Deeper Waters Podcast 1/12/2019: George Brahm

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

One of the rules of debate often is that whoever controls the meaning of the words has an advantage in the debate. It’s why in a number of debates I’m involved in, I try to be very careful with my words. I will say “redefining marriage” instead of “same-sex marriage” for instance to not even begin to concede an inch of what I think is inaccurate.

So it is in abortion debates. To be fair, both sides tend to do this as I think it’s really human nature. Yet we do need to be aware of what our opponents are doing. Are any word games being played that we should know about that can harm our endeavors to save the lives of the unborn?

We also need to learn metaphysics for this, which is another area of word games. Too often, our opponents define metaphysics as simply being nonsense. What is metaphysics really? Does everyone have a metaphysical viewpoint or is it just Christians? Is a lot of this stuff a bunch of nonsense that ancient philosophers might have believed, but it is no longer sustainable in a modern scientific worldview?

To discuss these matters, I have brought on someone new. I decided to bring someone who is climbing up the apologetics ladder and I want to give some more exposure to like others have been doing and are doing for me on my climb. I have seen some of his writings on the topic and they are quite good. Not only that, he also affirms the virgin birth, which I do affirm. His name is George Brahm.

So who is he?

According to his bio:

George Brahm is an undergraduate student of philosophy based in Canada. He focuses on metaphysics and the philosophy of language, with additional interests in bioethics, political philosophy, and the philosophy of religion. His current research focuses on the relationship between time and personal identity. (And he affirms the virgin birth.) (Which I also affirm)

So we’ll be talking about the concept of abortion and how it relates to the debates above. What evidence do we really have that the unborn is a human person and should be allowed to live? How can we best phrase the issues to be most persuasive in the public square? When our intellectual opponents are speaking, what do we need to be on the watch for? Hopefully, we will all learn from this the behaviors we should be using in order to make a better case for the pro-life position in the marketplace of ideas.

I know that it’s being slow to get new episodes up, but that is being worked on. I hope you will be patient as there is a lot going on here at the time. Please do be watching for it as I am doing what I can to make sure they come up. Also, please go on iTunes and leave a positive review for the Deeper Waters Podcast since I really love to see them all.

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

Book Plunge: Aborting Aristotle

Dave Sterrett has a new book coming out from St. Augustine Press called Aborting Aristotle and do you want to know my thoughts of it? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Aborting Aristotle

Abortion is always a controversial issue in this country and one aspect of it I find interesting is that the science has often been neglected. We know much more about the science of life than the ancients did back then. Oh they knew the basics fully well. They knew exactly what it took to make a baby, but what exactly was going on in the whole process and when it was that life began was not a question they could answer definitively. For this, we can be grateful to modern science showing us that life does begin at conception.

What the ancients did have an advantage in is metaphysics. The ancients knew less than we do today, but in all honesty, they thought more. Did that mean they were right about everything? Of course not. That would be ridiculous. But it meant they looked at the world around them and looked a lot deeper than just the surface level. Unfortunately, our scientific age has often become so fascinated with the science that we haven’t looked past it to deeper truths.

One such thinker that looked deep in the past was Aristotle and he was a tremendous influence on our civilization and still is. I’d agree with thinkers like Feser that where we went off the bend was when we started moving away from Aristotle. To go to Aristotle also does not mean we jettison modern science. We can still have the metaphysics of Aristotle and still keep modern science, and that metaphysics could help with the abortion debate.

In fact, that’s what Dave Sterrett argues. He argues that our aborting of the thought of Aristotle is causing us to not think properly on the abortion debate and we have to return to metaphysics. Pro-Life organizations have realized this as well, hence a question that you’d get from someone like Greg Koukl or Scott Klusendorf. That would be the question of “What is it?” That is the first question to ask in the abortion debate. What is it we are aborting?

Sterrett argues that a return to the metaphysics of Aristotle can answer that question and throughout the book, there is no doubt that he has done his homework as he profusely quotes the other side throughout. Sterrett will guide you through Aristotelian thought on this issue and help you see how it works out and also expose the fallacies that go on the other side where metaphysics is often ignored. (Indeed, too many in our society think that anything that has to do with metaphysics is automatically bunk.)

Also, this book is fairly short. I read it over Christmas break visiting my in-laws. If you want to get a good book on metaphysical issues that will help you out in the abortion debate, then Sterrett’s book is an excellent one to get, and hopefully you will be one to help us stop the abortion of Aristotle in today’s society. Who knows how much could be improved if the metaphysics of Aristotle were allowed to be reborn today?

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Sense and Goodness Without God: Part 8

Is there a place for the paranormal? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

We’re returning now to Sense and Goodness Without God by Richard Carrier. I’m skipping over a couple of chapters because there’s not much I really want to cover in them other than some minor details. I’d just say on the chapter of reason that I trust in reason because of a good Thomistic common sense realism.

I use paranormal in the opening line because that is the term Carrier uses, but it is not a term I prefer to use. I do not even prefer to use supernatural. I go by the terms suprahuman and supranatural instead. To say supernatural often implies that nature is just fine on its own and needs no deity sustaining it. This is a point that I disagree with so why should I use a term that automatically grants credence to a position I find highly questionable?

As we go through the chapter, on page 213, Carrier says that there is an approach that bypasses science altogether by pointing to a superior metaphysics and going under the name of first philosophy. Carrier is never clear on what this is. Does he mean all of metaphysics in general? This is the only conclusion I can reach. If so, there is a great problem here as metaphysics is never defined.

As one who has studied metaphysics, I often find this to be the case. People dispute metaphysics, but they don’t really know what it is. Metaphysics is simply the study of being as being. This does not go against science as the sciences often study being in a certain condition. Physics studies material being in motion. Angelology would study angelic being. Biology would study material living being. Astronomy studies being in space. Zoology studies animal beings. We could go on and on.

Interestingly, Carrier places metaphysics dead last, but on what authority? Why should I accept that? Am I to think studying the nature of being itself is dead last in understand the nature of truth, that is, in understanding that which is? It looks like knowing what “is” would come first.

The first method of finding truth that Carrier speaks about is, SHOCK, the scientific method. Now as readers know, I am not opposed to science, but I am opposed to a scientism approach that places the natural sciences as the best means of determining truth. Now if everything is purely matter and there are no essences to things, then this would follow, but that is the very aspect under question.

On page 215, Carrier says

“But htis is another strength of science: science is not only about testing facts for truth, but testing methods for accuracy. And thus science is the only endeavor we have that is constantly devoted to finding the best means of ascertaining the truth. This is one of the reasons why science is so successful, and its results so authoritative. Yet metaphysics has no room for means of testing different methods for accuracy, and if it ever started producing surprising predictive successes, it would become science.”

The problem I see here is yes, metaphysics is not done the same way the natural sciences are. So what? The whole idea starts off presuming the natural sciences are the best way to know something. Yet the natural sciences are more inductive than deductive while metaphysical arguments are designed to be more deductive. The conclusions are to be known with certainty. Metaphysical arguments also do for most of us start with sense experience and what we see.

Yes, science is successful, but as has been pointed out earlier with using the analogy of Feser, a metal detector is the best tool for finding metal objects at the beach, but that does not mean that the only objects to be found are metal objects. Science is the best tool for finding truths about nature, but that does not mean those are the only truths to be found.

On the next page he says

“And science does not simply undergo any arbitrary change, as religious ideology or clothing fashions do, nor does it hold out long against contrary evidence, asserting that the facts must surely be wrong if they do not fit the going dogma.”

Now this is interesting since any changes that were made would not be arbitrary. I am not Catholic, but it isn’t as if the Pope woke up one morning and said “What a beautiful day. I think I’ll declare the perpetual virginity of Mary.” There were historical debates and discussions. I do not think the perpetual virginity claim is true, but it did not just happen arbitrarily. The same with fashion tastes. People change tastes in fashion for a reason.

Yet the great danger in Carrier’s statement for him is that the sword cuts both ways. For me, for instance, if macroevolution is true, cool. I’m fine with that. What happens to the atheist position if macroevolution is not true? I do not doubt there will still be atheists, but an extremely important beliefs of theirs being gone would cause some doubt I suspect.

Another example is the case of miracles. Let’s take a work like Keener’s book “Miracles.” Let’s suppose it has 500 miracles in it. I haven’t counted. Let’s suppose only 50 of those are shown to be real honest miracles. Okay. I’m disappointed some, but hey, I have 50 miracles right here. My worldview is still fine. I have evidence of miracles which backs Jesus rising from the dead.

What about the atheistic worldview? Can the atheist say the same if he has to admit that there is no known natural explanation for what happened and that the event did indeed happen? He can say “Well we’ll find a natural reason.” He’s entirely allowed to do such, but if he is assuming there has to be one, is he not then using a naturalism-of-the-gaps? Could it not be that just as much, the fact of a miracle must be wrong if it does not fit the dogma?

And no, I am not going to deny that too many Christians think this way as well. There are too many Christians who stick their heads in the sand and don’t even bother to interact with different evidence. This is what I call the escapist mentality.

Before moving on, it’s worth noting that Carrier says on page 217 that metaphysics sets the lowest bar for credibility, but yet has not defined metaphysics once.

Carrier says that if faith is placed before truth, it will lead to conflict. With this, I agree. Everyone should. Truth must be paramount. Yet Carrier goes on to say that if faith is what someone has because something is true, then science becomes the one true faith.

Why should I think this?

I believe several claims that are not established by science and act on them. I believe in the laws of logic. I believe in rules of mathematics. I believe that there is a world outside my mind. I believe propositions about morality and beauty. Can there be knowledge outside of the natural sciences? Yes there can be. If so, why think the scientific method is the best method?

Before moving on, once again on page 219, metaphysics is denigrated and once again, it is not defined. The same happens on page 221.

Carrier then goes on to talk about how science was in the medieval period. Yet this is not an accurate history at all. I would like to know his sources, but unfortunately, he never gives them. I will instead give some counter sources. First off is my interview with James Hannam on this topic that can be found here. Atheists can also consider the work of Tim O’Neill, an atheist himself who disputes this dark ages claim. An example can be found in his look at Hannam’s book here. In fact, he has a graph there that is common on the internet that is supposed to show the lack of scientific endeavors in the period and refers to it as “The Stupidest Thing on the Internet Ever.”

And once again, worth noting, is that on page 222, again metaphysics is secondary to science, but again, no definition.

On page 223, Carrier asks why it is God supposedly packed up his bags and stopped doing miracles when he had supposedly been doing them in abundance.

Well first, there has never been a period of abundant miracles.

“Wait! Don’t you believe in the Bible?”

Yes. Yes I do. And the miracles are actually sparse in it as well. There are three times where miracles become more abundant but they never reach the kind of idea Carrier has. Those are the time of the Exodus wandering, the time of Elijah and Elisha, and the time of Jesus and the apostles.

Yet miracles have not ceased. Indeed, Keener indicated earlier has made a strong case they are still ongoing. You can find my review of his book here and listen to the interview that I did with him here.

Carrier expects a world where guns turn into flowers and churches are protected by mysterious energy fields. Why should we expect any of this? Because God exists and can work miracles, He should work miracles in the way we think He should? Why?

Much has been said today, but there is more coming on history. I prefer to save that for a fuller approach and will do that next time I blog on Carrier’s book.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Can We Study God Without Scripture?

Hello everyone and welcome back to Deeper Waters where we are diving into the ocean of truth. I’ve been looking at the topic of presuppositionalism lately and tonight, I’d like to look more at the topic of natural theology in this area and see if we can truly study God without special revelation.

Theology is the study of God. God can be studied either through special revelation or general revelation. Suppose you have a new neighbor move in. How can you know this person? You could know them by studying humanity in general and that would give you some information about the person, or you could get to know them simply by ringing the doorbell and letting them tell you about themselves.

Can we know God by only the first way? To an extent. You will get some true beliefs if you do natural theology right, but your certainty of them can be lacking and it will not be as efficient as God revealing Himself. However, let us not be too quick to throw out natural theology as useless.

The way we study God in natural theology involves what is called metaphysics. Now metaphysics is one of those terms that’s often tossed around in philosophical circles, but it is not really defined. However, if you use it, you can get the impression of being an intellectual and sound really cool while just using the term as a catch-all.

Let’s go ahead and explain metaphysics then. Metaphysics is the study of being as being. Physics is the study of material being in motion. Angelology is the study of angelic being. Zoology is the study of animal being. Botany is the study of plant being. You get the idea of where this is going.

Metaphysics has that contrast because while the other sciences study a particular type of being, this science studies being as it is. There is no doubt that a physicist could very well, and likely does know very well, more about matter in motion than the metaphysician, but the physicist likely will not know as much about that matter in motion as being. (Particularly if he’s a new atheist.)

Note that metaphysics is NOT the study of God. However, God is included in the subject of metaphysics. How? Let’s go back to your neighbor again. Studying anthropology will involve having your neighbor be a subject of that study, but your neighbor is not the particular object of that study. Anthropology does not exist to tell you about your neighbor in particular but your neighbor as a human being. Metaphysics tells you about God based on His relationship to being.

For Aquinas, God’s very essence IS being. Whatever it means to be is to be found in God and so studying being as being will give information about God. All being is true, good, and beautiful, for instance. From these, Aquinas did develop numerous doctrines of God, though of course not original with him. The main one after existence was simplicity. God’s existence IS his essence.

Note that in looking at natural theology, Aquinas does not cover concepts like the Trinity, although he believes in them. These cannot be known through natural theology. Consider for a parallel studying history. By history, you could know that Jesus was crucified on a cross even without the New Testament. You need revelation however to know that Jesus died for the sins of the world. A simple study of history apart from the revelation of God being read directly or communicated through others would not reveal that.

So can God be studied without Scripture? Yes. Will it be as good? No. Still, it is important and we must remember our reason is not antithetical or opposed to Scripture, but a tool God gave to help us understand Him and His revelation better.