Why God Is Not The Definition

If we say that God’s nature is good or love, what do we mean? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Yesterday on Facebook, I saw a friend of mine post a poem that was saying what love is not, and for the most part, I agreed with it. It ended with the poet saying that God’s nature is love. If you want to know what love is, look to God. That is where I begin to have disagreements.

If you wanted to say that God is the one who acts out what love is, then that is one thing, but too often when we have conversations about goodness and love, we just refer to God’s nature. What is the good? The good is God’s nature. I agree that God’s nature is to be good, but there is a problem with this approach.

You see, when we speak of this, first off, we normally mean only moral goodness, but there are other types of goodness. If my wife fixes a pizza for us for dinner and I say “My, this is a good pizza.” I am not saying anything about morality there. I am saying something about the quality of the pizza. If I read a book, I can say that it is a good book, but I am not saying it is a moral book.

If I am someone who does not know what good is, how does pointing me to God tell me what it is? What am I to think of that? This is a godlike book? This is a godlike pizza? If I do not know the nature of God, how am I going to know the nature of goodness by pointing to something that I don’t know?

Many atheists also tie this in with the Euthyphro dilemma. The Liconas and Habermases regularly get together for Labor Day, so while over there yesterday, Gary and I watched Mike debate Larry Shapiro and it was quite frankly a massacre. Shapiro just did not know the subject matter at hand well enough.

In the talk, he presented the dilemma. Is something good because God says it is or does God say it is good because it is good? He said that no one had ever answered this question. Of course, this problem could be turned back onto whatever Shapiro thinks is good. Does society say something is good because it is, or is something good because society says it is?

Sadly, Shapiro doesn’t realize that Plato’s own student Aristotle answered the dilemma. He did it in a simple way. He defined goodness. That’s what we need to do. Aristotle started it simply by saying the good is that at which all things aim. There’s much more to it, but it is a definition.

That is the proper way to answer the dilemma also. Tell what love is. Tell what goodness is. Pointing to God does nothing to those who don’t know God and even if you do, it doesn’t help. After all, how does knowing God’s nature tell you what is meant by a good pizza?

We should all strive to know God’s nature, but let’s also make sure we’re conveying an accurate message. While I agree goodness and love can’t exist without God, one doesn’t need to know God to know what those are. We find out what they are and then that helps us understand God better.

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

Book Plunge: Scripture and Cosmology

What do I think of Kyle Greenwood’s book published by IVP? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I always have an interest in books on science and faith and books I think could be related to inerrancy and books about the worldview of people who lived in Biblical times. With Kyle Greenwood’s work, I have all three. The heavy emphasis is on the third part with a still sizable portion on the first and just a touching on the second, but the reader who goes through this book will be informed on the topic under consideration better.

One of the great problems we have today is people trying to read modern science into the Bible. Christians want to act as if so much of modern science was predicted by the Bible long ago, as if God had a great interest in teaching people scientific principles. That He does not does not mean that He does not care about science, but it does mean that He was wanting to get across a major message and was willing to leave the rest for us. After all, God told us things that we could not know on our own and left what we could discover for ourselves to be discovered by ourselves.

For non-Christians, there is this idea of course that if God spoke, God would speak in agreement with our modern science. One can only wonder what would happen if we were living 1,000 years from now and how much of our science might be different. Would we need a whole new Bible at that point because the science had changed? If the Bible supposedly does not speak about modern science and in scientific language, then it should not be treated seriously.

Greenwood writes to first off show how the ancients viewed the world with the main elements being land, heavens, and sea. Was their worldview primitive by comparison? Yes. What of it? God did indeed speak in that world and used the terminology that the people would be familiar with. Rather than give a whole discourse on the scientific nature of reality, something that would be largely unintelligible to the people back then and would have no way whatsoever to be discovered and backed back then, He instead chose to use the terminology of their time and culture in order to give His revelation.

Of course, in some ways, the Hebrews did not borrow from their pagan neighbors as much as they might have shared similar cosmology. This wasn’t attributed to the gods and there wasn’t sacred space for various deities out there. Everything was attributed to the one God and it was the one God who kept everything in motion by His wisdom and by His power. Naturally, this continues in the New Testament where Jesus Himself is included in this creative force as being the agent of God’s creation.

Greenwood also interacts with how the worldview of cosmology was changing. The first major change was brought by Aristotle and then more change came later on through minds like Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, and Newton. Through this, interpretations had to be changed and could it be they had to be changed because we were reading science into the text to begin with and had removed it from its original context? This is why I have been especially pleased with the work of scholars like John Walton as well that point out that works like Genesis 1-3 are not written to answer scientific questions but to answer questions on the nature of God.

To be fair, while I have not been an extensive reader on the medieval period and history, I have done some and there were a few parts that I thought I wanted to check up on. I would certainly want to make clear that the time was not really a dark ages time. There was indeed great scientific advancement going on and I think the work that Greenwood cites illustrates some fine examples of that going on.

Now we come to today. What can we learn? It’s not that science and faith don’t mix. Of course they do. I think Greenwood would mainly agree with Galileo. It is the role of creation to tell us how the heavens go and the role of Scripture to tell us how to go to heaven. Many times when we have married a scientific interpretation to the Bible, it has led to embarrassment mainly because that’s not what the text was trying to teach us in the first place. Does this mean the Bible errored? No more than there’s an error when we talk about sunrise and sunset today. We simply have God speaking in the language of the people at the time. The nature of their cosmological claims does not alter the truth being conveyed. (The glory of God reaching to the ends of the Earth does not change depending on the size and shape of the Earth. God is still the most glorious.)

This will be a fine book in anyone’s library working to understand the worldview of people of the Bible and how better to interpret the text today.

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

Book Plunge: The Last Superstition

What do I think of this book by Edward Feser? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

TheLastSuperstition

As I finished this book, I must say I was disappointed.

I was thoroughly disappointed since I knew that when I went on Amazon I could only give it five stars. Just five! If only I could have somehow doubled that number!

Now that doesn’t mean I agree with everything Feser says. I don’t think he would even want me to after just a read of his book, but I do think he argues his case very well and quite humorously. As a Protestant Thomist, there are differences, but with much of his philosophy and metaphysics I am right there on his side.

Feser is quite angry in this volume, and he has all right to be. The new atheists are a symptom of the way that our thinking is going downhill. It is not because we are becoming more scientific. No no no. That is all well and good. There is no problem with that. It is because we are becoming more and more anti-philosophical.

This despite the fact that there are some philosophers amongst the new atheists. Yet when they do any philosophy, the results are atrocious. It would have been interesting to see what Feser would have written had “The Grand Design” come out already and there had been a response to Hawking saying “Philosophy is dead.”

With this anti-philosophical bias coming in, we are rapidly losing our ability to think well and becoming a more and more immoral people. Feser also ties this in with the cultural acceptance of redefining marriage and also about how he considers abortion one of the most wicked of all evils.

Feser also brings in some strong polemics to this. Why? He is responding to the new atheists with what they have been dishing out and it adds a nice punch to the work. It’s hard to not be amused when you read that Richard Dawkins would not know metaphysics from Metamucil or that Daniel Dennett should have realized that anyone walking around saying “I’m a bright!” looks like an idiot. Also noteworthy is being told that the sophists are still with us today except they’re called lawyers, professors of literary criticism, and Michael Moore.

Surprising to most atheists will be the bare interaction with Scripture or church tradition that Feser has. The only place I recall Scripture being used is in a section talking about the resurrection. This is really the only place in the book that emphasizes Christ as well. Why is there so little mention of Christ and Scripture? Because Feser is showing that if all you have is just the tools of reason, you still have more than enough reason to hold to the existence of God and deal with the new atheism. It could be that Christianity is false and the new atheists are still wrong after all.

Readers of this book will also see a sustained argument that gives you a brief history of philosophy and why people like Parmenides, Heraclitus, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and Aquinas matter. Feser throughout the work shows that the arguments of the new atheism do not hold water and also lack explanatory scope.

Feser also argues that the teleology that Aristotle says exists in reality is inescapable and the more we deny it, the more and more absurd that we become, including describing a couple known as the Churchlands. This is a pair of philosophers who are husband and wife and wish to speak of us as material beings entirely and I mean entirely.

““She said, ‘Paul, don’t speak to me, my serotonin levels have hit bottom, my brain is awash in glucocorticoids, my blood vessels are full of adrenaline, and if it weren’t for my endogenous opiates I’d have driven the car into a tree on the way home. My dopamine levels need lifting. Pour me a Chardonnay, and I’ll be down in a minute.’ ”

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2007/02/12/two-heads

Feser does point out that as the article says, the Churchlands claim to have shared a lot of Oxytocin over the years, yet I’m guessing this is a claim that doesn’t exactly scream romance. Although, it is humorous to imagine being in a singles bar and going up to a lady and saying “Hey babe. How would you like to have a little Oxytocin tonight?

Feser says that this will be the end result of the thinking of the new atheists. In the end, we will lose morality, we will lose free-will, and in fact, we will lose science itself.

If the new atheists have been looking for a powerful opponent, they have found one in Feser and one who can roll with the punches just as good as they do, if not better. Feser’s sharp wit and powerful argumentation provide a powerful counter to the new atheist movement.

If you want to read the best response I have seen to the new atheists, do yourself a favor and pick up this book. You won’t regret it.

In Christ,
Nick Peters