Quinquae Viae: The Five Ways of Aquinas (Part 2)

“The second way is from the nature of the efficient cause. In the world of sense we find there is an order of efficient causes. There is no case known (neither is it, indeed, possible) in which a thing is found to be the efficient cause of itself; for so it would be prior to itself, which is impossible. Now in efficient causes it is not possible to go on to infinity, because in all efficient causes following in order, the first is the cause of the intermediate cause, and the intermediate is the cause of the ultimate cause, whether the intermediate cause be several, or only one. Now to take away the cause is to take away the effect. Therefore, if there be no first cause among efficient causes, there will be no ultimate, nor any intermediate cause. But if in efficient causes it is possible to go on to infinity, there will be no first efficient cause, neither will there be an ultimate effect, nor any intermediate efficient causes; all of which is plainly false. Therefore it is necessary to admit a first efficient cause, to which everyone gives the name of God.”

Someone mentioned to me that in my last blog post my discussion of Aquinas’ notion of motion was unclear, and that perhaps I could have left my analogy of potential and kinetic energy out of it. The informer argued that that fit more properly into the notion of cause, in that the table being removed is what causes the ball to change from potential into Kinetic energy. I informed him that this is simply a misunderstanding on his part of the distinction that I was trying to make. It is not the reason that the change happens because of but rather that an actuality exists (in that case, namely gravity) that changes potentiality into actuality. These actualities can be any number of causes, matter, gravity, force, etc.

The point is this. Any cause must be an actuality. This leads to the conclusion above however:

Therefore it is necessary to admit a first efficient cause, to which everyone gives the name of God.

Why? Simple, for the same reason that we did in our last post, namely, that nothing can cause itself to be or to change. For anything to be an efficient cause of itself, nor is it possible to go on to an infinity of prior causes. This is because any infinite number of prior causes would be actually infinite, and this is absurd. There are multiple reasons for this, which you can find in one of my earlier posts, but also one that I don’t think I’ve mentioned before.

No Infinite Set can be created by adding a finite number to any already existing set. Or, in other words, it’s impossible to reach an actually infinite set by addition.

This is because for any number x, you can always add x+1 to produce the next sum. Since an actually infinite set must contain all infinite members at the same time, the fact that you can always add 1 to any sum to get a new number shows incompleteness in the set.

Unfortunately, or perhaps: as typical, this winds up simply to be a modern restatement of ancient ideas expressed by believers in the creation of the universe at a fixed point in time (for example: John Philopinus, and Al-Ghazali.) which state that if you were to count down from infinity to zero, there is no reason you should finish yesterday rather than today.

So we’ll not dwell much on this point, let us instead move to the more interesting point in light of modern science. Can an object cause itself (or can a cause cause itself)?

In “The Grand Design” Stephen Hawking posits that “The universe creates itself out of nothing.” The argument given for this is that, “Because there is a law like gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing.” 1 At first glance, you might think that this is a bit absurd, but it does rely on some fundamental assumptions.

A) Something can be created from nothing.

This part is generally only applicable on the quantum scale, but could be reasonably asserted given that ‘nothing’ is defined as ‘the quantum vacuum’. The quantum vacuum is however an incredibly complex series of interactions of energy that have measurable effects. (For example, interactions in the vacuum create “zero-point energy” which can be observed in phenomena like the ‘cosmological constant’.) 2

Because it has measurable effects, it cannot be properly defined as ‘non-being’ but given this qualifier we shall continue.

B) Laws can create something.

Generally speaking, when talking of ‘laws’ or ‘rules’ we do not speak of them as causing things to occur. And even in the cases we do we are speaking of prescriptive laws in personal agents. “The law is what caused George not to kill Hannah.” And even more accurately speaking, in that circumstance what caused George to not do it was the fear of the punishment and not the law itself. The law of Gravity is a ‘descriptive’ law, not a prescriptive law, meaning it describes the way something usually behaves or acts, and the way it appears, but not the way it should or ideally will. Descriptions are naturally passive things that are disconnected from the actual thing that they describe.

Given this, I think this premise is unfounded.

It’s also a case of a mistaken mechanism, to mistake a nominal construction for an object with a positive existence. To mistake a construct like the law of gravity, as something that has existence in its being is part of the flaw of their reasoning. 3

So even given the qualified redefinition it seems as if A) does not prove what it seeks to prove, that something can come from nothing (or without cause(since the quantum vacuum is a cause). Since the statement is self-referentially incoherent, then it cannot and does not make sense to say that ‘the first cause created itself’.

This is what Aquinas is getting at, this incoherence of non-causal causes. So he gives this argument that no efficient cause can be caused by a prior efficient cause back to infinity.

This post was short, but hopefully I’ll be able to get back into posting regularly from here on out. Thank you for your patience.


  1. Page 180 
  2. Sean Carroll, Sr Research associate – Physics, California Institute of Technology, June 22, 2006 C-SPAN broadcast of Cosmology at Yearly Kos Science Panel, part 1. 
  3. Of course mathematical Platonists might make an argument here. Even if it can be shown that Platonic objects exists, we have to wonder how they cause things, being themselves abstract. 

Coming Soon…

It has been some time since I have published a single post on here. Three months since my last re-blog and seven months since I started a new post where I was going to be going through the Quinquae Viae. Clearly that is not a good publication rate.

The reasons were multiple why this big gap happened. One of them was I work retail and the holiday season started up, another was I was taking a college course and working a full time job. I also went through two computers in the span of time I have not been writing. (Which is annoying considering how much work you have to do to get a computer back to your liking.) In addition I was applying to graduate schools and trying to do research on those programs as well as research pertaining to a writing sample for them.

Those applications have been sent off, my holiday hours are coming to a close at work, and I am not enrolled in any classes for this next semester. So I will start updating more frequently.

I have quite a few posts outlined, but it will be probably about the 5th or the 10th before you start seeing them again. Some of the posts I am about to list may not make it to their final versions.

Continuing Posts:
Quinquae Viae(Parts 2-5)
Al-Ghazali on the Eternity of the Universe(Part 2)

New Posts:
The Ontological Argument: Plantinga.
The Teleological Argument: William Paley
Does God Have a Nature?: A review of Alvin Plantinga’s 1980 lecture.
Pelagius and Augustine talk about the Problem of Evil
Sabbath as Resistance: A book review.
Averroes: On the Harmony of Religion and Philosophy.
Flying Man: Avicenna
Sheikh it up: Sufism and Philosophy.
The Cosmological Argument: GW Leibniz.

These are just the ones I have outlined (even if my research on them is still in an infancy.) My intention is to put out smaller posts in between these as well. Thank you all for your patience with me and I hope we can get this show back on the road.

“Right where we are wrong”

Originally posted on The Hebdomadal Chesterton:

The Catholic Church is the only thing which saves a man from the degrading slavery of being a child of his age. I have compared it with the New Religions; but this is exactly where it differs from the New Religions. The New Religions are in many ways suited to the new conditions; but they are only suited to the new conditions. When those conditions shall have changed in only a century or so, the points upon which alone they insist at present will have become almost pointless. If the Faith has all the freshness of a new religion, it has all the richness of an old religion; it has especially all the reserves of an old religion. So far as that is concerned, its antiquity is alone a great advantage, and especially a great advantage for purposes of renovation and youth. It is only by the analogy of animal…

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Quinque Viae: The Five Ways of Aquinas(part 1)

Due to space constraints, we are only covering the first of the five ways in this post, but four more will allow for us to cover the whole of the Five Ways. That will be what I will be covering in the next few posts.

The Quinque Viae (Five Ways) are a series of Scholastic Arguments that form a cumulative argument for the existence of God. As a cumulative argument they are designed to stand together, like threads in a rope, rather than as individual arguments for God’s existence. Surely they can be used individually but they were not designed for this purpose.

Similarly, Thomistic philosopher Edward Feser has stated that the arguments themselves are not comprehensive, but seem rather to be a summary introduction for beginners. [1] This means they are not written like a full-fledged argument, which means that instead of taking the time to explain and flush out his premises, they are instead simply stated and then the conclusion follows. This can be explained in that Aquinas’ Summa Theologica, where the Quinque Viae are found, was an instructional guide for beginners who were learning in the Catholic Church. It was steeped in Aristotelian Metaphysics and Scholastic distinctions which are filled out in the full body of Aquinas’ work. Thus, a student who had questions about the Quinque, could pursue the metaphysical foundations in other works.

“Because a doctor of catholic truth ought not only to teach the proficient, but to him pertains also to instruct beginners. As the Apostle says in 1 Corinthians 3: 1–2, as to infants in Christ, I gave you milk to drink, not meat, our proposed intention in this work is to convey those things that pertain to the Christian religion, in a way that is fitting to the instruction of beginners.” [2]

With this context in mind, we can continue into actually looking at the Quinque, which take up a whole page and a half of the full three thousand of the Treatise(which shows just how assumed the existence of God was taken in this work of the Church.), but are nonetheless fairly powerful in their sophistication and distinction.

Via Unus: The Unmoved Mover.

“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.” [3]

It is easy to make the mistake (as Dawkins did) to assume that he’s speaking here of motion in the contemporary sense. It should be more broadly construed, due to the terminological use in Aristotelian physics, to mean something closer to ‘change’. Motion is linked to the change from potentiality to actuality of certain properties in a creature, but is not limited to a change in place (though certainly a change in location is part of the argument. Think of the change from potential to kinetic energy in modern physics for example.) Aquinas would have undoubtedly sent his students to Aristotle’s Physics and Metaphysics, and his own commentary on those (as well as probably Averroes’ commentaries.) for full arguments for these premises, we thus will not deal with them here.

Therefore, assuming these premises, let us examine the full scope of the argument rephrased like an argument you might find in a contemporary paper.

  1. Some things change from potentiality to actuality
  2. Potentiality cannot change itself into actuality.
  3. An actual infinite regress of potentiality cannot be traversed into actuality.[4]
  4. There must therefore, be a source of change that is not itself potential. (Pure actuality)
  5. This is what we mean by God.

This argument is in my opinion, fairly sound. It does depend on some other arguments to root some of its premises, but so does any argument that isn’t self-evident. For example, for 3) we would have to depend on paradoxes of infinity and arguments from the absurdity of their existence. For example, Ghazali’s arguments against an actual infinity deal with examples of how we have to accept some unacceptable consequences in terms of physical numeration. For example, that Saturn and Jupiter, though they have a different number of rotations because they rotate at a different rate, if they had been rotating for an actual infinite amount of time, then their rotations are numerically the same. Namely: actually infinite. Further examples would include David Hilbert’s Infinite Hotel Paradox.

To better understand the idea of change let us look at a concept from modern physics: Potential and Kinetic energy.
The potential energy equation for any given object is PE=mgh. M=mass of the object, g=the force of gravity, and h=the height of the object from the ground. So if we have a 1kg object, .5 meters off the ground, then you get PE=1(-9.8)(.5)=59 J. So we have an object at rest, yet containing 49 Joules of potential energy.

The problem with potential energy is that it is just that, potential, there has to be a change to the system in order for the energy to become usable. Under no circumstance will the object change itself; the object will never give off that potential energy in kinetic energy unless an outside change occurs. The floor disappears or the book slides off the table and begins its fall. This change cannot occur from the potentiality itself, but requires an outside cause. This is one of Newton’s laws of motion. An object in motion stays in motion unless acted on by an outside force. At any point in time, any object has potential for movement in any direction, but no internal power will force it to move a different way causelessly.

And that is basically the argument. Potentials cannot convert themselves into actuality without an outside cause, and outside causes cannot extend to actual infinity because of the difficulty of an actually infinite number of things as well as the impossibility of traversing the infinite. (Think Zeno’s paradoxes).

Next time we’ll look at the second way, the argument from causation, which is similar, but different in emphasis than the first way.

[1] : Feser,Edward (2009). Aquinas, A Beginner’s Guide

[2] : ST, 1. 1

[3] : Prima autem et manifestior via est, quæ sumitur ex parte motus. Certum est enim, et sensu constat, aliqua moveri in hoc mundo. Omne autem quod movetur, ab alio movetur. Nihil enim movetur, nisi secundum quod est in potentia ad illud ad quod movetur, movet autem aliquid secundum quod est actu. Movere enim nihil aliud est quam educere aliquid de potentia in actum, de potentia autem non potest aliquid reduci in actum, nisi per aliquod ens in actu, sicut calidum in actu, ut ignis, facit lignum, quod est calidum in potentia, esse actu calidum, et per hoc movet et alterat ipsum. Non autem est possibile ut idem sit simul in actu et potentia secundum idem, sed solum secundum diversa, quod enim est calidum in actu, non potest simul esse calidum in potentia, sed est simul frigidum in potentia. Impossibile est ergo quod, secundum idem et eodem modo, aliquid sit movens et motum, vel quod moveat seipsum. Omne ergo quod movetur, oportet ab alio moveri. Si ergo id a quo movetur, moveatur, oportet et ipsum ab alio moveri et illud ab alio. Hic autem non est procedere in infinitum, quia sic non esset aliquod primum movens; et per consequens nec aliquod aliud movens, quia moventia secunda non movent nisi per hoc quod sunt mota a primo movente, sicut baculus non movet nisi per hoc quod est motus a manu. Ergo necesse est devenire ad aliquod primum movens, quod a nullo movetur, et hoc omnes intelligunt Deum.

[4] : Interestingly, potentially infinite sets cannot make themselves actually infinite by any amount of addition. They are ontologically distinct.

An Update and information about upcoming things

Sorry that I have been not around as of late. Shortly after my last post, the fan in my laptop had a horrible malfunction and rendered my laptop mostly unusable.

That being said, it had most of my notes and such on there so I did not update from a library or some other place. My laptop was damaged irreparably, but the data has been recovered and so I will be continuing my posts soon, starting with an analysis of Aquinas’ Quinquae Viae, and later a post about the second part of Ghazali’s first argument against the Eternity of the Universe. They will however, not be weekly.

Part of the reason it took me so long to get my laptop repaired, is that I could not afford to get it repaired since I was trying to pay for some schooling out of pocket over the summer. Now that that has been paid, I can and have gotten myself a laptop and can continue my work uninterrupted. (I got a cool upgrade on my laptop) Unfortunately, that same schooling is keeping me very busy, but that does not mean that you will not get posts from me. I will occasionally post content related to my class readings when I find them particularly interesting or relevant.

Anyways, sorry for the hiatus, and not letting anyone know about it. As penance, here’s a link to a podcast on Avicenna’s theory of Soul by Peter Adamson of the LMU. http://www.historyofphilosophy.net/avicenna-soul 

The Ridiculousness of “Religulous”

This week’s post is going to be a bit out of the ordinary. A friend of mine asked me to watch Bill Maher’s Religulous, where he satires and supposedly proves that “Religion is detrimental to the progress of humanity.” (1:43) I’m normally skeptical of documentaries, especially ones done by people who are not in any real sense scholars, and this documentary did little to ward me of my skepticism.

Firstly, I’d like to address what he sets up as the premise of the film. As far as I can tell he wants to understand how otherwise reasonable people can believe in religion, and to prove that “religion is detrimental to the progress of humanity.” (ibid) In order to prove this he claims he will use rationality, but that would involve a logical argument of some sort. It could look something like this:

  1. Anything that encourages beliefs in the supernatural is a detriment to society’s progress. (This would take the form more formally as “If something encourages… then …. ) [P->Q]
  2. Religion encourages beliefs in the supernatural. [P]
  3. Therefore religion is detrimental to society’s progress. [Q, Modus Ponens 1&2]

While these claims are by no means self-evident, they are nonetheless at least possible as true, and if so, the argument winds up being a valid one. However, I detected no such argument in the documentary. (I would have been impressed at an attempt) It instead was largely Argumentum Ad Populum (He visited trucker’s chapels, and tourist attractions, but avoided universities and seminaries.) Ad Hominem (he dismissed entire religious claims based on the fact that sometimes their adherents did terrible things), Dicto Simpliciter (he made sweeping generalizations about entire religions and ignored the nuance.) and other various propaganda like material. (Though he did have a few good points, which we will address later in the body.)

To start, he begins to ask some guys at a Trucker’s Chapel, if they were okay with the fact that certain doctrines were mentioned nowhere in the Bible. For example, “Original Sin”, “Immaculate Conception” and the “Virgin Birth”(which he admits is found in two of the four gospels.) I am not surprised he did not ask about these when he was at the Vatican or questioning Catholics, as they would have an easy answer to it, but considering how little of the majority of Protestants engage with the works of Church History (especially those at a Truckers chapel), it is unsurprising that they do not have answers to these questions.

You could have gone for a bigger target than the doctrines he picked if you wanted to take a shot at the Biblicity issues. For example, the word Trinity is not found until the writings of Tertullian, where the word “Trinitas” was first used.1 Not that it wasn’t implied in Scripture or in the earlier Fathers, but that the word never appeared until the the late Second Century would have been something I gunned for. The answer to why some of these Doctrines are there however is simply that they arose out of reflection on the Biblical data over hundreds of years. That is what tradition is built on, the interpretation of the Scriptures through the living body of the Church for a long time. So the Biblicity of these doctrines is little problem. Some of them would be debated between traditions, for example, the Immaculate Conception of Mary, but the Virgin Birth for example is unanimously accepted. (Though some traditions have implications others don’t.)

It is clear however, that Maher did not do any research into the forming of the Canon or the development of Doctrine before challenging these people’s views. For example, if the Virgin Birth is only in two of the Gospels there is likely a reason for it. (He never once asked the question as to why there are Four gospels, as opposed to One or Twelve.) The different Gospels were written for different audiences for different purposes, and the Virgin Birth was included in Matthew(written to a Jewish Audience) and Luke (written after interviews with Eyewitnesses). Matthew was written to Jewish audiences as an apologetic, to show that Christ met all the prophecies of the Old Testament. Luke was trying to do as much credit to the original eyewitnesses as he could. He has more detail on the childhood of John the Baptist and Jesus than any other Gospel, which suggests that Mary and Elizabeth were potentially some of the people he interviewed, and if he’s being faithful then he’d report Mary’s experience as accurately as he can.

Maher claims at different points that the Gospels were not written by eyewitnesses. This seems absurd for a few reasons, but I’ll start with one glaring problem. Where is he getting his information? He simply asserts it as fact. A basic study into the formation of the Canon will reveal that the Canon-formers had actually discarded and eliminated documents that were forgeries and fakes. In addition, the basic books of the New Testament Canon were being cited as early as Clement of Rome. In his Epistle to the Corinthians (AD 68-97) Clement references Ephesians,  Acts(Which is the second part of Luke-Acts), 1 Peter, Titus, Romans, 2 Peter, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Hebrews, and so on. This shows that there is little to no difficulty in asserting that the New Testament was in use incredibly close to the time of Christ. Not only that but the direct disciples of the Apostles, such as Ignatius, and Polycarp, were quoting from them as well. So these men would not have cited them unless they were certain their masters had written them.

Maher though, does bring up a good point with Dr. Francis Collins. Does the fact that the Bible being written fairly close to the time of the Apostles give it credit for a historical document? If you were to run it through a laboratory or a courtroom would that hold up? And this is now no longer a question of authenticity, but of epistemology? What are the standards for knowing History? Can we know it at all? We certainly can’t know it like we know the laws of physics, through observation. We can only really hear about it from people in the past and then falsify it through Archaeology. So the answer to the question he raises is ‘no’ it would not survive a lab test. Simply because it’s not repeatable or observable.

But neither would World War I history. Or the fact that yesterday existed. We can’t know these by observation and experimentation, but rather inference and testimony and memory. So the epistemological question he raises is really a Red Herring. “Is history science?” “Well no.” “Ah.” “That’s why you get a Arts degree in it, rather than a Sciences.” In fact, we start to see Maher’s epistemological cards coming out on the table. He thinks that science is the purveyor of Truth with a capital T.

Maher then interviews a televangelist about the image of Jesus in today’s culture. He asks if the poor man was what Jesus looked like and the preacher said something along the lines of “No. He had fine linens because he was rich. He was given gold as a child after all.” Which Maher rightly pointed out is not exactly the image you get from the New Testament. So the question then appears (at least in the viewers mind) “Where did the gold go then?” And this can be explained when you notice that after the Magi show up, Jesus does a good bit of travel. They traveled from Bethlehem to Egypt. On foot. With a newborn. This cost money due to bandits and robbers and such, and so they likely had to hire mercenaries to guard them on their way, book a place to stay while they were there, and then return at a later date. This likely exhausted the gifts the Magi brought, and were a sign of God’s providence. It’s not plain in the text exactly, but seeing as how they flew there a verse after the Magi gave them the gold, leads to that sort of inference.

Maher then uses an Ad Hominem attack against Lot. He claims that since Lot is a Godly Man that offered his Daughters up for rape, rather than the angels, he was a role model. Maher claims that since this man is considered Godly, then there is less morality in the “King James Bible” than the “Rick James Bible”. He’s clearly missing the point there, it wasn’t that Lot was good. Or that Abraham was(pimped out his wife…) or that David was(killed a man, stole his wife) or any Biblical character save Jesus was, but that God is good. With this in mind, the stories of debauchery and sin make a bit more sense.

Maher then tries to rope in modern politics. He goes to a “Gay rehabilitation clinic” where gay people are made straight through religion, and talks to the leader there about homosexuality in the Bible. He asks why, if it’s such a big deal, does Jesus not say a word about it in the New Testament? The guy has very little of an answer, but the answer is fairly forthcoming in both the question and in the original language. The question assumes something that is unsupported by the text, which is, “Whatever Jesus thought was important he’d say something about right?” but he fails to remember that our ideas of sexuality are not the same as they were in the 1st Century AD.

There was temple prostitution, government condoned orgies(indeed even government planned orgies), and much sexual activity that might be considered deviant in our time, such as paederasty or the practice of educating young boys through homoerotic relationships with older men. Most of the Emperors indulged in this practice for instance, Gibbon states, “Claudius was the only one whose taste in love was entirely correct”2 which implies that he had no male or boy lovers. But it was easily seen in most of the others.

When the New Testament writers spoke of “Sexual Immorality” they use the term “pornea”. This had a double connection, that of ‘idolatry’ and that of ‘sexual immorality’.3 This was a ‘junk drawer’ term for anything that was considered non-standard sexual intercourse between a man and his wife. This would include things like temple prostitution (this is a double whammy of both Idolatry and sexual immorality) and that would include both heterosexual and homosexual prostitution. The condemnation of long hair on men in 1 Corinthians was to dissociate them from the male homosexual prostitutes of Hermaphrodite that were worshipped in Corinth. Paederasty, incest, rape, adultery, prostitution and homosexuality these all fall under the umbrella of “Pornea”. So Jesus did speak of it.4

Can a Christian be a homosexual (by orientation) rather than a heterosexual? Yes. The Bible seems to only condemn the behavior, though with the given that ‘lust in the heart’ counts as adultery. (Matt 7:27-28) but that applies to both hetero and homosexuals.

Maher critiques then the adequacy of the Ten Commandments as moral rooting. He makes the statement that the first four seem silly, why does it matter what God you serve, and why aren’t there commandments against say, child abuse or rape? (Even though these would fall under what the Bible would call ‘adultery’.)

He doesn’t understand that the Commandments are set up in the following way. “Love the Lord your God”, and “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you love God, you will love yourself as God loves you, and therefore love your neighbor as God loves them. If you follow the first four commandments, you will follow the rest.

So Child Abuse, Rape, etc, would be morally discounted by the remaining commandments as they treat objects of dignity as objects of valuelessness. He then asks if the first four are even necessary? I mean God seems like a very jealous God! Should we really be encouraging such closed-mindedness?

But not all Jealousy is bad, there is a difference between denying the petty and protecting the precious. A husband who feels no anger at a man who is trying to steal his wife is not a good husband, but a bad one! If God has made a covenant with his people then for him to be jealous over them is for him to be a good God, just as a man who has made a covenant with his wife is a good husband he’s jealous at something or someone trying to steal them away. These laws were only binding governmentally in Israel sure, but they hold true for Christians today since we also enter into this covenant with God. And if it is the case that the others follow logically from it, maybe we should?5

But sure, we could have seen some of this ourselves (as Maher suggests). That murder is wrong and so on, and the God thing is a bit less obvious. What he doesn’t realize is that in affirming objective moral values he has created a deeper philosophical problem.

Why is it wrong to rape or murder or steal? Surely it’s not something that we find in nature? We’re not going to go out and discover written in the heavens some law, like the law of Gravity? Is it testable or repeatable? If it’s a product of the evolutionary process then they are more like fashions then law. When someone goes against the herd, it’s not that they are doing something wrong but merely something out of fashion. But rather than getting distracted by the argument of Natural Theology here, I’ll simply provide a link to a paper on it, and then do a post on the Moral Argument another time. (See footnote) 6

Maher then references that there were ‘other myths’ in circulation that postulated a diety born on December 25th, crucified and resurrected. Most frequently I hear this of Horus, but the most ridiculous one I have heard is Quetzalcoatl, the Aztec feathered serpent, and then Baldur, Mithras, et al. Not only are these rehashed from that terrible documentary Zeitgeist (a full refutation of which can be found at the following (See footnote)7) where he depends on outdated scholarship of a lone Egyptologist Gerald Massey.8

I am going to end with the review of the content there, as he focuses briefly on the foundings of Mormonism and Islam, which I would tend to agree with in the most part, however he does fail to address the flourishing Golden Age period of Medieval Islam, and the (for the most part) peaceful coexistence of the People of the Book under their reign.

The rest of my review will focus on a definition issue. Early on he made the unfounded assertion that faith is simply “belief without evidence” which is quite a startling claim. At first, that seems plausible, based on certain Biblical passages such as Hebrews 11:1. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Some people take this to mean that to simply ‘not have faith’ is to not believe anything without evidence, and thus Atheism can be a lack of belief.

Of course that’s not a very high calling. My dog, my desk, and my computer all ‘lack belief’ and therefore all are atheists. The better and more sophisticated definition of atheism is a “belief that there is no God” which serves as a more rigid designator and helps distinguish them from thing that lack belief in God, (ie. Infants.)

This definition of faith however, is simply misguided. Faith is not an ‘epistemological’ category but rather a ‘relational’ category or perhaps a better description would be a description of a psychological state. For example, to have faith in one’s wife, is not to believe that she will do things without evidence, but rather that you trust in her based on the deliverance of reason and experience. It is a trust in conjunction with reason that creates faith. This is even supported in Scripture.9 Paul gives a list of eyewitnesses to the resurrection so you could go and check the evidence. Peter says to be ready to give a defense. Jesus says to believe, if not because of his word, then on the basis of miracles.

In addition the tradition carried this on in men like Augustine and Anselm who famously said that the were doing philosophy as “Faith, seeking understanding.” or that “They believe in order that they might understand.” If you do not first have a foundation of trust with a person or a thing, you cannot rightly study it. If you do not believe that the laws of physics are not constant, what is the point in studying them? We take epistemological claims in relation to ourselves and we either trust them or deny them.

So, we need to not fall prey to ridiculous documentaries like Religilous, which if it did anything for me, it convinced me we need better training of our laypeople in the Church and better familiarity with history. This Anti-intellectualism that has been plaguing the faith since the Fundamentalist movement needs to stop.


  1.  Adversus Praxean 
  2.  Edward Gibbon, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, footnote on p. 76, vol. 1 
  3. For locations of this term in the Greek NT check, http://biblehub.com/greek/strongs_4202.htm 
  4. Specific locations would include but not be limited to Mark 7:21, and The Sermon on the Mount(which he gives ‘pornea’ as legitimate excuse for divorce.) 
  5. Recommend Copan, Paul, “Is God a Moral Monster” Chapter 4 “Monumental Rage or Kinglike Jealousy?” 
  6.  http://commonsenseatheism.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/11/Linville-The-Moral-Argument.pdf 
  7. This one is my favorite: http://conspiracies.skepticproject.com/articles/zeitgeist/ ,  http://www.preventingtruthdecay.org/zeitgeistpartone.shtml, http://www.alwaysbeready.com/zeitgeist-the-movie 
  8. Just one citation to keep your search simple, though it could be sorted fairly quickly. http://hnn.us/article/6641 
  9. A short list of references: Jude 4, 10. Matt 22:37-38, 1 John 4:1, Romans 14:5, John 14:11, Acts 1:2-3, Acts 17:2-3, 1 Peter 3:15 

“Some fragment of beauty to be admired”

Originally posted on The Hebdomadal Chesterton:

At first sight it would seem that the pessimist encourages improvement. But in reality it is a singular truth that the era in which pessimism has been cried from the house-tops is also that in which almost all reform has stagnated and fallen into decay. The reason of this is not difficult to discover. No man ever did, and no man ever can, create or desire to make a bad thing good or an ugly thing beautiful. There must be some germ of good to be loved, some fragment of beauty to be admired. The mother washes and decks out the dirty or careless child, but no one can ask her to wash and deck out a goblin with a heart like hell. No one can kill the fatted calf for Mephistopheles. The cause which is blocking all progress today is the subtle scepticism which whispers in a million ears…

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On Divine Hiddenness

One of the questions I have been asked on several occasions is something like this. “If God does exist and wants people to know him, why is he so hard to find?” My answer has always been that he isn’t. That he’s clearly revealed himself in Creation, his Son, his Word, his Actions, and through the Holy Spirit, that General revelation by itself is fully revealing and gives man no excused.

“For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world,in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” (Romans 1:20 ESV)

But that’s not necessarily to take the question seriously, I’m starting to realize. Yes, we may be able to to perceive God in some sense, to feel Him there with his Spirit, or to see Him in his Son Jesus, or to hear from Him in his Word. But these are still specific circumstances upon which we hear from Him. The men of Jerusalem saw and touched Jesus, but still did not believe, and Israel after Miracles and Movements would quickly forget.

Part of this is due to our sinful nature to be sure, but is there another explanation? Is sin simply one of the results of divine hiddenness? William Lane Craig argues that there are many plausible explanations of why God might be hidden from us in some sense. The one he prefers however is that God created us at sort of an “epistemic arms length”, that he lets us see him “in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.”1 This would allow us free will to sin and fall on Earth, but not in Heaven, where we are sealed by the absolute presence of God should we have chosen to follow him. This makes earth into the “Vale of decision making” as he argues.2

I think this makes a degree of sense. Aristotle argued that the “Final End” of everything was directed towards the Prime Mover. That the Universe moved in a great act of imitation of the thing that is the source of all its motion.3 4 If it is true that true reason for Human action is to “be like God” then this makes sense. Our sin and elevation of ourselves is an imitation of God’s ultimate position as that which receives worship, only we are not fitting receptacles for that. Instead, we wish to become more like God which is what the Serpent promised us falsely, but Jesus promises us truly. As St. Irenaeus put it “the Word of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, who did, through his transcendent love, become what we are, that He might bring us to be even what He is Himself.” 5 Our goal through the grace and work of God is to become more like Him, that we might enter into communion with Him fully, face to face, at the end of our lives.

But not now. To encounter God face to face would destroy us now. Not just because of our sin, but because of our finitude as well. We cannot even encounter things such as trees or rocks or people without pulling a bit away from them, keeping ourselves at a distance from them.

“The abstract is the symbol of the concrete. This may possibly seem at first sight a paradox; but it is a purely transcendental truth. We see a green tree; it is the green tree which we cannot understand; it is the green tree which we fear; it is the green tree which we worship. Then because there are so many green trees, so many men, so many elephants, so many butterflies, so many daisies, so many animalculae, we coin a general term ‘Life.’ And then the mystic comes and says that a green tree symbolises Life. It is not so. Life symbolises a green tree. Just in so far as we get into the abstract, we get away from the reality, we get away from the mystery, we get away from the tree. And this is the reason that so many transcendental discourses are merely blank and tedious to us, because they have to do with Truth and Beauty, and the Destiny of the Soul, and all the great, faint, faded symbols of the reality. And this is why all poetry is so interesting to us, because it has to do with skies, with woods, with battles, with temples, with women and with wine, with the ultimate miracles which no philosopher could create. The difference between the concrete and the abstract is the difference between the country and the town. God made the concrete, but man made the abstract. A truthful man is a miracle, but the truth is a commonplace.”
~G.K. Chesterton: “The Speaker,” May 31, 1902.”

Augustine even argues that we are epistemically disconnected from ourselves. “”Don’t you believe that there is in man a deep so profound as to be hidden even to him in whom it is?”6 We exist at an epistemic distance from everything, even ourselves, and so this gives even more credence to the view of Dr. Craig. That our inability to choose the good is not due only to the weakness of our flesh, but also due to the distance we have from the Good. This is why philosophers and scientists cannot even prove that we exist beyond a doubt, or that the external world exists, or that God exists. We are always slightly at a distance.

In this manner, I agree with Keith Ward who argues that what we believe has to be reasonable, but our contact with the truth must be through additional means than reason alone. God is a mystery. He makes good sense, but we cannot get our head around it with a simple explanation.7

Life then is, as the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I titled his book on Eastern Orthodoxy, “Encountering the Mystery” and we will be judged for how we encountered it. For this mystery imposes itself upon us but keeps itself at a distance at the same time.


  1. 1 Corinthians 13:12 
  2.  http://www.reasonablefaith.org/can-people-in-heaven-sin 
  3. Interestingly as a side note, Sufis twirl for this reason. That in their spinning they might imitate the rotation of the heavens and be at one with that which gives it motion. (At least that’s the explanation given in Ibn Tufayl’s book.) 
  4.  “The object of desire and the object of thought move without being moved” (Met., 1072a26–27) 
  5.  Against Heresies, Book 5, Preface. 
  6. Source Unknown. Obtained from here, http://www.egs.edu/library/augustine-of-hippo/quotes/ 
  7.  http://cct.biola.edu/resources/christianity-philosophy-questions-and-truth/