Book Plunge: Classic Christian Thinkers

What do I think of Ken Samples’s book published by RTB Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

For some people, to think of a Christian thinker sounds like a contradiction in terms. Sadly, some of those people are also Christians. After all, aren’t Christians supposed to be people of faith? This assumes that faith is something anti-intellectual when it isn’t. Our Christianity has a rich heritage of great thinkers and we should embrace them.

It would be too much to list all the great Christian thinkers, but in this book, Ken Samples has chosen to give nine. Each chapter covers one thinker and is a brief portrait of their life and how they contributed to apologetics and philosophy. He also lists the best books to read by these thinkers and works to go to to understand their life and impact all the more.

He also goes across traditions for this. There are people in this list that Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox are likely to admire. Perhaps not all of them, but anyone from any of these traditions will find someone they can support. So who are the people he covers?

He starts with Irenaeus and then Athanasius. Next in line are the big free of Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas. A lot of people in Catholic and Orthodox circles might not be happy with Martin Luther and John Calvin next, but each were great thinkers who have shaped the Christian world. After those is Blaise Pascal and then to top it all of is a great mind who has found support from all three branches and that is C.S. Lewis.

Samples’s book is also easy to read and understand. The reader will walk away with a greater appreciation of who the person is. Also, any reader can just read each chapter on its own if you want to get a brief overview of a certain figure in church history.

The book is also good for group discussions. This is a book that small groups could get together and read about the life of one thinker and then discuss the impact of that thinker with the discussion questions. I am sure Samples would love to see this happen and I know that I definitely would.

The book is also really trying to be more ecumenical than one might think. Martin Luther will not be the favorite of Catholics and Protestants, but Samples does not go after Catholics or Orthodox in the chapter. He also gives us the interesting idea that it could be that more works have been written about Martin Luther than about any other figure in history apart from Jesus Christ.

The real goal of the success of this book will be seen in one way. That will be in how many people go to these great writers themselves and at least read some of their works. Samples would be disappointed to know readers used his book to learn about the thinkers without going to the thinkers himself. As Lewis said, “Read Plato. Not books about Plato.”

I encourage anyone interesting in Christian thinking to read this book. Those interested in church history should read it as well. Remember to use it as a stepping stone though to get to the other books that Samples would say are far more important.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 8/25/2018: Matthew Levering

What’s coming up? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Many of our debates today all go back to one idea. Is there a God? This is one of the fundamental questions of any worldview and how you answer it will affect the answer you give to most every other question. The majority of the world answers in the affirmative to this, but why?

Can there be given any evidence of the existence of deity? How long has this debate been going on and what can we learn from the great minds of the past? What also of those who have argued against the idea of theism? Do they have anything that should be seriously considered as well?

To discuss these questions, I decided to bring on a scholar who has studied this subject well and has taught it well. I decided to find someone who knows the philosophy behind the subject and is ready to discuss it. I decided then to bring on Dr. Matthew Levering, author of the book Proofs of God.

So who is he?

According to his bio:

Matthew Levering holds the James N. and Mary D. Perry Jr. Chair of Theology at Mundelein Seminary.  He is the author or editor of over forty books on topics in dogmatic, sacramental, moral, historical, and biblical theology.  He is the translator of Gilles Emery’s The Trinity, and with Gilles Emery he co-edited The Oxford Handbook of the Trinity.  Among his books are Scripture and Metaphysics: Aquinas and the Renewal of Trinitarian Theology and Engaging the Doctrine of the Holy Spirit: Love and Gift in the Trinity and the Church.  He co-edits two quarterly journals, Nova et Vetera and International Journal of Systematic Theology.  Since 2004, he has been a participant in Evangelicals and Catholics Together, and from 2007-2016 he served as Chair of the Board of the Academy of Catholic Theology.  He co-founded the Chicago Theological Initiative and has directed the Center for Scriptural Exegesis, Philosophy, and Doctrine since 2011.

We’ll be talking about, well, proofs of God. How do they work? Are any of them failed proofs? What about the arguments against God? How serious are they? Naturally, we will be spending some time talking about my favorite proofs, the Thomistic proofs. How well do they hold up and do atheists who argue against them really understand them?

How should Christians use these arguments? What is the relationship between faith and reason? Is it a problem that these arguments can get you to theism but none of them can get you to the Christian God directly?

I really hope you’ll be tuning in to this episode as I think it’s the first one we’ve actually done on the theistic arguments directly for the existence of God and it’s been a topic I’ve been wanting to discuss on the show for some time. I also hope that you will go on iTunes and leave a positive review for the Deeper Waters Podcast. It really means a lot to me to get to see them.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

 

Book Plunge: Proofs of God

What do I think of Matthew Levering’s book published by Baker Academic? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Levering’s book is a textbook, but reading it you wouldn’t think that. It is a book that is simple to understand putting the classical proofs of God and others in ways that can be grasped by any reader. Levering does not assume you have prior knowledge of the subject. It’s as if this could be the first time you are seriously engaging the idea and he wants to help you out.

Something else interesting is that he also has a number of writers who wrote on the opposite end. Some like Kant didn’t think the classical proofs and such worked, but they gave other arguments for God. Some just outright didn’t think arguments worked like Hume and Wittgenstein. Their thoughts are included as well.

Levering is also very fair in the main body of the work. He gives the overview of each writer and it isn’t until the concluding part of the chapter that he starts giving some of his thoughts on what was said. Of course, none of this is exhaustive. The book is around 220 pages and you have over 20 thinkers to go through so you can only devote so much time to each one.

Levering starts with the church fathers. Right at the start, I find it fascinating that atheism was not being seriously debated at this time, and yet the early church was starting to answer questions before they came along. These were serious thinkers despite what might be said about them by atheists on the internet. It doesn’t mean they were right in everything or that all their arguments were good, but they were arguments and they were trying to seriously engage.

It won’t be a shock to anyone who follows my work that my favorite portion is when we get to the medieval period. Naturally, I tend to gravitate towards Thomas Aquinas and his ways. These are the ways that I use when I do apologetics and I find them to always be misrepresented somehow when someone attempts to refute them.

From there we go to the Reformers and then closer and closer until we get to the modern era. The latest we get to is Barth. I tended to think that as far as the arguments went, they lost much of their caliber after the ones from Aquinas and when later writers looked back and tried to respond, they tended to misrepresent the argument. How many times do I see atheists today trying to make arguments about the origin of the universe and thinking they have refuted Aquinas in the process?

I understand Levering wanted to keep the book reasonably small and readable, but I do hope there will come an updated version sometime with more time spent on more of the philosophers and seeing people after Barth. If not that, then perhaps we could do a sequel on modern proofs of God to see what people are saying and then give a brief look at arguments from the past. Another option would be a book contrasting proofs of God in the past with those of today.

Levering’s book is still a great one to read, especially when the only criticisms I can really come up with or asking if there’s a way even more can be put in. This will be a new book I will refer to when people ask me for evidences of God. If they want to focus on Aquinas, by all means choose Feser, but if you want overview of everyone, Levering is a great place to go to.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Rationality Rules On The Unmoved Mover

Is the unmoved mover a bad argument? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I have been dialoguing with an atheist via text message a local pastor told me about. Last night, we were talking about Aquinas’s argument for the unmoved mover. He wanted to send me a video arguing against it to get my thoughts. He told me the video was by someone who went by “Rationality Rules.” I have noticed that so many people who identify themselves by rationality or reason or logic often honor the idea with their lips, but their heads are far from it. I asked him to send it so I could see it. It can be found here.

Fortunately, it comes with a long description to show many of the main points. I found it amusing that towards the start we have Aquinas and Peter Kreeft both having dunce hats put on their heads. Yes. Aquinas, one of the greatest minds in Western civilization should have a dunce cap on. It’s amazing the arrogance that these guys have.

Anyway, RR says he’s not going to deal with Aquinas’s, but Kreeft’s, because, you know, the arguments are basically the same.

No, they’re not.

But hey, apparently it would be too hard to, you know, go and look online and actually read the original argument and actually work to understand it and see what it’s really arguing. Nope. Just go for someone you think is giving the argument. Kreeft is a wonderful philosopher, but here he is also speaking for laymen and not giving the argument in its full sophistication. Unfortunately, I think he also gets it wrong, but let’s see what is said.

Anyway, this is how RR sums up the argument syllogistically.

• Everything that exists is in motion.

• Everything in motion is caused to be in motion by something else.

• Something must’ve existed without a cause.

• We call this first-cause (or unmoved mover) god.

• Therefore, god exists.

This isn’t the argument.

For one thing, we have to ask what is motion. Motion is not just movement, but movement is a type of motion. All movement is motion but not all motion is movement, at least in the physical sense. We know this because Aquinas would talk about movement in angels and angels are not physical. Your atheist friend can say he doesn’t believe in angels. Irrelevant. Aquinas does and Aquinas knows they are not physical so his argument is not limited to the physical.

What is being talked about is potential becoming actuality. Potential is the capacity for change that something has. Actuality is the way that it is. I am sitting right now as I type this. I have the potential to stand, kneel, lie down, jump, etc. If I do any of those, such as stand, then I am actualized my potential to stand and from there, I have the potential again to sit.

This is indeed caused in some respect by another. I do something because I want something outside of myself, which is what would be called The Good. My will is driven towards this. Every one of us desires what we think of as The Good. We can disagree on what we think The Good is, but all of us do want it and when we do something, we are doing it for something we perceive to be a good.

Aquinas is also talking about objects that have no will. A hand moves a stick which moves a rock which moves a leaf. Remove any piece of the chain and the leaf doesn’t move.

So what is the cause of this change? Aquinas says we have to find what it is to avoid an infinite regress. What kind of regress is he talking about? It’s either per accidens or per se. In the former, suppose mine and Allie’s parents both die suddenly. Could we still have children together? Absolutely. All things being equal, there is nothing about our reproduction that is hindered or helped by our parents being alive. That is irrelevant.

Now consider a chain that’s more per se. Each event is dependent on what came before it. Consider a Rube Goldberg machine. That is what it is like. This is the point of Aquinas. This means that everything in the chain is being used as an instrument, but if there are secondary causes, there must be a primary cause. The chain has to find its origin somewhere.

Note that this is also not saying it has to start there chronologically, as the universe being eternal is at this point irrelevant to Aquinas. It’s saying that there must be some great source, such as a gear that all the other gears have to move around and if the big gear stops, the little ones do as well. For Aquinas though, this place where the buck stops must be unmoved itself. If it is not, then it is part of the chain and the chain still needs to be explained.

If we see anything that is in motion, then we need to explain that. That would include the universe because I think it’s quite uncontroversial to say the universe undergoes change. We can all agree to that one. What needs to be at the root is something unchanging in its nature.

RR says the first flaw with this argument is that it does not prove that Christianity is true.

It would not prove that this Unmoved Mover still exists, that it’s a being, that it’s conscious, or that it impregnated a virgin, in order to sacrifice itself to itself so that it could forgive you for your ancestors’ actions… or in other words, it would not prove that Kreeft’s very specific interpretation of the Christianity is true.

This is the common silly objection that so many atheists have. You have not proven that this God is the Christian God, therefore the argument fails. Yes. What a great rejoinder, except the argument was never meant to prove the Christian God. Aquinas knew this. Every defender of the argument knows it. Aquinas could use this argument, but so could the Jewish philosopher Moses Maimonides. So could the Muslim philosopher Avicenna. Put these three in a room together and they will not dispute this argument. They will agree to it. That’s when the disputes start. Who is this mover?

Also, to say that it doesn’t show the mover still exists is just fallacious because once Aquinas establishes God, he goes on to establish things that can be known about God from reason and natural theology and that includes His eternality and immutability among other things. People who argue against the argument like this are just intellectually lazy. Of course, we knew that when we saw the bad representation of the Trinity anyway.

The second fallacy is that of special pleading. Something must have existed without a cause. That’s not the argument though. It’s that something must have existed that is not in motion like everything else is. God is not moved by anything else. He moves all other things. Aquinas does say why as well. Special Pleading fails.

The last two objections deal with the Big Bang Theory. Unfortunately for RR, these are irrelevant. Aquinas’s argument is not about the origins of the universe. The Big Bang Theory could be disproven tomorrow and Aquinas would be unfazed. The universe could be shown to be eternal and Aquinas will still be standing. Aquinas would ask why you’re talking about all this stuff about how the universe came to be when his argument says nothing about that.

In conclusion, it will be good when RR deals with the real argument. If he wants to do so, I suggest for a good understanding he consider something like reading Edward Feser. Feser’s “Aquinas” would be a great introduction for him. As it stands, RR has dealt with a straw man and the dunce cap needs to be removed and put on the head of the rightful owner.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Book Plunge: Evidence Considered Chapter 17

Does atheism have a case with evolutionary computation? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

We’re continuing our look today at the work of Glenton Jelbert. We’re still on the science section which many of you know is not my forte. On this chapter, I cannot comment much because I do not claim to understand the science. What I will comment on is a couple of claims that Jelbert makes that I think can be worth discussing.

Jelbert does rightly say that a goal is central to biological evolution. The goal in biological evolution is the passing along of genes with the end result being reproduction, survival, and food. Jelbert in the chapter says he puts the word goal in quotation marks because goal implies an intent.

The fascinating thing about this is that this is something that fits exactly in line with classical theism. When classical theists talk about teleology, they do not mean intelligent design. Instead, what they mean is that things do indeed act towards an end. This does not mean rational things or divine things. It means anything that is created acts toward an end.

Edward Feser gives a summation of what this means here. Too many atheists will be too quick to jump on their own assumptions. Feser tells us we have to drop everything we’ve heard from the modern ID movement and just look at the argument of Aquinas for what it means to him, not understood in light of modern ideas of teleology. I leave it to the reader to go through Feser’s article as he explains it much better than I can and those intrigued can get his books.

What this means then is that if we have a goal in evolution, then we have a basis for the existence of God. This does not mean that evolution is some entity that has this intent in mind. It just means that if creatures tend to, all things being equal, act toward a certain end, then there is a reasonable case for theism.

At the end of the chapter then, we get to another claim of Jelbert’s that bears relation to this. Jelbert is right that the removal of biological evolution would not require the acceptance of a creator. I agree. One could be an atheist even before Darwin. On the other hand, the acceptance of biological evolution does not require the negation of a creator. (If this is so, and I am sure it is, it makes me wonder why we’re arguing this so much.)

Yet Jelbert says something problematic when he says that Robert J. Marks II, his opponent in this chapter, has not connected a creator to any specific claims theists make, then he has not established theism. At this, he is definitely wrong. Suppose we could take the classical arguments like Aristotle did and establish there is some sort of deity, which is what Aristotle did. Even if we don’t know the nature of this deity in connection to an established world religion, we still have a deity. It seems to be a bizarre universe in which we can say a deity exists and atheism is true. Establishing theism does not mean establishing an Abrahamic religion. It means establishing theism. Establishing theism is necessary to showing an Abrahamic religion is true, but it’s not sufficient. Still, it is sufficient in itself to refute atheism.

We’ll deal with chapter 19 when we return.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Book Plunge: Evidence Considered Chapter 1

Does the cosmological argument stand up? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I’ve had sitting on the backburner for awhile another book besides Seeing Through Christianity to go through and that’s Evidence Considered by Glenton Jelbert. Jelbert has decided to go after Mike Licona and Bill Dembski’s book Evidence For God. Jelbert is a former Christian and it is interesting to go through what he has.

The first chapter is on the cosmological argument which was written by David Beck. It’s noteworthy that there is no distinction between what kind of cosmological argument is used. Craig uses one kind that is called the horizontal argument. This one goes with the beginning of the universe and largely relies on Big Bang Cosmology. The vertical kind does not require any science at all and is more philosophical and asks what is the basis for the existing of the universe.

Imagine you wake up tomorrow and you hear some weird music playing. You ask “What is causing this sound?” It doesn’t seem to make sense to ask “What caused this sound?” since the sound is going on in the present. The music is continually playing so you ask what is causing it.

Now another day, you wake up and you go outside to do a morning walk and you find when you open the front door a giant crystal orb is blocking your path. You ask “What caused this?” because it’s being put there is an event that happened in the past. It is often missed that you could just as much ask “What is causing this?”

Why could you ask that? Because too often, the existence of these things is treated like a given. It’s as if things can exist by their own power. One could say that we could commit suicide by our own power, but none of us can by our own power say “I don’t want to exist!” and just poof out.

Jelbert begins his response by saying we could grant the argument and it doesn’t really get us close to theism. He says that all religions are able to use this shows this, but can they all use it? For instance, Mormonism would not use this argument since matter is really eternal in Mormonism with gods begetting gods that create their own planets where the denizens can become gods.

The Abrahamic religions can use this because the vertical form definitely depends on one uncaused cause. Using natural theology and Aristotelian metaphysics, Aquinas can tell us plenty about the god that can be found. There is a false notion that to say that since natural theology alone can’t tell us what god there is, then there can’t be a god. In the Middle Ages, Muslim, Jewish, and Christian philosophers could all agree on the arguments of natural theology. They’d determine which form of theism is true by looking at special revelation.

From there, Jelbert goes on to talk about how Jeopardy recently defined atheism as “The active, principled denial of the existence of God.” Jelbert refers to this an absurd definition. Jelbert says “A definition of atheist as someone who does not believe there is a god, is the equivalent of saying that since the case has not been made, the burden of proof lies with the theist/deist.”

First off, this sentence is incredibly unclear. Thinking it was just me, I showed it to one of my friends who’s much more familiar with English and grammar only to get a similar response. My rule with the burden of proof argument is that anyone who makes a claim has a burden. If you come up and say “I am an atheist,” and I ask why, you need to back that. It doesn’t work to say “Unless you can demonstrate your case, atheism is true.” It could be that I am a theist who has terrible reasons for believing in God and yet God still exists. If I come to you and say I’m a theist, it’s not up to you to disprove theism. It’s up to me to demonstrate theism.

As for the idea about it being absurd, perhaps Jelbert would like to speak to these others.

“Atheism is the position that affirms the non-existence of God. It proposes positive disbelief rather than mere suspension of belief.”

William Rowe The Concise Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy p.62

“Atheism, as presented in this book, is a definite doctrine, and defending it requires one to engage with religious ideas. An atheist is one who denies the existence of a personal, transcendent creator of the universe, rather than one who simply lives life without reference to such a being.”

Robin Le Poidevin Arguing for Atheism: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion p.xvii

Jelbert goes on to say that the argument proves nothing about Jesus, virgin births (Which I do affirm), the resurrection, or any creed. Indeed it doesn’t. It is hardly a fault of an argument that it does not prove what it was never meant to prove. The argument could be entirely valid and Islam is true. Either way, atheism is false.

Jelbert goes on to argue that maybe the cause is itself physical. The problem with this is that in the horizontal form, the being is beyond space, time, and matter, which means it is not limited by any of those and thus it is not spatial, it is eternal, and it is immaterial. In the vertical form, it is a being that is not capable of change from another agent. Anything material is capable of such change. This is because in Thomistic and Aristotelian metaphysics, these kinds of things have what is called potential, which is capacity for change. Matter essentially has this. Thus, physical beings are ruled out.

Jelbert also argues that an infinite chain could possibly exist. This would be a problem for a horizontal version perhaps, but not a vertical one. There are two kinds of chains. In one chain, consider my wife and I. Suppose in a tragedy our parents all died through car accidents or some other means today. That would not mean that we suddenly go out of existence. In fact, we could have our own children still without our parents. (Obviously, we don’t want anything to happen to our parents of course.)

If this kind of chain is what the universe is, then an infinite chain could be possible. I leave that to the mathematicians. Yet what if our universe is not like this? Aquinas gives the example of a stick pushing a rock and the rock pushing a leaf while the stick is pushed by a hand. This is a short chain, but in this chain, if you remove any part, all activity ceases. All present activity is continuously dependent on past activity. If that is the case for our universe, then an infinite chain is not possible.

A Thomistic argument gives a chain where existence depends on something else existing. If all existing depends on another existence, then you have such a chain going on as with the rock being moved, then there’s no reason to think any existing would be going on right now. This is not chronological either. If it was, it would be the former chain. Too many atheistic arguments treat existing as if it was a given. It’s quite odd to think that so many atheists who want to talk about how God doesn’t exist don’t really say much about what it means to exist.

Jelbert then says that the third point is that there must be a single uncaused or infinite being. Jelbert sees a switch between cause and being, but it’s a wonder what we’re supposed to see. If anything is causing any change, it must be something that exists in some way, that is, it is. It’s a being.

Jelbert also says that Beck says that “We cannot make sense of the universe, the reality in which we live, apart from there being a real God.” Jelbert says that this is an admission that the feeling of not knowing is something Beck doesn’t like and he heals it with the idea of God. It’s a wonder how this is read. Beck just gave a statement of fact. Nothing is said about personal feelings in the matter.

Jelbert then goes on to say that this is what has been done for millennia, but this is indeed too much of a leap. The first leap is to assume an emotional case for Beck. The second is to assume that everyone thinks in modern individualistic psychological terminology.

If we want to play this game, then we could say that many people find a God distasteful who will judge them for their sins, require repentance, or disagree with their political views. This causes psychological discomfort. The way to quiet this is to argue that this God doesn’t exist to give emotional solace.

Does this apply to some people? Sure. Are some people also Christians for emotional reasons? Sadly so. Does this tell us about the truth? Not at all. Instead, Jelbert has given a reason that cannot be known. Saying that you have an explanation that explains something is not necessarily addressing something emotional. It could provide emotional solace as a plus, but that does not mean that it is false.

We will later on look at another chapter.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Deeper Waters Podcast 8/26/2017: Gerard Verschuuren

What’s coming up? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Science has taken many twists and turns throughout the centuries. From the ancient Greeks through the medievals to the time of the Reformation and the Enlightenment and up to modern times. Today, science is the language of the day. It is the force that most people take the most seriously. We are in the age of progress and have no need of the ideas of the past that bear no relation to modern science.

But what if they do?

Nearly 800 years ago, a monk was born named Thomas Aquinas. His intellectual tradition had a major impact on the world as he formed a bond between Aristotelianism and Christianity. Aquinas had some interest in the science of his time, but if we were talking about great scientists of the past, his name would not likely come up as he’s much more known for his philosophical and theological conventions. To change Tertullian’s statement, what has Aquinas to do with modern science?

He could have quite a bit actually. The philosophy of Aquinas could have severe ramifications for science and how it is done. As one who considers myself a Thomist, I was alerted about the book Thomas Aquinas and Modern Science. I decided to get a review copy of it and the author of it, Gerard Verschuuren, will be my guest.

So who is he?

Gerard wears many hats. He is a scientist, a speaker, a writer, and he serves as a consultant. He has a doctorate in the philosophy of science and today serves as a human geneticist. As of 1994, he lives in the southern part of New Hampshire.

We’re going to be talking about what role Thomas Aquinas has for modern science. Perhaps it the case that old Aquinas should not be forgot. What does Aquinas have to say for modern cosmology and genetics? Could it really be that scientists might actually need to study some metaphysics? Could it be that if they don’t, that are possibly doing metaphysics and just doing it very poorly and their science could actually improve with metaphysics?

What about questions we have today? Did the universe have a beginning? Would a multiverse be a problem? Should we even be using the metaphysics of Aquinas since we know he got them from Aristotle and Aristotle has been shown to be wrong in his physics hasn’t he? If so, why should we care about his metaphysics?

Evolution is sometimes seen as a defeater by many Christians and atheists. Is it? What would Aquinas think of the work of Darwin? What would he think of by contrast of the Intelligent Design movement? Does Aquinas have something that both sides can learn?

What about our minds and bodies? How do the two of them interact? Does Aquinas have something to say about that as well? What would Aquinas think of Near-Death Experiences? Would he support a dualism?

Also, what about our modern government? How does Aquinas say about how we should all function together? Does he have anything to say about our economic struggles today?

I hope you’ll be looking forward to the next episode. Aquinas was a fascinating thinker in his day and still deserves to be listened to today. Please be watching and consider leaving a positive review on ITunes of the Deeper Waters Podcast.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Aquinas and Modern Science

What do I think of Gerard Verschuuren’s book published by Angelico Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

What did Aquinas know about modern science. Very little no doubt. If you asked Aquinas his opinions on general relativity, he would not know what you were talking about. What about the Big Bang Theory? What about evolution? Oh he would know some basic ideas of what we call physics and such today, but this was a man who was a monk and lived when people thought the Earth was the center of the universe. What hath Aquinas to do with modern science?

Quite a lot actually.

You see, part of the problem is we enter into the discussion thinking often that science is the supreme field. Why not? It’s what’s been ingrained into us. “People in the past today believed in miracles, but we know that they didn’t happen. We live in a world of science.” If you want an expert on any subject for a TV show, bring in a scientist. A scientist is automatically assumed to be the beacon of knowledge and wisdom.

None of this is meant as anti-science. Many scientists are no doubt very knowledgeable and wise people. The problem is that science has its limits. Bring it out of its area and put it where it has no business and it does a lot of damage. Much of the problems in discussions about science today are not so much about the data as they are the metaphysics behind the data.

That’s a dirty word today. Metaphysics is often seen as “Studying things that are nonsense” or just a catch-all term for “the supernatural” or something of that sort. Those who mock metaphysics though have their own metaphysics that they are doing, and it’s quite normally a bad one in that case. Metaphysics is the study of being as being. How does existence work and function?

All that is science is a part of this existence and so Aquinas, the great metaphysician, has something to say. He can’t tell you about evolution, but he can tell you about substances and potential and change. He can’t tell you about the Big Bang Theory, but he can tell you about potential and actuality. He can’t tell you about DNA, but he can tell you about formal, material, efficient, final, instrumental, and exemplar causes.

If we study science with all of those in mind, then Aquinas can believe it or not shed a lot of light. Thankfully, Verschuuren has written a great book on this. The knowledge he brings is highly impressive. He has a great love of Aquinas and familiarity with him and his metaphysics, yet also looks to be highly read in the scientific literature.

But isn’t Aquinas’s view all about faith? Not at all. Faith and reason were not opposed to Aquinas. He would say that there are things known by revelation and things known without, but we must never make the two contradict. While Aquinas did believe the Earth was the center of the universe, he was going with the science of his time. If he thought the science today was overwhelming, he would also agree with that.

Verschuuren gives us an introduction to the metaphysics that is simple enough for the layman to understand. My only puzzle here was when talking about causes why the instrumental cause was left out. I consider this one highly important to understanding many cosmological debates and such, but it seemed to be forgotten.

While many will see a war between science and religion, Aquinas would not. What about evolution? If it is true, Aquinas would have no problem. Evolution is one thing becoming something else. It is not nothing becoming something, which is entirely different.

There is also the question of areas like neurology and such. How does the brain work? What about the mind-body problem? Aquinas has something to say in each case. Even something like NDEs receive something from Aquinas.

Finally, what about government? Here, Aquinas might have some more experience. What would Aquinas say about our constitutional freedoms today? What would he say about the role of money in our culture? What would he say about our rights?

I leave Aquinas’s positions for the readers to find in this book that should be read. Today, scientists are trying to understand our world by looking through telescopes and microscopes and other such tools, which they should do. Maybe they should look through old Aquinas as well and see if they can bring out treasures of old instead of just new.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Could God Be Evil?

How do we know the ultimate is really good? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Yesterday, someone contacted me wanting to look at a claim about gnostic gods including the idea that YHWH is really the evil god of the Old Testament. This was a popular idea at the start when Christianity was on the rise. As I thought about it, I do plan on writing more about that tomorrow, but I think it’s important to start by going to our time for some good metaphysics. Philosopher Stephen Law has what he calls the Evil God Challenge.

It’s interesting to point out that the Evil God Challenge doesn’t rebut theism. Theism would still be true. The question to ask is how do you know that this ultimate being isn’t evil? Have you just assumed that He is good?

For some philosophical schools, this could be a problem. For someone who comes from a Thomist tradition, it is not. Often times many people have this idea about goodness that God is the standard of goodness and that the good is whatever corresponds to the nature of God or His will. The problem is if you don’t know what goodness itself is, then you’re just replacing an unknown with another unknown.

It also doesn’t make much sense. “This is a good pizza.” What does that mean? This is a pizza that matches God’s nature or will? What about a good book or action? The idea just doesn’t seem to fit.

If you’re a Thomist, you get your idea of goodness from Aristotle. The good is that at which all things aim. (By the way, this is also something that can be said back to the Euthyphro dilemma. It’s amazing that that dilemma was answered just a generation after Plato and so many skeptics still throw it out like nothing has been said about it.) Aquinas would take this a step further and say that all things aim for perfection. They aim to be. This is called actualization.

You see, for Aquinas, all created things have potential and actuality. Potential is some capacity for change. Actuality is when they do change and describes how they are now. I am sitting as I write this. I have the potential to stand. If I stand, I actualize that potential.

For Aquinas then, goodness is being. Insofar as something is, it is good. We are good when we act according to the nature God meant for us to have. That is why an evil act is considered inhuman. It is the misuse of good that results in evil. This would apply even to the devil for Aquinas. He has being, intelligence, and will. These are good things. The devil is said to be evil, and rightly so, because of how he uses them.

So what about God? God is being without limits. He describes Himself as “I AM.” If you want to know what it means to be, you look at God. He has no potential for change. He is pure being. Everything else is dependent on Him. Even an eternal universe would be dependent on Him.

If you want to know how this makes sense, picture how it would be if you had an eternal existence. Now you also have an eternal existence in front of a mirror that is eternally existence. You have been living for all eternity in front of this eternal mirror. Does the image in the mirror exist eternally because of you or would it exist there if you moved away?

This also means that ultimately, God is good since He doesn’t possess any lacking in His nature. If He does, then He is not God and whatever does possess that is God. The bottom line is that when you reach the end of the chain of being, well you find God right there.

This is why the Evil God Challenge doesn’t make much sense to me. I’ve only given a brief snapshot of this of course. For those interested in more, I recommend reading a more sophisticated Thomist like Edward Feser’s Aquinas.

Tomorrow, we’ll see how this works with Gnosticism.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Serving God in the Valley

Is the Christian life all sunshine and rainbows? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

You know what? Sometimes being a Christian is miserable. We have often had this bizarre idea given to us that the Christian life is just full of joy constantly and it’s a wonderful life. Now I agree that it is to be a life of joy, but joy does not mean always a feeling of happiness. Sometimes, you can have joy and have sorrow too. How? Because you can be going through a time of pain and have an intense struggle with it, but you can somewhere know this is not how it’s supposed to be and that things will get better. As Paul said concerning those who had died already, we mourn, but we don’t mourn like those who have no hope.

Sometimes in struggles, it’s possible to wonder if God is really good. This is definitely a problem. There can be a harder struggle. It can be even harder if you absolutely know God is good. I won’t go into the metaphysical arguments for this, though they can be found in a book like Aquinas, but I can say that I know that God is good, and sometimes that can be horrible. If you know what you need to know about God, you know that He’s working things for your good. C.S. Lewis once said we don’t often fear the best, but we just fear how painful the best will be.

Unfortunately, when the suffering comes, many of us can think that getting angry with God is the answer. Now in a sense, I’m not going to ban you from getting angry with God. It’s understandable at times and I have had my times of arguments with the Almighty as well. If you read the Psalms, this was a common theme. The trouble is that when we get angry with God, we often pull a sort of avoidance tactic. It’s kind of like we think we can blackmail God or twist His arm emotionally. It’s saying that if we get angry and go away from God, that He’s obviously going to want to come after us. After all, we are so important. Now sometimes He does, but many times, He doesn’t.

God is not like that. God is not dependent on us. We are dependent on Him and when we run from Him, we only hurt ourselves. It’s so saddening that we don’t truly turn to God in the midst of our suffering. We want God to take away the pain, but we don’t often want Him to take away the sinful desires we often have that lead to the pain. I heard a story recently about a pastor who had an affair with a woman and he had kept praying that God would remove his contact with her so he wouldn’t stumble. Unfortunately, he too late realized he did not pray for God to take away his sinful desires and to give him a greater desire for his spouse. I cannot tell you how the story ended unfortunately, but I think it was ended tragically.

Many times, we suffer not because of the circumstances, but because of the condition of our hearts, and much of our worst suffering is because of this. Your attitude towards suffering makes all the difference in the world. In any hospital in this country, you can find people with very similar diagnoses of conditions like cancer. What makes the difference many times? It’s the attitude people approach it with. Even if it’s incurable and the person will die, many of them can approach death with happiness not because they necessarily want to be free from suffering, though that’s part of it, but because they’ve lived their lives well and can look back with joy and have embraced every day and if they’re Christians, are looking forward to more.

When my wife and I were apartment hunting once, we found an apartment with a stray cat who had been abandoned by his owners and was scrounging around the complex looking for anything it could to eat, but unfortunately, people who lived there were starting to complain. My wife really had a heart for this cat and wanted it. We decided to acquire the cat, but that meant catching it first. As you can imagine, the cat happily went to the people who wanted to give him to us and leaped right into our arms ready to go to a nice home. No. Of course he didn’t. The cat ran away and we had to catch it. To make matters worse, our first stop was the vet. I’m sure this cat was thrilled that just as we got him, we took him to see a strange person who touched him, explored his mouth and such, and stuck needles in him. Much of the time he spent in a kitty carrier as well.

This cat was not happy. These people were taking him away somewhere he didn’t want to go and even when we got home, he ran under our bed. I told my wife we just needed to go to sleep. He’ll let us know when he’s ready. Sure enough, around 2:20 in the morning, I heard the meowing and being the ever loving and caring husband I said “Honey. Wake up. The baby needs you.” Well we both got up and we fed him and little by little, he started trusting us. For awhile, he wouldn’t even eat unless my wife was watching him. What’s the result today? Before he goes to bed every night, he comes on my wife’s side of the bed and snuggles up with her and gives what we call “kitty kisses.”

How many of us are just like that?

How many of us run from the good that is waiting us because we think it’s harmful?

Or how many of us run to lesser goods? Think about the man who is running to pornography instead of having a fulfilling sexual relationship with his own wife. Think about the tendency many of us have to avoid the pain of healthy living because it will hurt, all the while not realizing what we’re doing is hurting us long-term. Think about how many of us don’t read and study when we should because it’ll be boring, when we forget that learning about God can often be an act of service to Him and others to enable us to better live the Christian life. We put our own lives on hold for all these lesser goods when the greater good awaits us. As C.S. Lewis said, we are far too easily pleased. In reality, the way of God is the path to greater joy.

Let’s consider some examples.

We are to love our neighbor as ourselves. You know how hard it can be to hate your neighbor? I understand having to remove yourself from some people at times. There are relationships I’ve had to end, but I have to work to avoid the active hatred sometimes. How about forgiveness? Do we really think we’re better when we don’t forgive someone, including ourselves? We go around holding on to pain and misery because we refuse to either receive grace or give grace. How many sexual problems in our marriages could be avoided if husbands and wives would both learn to lovingly give themselves to one another instead of using sex as a weapon regularly? As some marriage experts I was listening to lately said, the Bible doesn’t really say as much as we might think to married people, but one thing it speaks about is having sex regularly.

God’s way actually does bring joy when you follow it. Sure, it’s hard and can have it’s own suffering on the way, but in the long run, it works.

Is it hard to do? Sure it is.

And you know what? Many times it will not be sunshine and rainbows. It will require that you die to yourself.

But it will be worth it.

Today, let’s try to stop running from the good things and start running to them, and let’s not settle for the lesser joys when the greater joys of God await.

In Christ,
Nick Peters