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: Seeing Through Christianity Part 5.

Does Zuersher present a good argument against the Afterdeath? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

In the sixth chapter, Zuersher argues against the afterlife. I prefer to call it the afterdeath because after all, one is still alive in the “afterlife.” At any rate, let’s go and examine what he says to see if any of it is convincing.

At the start, he tells us that the true heart of Christianity, like most religions, is that humans are terrified of death. It would be nice to know how he backs this claim. Does he think some Jews who already had a religion were still terrified of death and decided to make a second one on top of that? These people didn’t live in fear of death if anything. We do. They saw death around them every day.

If Zuersher provides no data, then we have nothing to refute. In fact, we could just as well make our own baseless assertion. “The basis of atheism, as we all know, is to avoid having to serve a holy God.” Do I think that’s a ridiculous argument to use? Yes. This is the kind of argument Zuersher gives us.

He tells us that Christians hold to a two-part existence with the body and a magical soul thing. He also says only humans have this soul. I’m not sure where he gets that because many of us if not most of us with a dualist perspective hold that many of the higher animals that are relational to us have souls as well. Again, no one is cited on this whatsoever.

It also doesn’t work to just say something is magical. It’s like atheists live in this world so often where the word magic is magical and if you use it, you automatically refute the notion of whatever it is you’re talking about. Has Zuersher looked at the philosophical arguments of dualists? Has he examined the evidence of such events as near-death experiences?

He also holds to a rather literalist view of the resurrection saying that if an atom belonged to multiple people in a lifetime, who gets it in the end? This assumes that God has to use the exact same atoms. Why think that? This was something the early church wrestled with, but we don’t so much today. We just figure God is able to recreate the body.

He asks why not issue a new body? He tells us it is because of Jesus. Of course, our resurrection is to be like that of Jesus, but the new refers to quality. There is continuation, and I’d say the soul is the basis of this, but there are similarities as well. 2 Cor. talks about us being a new creation. The newness is in quality. We don’t become a Christian and then God literally kills us and makes us a new creation.

After this, Zuersher does attempt to argue against souls by pointing to consciousness. He says that the problem is that if you damage the brain, then the functions of the mind are damaged. It never occurs to him apparently that dualists do have their response to this. Mainly, it’s that the body is the instrument the soul works through and if the body is damaged, the instrumentality of it by the soul is as well. If a body loses two arms, the soul is not able to magically to reach out and grab something because the tools it would use don’t work as well. Similarly with the mind and the brain.

I leave much more of this to those who have studied in this area. Books like Machuga’s In Defense of the Soul or Habermas and Morleand’s Beyond Death (also called Immortality) are also recommended. As we can expect, Zuersher has just done armchair philosophy without really looking at the issues and yet still thinks he’s knowledgeable enough to write on them.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: In Search of Moral Knowledge

What do I think of R. Scott Smith’s book? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

I wish to thank IVP for providing a copy of this book for a review first off. I find the moral argument to be a highly interesting argument. Now my own variation of it is that I prefer to use the fourth way of Aquinas and have it be the argument from goodness of which morality is a subsection of that. Yet insofar as it goes, the moral argument works fine and Smith has given an impressive tour de force on this.

Smith starts off with the history of how we got to this point in understanding morality today. He starts with the Bible and what is found in both testaments. He then goes on to look at the work of Plato and Aristotle and takes us through the medieval period and then through many of the great philosophers of the Enlightenment period and beyond and even goes up to interacting with postmodern looks at morality. At this point, there can be no doubt that Smith has done his research and done it well.

Smith also seeks to be as fair as he can with those whom he is dialoguing with. He admits that he has made errors in understanding past opponents at times and tries to read their works in light of all that they are saying. Smith indeed shows impressive scholarship in the field. At this point, I do think it’s important to let the reader know that I think he will need more than a layman’s understanding of the field to get the most out of this book.

Smith in the end concludes that naturalistic theories not only do not account for moral knowledge, but that they do not account for any knowledge whatsoever. This is true in whatever case he looks at as each position begs certain questions. There is also the problem that many of them deny essences and for Smith, a physicalist explanation of the nature of man is just incapable of being able to provide knowledge. We have to have essences of some sort.

Smith then roots the knowledge that we have in God. The book ends in the last chapter with a more apologetic approach looking at various issues such as the case for the resurrection of Jesus and the problem of evil. No doubt, each of these is brief and I would have liked to have seen even more in some areas at least in terms of other works that were cited since these would be out of the field that Smith is normally writing in which is fine. There were a few points on each section that I would disagree with, but they do not detract overall as Smith does provide excellent sources still in each case, though as I said I would have liked still more.

One main problem I would have liked to have addressed that rarely is is that I do not often see a definition of good given. It is as if we assume when we get together and debate what is good and what is evil that we all know what these terms really mean. In fact, this is the first question I usually raise when I debate moral issues with someone. I agree with Smith of course that love and justice are good and that murder, rape, and torturing babies for fun is wrong. Yet when I say “X is good” what do I mean?

Still, in the end, I think Smith’s work is an excellent one that will certainly leave much food for thought. For anyone who is wanting to deal with the moral argument, mark this down as essential reading.

In Christ,
Nick Peters