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

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

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

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

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

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

Via Unus: The Unmoved Mover.

“The first and more manifest way is the argument from motion. It is certain, and evident to our senses, that in the world some things are in motion. Now whatever is in motion is put in motion by another, for nothing can be in motion except it is in potentiality to that towards which it is in motion; whereas a thing moves inasmuch as it is in act. For motion is nothing else than the reduction of something from potentiality to actuality. But nothing can be reduced from potentiality to actuality, except by something in a state of actuality. Thus that which is actually hot, as fire, makes wood, which is potentially hot, to be actually hot, and thereby moves and changes it. Now it is not possible that the same thing should be at once in actuality and potentiality in the same respect, but only in different respects. For what is actually hot cannot simultaneously be potentially hot; but it is simultaneously potentially cold. It is therefore impossible that in the same respect and in the same way a thing should be both mover and moved, i.e. that it should move itself. Therefore, whatever is in motion must be put in motion by another. If that by which it is put in motion be itself put in motion, then this also must needs be put in motion by another, and that by another again. But this cannot go on to infinity, because then there would be no first mover, and, consequently, no other mover; seeing that subsequent movers move only inasmuch as they are put in motion by the first mover; as the staff moves only because it is put in motion by the hand. Therefore it is necessary to arrive at a first mover, put in motion by no other; and this everyone understands to be God.” [3]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[2] : ST, 1. 1

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

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

An Update and information about upcoming things

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

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

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

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

The Ridiculousness of “Religulous”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Some fragment of beauty to be admired”

The Hebdomadal Chesterton

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

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On Divine Hiddenness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 

Living Knowledge and the Bite of God’s Love

I share with you this post this week in lieu of a post of my own for two reasons.

  1. I think it fits nicely with what I’ve been thinking about this week anyway, namely, what is the importance of the spiritual disciplines and how do we know we’re going closer to God. This post asks what it means to be an example of spiritual discipline, and how it can help us to understand God and truth in general.

(In particular I’m reminded of Ambrose’s effect on Augustine, as the Beatrice in this article.)

And 2. I don’t have the time to write a post this week. Work and paperwork have taken up most of my time this week, and I apologize, I have had little time to even pick up a book, much less write about one.
Next week, I plan on releasing a post on “Al-Ghazali’s argument for the beginning of the universe.”

Christ & University

ParadiseCantoXXVIII I opened class last week by asking my students, “what is your de facto epistemology of love?” After we translated my question into something they could more readily understand—regardless of the Sunday School answer, how do you actually know what to love?—my students gave me a variety of answers: personal experience, trying things out and seeing what they like, returning the affection of people who like them. I think these are probably all accurate, and I added a few ideas of my own, like the advertising, music, and movies by which our culture proclaims its vision of the good. But what I didn’t include in my list—because I’m too afraid to admit it to myself—is another source of living knowledge that I hope is also forming their loves.

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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.