Is the first way of Aquinas about scientific motion? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
So many times, when I encounter atheists on the internet and they want to know why I believe in God, I ask them a simple question. I want to start with the first of the five ways of Thomas Aquinas. I don’t want to know what you think of the argument first. I just want you to tell me what the argument is.
It happened again yesterday with someone making a statement not just about what the first way was, but about all the ways of Aquinas and why they are all wrong. Again, not what I had asked for. It’s really a simple request. First, tell me what the argument is so we can make sure we’re discussing the same argument.
The number of atheists that have met this request so far is zero.
Not only that, but what they think are devastating objections are really the same ones I hear all the time and one of the most popular ones is that this is bad science. We understand motion differently now. So what’s wrong with that?
For a start, let’s look at the argument itself.
The first and more manifest way is the argument from motion. 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 nothing can be in motion except it is in potentiality to that towards which it is in motion; whereas a thing moves inasmuch as it is in act. For motion is nothing else than the reduction of something from potentiality to actuality. But nothing can be reduced from potentiality to actuality, except by something in a state of actuality. Thus that which is actually hot, as fire, makes wood, which is potentially hot, to be actually hot, and thereby moves and changes it. Now it is not possible that the same thing should be at once in actuality and potentiality in the same respect, but only in different respects. For what is actually hot cannot simultaneously be potentially hot; but it is simultaneously potentially cold. It is therefore impossible that in the same respect and in the same way a thing should be both mover and moved, i.e. that it should move itself. Therefore, whatever is in motion must be put in motion by another. If that by which it is put in motion be itself put in motion, then this also must needs 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 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.
Aquinas tells us what motion is in this. It is the reduction of potentiality to actuality. What does that mean? Think of actuality as what is. Think of potentiality as what could be. That what could be is also not necessarily good or bad. I am sitting down right now in actuality. I have the potential to stand up and I could do so. On the other hand, I am alive in actuality right now, and I have the potential to be dead. Let’s hope that’s not any time soon.
So what is motion? Pretty much, any kind of change whatsoever.
“Okay. But the objection still seems valid. Isn’t physical change a kind of change?”
Of course, it is. The problem is that the objection acts as if that is the only kind of change Aquinas has in mind. It is not. Just my mind going from one idea to another is from potentiality to actuality. Let’s take a look at another example. Angels.
At this, an atheist can say “But angels aren’t real!”
Irrelevant question. If we are studying Aquinas’s system, we have to realize that he thought they were real. So what does he say?
Prima Pars. Question 53. Article 2.
On the contrary, If the angel be moved from one place to another, then, when he is in the term “whither,” he is no longer in motion, but is changed. But a process of changing precedes every actual change: consequently he was being moved while existing in some place. But he was not moved so long as he was in the term “whence.” Therefore, he was moved while he was in mid-space: and so it was necessary for him to pass through intervening space.
I answer that, As was observed above in the preceding article, the local motion of an angel can be continuous, and non-continuous. If it be continuous, the angel cannot pass from one extreme to another without passing through the mid-space; because, as is said by the Philosopher (Phys. v, text 22; vi, text 77), “The middle is that into which a thing which is continually moved comes, before arriving at the last into which it is moved”; because the order of first and last in continuous movement, is according to the order of the first and last in magnitude, as he says (Phys. iv, text 99).
The technical stuff doesn’t really matter at this point. What does matter is that Aquinas speaks of motion twice. He speaks of that for angels. In Q. 50 and Article 2, he quotes Dionysus to make his point.
On the contrary,Dionysius says (Div. Nom. iv): “The first creatures are understood to be as immaterial as they are incorporeal.”
Thus, motion plays to things that are not physical as well. Laws of science do not change that. We could hypothetically have a world where we were all angels and a group of holy angels and a group of fallen angels got together to discuss ultimate reality and there are somehow atheist fallen angels. The argument would still work.
This is also why science cannot touch this argument at all. As long as you have any change going on, you have the motion that is needed in the argument. Those who jump to science misunderstand the argument greatly.
(And I affirm the virgin birth)
What about arguments for God? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
We get to part 4 and really, I was hoping for something substantial, but no. It never came. The more I read Bradley, the more I just see a fundamentalist going on a rant clutching at anything that justifies his position. It honestly gets tiresome after some time.
At any rate, let’s get into the chapter.
This one is about arguments for God’s existence. He starts with a quote from Peter Van Inwagen who says that he doesn’t find the arguments really convincing and needs the help of the Holy Spirit to believe them. Bradley thinks this is telling. Yes. It’s telling that Bradley thinks one philosopher out there, assuming he is being quoted accurately, speaks for all of us.
The first argument Bradley looks at is the ontological argument. This is one I do not use and do not think works, but even still, Bradley gets it wrong. Bradley does say that the argument doesn’t get us to any of the revealed faiths. No one ever thought it did. Bradley faults these arguments for not doing what they were never meant to do.
We get to the Cosmological argument and Bradley says the simplest of all forms of the argument starts with “Everything that exists has a cause.”
I can mentally see many of my apologist friends out there groaning. No great defender of the argument has ever used something like this before. I know some ignorant people might use such a weak argument, but Bradley needs to deal with the professionals here and not the laymen. He remembers his mother using this and asking the obvious question back of “What caused God?” It’s a shame Bradley still seems stuck on that part.
One argument Bradley brings here is that if everything has a cause, then God is the cause of evil. However, this does not work as God is not the direct cause of evil. God is the cause of free will so God does create the potential for evil to happen, but not the actualization of it. We and fallen angels are the ones who do that. More will be said on this in a chapter on evil.
There is a lot of material on scientific arguments. This is Craig’s version of the argument and not mine. A classical Thomistic argument does not rely on science, but on metaphysics. You won’t find Bradley interacting with that. Bradley will ask about why the final cause has to be God? Why not just some really powerful superbeing in another universe? Why not any other number of beings? Aquinas’s argument answers this. If it has any capacity for motion, any potential whatsoever, then it is not the final cause. I really don’t think I can explain matters better than Feser, who can be read here. Anyone who wants to defend or critique the cosmological argument should read this anyway.
He then goes on to the design argument, which I do not use the modern form of that one. However, he does say evolution is anathema to this. I do not see why this would be the case. Could it not be that evolution could be the way God brings about His intelligent design of His creatures?
When talking about abiogenesis, he compares this to conception and talks about the large number of chemicals and such that must come together to form a life. Therefore, conception is all about chance. Right? Surely no creationist would accept this. To say all conception is purely chance is just as ridiculous then to say that abiogenesis is chance.
Yes. No creationist would accept this because it is highly inaccurate. There just happens to be a system built up that is meant to produce just this result. Not only that, Christians and Jews could easily say the Psalms say that we are formed in our mother’s womb. Having a method that is used to bring this about does not change that.
This gets me to another problem that many skeptics produce. They will often ask “How did God do XYZ?” Then when a scientific way is shown that XYZ could come about, it automatically becomes, “See? God didn’t do it!” Either God does it fiat, which would not likely leave evidence behind, or God just didn’t do it. If you are someone who doesn’t believe God can use instrumental causes, that’s your problem, but how you interpret Psalm 139 is up to you then.
To get back to the argument though, Bradley says abiogenesis is not by chance, but ultimately if there is no guiding hand, I don’t see how you can avoid this. Now a evolutionary creationist an,d every other creationist for that matter, would agree that chance alone cannot bring about life. For the atheist, it has to be the case.
He then goes on to the fine-tuning argument. Now again, I do not use this argument because I do not use scientific arguments. I am not a scientist. However, Bradley asks how it can be fine-tuning if God brings about numerous events in the origin of the universe and the planet to bring about life.
Well, it is called fine-tuning for a reason. I don’t see how this is a problem.
He also asks about the idea that if we have these ways this could come about, God is not needed. Unfortunately for him, as a Thomist, I say right at the start based on that system that if there is no God, there is no existing and really, I think you need something to exist in order for life to come about that way. That might be just me, but that’s my position.
Finally, I would also need to speak on who designed the designer? Again, I do not hold to ID arguments, but this is just a bad argument. It was bad when Dawkins used it and it’s still a bad one now. You can find my argument against it here.
So again, I find these arguments extremely lacking.
Next time, we’ll look at another chapter.
(And I affirm the virgin birth)
What are we to make of the “Brights” today? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
There are some atheists that give Christianity a fair hearing and can give a take. Some of them can look and say “I can understand how from a rational perspective that you can see this as evidence for the resurrection of Jesus or the existence of God.” Some of them can admit arguments from the other side need to be wrestled with.
Unfortunately, from what I meet online, these are the exception.
I could sadly say the same for Christians reversed, but the problem is many atheists claim that by being atheists, they are champions of reason and evidence. For them, I often modify the saying of Jesus. These people honor reason with their lips, but their heads are far from it.
Saturday night I had posted in a debate group in a thread about someone saying something about how Jesus probably wasn’t white. I agree with this. Jesus looked like the average Jew of His day and was most likely more olive-skinned than anything else. Still, for humor, I always post this meme.
So an atheist messages me yesterday morning asking if I had abandoned my faith thinking I had because I had posted this. Like I said, these guys are not experts in reason and evidence. He invited me to check out his website. Now I’m not going to comment on posts about science as science because I know that is not my area. However, I did see a guest post worth mentioning. We’ll go through it piece by piece as a fine example of how NOT to do atheist apologetics. It’s by someone named Jim Dorans, although I wonder why anyone would want to put their name to this.
“Every single attempted logical argument for the existence of the Abrahamic God, without exception, fails on at least one count.”
Well this is first off a very bold claim. Every single one of them fails. Hopefully, we’ll see that evidence. Also, keep in mind arguments from philosophy are not for the Abrahamic God normally, but for a god who is consistent with the Abrahamic God. It could be that God exists and all the Abrahamic faiths are wrong.
“Saint Anselm of Canterbury made the logical error of assuming the need for a perfect being, and worked from that point on. By that reasoning, and working from an unproven assumption, it was very easy to “prove” the existence of God.”
What would be nice to see is some quote from Anselm showing this. Unfortunately, it doesn’t exist. Heck, this guy doesn’t even state what Anselm’s argument is or what it is even called. I do not accept the argument, known as the ontological argument, but this is in no way a refutation of Anselm.
“However, that very same reasoning could be applied by an opponent to prove the existence of Zeus, so that’s another reason why it’s a very weak argument.”
And here we are wrong again. Zeus is a being in a polytheistic system. He is never described as a perfect being. If anything, Zeus is a really big human figure with some special powers. You could compare him to Superman. Zeus is a part of a system that needs to be explained. He is not like the god of the Abrahamic faiths.
“Thomas Aquinas too, committed a similar error by assuming the need for a necessary being, and so, based on that unproven assumption, still managed to make a good argument for the existence of God.
It was very much begging the question, and from that fallacious standpoint, he was able to effectively define God into existence.”
As a Thomist, I just find this laughingly hysterical. Again, there is no quote of Aquinas. There is not even a listing of his arguments. There is nothing to show that the author has even read Aquinas. Aquinas’s arguments are also deductive arguments where if one accepts the premises and can show no fault in the form, the conclusion follows.
Normally, if you are responding to an argument, you lay out what the argument is and then show how the proponent thinks the conclusion follows. You try to be as charitable as possible with it. Then you show why you think the proponent of the argument is wrong.
“Again, using the same flawed reasoning, an opponent could just as easily define Zeus into existence.”
“The well-worn cosmological argument fails too, but for different reasons. Hugely complex, monstrous, recycled arguments tell us the 9,742 ways that a naturalistic explanation is logically impossible, but those 9,742 ways are then “falsified” by inserting God, because God is exempt from, and unbounded by, the laws of logic.Usually, the main claim revolves around the Bereanistic “it is impossible to cross an infinity”, which is just another way of saying that it is impossible to get to the start of an infinity in the past.”
It depends on what kind of infinity is being crossed. Some Aquinas was open to. He said, for example, in q. 46. article 2 of the Prima Pars of the Summa that you cannot demonstrate by reason alone that the universe had a beginning. It must be believed on the basis of Scripture. Today, scientists can debate that one back and forth, but Aquinas is not making an argument like that.
Aquinas says an infinity is impossible though if there is dependence on the ongoing activity of what comes prior. Picture my illustration of an eternal statue standing eternally in front of an eternal mirror. How long has the mirror been reflecting the statue? Eternally. Is the image in the mirror still dependent? Yes.
Aquinas uses the example of a stick pushing a rock and a hand moving the stick. Remove the hand or the stick and the rock doesn’t move. That is the kind of infinity Aquinas says is impossible to have. You cannot have a chain of secondary causes without one primary cause.
Note also that Dorans doesn’t say why or why not this is the case. Is it possible to transcend an infinite? Is it possible for the universe to be infinitely old? He doesn’t tell us.
“The claim then implodes on itself by stating that there must have been a First Cause (which therefore must have crossed that infinity in the past).”
Brace yourself for the demonstration.
“This First Cause is claimed to be God, which of course contradicts the principle of cause and effect, by stating that God does not require a cause, because he is er…God. So, we have now invoked the fallacy of special pleading.”
And everyone who has read anything on the cosmological argument howls with laughter at this point. I can do no better than Ed Feser does. Let’s look at what he says about it here.
“1. The argument does NOT rest on the premise that “Everything has a cause.” Lots of people – probably most people who have an opinion on the matter – think that the cosmological argument goes like this: Everything has a cause; so the universe has a cause; so God exists. They then have no trouble at all poking holes in it. If everything has a cause, then what caused God? Why assume in the first place that everything has to have a cause? Why assume the cause is God? Etc.
Here’s the funny thing, though. People who attack this argument never tell you where they got it from. They never quote anyone defending it. There’s a reason for that. The reason is that none of the best-known proponents of the cosmological argument in the history of philosophy and theology ever gave this stupid argument. Not Plato, not Aristotle, not al-Ghazali, not Maimonides, not Aquinas, not Duns Scotus, not Leibniz, not Samuel Clarke, not Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, not Mortimer Adler, not William Lane Craig, not Richard Swinburne. And not anyone else either, as far as I know. (Your Pastor Bob doesn’t count. I mean no one among prominent philosophers.) And yet it is constantly presented, not only by popular writers but even by some professional philosophers, as if it were “the” “basic” version of the cosmological argument, and as if every other version were essentially just a variation on it.
Don’t take my word for it. The atheist Robin Le Poidevin, in his book Arguing for Atheism (which my critic Jason Rosenhouse thinks is pretty hot stuff) begins his critique of the cosmological argument by attacking a variation of the silly argument given above – though he admits that “no-one has defended a cosmological argument of precisely this form”! So what’s the point of attacking it? Why not start instead with what some prominent defender of the cosmological argument has actually said?”
Feser is stating what many of us already know. No one is using this argument that Dorans is dealing with. No one. Again, this is not saying anything about Pastor Bob using it. I am referring to anyone academically inclined. Feser goes on.
“And that, I submit, is the reason why the stupid “Everything has a cause” argument – a complete fabrication, an urban legend, something no philosopher has ever defended – perpetually haunts the debate over the cosmological argument. It gives atheists an easy target, and a way rhetorically to make even their most sophisticated opponents seem silly and not worth bothering with. It‘s a slimy debating trick, nothing more – a shameless exercise in what I have elsewhere called “meta-sophistry.” (I make no judgment about whether Le Poidevin’s or Dennett’s sleaziness was deliberate. But that they should know better is beyond question.)
What defenders of the cosmological argument do say is that what comes into existence has a cause, or that what is contingent has a cause. These claims are as different from “Everything has a cause” as “Whatever has color is extended” is different from “Everything is extended.” Defenders of the cosmological argument also provide arguments for these claims about causation. You may disagree with the claims – though if you think they are falsified by modern physics, you are sorely mistaken – but you cannot justly accuse the defender of the cosmological argument either of saying something manifestly silly or of contradicting himself when he goes on to say that God is uncaused.
This gives us what I regard as “the basic” test for determining whether an atheist is informed and intellectually honest. If he thinks that the cosmological argument rests on the claim that “everything has a cause,” then he is simply ignorant of the basic facts. If he persists in asserting that it rests on this claim after being informed otherwise, then he is intellectually dishonest. And if he is an academic philosopher like Le Poidevin or Dennett who is professionally obligated to know these things and to eschew cheap debating tricks, then… well, you do the math.”
And I fully agree with Feser again. Either Dorans is intellectually dishonest, which I do not want to say due to the principle of charity, or he is just ignorant of basic facts. Still not the height of charity, but ignorance is easier to take care of than outright dishonesty.
“What is even more amusing is that more special pleading is then used to justify the original special pleading, because God is, well, God …
But why God? Why not Zeus?”
And again, this is still not understood. God does not have a beginning and in Thomism at least, His very nature is to exist. He is what it means to be. You might as well ask “What caused existence to come into existence?” It is either something that already existed, which is a problem since its existence needs to be explained if existence had beginning, or it is something that didn’t exist, which means something can come from nothing, which is nonsense.
So here we have a claim that all the arguments fail and yet none of them are even spelled out at all, no writings are cited, and this is from only two philosophers. There are plenty of others. Some arguments I will think work. Some I will not, but the claim from Dorans is that they all fail and yet we haven’t seen them all put to use and what we have seen, it is the response that fails and fails miserably.
Again, if you want to be an atheist, be one. You can do that. However, please do not be one like Dorans and actually do your intellectual homework and read the other side and take them seriously. Christians need to do the same. Don’t present yourself as a champion of reason and evidence though when your very words will betray you.
What’s coming up? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
The past is a funny place. They do things differently there. So it is that they did not see the world we do. They didn’t know about germs and viruses like our world knows about right now. They didn’t know how to explain weather. Until Galileo, they thought the sun went around the Earth. They would never have dreamed of the internet, video games, Alexa devices, automobiles, or anything we have today.
Now seeing how they didn’t have all of that and we have so much more today, why should we take what they said back then seriously? These are modern times after all! You can Google and learn anything that you want to! Modern science has shown us so much about the world! Why would we want to go to another system like philosophy?
Maybe though, just maybe, those who came before us have something that they can teach us. Maybe science and philosophy can work together. Maybe if we go down this path, we can find that we are truly not alone in the universe, not in the sense of extraterrestrial life, though that could be, but in the sense of a God who is out there.
In the 13th century, there lived a monk named Thomas Aquinas who was named the dumb ox by his classmates. His teacher said that dumb ox would roar and the whole world would hear it. His teacher was right. Today, Thomas Aquinas’s philosophy is still shaping the thinking of many people.
It’s not just Catholics either. Protestants like myself can greatly value the teaching of Thomas Aquinas. In order to discuss him and mainly his arguments for God, I am bringing on an up and coming apologist to talk about the issues, something I am prone to do as others did the same for me and still do the same. His name is Gil Sanders.
So who is he?
According to his bio:
Gil studied under Edward Feser for almost three years at PCC, and got his bachelors in philosophy at Cal State Los Angeles. He co-founded a Ratio Christi at PCC, lead a philosophy club, and went on to publish a paper in the CSULA journal. Gil’s special areas of research include philosophy of religion, metaphysics, politics, and ethics.
We’ll be discussing Thomistic metaphysics, why anyone should care about Aquinas, and how Aquinas gave a convincing argument that God exists. I hope you’re looking forward to this one. We are still working hard on uploading older episodes. Stay tuned!
What do I think of Mike Aquilina’s book published by Lambing Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
My wife got me this book as a gift knowing that I am looking to improve my prayer life and that I’m a big fan of Thomas Aquinas. At the start, this is a book by a Catholic for a Catholic. I am not faulting that at all. Protestants write for Protestants normally, Orthodox for Orthodox, Atheists for atheists, Muslims for Muslims, etc. Naturally, they all write books at times to try to convince others, but books that are more devotional will be more likely to be non-argumentative.
So if you’re a Protestant reading this, no, you likely will not agree with the views of the Eucharist and Mary, but that’s okay. It is quite foolish to say whichever camp you belong to that you cannot learn from the others. Aquinas is definitely someone we can all learn from and not just in his intellectual mind, but in his devotional mind.
Aquilina goes through some of the prayers of Aquinas and breaks them down bit by bit and has a devotional entry on each of them. This could then be a good daily devotional to be read just to have something to meditate on. At the same time, someone could go straight through, like I did, and get some good material out of it.
Reading through also gives the reader something to shoot for. Aquinas was in his day from my understanding a loner and standout from the crowd, but his passion is something not talked about often. Aquilina tells us that when Aquinas had a hard problem, he would go and lean his head on the altar and rest it there hoping to receive solace.
God wasn’t just an intellectual pursuit for Aquinas, although there was certainly a lot of that in his life. God was a being, a personal being, to be desired for His own sake. It is easy to go to God to thank Him for what He has done, which we should, and to make our requests known to Him, which we should do, but too often we do not come to Him for who He is.
Aquilina tells us that adoration is something that should be reserved for God alone. Of course, there’s always the chance that words change meanings and what we mean by adore isn’t the same thing as was meant back then. The attitude would still need to be the same and that would be that only God deserves the highest place. Any Christian knows that sadly, that can be a struggle at times.
So if you want to improve your prayer life and use Aquinas as a model, this is a good one. Areas of disagreement for Protestants do not have to be the focus. Catholics and Orthodox are more likely to enjoy those elements of the work, but we could all bear to improve our prayer life. Aquinas is a great model for that.
What’s coming up? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
Due to technical difficulties last time we recorded, this post is a repost of a prior post as we rescheduled our guest.
What’s coming up? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
Christianity has had a rich tradition for 2,000 years. That tradition has included several great thinkers as well. Contrary to what many people think, it’s not the case that church history began with your pastor.
It’s also not the case that church history began with the Reformation. It did not happen that the apostles died and then the gospel was lost and then the Reformers restored it. This is not to say the Reformers didn’t do a great work that I think was important and needed, but it is to say that Christianity did not cease to exist.
Another great tragedy is that if you tell people there have been great Christian thinkers throughout history, they will likely think that such is antithetical to Christianity. You can see that and think “Well, yes Nick, there are plenty of atheists out there who think Christianity and sound thinking don’t go together at all.” Unfortunately, I’m talking about Christians as well. There are too many Christians who are anti-intellectual in their approach.
We ignore this great intellectual heritage we have to our own downfall. Those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it. We should be seeking to learn from these people who went before us. Many of the battles that they fought are being fought today and we can learn from how they won those battles so we can be better prepared today.
Not only that, many of their spiritual struggles can be ours today. Could you find something you can relate to in Augustine’s Confessions? Would you be like Martin Luther and struggle with the idea that God is always ready to punish you? Can you be a person with a fervent imagination like C.S. Lewis?
To discuss these great thinkers and others, I am bringing on someone who recently wrote the book Classic Christian Thinkers. This is someone who is a thinker himself being a philosopher. He is also a Christian who will be guiding us on how we are to look at this issue? His name is Ken Samples from Reasons To Believe.
So who is he?
According to his bio:
Philosopher and theologian Kenneth Richard Samples has a great passion to help people understand the reasonableness and relevance of Christianity’s truth claims. He is the senior research scholar at Reasons to Believe and the author of several books, including Christian Endgame, 7 Truths That Changed the World, and God Among Sages
Dr. Samples and I will be discussing nine great Christian thinkers in history. These are people generally recognized across the board. We will be seeing what we can learn from them and why we should really care about these old dead guys so some would see them today. What difference do they still make in our culture today?
Please be watching for the next episode of the Deeper Waters Podcast. Also, please consider becoming a partner with us in this work by making a donation to Deeper Waters and also leaving a positive review of our podcast on iTunes. It means so much to us!
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.
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.
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.
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.