.  Here's a quote from Prof Kreeft about this: "[Thomas held that] religion is not just a set of moral commands or ideals or psychologically helpful and hopeful hints, but a set of propositions that are just as objective as those of science and common sense, though they're known not by the scientific method or by sense observation but by faith."  The second half of the argument is from a Christian perspective that God is the teacher of both reason and faith and God doesn't lie therefore both are true. Therefore, we conclude: "whatever arguments are brought forth against the doctrines of the faith are conclusions that are incorrectly derived from the first and self-evident principles. . . . Such conclusions do not have the force of demonstration; they are arguments that are either only probable or fallacious. And so there exists the possibility to answer them."

Christians can feel comfortable in their intellectual and rational integrity faith and rationality are not mutually exclusive as modern atheist philosophers like to claim (Sam Harris in The End of Faith, and Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion among others).

One final note. St. Bonaventura, one of Thomas' contemporaries, criticised Thomas' use of Aristotle saying that he was diluting "the wine of the Gospel by the water of pagan philosophy."  To which Thomas replied, “No, I am transforming water into wine.”  All reason is the ally of faith because all truth is God’s truth (list of verses about truth here).

Our puppy, Lexie, and her first experience of the beach.  She LOVED it!

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.

A Screenshot of the Stats Page from

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Discovering the Philosopher in You: Part 14: The Meaning of Life: What Gives Human Life Value?

As we move on from the discussion of the reasonableness of the existence of God.  We come, finally, to the summation of this lecture series, The Meaning of Life.  To me this is really what philosophy should be all about, trying to find meaning in life and it's appropriate that Prof McGinn saves it for last.  (Note: throughout this entry and the lecture I'll be using the ideas of meaning and value interchangeably, Prof McGinn used the terminology that way.  I understand that there can be a subtle difference but for my purposes I'll use them as the same meaning.)

There are two separate categories in the search for meaning in life, one says that meaning is only gotten from an external source, that is God.  Meaning in life cannot be found in doing or in gaining anything.  In this view, if there is no god then there is no meaning to life.  In opposition to this idea Prof McGinn tries to push the argument into an infinite regression.  If meaning can only be gotten from an outside source, then who/what gives god meaning, another god?  Obviously, that leads to infinite regression because the next question is obviously who gave that second god meaning?  (I was about to type a response but I'll save it for later.)  The argument might be that there is an internal source of meaning that god has, and the answer that Prof McGinn offers is that mankind also has internal sources of meaning in life so that there's no need for a deity to confer upon us meaning.  On the internal sources for meaning in life there are three different ideas: hedonism, virtue, and philosophic pursuit.

Hedonism is quite simple, pursue that which makes oneself happy.  Food, drink, sex, nice stuff, knowledge, money, etc. though there seems to be different levels of desires.  Like the base/natural desires of food, drink, sex etc. as compared to the higher desires knowledge, understanding, etc.  The hedonist sees meaning in these types of things.  One has meaning in life if one gains things and does or is able to do whatever one wants all the time.  Prof McGinn points out, and I'm sure you also see that this is an incredibly selfish view.  It cannot by itself provide for a meaningful life because there's something missing.  This kind of view leads to an evil life bent on only seeking one's own desires and has no problem squashing anyone that gets in the way.

Which then leads to the life of virtue.  This idea says that the meaning of life is in virtuous actions.  It's no doubt that virtue is a good thing, that's an obvious tautology.  But, is the meaning for life found in merely being virtuous?  This view is a pendulum swing on the complete opposite side from hedonism.  the meaning of life is in serving everyone else and putting down oneself.  This seems like a decent way to find meaning but also ends up oddly empty because if you spend your whole life seeking to serve others you'll never enjoy life yourself.

While those first two ways to seek meaning in life are obvious to many people, this last one is less familiar except to those that have studied philosophy.  It comes from Plato, that the highest meaning in life is the pursuit of and love of knowledge, and that the highest pursuit of knowledge is philosophy.  This type of meaning is found in seeking and loving knowledge.  Those this too has its problems, because it seeks meaning at the abandonment of living life.  This kind of meaning in life doesn't look at life itself just at the pursuit of knowledge.

Prof McGinn's answer to the problems of each aspect is that one must have a balance in life of the three pursuits.  One should pursue pleasure but not at the expense of knowledge and virtue.  One should pursue virtue but not at the expense of the other two.  And, when the different pursuits are in conflict there is no wrong answer.  Everyone, has meaning this way.  Some are more virtuous than others, some more hedonistic, and some more philosophical, but everyone has meaning.

By way of rebuttal I'd like to point out a few things...  First, making the other side fall into infinite regress is not a valid argument.  He's misrepresenting the external source of value as only contingent on the existence of an outside source for meaning.  Meaning that is imbued upon creation is a natural side effect of being made by a loving creator.  It doesn't require the creator per se, it's just a side effect.  Just as God is the source of all creation, He's the source of all meaning otherwise meaning if you try to give yourself meaning it's hollow worthless meaning.  No matter how much a man insists he's important doesn't make it so.  True meaning can only come from the outside.  Parents give children some of their meaning but even without parents a child has meaning.

Secondly, all these examples cannot be universally applicable.  Here's a few examples:

For hedonism, what about the person born into poverty or born as a refugee?  That person, most likely, will never be able to enjoy any level of hedonistic pleasures.  Is that person no longer valuable?  With extrinsic value, yes he or she is still just as valuable as anyone else.

Take virtue, (this is the easiest one to deal with) in a humanist mindset there is no immutable standard for morality or virtue, so the goalposts are always moving.  Does that mean that different people are valuable at different times?  Also, how virtuous is virtuous?  Is Mother Teresa or Ghandi the only ones that measure up?  Is everyone else worthless?  Where's the line?  The rules are constantly subject to change and so is the line of who is virtuous enough to have meaning.

Now, philosophy.  This is the most difficult one to answer but it's still subjective.  Take the child born into a small primitive tribe in Papua New Guinea or someplace like that.  That child will probably never have the chance to study philosophy or science or any other learning outside that little tribe.  Does he or she have meaning?  Arguably not, at least according to these standards.

I think I know how Prof McGinn would answer these questions though, so I'll give his presumed answer and then respond to that as well.  I assume he would answer with some kind of reference to balance in life.  Like the child born into poverty, as long as he/she did his/her best to enjoy the pleasures available that's meaning, and if meaning found in a balance between all of these pursuits, perhaps that child could find meaning in life by doing his or her best on the other sources of meaning.  To the question of virtue he'd probably respond similarly, that as long as one does one's best in whatever situation they're in they'll find meaning in life.  Same with the pursuit of philosophy, as long as you do your best with what you have you'll live a meaningful life.

To which I'd respond, then Adolf Hitler lived a full meaningful life.  He did what he thought was right and he did it to the best of his ability.  So much so that he led his country in a victorious conquest of most of Europe and through his allies a large portion of the world in general.  He led the extermination of weaker people that didn't deserve to live (at least in his view).  He was also well read and his book is still read by many to this day.  So, by all accounts he lived a meaningful life.  Basically, by these arguments everyone lives meaningful lives.  Again, without an immutable standard of morality there's no such thing as a virtuous person.  And, nothing can give itself meaning without being completely selfish.  These anthropocentric sources of meaning and virtue ring hollow and even the most powerful rich and seemingly most meaningful lives are reduced to nought at the end.  As Alexander the Great's final orders clearly showed, even one of the most powerful, wise, hedonistic (after the higher pleasures), wealthy, and philosophical rulers of the world ended his life empty and meaningless.