Philosophy

Quinquae Viae: The Five Ways of Aquinas (parts 4&5)

I’ll admit, part of the reason this post took so long was because Aquinas’ Fourth Way was a bit confusing to me. It is commonly classed as an “argument from degree” but I couldn’t figure out quite what it meant. Aquinas’ argument goes like this:

The fourth way is taken from the gradation to be found in things. Among beings there are some more and some less good, true, noble and the like. But “more” and “less” are predicated of different things, according as they resemble in their different ways something which is the maximum, as a thing is said to be hotter according as it more nearly resembles that which is hottest; so that there is something which is truest, something best, something noblest and, consequently, something which is uttermost being; for those things that are greatest in truth are greatest in being, as it is written in Metaph. ii. Now the maximum in any genus is the cause of all in that genus; as fire, which is the maximum heat, is the cause of all hot things. Therefore there must also be something which is to all beings the cause of their being, goodness, and every other perfection; and this we call God.

On the one hand, this argument seems easy enough. There are comparative terms. For us to have comparative terms of abstract concepts, like “Goodness”, “Beauty” and so on, there must be a thing which is their maximum and causes them to be more or less of itself, assuming that such things exist. His example though, of Fire, puzzled me.

Yes, Fire is hot. And it causes other things to be hot. But we know that it’s not really the fire, per se, that is hot, but the energy given off by the reaction that causes the fire to be hot. Since fire is caused to be hot by other things, what is it that gives those things heat?

But, as anyone should do, I attempted to be sympathetic and think about fire like Aquinas would have. When he claims that fire causes heat in all things, what does he mean? It can’t simply cause it by existing. Aristotle had four different types of causation that Aquinas would be drawing on: Material, Formal, Final, and Efficient. Fire is an example where all four types of causation would be met out in a single instance.

Material: Fire is made of fire.
Efficient: Fire creates Fire
Formal: The substance of fire is heat which is fire.
Final: The aim of fire is to produce more fire.

This is an odd example for Aquinas to use in reference to trancendentals like “Goodness”, and “Being.” And this is what puzzled me. God cannot be all four types of causation to the universe: The Universe is not made out of God. And so naturally, I did some research. 1

I discovered that Aquinas’ views on God’s causal relationship to the universe are in play here, and that upon investigation I found out that he denies that God is the causal relationship in two categories: material, and what might be called inherent formal.

Urban argues, in his paper, that Aquinas views at least five types of causation built on Aristotle’s four:
1. Material
2. Final
3. Efficient
4. Inherent Formal
5. Extrinsic Exemplary Formal

While 4 and 5 are subcategories of “Formal Causation” the distinction winds up being important. The first type, Inherent Formal, concerns structural principles present in things which make things as they are. The second type, Extrinsic Exemplary Formal, concern archetypes in the minds of intelligent beings to which they can form their artifacts.

This distinction suggests that the Fourth Way of Aquinas could deal with three types of causes: Efficient, Extrinsic Exemplary Formal(henceforth EEF) and Final causation. The argument goes that if Aquinas thinks that God is the maximal exemplar of Goodness, Truth, and Being then he is the cause of them, but each of them has different kinds of causation.

Truth must be conformed to by propositions, and is thus an EEF. Goodness is normally considered a “final” cause, that which all things strive towards, and Being is taken as an efficient cause, at least by Aquinas if we go back to his Second Way. In order for things to come ‘into being’ being must first bring them there. Thus, Aquinas’ Second Way is laying out his understanding of how Being relates to the world.

If this interpretation is correct, the Fourth Way, in a sense, ties all of the arguments in the Quinquae Viae together. The First and Second Ways show that God has efficient causation. The Third Way makes it impossible for Being, that is the Efficient Cause of the universe, to not exist. The Fifth Way deals with EEF and Final Causation, and since it has not gotten it’s own post I will expound on it here:

The fifth way is taken from the governance of the world. We see that things which lack intelligence, such as natural bodies, act for an end, and this is evident from their acting always, or nearly always, in the same way, so as to obtain the best result. Hence it is plain that not fortuitously, but designedly, do they achieve their end. Now whatever lacks intelligence cannot move towards an end, unless it be directed by some being endowed with knowledge and intelligence; as the arrow is shot to its mark by the archer. Therefore some intelligent being exists by whom all natural things are directed to their end; and this being we call God.

The so called “Argument from Design” is the Final of Aquinas’ Five Ways. A common objection to it is that you could just dismiss the Fifth Way out of hand since Darwin came along and disproved that the Universe had any purposes other than survival. The problem with that objection though is that if the universe really ‘aimed at survival’ as some have suggested then ‘survival’ or ‘fitness’ is the final cause.2 But what is the source of that final cause? What is the supreme ‘fitness’? This is what Aquinas is getting at between his Fourth and Fifth Ways.

Final Causes are always directed towards something, “Fitness”, “Goodness”, “Survival”, “Progress” but you have to have a terminus for these objects that are not within the object itself. The difficulty with certain abstract notions like, “Fitness” or “Progress” is that they don’t seem to have a maximum. Progress, as Chesterton once remarked, “is a comparative to which we have not settled the superlative.”3 because even if you arrive, you must progress beyond it. Fitness, well, if Fitness has a superlative it fails at evading the Third Way, much less the Fifth. Fitness is a state that readies you for survival. The longer you survive the more fit you are. To survive all things at all times would be to be the “Fittest” and the only thing I can think of that would fit that category would be a Necessary Being.4

But that doesn’t quite get at the guts of the Fifth Way. The Fifth Way, has to do with Aristotelian Physics again. According to that system, when an object is moving it is trying to move somewhere. With earthy and watery objects it is towards the center of the universe. With fiery and airy objects it is up to the edge of the universe. Thus, when you throw a rock and it falls to the ground it is doing so because it’s ultimate Final Cause is the Center of the Universe, it just gets stopped by the Earth along the way.

If this is true and all objects move according to purpose, or are shaped according to purpose: The eye being to see, rocks to fall to the ground, etc. then there must be some Final cause that ALL FINAL CAUSES MOVE TOWARD. The Universe as a whole, in an Aristotelian Framework, rotates. That whole thing, is seeking out a final cause, and that thing must be outside the universe. Thus, it must be either an abstract principle: like Goodness, Truth, or Being, which are not grounded in physical reality, OR an intelligence that Goodness, Truth and Being find their root in. Or as Aquinas puts it:

For since things in the physical world are naturally inclined to induce their likeness in things which are generated, this inclination must be traced back to some directing principle which ordains each thing to its end. This can only be the intellect of that being who knows the end and the relationship of things to the end. Therefore this likeness of effects to their natural causes is traced back to an intellect as their first principle. (In Meta. I 15 233.)

So then how do Final causes make sure they link up with the proper effect? Simple, an intelligence does it. And that is Aquinas’ answer to how that works. There is an intelligence who arranges the universe so that final causes wind up being aligned with the proper effects. In a sense, this intelligence is also EEF of those cause and effect situations, because it causes the archetypes to align with the types.

Which brings us full circle back to the Fourth Way.

  1. If there are certain comparatives we use to describe objects, such as “Goodness”, “Truth” and “Being”, then they cannot exist without a superlative.
  2. There are such comparatives.
  3. Therefore there is a superlative.
  4. This superlative is the final cause of the universe, due to being Goodness.(Goodness is the source of all Final Causation, as all things seek the Good.).
  5. This superlative is the efficient cause of the universe: in that it is Being. (Via the First and Second ways.)
  6. This superlative also is the EEF of the universe, due to being the intelligence that aligns effects to causes(and helps final causation.)
  7. Therefore, the Superlative is the Cause of the Universe.
  8. This superlative can be called God.

At least, this is the most around the argument that I’ve been able to get. You are welcome to disagree with my interpretation, but this is what I have come to.


  1. Urban, Linwood. “Understanding St. Thomas’s Fourth Way” History of Philosophy Quarterly 1.3: 281-195. Web 
  2. There are entire types of Darwinism that extend out beyond the realm of evolutionary biology. Fields such as “Evolutionary Ethics” and “Evolutionary Cosmology” exist. see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Universal_Darwinism 
  3. Chapter 2, Heretics 1905 
  4. Whether or not any form of Darwinism can be directed into an argument for the existence of God is a subject for more debate. It’s possible Darwinian Cosmology was born out of an attempt to escape modern recastings of Teleological Arguments. 

Quinquae Viae: The Five Ways of Aquinas (Part 3)

When thinking about the Second Way of Aquinas, which states that no cause can cause itself and therefore there must be a first cause, we run into a difficult problem of which the Second Way cannot get itself out. This problem is this: Aquinas has only proved this First Cause, he has not proven God.

In light of Modern Cosmology you might make the argument that the first cause was the Big Bang that brought all matter into existence.1 And given the restraints of the Second Way there is no way out of it. You cannot deny that if you define the Big Bang by the simplified way it usually is, then it fits the qualifications of “First Cause”. So then why think the First Cause is God? That is what Aquinas seeks to do in his Third Way. Show that “Even if there is a Big Bang, it did not have to occur, it is possible that the universe could have not existed. Since it is possible for the Big Bang to have not happened, there must be an explanation for the possibility that is namely: the Big Bang did happen.”

The third way is taken from possibility and necessity, and runs thus. We find in nature things that are possible to be and not to be, since they are found to be generated, and to corrupt, and consequently, they are possible to be and not to be. But it is impossible for these always to exist, for that which is possible not to be at some time is not. Therefore, if everything is possible not to be, then at one time there could have been nothing in existence. Now if this were true, even now there would be nothing in existence, because that which does not exist only begins to exist by something already existing. Therefore, if at one time nothing was in existence, it would have been impossible for anything to have begun to exist; and thus even now nothing would be in existence – which is absurd. Therefore, not all beings are merely possible, but there must exist something the existence of which is necessary. But every necessary thing either has its necessity caused by another, or not. Now it is impossible to go on to infinity in necessary things which have their necessity caused by another, as has been already proved in regard to efficient causes. Therefore we cannot but postulate the existence of some being having of itself its own necessity, and not receiving it from another, but rather causing in others their necessity. This all men speak of as God.

What we have above is a precursor the Leibniz’ Cosmological Argument from Contingency and a follow up on Avicenna’s argument from the same. As his other arguments in this series it depends heavily on the argument against actual infinities, but has a distinct flair from his versions on motion and causation. This is a distinctly modal argument.

While Avicenna drew largely on Aristotelean principles he seems to have come to a different conclusion than Aristotle did. Aristotle and Aquinas both argue that there is a first cause because of an infinite regress of causes is impossible. Avicenna however, argues that since the totality of all possible things cannot be caused by itself (since it is itself possible) it must be caused by something outside itself. And since the thing is outside of the totality of all possible things, it must be necessary. And that means that there is a necessary thing, and that thing is God.

Aquinas doesn’t take this same sort of modal approach to the argument. He argues very similarly to the fashion of Aristotle, namely that the unvierse has to have an explanation of itself. A cause of causes. It is easy to conflate this argument with the Argument from the Beginning of Motion, but we should not do that because they are distinct even though they have a logical similarity to their argument. We should not think of these causes, for example, as temporally sequential, happening one right after the other. Instead we should view them as simultaneous causes: logically simultaneous like what exists in an argument.

Let us take for example his argument:
1. Contingent beings are caused.
2. Not every being can be contingent, for this would create an infinite regress.
3. There must exist a being which is necessary to cause contingent beings.
4. This necessary being is God.

There is not a temporal succession to these things. It is not that ‘First’, step one comes, and then step two and then three and then four. Our minds may track through that path, but they all exist simultaneously. They are on your screen at the same time whether you are reading them or not. And they happen concurrently, and YET there is some degree of dependence of 4) on 3) and 3) on 2) and 2) on 1). If any of these had been different the argument would not work.

In the same way, we like to say that the irrational number Pi, “Goes on to infinity…” which is a misstatement. It is not as if Pi is continuing to count itself out every time it is calculated. It exists in it’s entirety, like a ray but rather all of it’s infinite digits exist simultaneously though each is dependent on the former. This is not to say that it is an actual infinite. Pi has a definite end point, namely the 3 on the other side of the decimal. It is infinite in the future direction only and all later numbers are dependent on that 3. 3 however, could not exist if it were the final number of Pi, that was dependent on an infinite set of variables in the other direction.

Similarly, if I had an argument consisting of infinite premises, all of which was dependent on the others but I came to a conclusion at the end.


Infinite 1: There exists an x
Infinite 2: There exists an x+1
Therefore: _____

That conclusion would be dependent on an infinite number of non-temporal causes that occurred before it, and therefore could never be reached.

In the same way, Aquinas argues that necessity and possibility work. For every contingent thing must have a cause. To put it another way, every contingent thing is dependent on something else for it’s existence. Since an actually infinite number of causes is impossible, this first thing must be a necessary being.

Since God is the only thing that could exist necessarily (think about Anselm trying to show the absurdity of a God that doesn’t exist) and must exist of its own power, then this first cause is God. It is not just a convenient stopping point for Aquinas it is the end.


  1. This doesn’t actually help the problem since it doesn’t make sense for that to have occurred un-caused at any point. If there was an infinitely dense ball of matter that existed there since eternity past, there would have had to have been a change in order for it to rapidly start expanding. That would be the first cause. 

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. 

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 

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/ 

Al-Ghazali: First Proof against the Past Eternity of the Universe (Part 1)

Abū Ḥāmid Muḥammad ibn Muḥammad al-Ghazālī (c. 1058–1111) was an Asharite theologian of Persian descent who lived in the 11th and 12th centuries. He spent a lot of time in Baghdad teaching at the Madrasa there, and he devoted a lot of his time to rejecting Greek philosophy and more fully embracing the religious traditions found in Islam.

The work we are going to be examining today is his “Incoherence of the Philosophers” which he published as a refutation of men he referred to as ‘corruptors of the faith’ and that anyone who reads their writings becomes more lost in their own ignorance and incoherence. His point is to show that the philosophers do not provide demonstrative proofs of knowledge, they do not even stand up to their own tests of wisdom and truth.

In short: he was trying to show that Philosophy wasn’t able to meet it’s own standards. Or in more modern analytic terms, that it was “Self-referentially incoherent.” He does this by attacking several of the philosophical topics of his day that were commonly held, but not unquestionably. The one we want to focus on here is his first critique, namely of their doctrine in the Past Eternity of the Universe.

In this post I will be focusing only on his first objection to their (the philosophers) first proof. This is for two reasons, the first is for the sake of brevity, and the second is to give me more material for later. Now some of you may think that the Universe’s past eternity was thrown out among People of the Book aeons ago, since the book of Genesis clearly states that God created the world, and the creation accounts in the Koran are similar. (That God created the world in a set number of days.)

So why then the difficulty? In short: Aristotle.

Aristotle(who has reached Ghazali by Al-Farabi and Avicenna) believed that the universe was eternal in the past for several reasons. Existence was a form of motion, and in order for there to be a motion there had to be a motion that set that motion into motion and so on and so forth. Time is a measurement of motion. If motion came into being, then there would have to be movement away from something, and therefore there be something before time, which is contradictory. These arguments held and continued to hold influence over the world from the time of Aristotle, until (arguably) the end of the Middle Ages.1

Ghazali in his work, starts to outline the thinking of the philosophers up to his time and how they have agreed on the past eternity of the universe. He claims that “the view of the multitudes, both ancient and modern, has settled on upholding its past eternity: that it has never ceased to exist with God, exalted be He, to be an effect of his, to exist along with Him, not being posterior to Him in time, in the way the effect coexists along with the cause and light along with the sun; that the Creator’s priority to [the world] is like the priority of the cause to the effect, which is a priority in essence and rank, not in time.” 2

He talks about how Plato seemed to be an exception to this rule stating that the universe was created in his Timaeus, but this is an exception and not to be noted. He then says he is not going to get bogged down in every single argument they give, but instead only focus on the good ones. He doesn’t want to waste time on the bad arguments but rather the ones that can cause even the best thinkers to doubt because “…arousing doubt in the weak is possible with the most feeble [of arguments]” 3

The first proof he focuses on (and the only one we will be focusing on here) goes from this:

“They say, ‘it is absolutely impossible for a temporal to proceed from an eternal.'”

In short the argument they give for this looks like this. If states of the Eternal are similar then either everything always comes into existence or nothing comes into existence at all. Since there is no difference in one state of the eternal than another there is no reason that in one moment there should be something and in the next moment there not be, unless something changed that brought about its creation. This thing could not be the ‘will of the divine’ because it would be utterly arbitrary to refrain from one thing and then act on it the next moment without something bringing that change in will into being.

The philosopher does his best to bolster the argument by asking why the world did not exist before its creation. There was no logical or physical necessity to stop it, since God has no physical limitations.4 The Eternal would have to change from “…Impotence to Power, and the world from Impossibility to Possibility, both of which are impossible.” And the philosophers argue that it would be unbecoming due to the nature of God, for God to have a will to create. This is because deciding to create is to say that He became a willer of its existence after having not been, but this creates a problem of a will having come into existence. And God cannot receive things that are created because he is separate from creation, nor can it have been created apart from him because that would make him not a willer.5

To push this even further, not only could God not create his own will, but if will can come into existence uncaused then so can anything, even universes. This makes God superfluous really. The question still remains, why the universe came into existence then and not earlier? Was it because God lacked an instrument by which to do his purpose? Or perhaps a purpose, or a nature, that once they come into existence, so then will the universe? But, then why do those things come into existence then and not earlier and so on and so forth ad infinitum.

This is the heart of their argument.6 And we will spend the rest of the time dealing with the first part of Al-Ghazali’s first objection to it. (though he does have two objections.)

Ghazali argues that perhaps God willed the creation of the world at a specific time, timelessly. That past-eternally the will was created that “at such and such a time I will create the universe.” and asks what proof there might be to show this to be false.

The response he then imagines is something like this: That if the necessary conditions exist they always bring about their effects immediately. Since the will exists, and the willer exists, and these two things are related to each other, then the effects of the will will come about immediately. If this is not the case then nothing could ever come into existence, since the Eternal always exists in identical states, that from moment to moment there is no difference.

“Indeed the state of affairs would have remained identical to what it was [before], the object of the will not having come into existence, and would remain thereafter as it was before when [lo and behold] the object of the will would come into existence! This is nothing but the ultimate in impossibility.”

So the problem rests in the fact that nothing changes, no new will is gained, and no new thing is given, but suddenly there is a new thing. And this is the first response of the Philosophers.

Ghazali wants to know if they know of the impossibility of Eternal Will through basic knowledge, or through investigations? He wants to know if they use a middle term to connect “eternal will” and “temporal creation” for they have not shown it. And if it is basic knowledge why do men like Ghazali and the others not have it? Is it because they lack some knowledge, but this knowledge is basic and necessary? Since you have done neither, but instead given “nothing but [an expression of] unlikelihood and the drawing of an analogy with our resolve and will, this being false, since the eternal will does not resemble temporal [human] intentions.” And just saying something is unlikely is not enough, without a proof that can be demonstrated!

The Philosopher might say then, we know this by the necessity of reason, and one who denies this is stubbornly defying their own reason and resorting to irrationality!

This is where Al-Ghazali resorts to some of his most famous arguments, the arguments based on the concept of infinity. He asks what the difference is in that response and someone who says that they are stubbornly defying reason with their own doctrines. This is not a reasonable response, but instead an irrational one, as it puts forth no argument or explanation. Indeed, Ghazali thinks that their ‘necessity of reason’ can be shown to be demonstrate logical contradictions, or at least logical absurdities, and therefore must be false.

  1. If the universe is past eternal then there must be an infinite number of movements by each heavenly sphere. 7
  2. These spheres all rotate at different rates, one being a sixth, a forth, a half, and so on, of the radius of the whole heavenly body.
  3. If Jupiter rotates twice for every rotation that Saturn makes then Jupiter has logically rotated twice as many times as Saturn.
  4. Yet they have both rotated the same number of times, namely, an infinite number of times.
  5. Indeed, they are not only the same number, but infinitely different, for with every rotation Saturn falls further behind.

He then asks, if someone says “This is impossible by the necessity of reason!” how does this differ from their defense? How would they answer if they were asked whether the rotation is even or odd? It cannot be one or the other. If it were odd then by adding one you could make it even, but how can the infinite be in need of one? If on the other hand you answer it to be both or neither, these Ghazali argues, are also false by necessity.8

If they try and rebut saying that infinites cannot be measured like finites, then we can simply say that they can be divided into eighths, and sixths, and fourths, why not into odds or evens?

Interestingly an appeal to what came to be known as the “A” theory of time was made to try and fenagle their way out of this. That the past is ‘non-existent’ and only the present exists, and the present has a finite number of rotations, because past rotations do not exist.

Ghazali does not find this objection very strong saying that numbers are even or odd regardless of existence of the objects or non-existence. He gives an example of horses. If we suppose we have six horses, this number of horses is even or odd, even if the horses are hypothetical or non-existent.9

He then goes on even more of an offensive, saying that they claim that there are existing substances that vary in properties and are infinite. These are human souls that have been separated from their bodies. These then are neither even or odd, if the philosophers are to be consistent.

The philosophers might then throw up their hands and say that is it is not Avicenna who is correct but Plato, who thought that there is but one soul and it is divided into bodies and then returns and becomes one with the over-soul again after death.

Ghazali thinks that this is repulsive, and contrary not only to experience but also to logic. We experience ourselves as ourselves and not as other people. If we were the same as other people we would experience ourselves as one. But logically he also holds it to be untenable. Since souls are immaterial talking about ‘dividing’ it is nonsense. You cannot divide things that do not have extension. This only makes sense in objects that have quantitative value. For example an ocean can split into three rivers that all merge back into the ocean again. Non-quantitative substances cannot be divided. This is impossible according to logical necessity.

“What is intended by all this is to show that they have not rendered their opponents unable to uphold belief in the connectedness of the eternal will with the act of temporal creation except by invoking [rational] necessity and that they are unable to disengage from those who [in turn] invoke [rational] necessity against them in those matters opposed to their own belief.”

This ends his treatment of the rejection of rational necessity. He then begins to treat the same objection from a different angle, of a person who rejects rational necessity as the starting point of the disagreement on will. He takes this approach from the impossibility of actually distinct events among the eternal. But this will be a topic for another post, for now, this is the first argument in his first objection to the doctrine of the Past Eternity of the Universe, and we shall sit content with that. (Or at least I shall.)


  1. I say that this is arguable because of thinkers like Crescus and Abū l-Barakāt al-Baghdādī brought into question the Aristotelian framework long before the end of the middle ages. 
  2. Ghazali, The Incoherence of the Philosophers, Translated Michael E. Marmura. Pg 12. 
  3.  Ibid. Pg. 13 
  4. And in certain Islamic schools, no logical limitations either. 
  5. The similarity this has to the Euthyphro problem always makes me smile. Either wills exist because God wills it, or wills exist apart from God. The answer is of course that God is will. 
  6. This is much more Avicennan than Farabian metaphysics. 
  7. Note that this is dependent on Aristotelian physics though many of his arguments still hold water in my opinion given a non-Aristotelian system. 
  8. Modern set theory has something to say about this it is true. Actual Infinities are both even and odd. 
  9. Similarly I suppose you could invent an object. “I have seven glarks.” The number of ‘glarks’ is still odd, despite the fact that glarks are a nonexistent thing. 

Creationism: Good or Bad for Christianity

For months I’ve been mulling over the Bill Nye and Ken Ham ‘debate’1 and wondering whether or not Christianity specifically, or Theism more broadly, has actually been helped by these debates? My argument is no. We have not actually done ourselves any good, but actually more harm.

In this debate in particular,2 and in the debate about creationism more broadly, I find that often times both sides make fallacious appeals to experts and facts and big names. Often times they say the same thing, but with different words and claim it’s entirely the same thing. And very rarely is any common ground found on which to continue.

For example, in the Ham vs. Nye debate, Nye constantly brought up scientific methodology and epistemology. We know things because we can test them empirically. Ham rebutted by saying that the Bible says that’s false, but makes no attempt to show this with an argument. These men are not philosophers, and can be excused for some fallacy, but supposedly these men are smart enough to know how to follow evidence. (And you’d think at least ask direct questions.)

But this is not a debate review, what it is is an attempt to examine this mindset that Christians sometimes have. Why do some insist that the Bible is the only way you can know things? Nye made an interesting comment to Ham, asking him why he thought his specific interpretation of ‘the Bible as it is written in English’ should be authoritative. Ham responded that this is simply what the Bible teaches, as if there is a monolithic teaching that the Scripture has, as if he was appealing back to a single, uniform body of beliefs that makes everything make sense. But this is not the case. On Genesis alone there are at least six interpretations I can think of, which could be considered justifiable from the text.

  1. Gap Theory
  2. Age Theory
  3. Myth Theory3
  4. The Literal Theory
  5. Old Earth View
  6. Framework Interpretation

I will not go into much detail here, but these are all very different theories and can not all be true. But they have all been professed throughout Church history. For example, Augustine (yes, THE Augustine yes, Saint Augustine) held that the universe was not created in Seven Literal days. In fact, he says this of people who do:

“It is too disgraceful and ruinous, though, and greatly to be avoided, that he [the non-Christian] should hear a Christian speaking so idiotically on these matters, and as if in accord with Christian writings, that he might say that he could scarcely keep from laughing when he saw how totally in error they are.” (Augustine, The Literal Interpretation of Genesis 1:19–20, Chapt. 19)

Augustine did not believe that anything of salvific substance was taught along with the revelation of Creation. Augustine did believe that there were some things God taught about the universe in the Scriptures, but they were ultimately a book of Salvation. They did not teach scientific truth, but rather Salvific truth.

“With the scriptures it is a matter of treating about the faith. For that reason, as I have noted repeatedly, if anyone, not understanding the mode of divine eloquence, should find something about these matters [about the physical universe] in our books, or hear of the same from those books, of such a kind that it seems to be at variance with the perceptions of his own rational faculties, let him believe that these other things are in no way necessary to the admonitions or accounts or predictions of the scriptures. In short, it must be said that our authors knew the truth about the nature of the skies, but it was not the intention of the Spirit of God, who spoke through them, to teach men anything that would not be of use to them for their salvation.” (Augustine The Literal Interpretation of Genesis 2:9)

Now, for the record. I am not trying to make an appeal to Authority by saying that Augustine did not believe it and therefore we shouldn’t either. That is not the case. It might very well be false, but it is logically possible. No one that I know of would argue that Augustine was not a Christian, and yet he had a non-literal interpretation of Genesis. (If we’re naming people who don’t though, the list is long. For a partial list here: Basil the Great, Origen of Alexandria, Irinaeus of Lyon, (Possibly) Gregory of Nazianzus) The problem of course is when people like Ken Ham want their particular interpretation endorsed as “Christian” by not only the Church but the secular authorities to allow it to be taught in schools as such, is grossly unrepresentative.

Even if it were true, the interpretation that Ken Ham has, he is leaving it up to the government to teach it in their schools, to rule on it as orthodox. And that is why I think it is bad for Theism and Christianity; because people are going to be convinced that in order to be a Christian you must hold these cosmological beliefs. And that is patently and demonstrably false. It’s gaining ground, at least on a Popular Level though.

I will respect the young Earth Creationist’s argument, but I will not swallow his dogma without more evidence. And arguing without evidence makes us look like fools. As Ghazali says

“Whoever thinks that to engage in a disputation for refuting such a theory is a religious duty harms religion and weakens it. For these matters rest on demonstrations – geometrical and arithmetical – that leave no room for doubt. Thus when one who studies these demonstrations and ascertains their proofs, deriving thereby information about the time of the two eclipses and their extent and duration, is told that this is contrary to religion, such an individual will not suspect this science, but only religion. The harm inflicted on religion by those who defend it in a way not proper to it. As it has been said: ‘A rational foe is better than an ignorant friend.'” (Ghazali, The Incoherence of the Philosophers, Originally quoted in my post “Natural Theology: A Brief History”

I do not believe that this retreat from the ideas of modern cosmology will do us any good as Christians. It will do us no good, and it will do Christanity no good. We should instead engage with the thoughts of the day, shake off the shackles of isolationist fundamentalism and start being fundamental in the way that is good. To preach the fundamentals, and not keep everything as one. We will only damage ourselves if we do not.

But what about the problems that other views bring out? For example, If evolution is true then Adam and Eve could not have existed and therefore all of Christian doctrine falls in because of Paul’s references to them as historical and Oh NO!”

Guess what, people talk about that too. You’d be surprised about how much research is done on this particular topic. Sometime soon I will have a book review up of the Counterpoint’s Series “Four Views on the Historical Adam” up, but for now, I will give you just a bit of a list of possible views regarding Adam.

1. That there is no historical Adam.
2. The Archetypal Creation View
3. Old-Earth Creation View
4. Young-Earth Creation View

I will be detailing these when I do my review of the book, but for now I give them only to perhaps try and open your mind to thinking about the question. When one only has a literal interpretation, one can only take the book literally. But we fail to take some books literarily, as in “According to the sense they were written.” If parts of Genesis are poetic or mythological or whatever, then literal interpretation is horrible to it. A disservice really. Like asking Shakespeare if he propounded a Juliet-centric universe since “…Juliet is the sun.”

These are complicated problems, with complicated answers. But no one ever said the world was simple.


  1. If you could call it a debate. Stasis was never decided on and they constantly bounced back and forth around each other’s questions. 
  2.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k9yQEG7mlTU 
  3. The use of the word ‘myth’ here is not to show that it is false, rather that it is structured in a mythological sense 

More thoughts on Arguments for Divine Personality

In my last post, I gave several arguments for Divine Personhood.

Today I’d like to expound a bit more on some.

In the Argument from the Absolute Beginning I mention how the cause of the Universe must be a person because of it’s immateriality and it’s spaceless and timeless nature. Another potentially useful analysis of it, is (again, assuming the argument goes through) that given that the cause caused the Universe, it must have had a series of necessary and sufficient conditions that had to obtain in order to bring this about.

If a universe can bring itself into existence out of nothing, then specific conditions must obtain in order for this to be the case. The gravitational constant, and other constants must be particularly tuned so that even given the self-creation of the universe, the universe doesn’t implode in on itself.1 That being said, assuming a universe had the necessary conditions to come into being…and had so from Eternity past(since time did not exist before the Big Bang event), why did it come into being 13.7 billion years ago, and not 18.9 trillion years ago, or now, or ten minutes ago, or all the time? The conditions could not have changed (since time did not exist, and change requires time), and yet the universe popped into existence at a certain time when nothing changed.

Which make sense if a personal being willed it. A being endowed with non-deterministic free will could make this decision. If it was a necessary outflowing, there is no reason why it could not have happened ten thousand years before it did, or ten minutes ago. The pattern would be the same, but it should be happening at the instant the necessary conditions are met. (Which if they are logically necessary, is all the time.)

Basically, the question comes down to. What caused the change that caused the Big Bang. Even if the universe popped into existence out of some pre-existent state2 that pre-existent state had to change. But why change then and not at a different time? What caused this change.

This leads us back into the Cosmological Argument from the Absolute Beginning, which leads us to a personal creator. This creator is shown to have Free Will by this argument, being able to act, but not out of necessity, and being able to bring about spontaneous change.


  1. Modern versions of the Teleological argument take this form, but I am not going to address it much here. 
  2. Maimonides arguably thought that God created the universe from something pre-existent. He at least thought it wasn’t inconsistent with Judaism. Philo of Alexandria as well. 

Objective Personality: Arguments for the Personhood of God

Recently in discussion a friend of mine brought up the fact that all of the arguments for the existence of God, are good, but only get you to a sort of Platonic Form of the Good. A metaphysically necessary, first cause, moral ground of the universe. He then said that this object could be impersonal, and so they are not good arguments for Theism.

While I certainly believe that God is a person I will admit I was a bit stumped here, if only for sheer surprise, Normally I have people reject premises or just get annoyed, but this did seem like a semi-solid objection. The Contingency Argument got you back to a Metaphysically Necessary thing, the argument for Objective Morality got you to a Platonic Object of the Good, and the Cosmological Argument from Absolute beginning got you back to a Timeless, spaceless, immaterial, thing. The only one I knew that could definitely prove personhood was the Telelogical argument, assuming it went through successfully.

After a bit of reflection though, it occurred to me that this is false. All of them refer back to a Personality. We will take each argument one at a time and show how.

The Moral Argument.:
1. If God does not exist objective moral values do not exist.
2. Objective Moral Values exist.
3. Therefore, God exists.

First, let us define objective morality. Objective morality is the state of affairs in which for any situation x, there is a moral thing to do.1 But what do we mean by ‘moral’? Morality seems to be rooted in the idea of persons: The Oxford Dictionary2 has as their first definition for the adjective moral as:

Concerned with the principles of right and wrong behavior and the goodness or badness of human character:

and Merriam-Webster has three:

: concerning or relating to what is right and wrong in human behavior

: based on what you think is right and good

: considered right and good by most people : agreeing with a standard of right behavior

Notice, they all refer to people or persons. Morality has to do with people and our behavior, how how we treat people due to their inherent value. Rocks cannot be said to be ‘moral’ or ‘immoral’. Therefore, if Objective Morals exist, it also means ‘objective personhood’ exists. There is of course Kant’s Principle, wherein we are to treat people as ends in themselves, is an objective statement, but implies no direct personhood. The problem with Kant’s principle is that there seems to be no way to make sure that that actually aligns with the world. It seems utterly contingent.

“Apparently, Kant’s Principle of Humanity, as it appeared in the empyrean and before the foundation of the world, read, ‘Should, against all probability, there be stars, and should, also improbably, those stars align in such a way as to permit the emergence of life, and should, against overwhelming odds, some of those living things turn out to be ‘human’, then they are to be treated as ends-in-themselves and never as means to an ends, and this even in the event that the contingencies of evolution direct them to think otherwise. Disregard this directive in those universes in which these conditions fail to obtain.” (Mark Linville: The Moral Argument, The Blackwell Companion for Natural Theology)

And the reason for that brings us nicely into our second argument.

The Argument from The Absolute Beginning
Simply put the argument from the Beginning of the Universe goes like this:
1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause.
2. The Universe began to exist.
3. The Universe has a cause.

The cause of the spatio-temporal-material universe could not have been anything spatio-temporal-material, which leads to a non-spatio-temporal-material thing that caused the universe.3 The problem with this, is that there are only a scant few things which could be immaterial/spaceless/timeless, and those things are ‘abstract objects’ and ‘unembodied minds’.

Abstract objects would include things like numbers, shapes, universals, propositions, and so on and so forth. The problem is however, that all of them are causally impotent. They bear no causal relationships to anything. The number seven does not cause anything, but seven objects might. This is the problem with the above statement of Kant’s Moral Principle. As a principle, it stands in causal impotence with the world unless the world happened to be aligned to it, or else was aligned to it by a mind, then it seems implausible to think it shapes the morality in the universe.

This leads us then to a cause of the universe that is an Unembodied Mind. Minds in most cases are regarded as persons, persons here being something with will and knowledge, and power. (The ability to make a decision, know the decision, and execute the decision.) Or else we have a universe that is contingently aligned with principles and propositions.

The Contingency Argument:

1. Anything that exists has an explanation of its existence, either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause.
2. If the universe has an explanation of its existence, then that explanation is God.
3. The Universe exists.
4. Therefore the Universe has an explanation of its existence. (Modus Ponens, 1,3)
5. Therefore the explanation of the existence of the universe is God. (Modus Ponens, 2, 4)

Assuming that the argument goes through we wind up with an explanation of the universe that is God. 2) seems at first blush to be an unfounded assertion, but lets pick it apart a bit. If the Universe is taken to be all of material-temporal-spatial reality, then that would include anything material-temporal-spatial that could exist. Therefore the explanation of the universe has to be in something timeless, immaterial, and spaceless. This thing, which we established cannot be an abstract object without itself being contingently aligned (though not necessarily contingently existent) with the universe, must therefore be an unembodied mind. Which is a being with will and knowledge and power, which is a person. And an unembodied mind that is spaceless, timeless, and immaterial is what everyone means by God.

So we can conclude that the personhood of God is deducible from these arguments when you really begin to ponder them. There are some arguments that might go to show that he’s multi-personal, but these require theological assumptions and could belabor a whole post by themselves. We do know however, that if these arguments go through, we have a timeless, spaceless, powerful, willing, personal being, who is also immaterial, who is the source of the universe and the cause of the universe, as well as the being who is good enough to be the grounding of all our moral values. Which sounds a lot like God to me.

 


  1. This allows you to deal with difficult situations. While “It is wrong to lie” is a general absolute, when you have Nazis banging on your door it may not be okay to follow. But there is nonetheless a ‘right’ thing to do in this situation. This is not to suggest situation ethics, where it may be okay to slaughter little children if it brings around a good result or if the situation requires it. That would imply that there are relative morals that change depending on the circumstance. 
  2.  http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/us/definition/american_english/moral 
  3. Cause here is being used in the sense of ‘efficient’ cause, not ‘material’ cause. 

The Ontological Argument: Anselm

Today I give the first post in my new series on Natural Theology. I plan on discussing arguments for the existence of God, and giving the pros and cons against them. I may follow up on it in later weeks and continue to give different approaches and thoughts on it.

Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109) 1 was an 11th century bishop who started his career as a Benedictine Monk in the Monastery at Bec, and wound up being Archbishop of Canterbury from 1093 until his death in 1109. He was, broadly speaking, a Neoplatonist. This was a world-view which he had inherited from Augustine of Hippo, who influenced Anselm greatly. By the end of his life he had published many works on theology, including works on the Trinity 2 and the Atonement, as well as works of Philosophy. In his tract De Veritate he lays the groundwork for a Christian Epistemology based on Neoplatonic ideas. Roughly speaking, he believes there is an absolute truth of which all other truth partakes, and that we come to know by coming to know other truth; and that without we could know nothing.

He is best known, perhaps, among philosophers for two sets of works. The first is the Monologion, is an outline of Theistic Proofs for the Existence of God. After completing that however, Anselm wished to find a single argument that could prove that God existed by definition, and not only that God exists, but that he is the supreme good upon which all else depends and exists. And so he writes his Proslogion, to put forth this argument which he frames thus:

Therefore, Lord, you who give knowledge of the faith, give me as much knowledge as you know to be fitting for me, because you are as we believe and that which we believe. And indeed we believe you are something greater than which cannot be thought. Or is there no such kind of thing, for “the fool said in his heart, ‘there is no God'” But certainly that same fool, having heard what I just said, “something greater than which cannot be thought,” understands what he heard, and what he understands is in his thought, even if he does not think it exists. For it is one thing for something to exist in a person’s thought and quite another for the person to think that thing exists. For when a painter thinks ahead to what he will paint, he has that picture in his thought, but he does not yet think it exists, because he has not done it yet. Once he has painted it he has it in his thought and thinks it exists because he has done it. Thus even the fool is compelled to grant that something greater than which cannot be thought exists in thought, because he understands what he hears, and whatever is understood exists in thought. And certainly that greater than which cannot be understood cannot exist only in thought, for if it exists only in thought it could also be thought of as existing in reality as well, which is greater. If, therefore, that than which greater cannot be thought exists in thought alone, then that than which greater cannot be thought turns out to be that than which something greater actually can be thought, but that is obviously impossible. Therefore something than which greater cannot be thought undoubtedly exists both in thought and in reality.

Anselm starts by defining God as “A being which nothing greater can be conceived.” Using this definition he then puts forth a simple argument, which I will reformulate into clearer terms than the above:

  1. God is a thing which nothing greater can be conceived.
  2. It is greater to exist in reality than to exist solely in the mind. 3
  3. If God does not exist, then we can conceive of a greater being, namely one that exists in reality, therefore that being must exist and must be God.
  4. Therefore: God exists in reality.
  5. Therefore: God exists.

This argument, for better or for worse, has been talked about for many centuries. Most people suggest there has to be something wrong with it, but they disagree over exactly where the misstep is. It is not exactly obvious.

Even his contemporaries were not pleased with it. Guanilo of Marmoutiers wrote a response to Anselm in his book, Liber De Insipiente, where he basically parodies the argument, trying to show that Anselm is mistaken in his idea that this form of logic can work. If it works, than absolutely anything is possible, is the idea. The parody argument goes thus:

“Welcome to the Lost Island. Fantasy Island.”

  1. The Lost Island is an island greater than which none can be conceived.
  2. It is greater to exist in reality than in the mind alone.
  3. If the Lost Island does not exist, then you can conceive of an even greater island, then that one must exist.
  4. Therefore: The lost island exists.

This argument, however, seems to miss the mark on its intended goal. It’s goal was to show that if the argument is valid in an obviously false case, then it cannot be used to show the true one with any more certainty. The problem here is that Guanilo did not understand the nuance of Anselm’s position. Anselm first off, postulated a thing of which nothing greater than can be conceived, but Guanilo postulated an Island, which precludes the possibility of the argument being effective at all on it. The argument goes that any thing which is the greatest conceivable thing must exist. The island therefore, can not exist4, because it could be out-conceived by a non-island.5 You might be able to revise it to include something like Premise 1 in Anslem’s argument; which is “The Lost Island is  a thing of which none greater could be conceived.” But then you’d have to justify why an island is the greatest of all conceivable things.

Further, I think Guanilo misses another nuance of the position, that Anselm did not flush out. If we revise the argument to look like this:

  1. A being greater than which nothing can be conceived is a thought which is understood by any who hear it.
  2. In order for something to be understood by a hearer the object being talked about must exist in the mind.
  3. If something exists only in the mind it is inferior to an object that exists both in the mind and reality.
  4. “A being greater than which nothing can be conceived” would obviously be better than a being that existed only in the mind.
  5. Therefore: said being exists both in the mind and in reality.

The key difference is now that “is a thought which is understood by any who hear it.” Anselm, in combination with his idea about truth given in De Veritate, is roughly saying that everyone will at least roughly agree on what the greatest conceivable thing is, even if they don’t like it. Guanilo’s counter-objection does not follow then, because what makes the greatest possible island might not be agreed upon. I for example, like peace and quiet, and would like an island with a steady climate, books and easy to reach fruit. My girlfriend on the other hand, being an active person and a lover of people, might want there to be resorts and dances and events she could go and do and see. My brother might wish for an island with dangerous animals to pit his skills against, or at least seemingly dangerous ones. So it seems much harder to pin down what might make something great. Infinity. Anselm does spend the rest of the Proslogion showing exactly what kind of attributes this sort of thing would have. The following is just the table of contents of the Proslogion:

CHAPTER III: That God Cannot be Thought Not to Exist
CHAPTER IV: How the Fool Managed to Say in His Heart That Which Cannot be Thought
CHAPTER V: That God is whatever it is better to be than not to be, and that existing through Himself alone He makes all other beings from nothing
CHAPTER VI: How He is perceptive although He is not a body
CHAPTER VII: How He is omnipotent although He cannot do many things
CHAPTER VIII: How He is both merciful and impassible
CHAPTER IX: How the all-just and supremely just One spares the wicked and justly has mercy on the wicked
CHAPTER X: How He justly punishes and justly spares the wicked
CHAPTER XI: How ‘all the ways of the Lord are mercy and truth’, and yet how ‘the Lord is just in all His ways’
CHAPTER XII: That God is the very life by which He lives and that he same holds for like attributes
CHAPTER XIII: How He alone is limitless and eternal, although other spirits are also limitless and eternal
CHAPTER XIV: How and why God is both seen and not seen by those seeking Him
CHAPTER XV: How He is greater than can be thought
CHAPTER XVI: That this is the ‘inaccessible light’ in which He ‘dwells’
CHAPTER XVII: That harmony, fragrance, sweetness, softness, and beauty are in God according to His own ineffable manner
CHAPTER XVIII: That there are no parts in God or in His eternity which He is
CHAPTER XIX: That He is not in place or time but all things are in Him
CHAPTER XX: That He is before and beyond even all eternal things
CHAPTER XXI: Whether this is the ‘age of the age’ or the ‘ages of the ages’
CHAPTER XXII: That He alone is what He is and who He is
CHAPTER XXIII: That this good is equally Father and Son and Holy Spirit, and that this is the one necessary being which is altogether and wholly and solely good
CHAPTER XXIV: A speculation as to what kind and how great this good is
CHAPTER XXV: Which goods belong to those who enjoy this good and how great they are
CHAPTER XXVI: Whether this is the ‘fullness of joy’ which the Lord promises

A summary then of the properties he believes God to have are
1. Metaphysical Necessity.
2. Self-existent.
3. Perceptive.
4. Immaterial.
5. Omnipotent.
6. Just.
7. Merciful.
8. Timeless.
9. Spaceless.
10. Simple.

While it might be hard to get people to agree on all of these being the greatest possible things, surely at least some of them seem intuitive. Something which is omnipotent and self-existent and necessary, seems greater than something which is impotent and contingent. Justice and Mercy might be omitted from the list, but still it seems like Anselm has something going for him. His argument just might make it out.

Until we get to Immanuel Kant.

Immanuel Kant famously attacks Anselm’s Ontological Argument (and is actually where we get the term ‘ontological argument.’) in his Critique of Pure Reason. In his Critique, Kant levies a series of arguments related to the distinction between analytic and synthetic judgments that directly attack the plausibility of the premises of the argument. Analytic judgments are judgments wherein the information of the premise is already inside the premise. (ex. “All bachelors are unmarried.”) They are tautologies and  give no new information about the subject during analysis. Synthetic judgments on the other hand do give us information about a subject. (Ex. “The book is on the desk.”) In our example sentence, we have the subject ‘book’ and the predicate ‘on the desk’ and ‘desk’ is no where contained within the idea of ‘book’ and so we have learned something new about this book, namely it’s relation to the idea of ‘desk’.

After making these distinctions Kant argues that the idea of a necessary being is incoherent. If the Ontological argument is intended to be Analytic in nature, then the statement “God exists” is only true because of the definition we ascribe to the terms. (I.e. “If God exists then he exists.”) but you could easily have an incorrect definition, or believe that God exists falsely. (If bigfoot exists, then he exists.) However, if it’s intended to be a Synthetic statement, then the knowledge required to prove God would be outside of God himself, and is not an a priori judgment then.

This is a pretty detrimental attack on Anselm’s argument as he phrased it. It even takes to task particular attributes of God that Anselm puts forth as being part of the Maximally Great being such as “Not being able to not exist.” Kant claims that in order for a contradiction to arise in a sentence, the subject and predicate must be maintained throughout it. He argued that non-existence then could not be a contradiction with anything, because that would deny the predicate. So there is no way to arrive with a contradiction through non existence.

He concludes his attacks on the argument by concluding that “‘being’ is obviously not a real predicate.” 6 It does not add any information to the definition of something only indicates that it actually occurs in reality.7 He argued that the ontological argument depends on existence to be a predicate and thus it is possible for a maximally great being to not exist and thusly he refutes Anselm.

Can Anselm’s argument survive this attack?

Possibly. 

Immediately preceding Anselm(b. 1033) lived a man the Latinate world came to know as Avicenna(980-1037)8 Avicenna was, and perhaps still is, one of the most important philosophers of the Arabic World. He derived several arguments that showed how there must be a necessary existence, because everything in the universe(even the universe itself) is obviously contingent. Without belaboring the argument too much (since I will be dealing with it later) it seems that Avicenna may be able to rush to his Latinate successor’s rescue.

If, instead of using ‘existence’ as a property of the maximally great being you can show that ‘necessary existence’ is a property of the maximally great being, then you could defeat Kant’s objection. This is because “If a God exists, he necessarily exists.” Because it is in the conditional tense it is still possible to reject this premise, it does have the unfortunate effect of weakening the ontological argument. It can now no longer be used to prove God and all his properties. But it could still be useful as a sort of ‘capstone’ argument in a cumulative case for God.

So sadly, I ultimately think Anselm failed at his goal for coming up with a single argument to show both that God exists and that he has all the properties we believe he does. He does however, come up with a concept of an argument that could unite all the other arguments for God’s existence and serve as a sort of capstone argument. He also succeeds in creating what is known as “Perfect Being Theology” which is taking God’s attributes and stretching them as far as logically possible. So when God is said to be ‘almighty’ we can extend this as far as is logically possible and take him to be this way in the greatest conceivable way. This form of theology is incredibly useful in both apologetics and personal theology.

That does not mean I think it’s the end for the Ontological Argument. As we’ll see there are several modal versions which I think are useful and we’ll look at later, starting with one put forth by Alvin Plantinga.


  1. Sometimes also known as Anselm of Aosta after his hometown, or Anselm of Bec after his home monastery. 
  2. His works on the Trinity are interesting in that they draw on Augustine’s De Trinitate where Augustine uses himself and how the mind relates to itself, to show how a trinity might conceivably exist. What’s fascinating is that a similar line of reasoning is used in Ibn-Tufayl’s “Hayy Ibn Yaqzan” when Hayy is coming to an awareness of the Unity and Multiplicity of the Necessary Existent. 
  3. I take it then that Anselm probably has a problem with nominalistic existences of entities such as numbers, properties, etc. However, this could also be a reference to Aristotle’s active intellect, which contemporary and earlier Arabic thinkers had thought enabled us to know things by relating the forms of things to particulars. This is farfetched though and is wildly speculative on my part, and I find little in the texts to support it. 
  4. This does not necessitate that the island does not exist, rather that it is possible for it to not exist. 
  5. William L. Rowe: “The Ontological Argument” in Feinberg; Shafer-Landau: Reason & Responsibility, p. 15. 
  6.  Kant, Immanuel (1958) [1787]. Critique of Pure Reason. Norman Kemp Smith (2d. ed.). London: Macmillan @ Co. Ltd. pp. 500–507. (first edition, pp. 592–603 
  7.  For example: Unicorns are not defined as “Non-existent” but they simply do not occur in reality. If you were to find a one horned Horse you could call it a unicorn and not be “Oh, that can’t be a unicorn, they’re non-existent. 
  8. His full name was Abū ʿAlī al-Ḥusayn ibn ʿAbd Allāh ibn Al-Hasan ibn Ali ibn Sīnā.