Friday, October 8, 2010

God, man, and classical theism

In the discussion generated by my recent post on classical theism (both here and at What’s Wrong with the World), several people have raised the question of whether the seemingly remote and abstract God of classical theism can plausibly be thought to take any interest at all in human beings, and in particular whether he can plausibly be identified with the God of Christianity, who definitely has such an interest. The theistic personalist claims that the conceptions are incompatible, which is why he rejects classical theism. I want in this follow-up post to note some of the problems with this position.

1. As Aquinas says, the argument from authority is the weakest of arguments when the authority in question is a human one. But it is still an argument. And it is the strongest of arguments when the authority is divine. Consider, then, that many of the great classical theists referred to in my previous post – thinkers like Athanasius, Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas (to stick just with the A’s) – were also among the greatest of Christian theologians, and not only saw no difficulty in identifying the God of classical theism with the God of the Bible, but appealed to scriptural passages no less than to philosophical considerations in defending classical theism. Consider also that some of the key elements of the classical theist conception of God – such as God’s simplicity, immutability, and eternity – are considered irreformable, de fide doctrines of the Catholic Church, affirmed by the fourth Lateran council and the first Vatican council. For Catholics, who believe on independent grounds that the solemn doctrinal pronouncements of such councils are infallible, that suffices to show that classical theism is backed by divine authority. Non-Catholics will, naturally, take a different view, but if they take Christian tradition seriously they must at least regard the testimony of Church fathers, and of eminent theologians and ecclesiastical councils over the course of many centuries, as weighty evidence in favor of classical theism.

2. It is no good merely to point out that certain biblical passages seem to conflict with the conception of God affirmed by classical theism. For no one, not even theistic personalists, believes that all biblical descriptions of God are to be taken literally in the first place. For example, no one thinks that God literally has eyelids (Psalm 11), or nostrils (Ezekiel 18:18), or that he breathes (Job 4:9). These can’t be literal descriptions given that the organs and activities in question presuppose the having of a material body, which God cannot have since He is the creator of the material world. So, if the theistic personalist wants to insist on a literal reading of some passage that seems incompatible with classical theism, he needs to give us some account of why we should take that passage literally even though we shouldn’t take other ones literally. And he is going to have a hard time doing that. For notice that the reason why we don’t take the passages about eyelids, nostrils, etc. literally is that a literal reading would conflict with other things we know about God from the Bible, such as that He is the creator of the material world. But this same consistency criterion poses problems for some of the things the theistic personalist wants to affirm. For example, some theistic personalists hold that God is (contrary to what classical theism holds) capable of changing, on the basis of biblical passages which when taken literally would imply that God sometimes changes His mind. But other biblical passages (e.g. Malachi 3:6 and James 1:17) insist that God does not change. How do we reconcile them? The classical theist answers that we already know from following out the implications of God’s being the first cause of all things that He must be simple and thus unchanging, so that it is the passages that imply otherwise that must be given a metaphorical reading.

3. Of course, the theistic personalist may at this point decide to modify his understanding of God as creator rather than accept classical theism. For example, he might acknowledge that the classical theist is correct to say that if God has the sort of absolute metaphysical ultimacy classical theism attributes to Him, then He must be simple, immutable, and eternal, in which case biblical passages like those which seem to imply that God sometimes changes His mind could not be taken literally. But the theistic personalist might then respond by rejecting the idea that God is absolutely metaphysically ultimate in the way the classical theist claims He is, so as to preserve a literal reading of the passages in question. But there are two problems with this sort of move. First, it is doubtful that it can be reconciled with what has traditionally been understood to be Christian orthodoxy – though this would, of course, not necessarily trouble process theologians and other theological revisionists. But second, the move in question does nothing to show that the arguments of classical theists are wrong. After all, the classical theist typically claims that we can show through philosophical arguments that the God of classical theism exists. If this is correct, then if we also accept the biblical descriptions of God, it follows that the only right way to read them is in a way consistent with classical theism. And as I have said, that is, of course, exactly what the great Christian theologians of the past and the councils cited above did. The Christian classical theist holds that his approach is the only way to reconcile what we know of God from both reason and revelation. It won’t do, then, for the critic of classical theism to dig in his heels and insist on a literal reading of biblical passages that seem to support theistic personalism. He has to show that the philosophical arguments for classical theism are mistaken, and thus that the possibility of a literal reading is open to him in the first place.

4. It is in any event a serious mistake to think that classical theism is motivated by purely philosophical considerations (and “Greek” or “pagan” ones at that) while theistic personalism is more sensitive to specifically Christian and biblical concerns. Consider the central theistic personalist thesis that God is a person like we are, only without our bodily and other limitations. As Brian Davies points out in The Reality of God and the Problem of Evil, one of the most remarkable things to note about this sort of claim is how foreign it is to what has historically been regarded as Christian orthodoxy:

The formula ‘God is a person’ is (given the history of theistic thinking and writing) a relatively recent one. I believe that its first occurrence in English comes in the report of a trial of someone called John Biddle (b. 1615), who in 1644 was brought before the magistrates of Gloucester, England, on a charge of heresy. His ‘heresy’ was claiming that God is a person. Biddle was explicitly defending Unitarian beliefs about God, already in evidence among Socinians outside England.

In other words, Biddle’s ‘God is a person’ was intended as a rejection of the orthodox Christian claim that God is three persons in one substance (the doctrine of the Trinity). One can hardly take it to be a traditional Christian answer to the question ‘What is God?’ According to the doctrine of the Trinity, God is certainly not three persons in one person. And when orthodox exponents of the doctrine speak of Father, Son, and Spirit as ‘persons,’ they certainly do not take ‘person’ to mean what it seems to mean for [Richard] Swinburne and those who agree with him. They do not, for example, think of the persons of the Trinity as distinct centres of consciousness, or as three members of a kind. (pp. 59-60)

Davies goes on to emphasize that as used within the context of Trinitarian theology, “person” translates the Latin persona, which in turn was intended to translate the Greek theological terms prosopon and hypostasis – both of which have precise theological meanings and neither of which is intended to convey the idea of a “person” in the sense in which a human being is a person. Indeed, even apart from questions of orthodoxy, the idea that God is three Persons in one substance entails that God cannot “a person” in the way that we are, since for there to be two or more human persons is precisely for there to be two or more substances. (This is true regardless of which theory of personal identity one endorses, even a Lockean “continuity of consciousness” account. For even if two streams of consciousness, and thus two Lockean persons, existed in the same body, qua persons they would be only contingently associated with that body and thus not “in” that one material substance in the sense in which the three divine Persons are “in” one divine substance.)

In short, for the classical theist, theistic personalism is bad philosophy and bad theology.

5. As I emphasized in the earlier post, that does not mean that God is impersonal, since according to classical theism there is in God something analogous to what we call intellect and will in us, and other attributes too which presuppose intellect and will (such as justice, mercy, and love – where “love” is understood, not as a passion, but as the willing of another’s good). And this brings me to one final point, which is that even apart from biblical revelation, and on philosophical grounds alone, we have reason to conclude that the God of classical theism takes a special interest in man.

Consider that for at least some classical theists, philosophical arguments alone can tell us not only that there is a God, but also that human beings have immaterial and immortal souls. For Thomists, they tell us further that the soul is related to the body as form is to matter, so that though the soul survives the death of the body, the human person does not, and can come to life again only if soul and body are reunited; that the soul cannot arise out of the material processes that suffice for the generation of lower animals but must be specially created by God with each new human being; and that our natural end is God Himself, so that we cannot be happy apart from Him. Now, that there will indeed be a resurrection of the dead, as well as the details of the Christian account of salvation, are further facts that cannot be known apart from divine revelation. But what (many) classical theists regard as knowable through reason alone and apart from specifically Christian theology already suffices to show that God has a very special interest in man indeed – so much so that He specially creates each individual human soul for a natural end that involves knowing Him everlastingly, in a way that requires a further divine intervention in the form of a resurrection if it is perfectly going to be fulfilled. It can hardly be that surprising, then, that the God of the philosophers and the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob turn out to be the same.

45 comments:

steelikat said...

There is something about this that has bugged me for some time. Sometimes people say "the God of Judaism is not the God of Christianity" or "the God of Islam is not the God of Christianity." My reaction is, if so, too bad for the God of Christianity because (as far as what I've heard about Jewish and Moslem theology) in that case the God of Christianity is a mere creature."

These people are usually arguing that they must be different "Gods" because the Christian God is a trinity, and what are trying to say, I think, is that the God of Christianity is one Ultimate Being, the one that really exists, and that the God of Judaism, say, is a hypothetical Ultimate Being that does not exist.

My intuitive reaction to this is that God is absolutely one, even in hypothesis, that what the "Allah is not Jehovah" people are doing is positing a multiplicity of hypothetical "Ultimate Beings" and specifying that only one of them really exists, and that just won't work. Either God/Allah/Jehovah is and his existence is necessary or, for the philosopher-fool (the thoughtful atheist) God/Allah/Jehovah exists and his existence is impossible.

As for how that applies to classical theism if you say that your God is not the God of classical theism you are saying that your God is a creature or you are an atheist from the standpoint of classical theism and mainstream Christianity.

That's just a somewhat ignorant intuition on my part but I'd love to see a real philosopher comment on whether it begins to make any sense.

Neil Parille said...

Well, I'm not a real philosopher, but I think what people are getting at when they say "Allah is not God" or "the God of the Jews is not the Christian God" is that, while there is only one God, the Jewish or Islamic conception of God is so far off from what God is that it isn't the same God. I don't think that commits these folks to believing that Allah or the God of Judaism exist but as a some lesser beings.

For example, orthodox Christians, Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons believe in Jesus (i.e., that someone called Jesus of Nazareth lived circa AD 30). But when the orthodox Christian says that JWs and Mormons have a "different Jesus" he is not committed to the claim that there are 3 beings in question.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that the God of Judaism, Christianity and Islam are the same. I don't think it follows from this that all monotheists (such as Osama bin Laden) worship the God of the Bible or that all forms of monotheism (eg Masons with their Grand Architect of the Universe) worship the same God.

-Neil Parille

The 27th Comrade said...

“For example, no one thinks that God literally has eyelids (Psalm 11), or nostrils (Ezekiel 18:18), or that he breathes (Job 4:9).”

Surely I cannot be alone in thinking that God literally has eyelids and nostrils. And feelings. And concerns. And a voice. And a finger. And feet! Did Adam not hear his footsteps, in the garden? Classical Theos does not; but Yodh-Heh-Waw-Heh does. (I understand that believing the irrationality that is the Trinity and also the other irrationality that is the conjunction of the Incarnation ∧ the Unchangingness of God makes this all very easy.) The problem only shows up for those who think that God must be rational to us, or He cannot be; they are wrong.

“And he is going to have a hard time doing that. … a literal reading would conflict with other things we know about God from the Bible …”

When reason does not agree with the authority of divine revelation, reason is incomplete. The truth is not what reason says; the truth is what God says, which we accept by faith. The god who is as rational as a mathematical operation does not require faith. Such is Classical Theos. But God does in fact require faith, so the repeated failure to both know Him correctly and to also know Him as rational is in fact proof that El-i-Yah.

“Consider the central theistic personalist thesis that God is a person like we are, only without our bodily and other limitations.”

You do not agree with this “theistic personalist”; but how do you understand “Our Father, Who Art in Heaven?” Did Jesus, and the babes on whose lips praise is perfected, refer to an abstract idea as God? No; when they say “Father”, they mean “Father”. Personalism is correct, not least because Jesus was one (as are the children—“unless you make yourselves like one of these”). If it is recent, then … why were we so wrong for so long?

Prof. Feser, sorry that I was wearing my Søren hat. I am one of those who like your work very much, but who think it is nevertheless silly—impossible—to have faith where reason suffices. And if it is by faith, then not by reason. But we know that He is by faith.

Brandon said...

Surely I cannot be alone in thinking that God literally has eyelids and nostrils. And feelings. And concerns. And a voice. And a finger. And feet!

Just as a matter of curiosity, do you also believe that he has wings and breathes smoke and fire and rides on clouds? These are also fairly common descriptions of God in the Old Testament.

David J. Houston said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David J. Houston said...

27th... if you don't care for logic and reason then why are you trolling a philosopher's blog and seeking to *gasp* reason him out of classical theism?

Crude said...

27th Comrade,

Surely I cannot be alone in thinking that God literally has eyelids and nostrils. And feelings. And concerns. And a voice. And a finger. And feet!

You're not alone at all. But I have to admit, the only modern group I've heard of who take that stand is (and this is assuming I have them correct) mormons.

That's not meant as a slight. In fact, while my sympathies lie with classical theism, I admit to being fascinated by the mormon metaphysics and cosmology I've come across.

I bring all this up to ask - are you a mormon yourself? And I'm only curious because seeing a mormon interact with classical theism would be a damn interesting thing, and I want to know if that's what I'm witnessing here.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Feser, I had a question concerning your statement on man having a natural end involving an everlasting knowledge of God: Where do you stand on the De Lubac/Pure Nature/Surnaturel issue, and why? I'd be interested to know your answer.

The 27th Comrade said...

“Just as a matter of curiosity, do you also believe that he has wings and breathes smoke and fire and rides on clouds?”

And that the Earth is His footstool, and that He is seated at the right hand of God, waiting for His enemies to be placed under His feet, and so on. And that He has a right hand, and so on.
These beliefs have no relation to sophistication; insofar as they were meant to be understood anthropomorphically, to communicate a message, I see them as such—wings and chariots, all—and get the benefit thereof. But to see such requires faith, which is why it is not the case for Classical Theos, but is the case for God.

“27th... if you don't care for logic and reason then why are you trolling a philosopher's blog and seeking to *gasp* reason him out of classical theism?”

Who said I do not care for logic and reason? I earn by it. But there is a hierarchy, and (for me) faith is supreme and has primacy over reason. I believe what I have to; reason can play along if it can. You can use reason to show that reason is pitiable; even when you are not Kurt Gödel. I do not seek to change anyone by reason.
You say I am trolling, but I am not. God is not rational to us; am I become your enemy for telling you the truth? What do you say in a situation where an entity is independent of Aristotelian logic? (I know that Classical Theos is not; but God, who says, “Go to a land that I will show you” is, who speaks of what is not as though it were.) Or, apart from the troll charge, do you have a fitting repartée to what I said, that I may learn from you?

“But I have to admit, the only modern group I've heard of who take that stand is (and this is assuming I have them correct) mormons.”

Yes, moderns be damned. I am ashamed that I am among moderns. They have lost all manner of faith, choosing instead reason to triumph over all; their capacity for reason being for them what the capacity for works was to the Pharisee, in both cases standing in the way of faith in a way that it does not for children or for Zacchæus and the harlots back then.
No, I am also with many animists and pagans, and many people who do not try to shoehorn what is written in their scriptures into fitting the modern desire for a system of thought that has been purged of all that does not lie prostrate before the altar of logic.

“I bring all this up to ask - are you a mormon yourself?”

I am not a mormon. I do not want to inflict my membership upon any religious group, as I have not yet grown to hate any of them enough. As such, I remain without religion, but with beliefs. One of them is that the just shall live by faith. I was found by God, and told to believe, even as children do; which is what I do, as He enables me.

Kristor said...

Certainly God has eyelids. And blood, hair, sweat, tears. And he didn’t acquire these characteristics at a certain time in his life. He has had them eternally, in respect to this world. So when Adam and Eve heard his footsteps in the Garden, they heard the sound of the same feet that walked the Via Dolorosa to Golgotha; Jacob likewise wrestled with the same arms that were outstretched on the cross at Calvary. In the fullness of time, the old world turned to meet the eternal Christ at the Incarnation, and discovered in its own midst the eternal Jesus of Nazareth. The Logos has always been the Jesus who would appear in Galilee in the first century. Only in the first century did our world realize this fact.

It’s a puzzle, to us. Suffice to say that God has forever already taken on and done everything that, from our point of view, he has done or is doing or will do. He does not change with the times; the times change with him. Process theologians are not so much wrong, as they are looking at things from the wrong, creaturely point of view, rather than sub specie aeternitatis. From our point of view, God changes. First he is not incarnate, and then he is. From our point of view, process theology is the only sensible alternative. But ours is not the only point of view. And we can imagine, and reason about, other points of view (or we wouldn’t have the concept of “points of view”).

NB that I am not saying I understand how this works. In particular, I am not sure how Divine omniscience agrees with creaturely freedom. But the outlines of the solution begin to indicate their presence, through the fog.

Leo Carton Mollica said...

27th Comrade:

[T]o see such [what, exactly? Divine anthropomorphism?] requires faith, which is why it is not the case for Classical Theos, but is the case for God.

But of course the God of classical theism requires faith! Have you ever read Augustine? Or Anselm? Or Aquinas? Or Duns Scotus? Or Ignatius of Loyola? Or Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange? Because each of these men, all exemplars of classical theism, were explicit, eloquent, and emphatic in their vindication of the virtue of faith. Indeed, St. Augustine and St. Thomas probably provided better and more influential accounts of faith than anything else to be found in the Catholic theological tradition, and if anyone deserves the title of "classical theist," they do.

You can use reason to show that reason is pitiable; even when you are not Kurt Gödel.

First, how in God's name is Kurt Gödel an example of a demonstration of the "pitiableness" of reason? I mean, come on, he was a rationalist, for crying out loud! He could not get enough of reason! Try reading his "My Philosophical Viewpoint." Geez, you might as well use examples that make your point.

Second, I have yet to see anyone (though Pascal and Kierkegaard come pretty close) actually use rational analysis to discredit classical theism in favour of some non-traditional theistic belief, such as "theistic personalism." What I usually see is something along the lines of "all this philosophical argumentation is pretty clever, but it is just so... cold!" That cry may, of course, be valid, but it is not rational analysis.

God is not rational to us; am I become your enemy for telling you the truth? What do you say in a situation where an entity is independent of Aristotelian logic? (I know that Classical Theos is not; but God, who says, “Go to a land that I will show you” is, who speaks of what is not as though it were.)

To begin with, your example is (again) very faulty: in the classical theistic view, or at least that of St. Thomas Aquinas, God is quite explicitly outside the scope of Aristotelian logic (AL). More precisely, since in AL a concept is defined through division into genus and differentia, and as God is absolutely simple and indivisible, He cannot be so divided and thus is not within the purview of AL.

More significantly, it is simply absurd to claim that classical theism attempts to make God fit the standards of intelligibility and rationality. For integral to the classical theistic view is that God is ineffable, incomprehensible, and mysterious, and if you don't believe me, just read Fr. Davies' The Reality of God and the Problem of Evil. For the whole point of that book is that the theistic personalist, when dealing with God's relation to evil, makes the Divine Essence easily understood on human terms, whereas in the view of classical theism any attempt to so understand the Divine is doomed to failure, for God cannot be penetrated by the human reason. Classical theism, indeed, is the only system that can adequately make sense of the Divine unintelligibility.

Yes, moderns be damned. I am ashamed that I am among moderns. They have lost all manner of faith, choosing instead reason to triumph over all; their capacity for reason being for them what the capacity for works was to the Pharisee.

Ah, I see... Well, then, since the moderns are so damn awful, why don't we return to a premodern sort of religion? You know, the sort practised by, say, the medievals. In other words, a religion grounded in God classically understood, that is, as understood by classical theism. And let's try and see if we can rid ourselves of such horribly modern notions as irrationalism and fideism, too. Well, if that's the project you're proposing, I think I can speak for Dr. Feser in saying that he would be more than willing to help you in your efforts. As would I.

The 27th Comrade said...

“Certainly God has eyelids. … Adam and Eve heard his footsteps in the Garden, they heard the sound of the same feet that walked the Via Dolorosa … Only in the first century did our world realize this fact.”

And is this fact rational? Do you know why the example the excellent Prof. Feser gave was “no one thinks that God literally has eyelids” when He was setting out His case for Classical Theos? Because Classical Theos is rational to the disputers of this age, and it is irrational for God to be an ape to the disputers of this age. Yet we maintain that El-i-sha, but by faith.

“It’s a puzzle, to us. … But ours is not the only point of view. And we can imagine, and reason about, other points of view (or we wouldn’t have the concept of “points of view”).”

You are right that it is a puzzle. Yet when you say that ours is not the only point of view, you part ways with the Classical Theist, because the view of logic, he insists, is the universal view. Even God cannot transgress logic. If there is an alternate view from that one of reason, it is the irrational view. That is is exactly my point.

“I am not sure how Divine omniscience agrees with creaturely freedom.”

Do we have to be? Faith … for this the ancients were commended. (I understand that Al-Ghazali is not welcome in such a comment thread, but we really are dealing with a tahafut of the Classical Theists, if they also dare to appropriate the Name of God.)

The 27th Comrade said...

“But of course the God of classical theism requires faith! Have you ever read Augustine? Or”

They say one thing, and demonstrate another. Aren’t they the ones who say “faith and reason”? Tell me: do you have faith in something you have proven reasonable? Is it by faith, if it is by reason? Show me one thing about Classical Theos that I should take by faith, because reason does not lead me to it. Have you met Aquinas saying “this here is God being absurd to us; but so be it”? Now, either your axioms lead to logical triviality (such as when you claim that the Trinity is reasonable), or you should tell me what it is about Classical Theos that offends reason. You have the floor.

“Indeed, St. Augustine and St. Thomas probably provided better and more influential accounts of faith than anything else …”

By some chance, have you read Hebrews 11? They did not surpass it. “Faith is certainty of things not seen.” The first six verses thereof die at the hand of the Summæ. Pray tell, do you have faith that God is?

“First, how in God's name is Kurt Gödel an example of a demonstration of the "pitiableness" of reason? … Geez, you might as well use examples that make your point.”

Let’s all remain calm. And let us also recognise that logic is only one of consistent and complete. Reason is not defined reasonably, barring circularity.

“Second, I have yet to see anyone (though Pascal and Kierkegaard come pretty close) actually use rational analysis to discredit classical theism …”

I did mention that I had my Søren hat on, did I not? Did you see that comment? I am another of them, as is the Hebrew (11:1-6), as is St. Paul (1 Cor 1:18-31), as is Jesus. Jesus spoke parables, not demonstranda.

“That cry may, of course, be valid, but it is not rational analysis.”

A sign of your problem. Why does it have to be rational analysis? Why this undue primacy of rational analysis?

“To begin with, your example is (again) very faulty: in the classical theistic view, or at least that of St. Thomas Aquinas, God is quite explicitly outside the scope of Aristotelian logic (AL).”

And from there St. Thomas launches proofs that God is. And since God is His Existence—correct me, Prof. Feser, if I am wrong—then God has been proven. Everything about God that has been proven is God having been proven, given Divine Simplicity. Now how can it be that God does not fit within logic, if anything about Him—His Existence, for example—does?
Do you know that it is possible for St. Thomas to say one thing, because doctrine demands, while saying or doing or believing or demonstrating another, because it is [now] cool for reason to have to give faith a pass before faith can be allowed?

“… and as God is absolutely simple and indivisible, He cannot be so divided …”

And is God also His Divine Simplicity? I have asked this a number of times, and never got an answer. Is He Divine Simplicity Itself?

The 27th Comrade said...

“For integral to the classical theistic view is that God is ineffable, incomprehensible, and mysterious …”

No, it is not. Lip service does not do much for them. Literacy is in fact more-central to classical theism than is God’s ineffableness. Which books has the good Prof. Feser written on the mystery that God is? —God being Mystery Itself, I suppose? Even as blog post after blog post hammers out tight, logical cases for God, not one that says that Mystery Itself necessarily cannot be comprehended.

“Classical theism, indeed, is the only system that can adequately make sense of the Divine unintelligibility.”

Do not make me chuckle like this. What is it about Classical Theos that offends reason? Do you not know that classical theism is not exempted from ECQ? If one thing about God is not rational, then all is not. The fruits of Aristotelian logic, my dear friend. So, tell me: what is it about Classical Theos that offends reason?

“Ah, I see... Well, then, since the moderns are so damn awful, why don't we return to a premodern sort of religion? You know, the sort practised by, say, the medievals.”

I will go further back, to that of Abraham. He believed absurd nonsense, and so do I. “I shall make you the father of many nations … Take your son, your only son, and sacrifice him …” I will go back to that of Jesus. “Whosoever believeth in Him …” Medieval? That is what I have a problem with.

“And let's try and see if we can rid ourselves of such horribly modern notions as irrationalism and fideism, too.”

Fideism is the truth. The phrase “We live by faith, not by sight.” predates Al-Ghazali, and it is in your canon.

“Well, if that's the project you're proposing, I think I can speak for Dr. Feser in saying that he would be more than willing to help you in your efforts. As would I.”

The reason I like Prof. Feser’s work is because he reacts towards modern scientism (and variants on it) in the way I react to modern rationalism (and variants on it). As such, he is in the set of people I have a rash towards, but I like him nonetheless, because it is not every generation you get a thinker whose work has as much human-ness in it as it does jargon. And I like Thomists because, among moderns, they are of really good spirit and are earnestly careful; bless their souls.

RP said...

27th,

Aquinas explicitly says we cannot know what God is but what he is not. So, using reason he shows the tenets of classical theism: god is not complex, not a body, not ignorant, etc. leaving a teaching with positive content: God is simple, all-knowing, etc.

He also says that a few things about God that reason can show are also revealed for those who can't or won't take the trouble to think them through and that even those who do think things through make a lot of mistakes along the way, eventually to be corrected by others.

My own problem with this "positive content" is that when we say God has such and such a property we have already renounced simplicity - if we forget or ignore that the properties were arrived at by showing what God is not - leading to saying that God's justice is his truth is his love is his etc., etc. which makes no sense at all.

RP said...

27th,

One other thing: it doesn't make sense to believe God said such and such if you don't know that God exists - you can't take God's existence on faith (faith means believing someone - who would this someone be?). I mentioned this to you on Chastek's blog by saying Pieper made this point in one of his books.

The 27th Comrade said...

“Aquinas explicitly says we cannot know what God is but what he is not.”

And since he is an Aristotelian, he also accepts excluded-middle. There is no difference, then.

“So, using reason he shows the tenets of classical theism: god is not complex, not a body, not ignorant, etc. leaving a teaching with positive content: God is simple, all-knowing, etc.”

See? Given excluded-middle, apophatic knowledge is just as good as affirmative knowledge. He might as well said “God is simple, all-knowing, etc” instead of “God is not complex, not a body, not ignorant, etc.” But then, given excluded-middle, this—and you agree, as above—is exactly what he did.

“One other thing: it doesn't make sense to believe God said such and such if you don't know that God exists …”

Of course; but I know by faith, not by reason. Why do you think that unless I prove that X, I cannot know that X? This is the rationalism that I am in fact fleeing.

“… you can't take God's existence on faith (faith means believing someone - who would this someone be?). I mentioned this to you on Chastek's blog by saying Pieper made this point in one of his books.”

I can—and do!—take God’s existence on faith. How do you think I—and all our untutored ancestors—knew that God is? Faith means believing; but you assume that faith is axiomatic. Are we so far submerged into reason that we are unable to think of (pardon this) properly-basic beliefs? If I needed to justify having faith by seeing who it is I have faith in, then I am reasoning. I would not be lying out on 70,000 fathoms of water, then. Why do we seek to make faith reasonable?

Anonymous said...

27th Comrade, you have several times identified with Soren Kierkegaard, so I thought I might quote a passage from his book Authority and Revelation and elicit a comment from you (or anyone else):

The emotional seizure of the individual by something higher is far from defining a Christian adequately, for by emotion may be expressed a pagan concept of god. In order to express oneself Christianly there is required, besides the more universal language of the heart, also skill and schooling in the definition of Christian concepts, while at the same time it is assumed that the emotion is of a specific, qualitative sort, the Christian emotion. {...} For a Christian awakening what is required, on the one hand, is being grasped in a Christian sense and, on the other hand, conceptual and terminological firmness and definiteness.

To be sure, Kierkegaard was not at all interested in demonstrating God's existence and attributes. He took all that for granted and very much along classical theistic lines. (He most definitely was not a Biblical literalist.) He was more concerned with the psychology of Christian faith, especially the self-deception involved in thinking oneself a Christian while actually being ensnared in evasions and delays or even living a life clean contrary to what Christianity requires. For Kierkegaard, Christianity is essentially a passionate appropriation and enactment of the rigors of Christian life, rigors so great and so urgent that they do not permit much fooling around. Endless deliberation, including that involved in arguments for the existence of God and so forth, is one of the standing temptations that can lead away from Christian life, and for that reason should be cut short. "God did not come into the world in order to have His existence proved." Many a person will think and think about God and yet never in truth "know" God through enactment of the faith, i.e., through actually following in the footsteps of Jesus. Nevertheless, Kierkegaard insisted that the content of faith should be made conceptually definite. Passion alone, without schooling in Christian concepts, is mere "dizziness", his term for religious disorientation. It's a matter of emphasis, don't you think? -- Johnny Lately

Brandon said...

Why do we seek to make faith reasonable?

Because it's inconsistent with faith not to do so; we are explicitly told that it should result in logike latreia, reasonable worship. You can't have logike anything if you keep throwing out logos, and denial that faith is reasonable is denial that faith is faith in the Logos of God. It's one thing to criticize people whose account of reasonable faith involves a watered down and artificial account of reason, as Kierkegaard was doing with the Hegelians; it's another thing entirely to make up a faith that has nothing to do with logos at all.

Matt Beck said...

Brandon is absolutely right. The trite repetition of phrases like "faith is compatible with reason" have led many people to believe that reason is something nice to have in addition to one's faith, but that it is not really necessary and, in the last analysis, faith is sufficient by itself. This is wrong. Reason has to be a part of faith, otherwise your faith will be in something absurd.

The real problem begins when certain misguided apologists proceed to defend the precepts of an irrationally grasped faith using a shallow and superficial reason. Just such an approach has turned large sections of the Catholic Church in America into a religion of sentimentality and kitsch. That is why, more than anything, a sound understanding of philosophy is essential for a comprehension of the faith.

Anonymous said...

Matt Beck, did you just say that only philosophers can be real Christians and that all non-philosophers are at best a confused assortment of second-class Christians worshiping and working in religious incomprehension? If so, then you dismiss out of hand the vast, vast majority of Christians who have ever lived, including, I dare say, all the Apostles, the martyrs, and most of the desert fathers. It's just a fact that these people were not philosophers, not by a long shot, and that historical Christianity after their founding acts was a grafting of philosophy onto a decidedly non-philosophical Hebraic tree. The worry, especially among protestants, has been that the graft has overtaken the tree to such an extent that it is hardly recognizable anymore. What does one make of the latter-day and largely (at first) protestant critical-historical realization that all the business recorded in the New Testament has nothing remotely to do with Aristotle? What was that direct and contagious appeal of Jesus that induced those simple people recorded in New Testament to become Christians in the first place? Is that direct appeal not possible today, or is Christianity actually so complicated that one must consult philosophers to determine what one must think and do? Surely these are questions that Christian thinkers might wish to ponder in good faith and not just dismiss out of hand as the maundering of philosophical idiots.
- -Johnny Lately

Anonymous said...

27th Comrade:

Just out of curiosity, how much classical theology have you actually read? I mean, besides this blog.

Anonymous said...

"Matt Beck, did you just say that only philosophers can be real Christians and that all non-philosophers are at best a confused assortment of second-class Christians worshiping and working in religious incomprehension?"

I'd like to step in here and say that no, Matt Beck said absolutely nothing of the kind and that was a very rude thing to say. He was emphasizing the importance of reason in the history of the development of religious faith, nothing more.


"The worry, especially among protestants, has been that the graft has overtaken the tree to such an extent that it is hardly recognizable anymore."

As a Protestant myself I think I can comment fairly here. Yes, it is true that as Protestants from our perspective, certain Catholic doctrines can seem to be more the result of theological speculation than what we believe to be the root of what Jesus taught and died for. That being said, we absolutely do not have to go to the other extreme of asserting that God literally has hands, feet and eyelids out of the terror of reason somehow contaminating our faith. Our Protestant ideas such as 'sola fide' are themselves the result of different kinds of theology, and such reasoning is necessary to make sense of Scripture itself. The idea of trying to have the Christian religion without any sort of theology seems, to me, as ridiculous as when atheistic physicists seem to think they have, in their experiments, answered all the philosophical, metaphysical questions. No, I'm not saying that one has to have a theological background or education to be a sincere, believing Christian. But theology and philosophy are still extremely useful and valuable pursuits for any believer, and it's downright foolish to ignore the importance of them.

"Surely these are questions that Christian thinkers might wish to ponder in good faith and not just dismiss out of hand as the maundering of philosophical idiots."

Maybe you should pay a little bit of attention to where the hell you actually are and the audience you're speaking to before you shoot your mouth off like this in the future. In case you weren't aware, this is a Catholic Philosopher's blog about traditional Catholic theology. I'm pretty sure its aim isn't preaching to the unconverted. The same way that part of the Church's mission is ministry to all sorts of people, by sharing what you correctly point out is the simple and clear Gospel of Jesus Christ, part of the Church's mission is also meditating on the deeper and more complex realities that underlie such a simple and beautiful message. They are two different focuses, both important, and I'm pretty confident that any Christian here, Catholic or Protestant, would not begin sharing the Good News with someone by talking to them about Aristotelian-Scholastic Theology. More than anything you ought to have a little more faith in what your fellow Christians are doing before you so callously dismiss it as irrelevant or unnecessary.

Leo Carton Mollica said...

27th Comrade:

Show me one thing about Classical Theos that I should take by faith, because reason does not lead me to it.

I'll give you three: a.) that God is three Persons in one Substance (ST I:32:1), which is hardly "trivial", b.) that it is even possible for God to be such (since in God "to be" and "to be possible" are one), and c.) that God created the world with a beginning (cf. Aquinas' "On the Eternity of the World"). Duns Scotus is even better: using reason alone, we cannot discover God's justice, His omnipotence, etc.

Have you met Aquinas saying “this here is God being absurd to us; but so be it”?

No, because Aquinas was a firm believer in the truth of God's Revelation, and something cannot be both absurd and true. This was not universally held in the Middle Ages; Siger of Brabant, for example, held that several conclusions of philosophy, though necessarily following from self-evident premises, were false because they contradicted the Faith. That, however, is not even fideism: it's just stupid.

Why does it [your cry of the coldness of classical theism] have to be rational analysis?

Because you were claiming to discredit reason's presumptions through reason itself. That's why.

Everything about God that has been proven is God having been proven, given Divine Simplicity.

Well, not quite. Although the Divine attributes are one really, they differ logically, like the road from Thebes to Athens and the road from Athens to Thebes. See ST I:13:4.

What is it about Classical Theos that offends reason? If one thing about God is not rational, then all is not. The fruits of Aristotelian logic, my dear friend. So, tell me: what is it about Classical Theos that offends reason?

You seem to be equating "unintelligible" or "incomprehensible" with "offensive to reason." Why? What's to stop something from being both impossible to grasp without also refusing to violate the discoveries of reason?

And is God also His Divine Simplicity?

Sure. Why not?

Jesus spoke parables, not demonstranda.

What are you talking about? Have you ever read the Beatitudes? Enthymemes all the way, my friend! Enthymemes all the way.

Which books has the good Prof. Feser written on the mystery that God is? —God being Mystery Itself, I suppose? Even as blog post after blog post hammers out tight, logical cases for God, not one that says that Mystery Itself necessarily cannot be comprehended.

I haven't read Aquinas yet, where I'd expect Dr. Feser to do so, so all I can say is that I'd be willing to bet Divine ineffability comes up somewhere in there. But suppose it doesn't. Well, so what? I know this might come as a shock, but Edward Feser is not the be all and end all of classical theism! But do you want to know who is? Well, Plato, for one. And Aristotle. And the Stoics. And Plotinus. And Augustine, and Boethius, and Anselm, and Albertus Magnus, and Avicenna, and Averroes, and Moses Maimonides, and Thomas Aquinas, and Duns Scotus, and G. W. Leibniz, and... well, I think you get the picture. In other words, don't say what classical theism does or does not teach based upon what you've read on some philosopher's blog (even if said philosopher is supremely cool).

Two concluding notes:
a.) The law of the excluded middle (LEM) does not necessarily lead to positive knowledge if we eliminate one possibility, because LEM only differentiates between a negative and a positive.
b.) There's nothing wrong with taking God's existence on faith (cf. ST I:2:2:rep. 1), just with a circular "I believe that God exists because God says so, and I know He says so because He exists" argument.

Anonymous said...

Which and whose classic?

And what about the God-ideas from all of the other cultures large and small, past and present. Especially the non-semitic traditions?

Especially in a time of instantaneous global-interconnectedness.

In my local library there is a book which lists and gives a brief description of the cultural origins & context of over 2000 names of God from all times and places.

All of which are quite obviously projections of the collective tribalistic ego of the group, large and small, who invented every particular name of God.

The 27th Comrade said...

“That being said, we absolutely do not have to go to the other extreme of asserting that God literally has hands, feet and eyelids out of the terror of reason somehow contaminating our faith.”

Instead, you choose to make “Our Father Who Art in Heaven” a vacuous well-veiled reference to a philosophical idea, out of terror of faith somehow contaminating your reason. Forgivable, if the two—reason and faith—are equal in stature. But they are not; neither for you Protestants, nor for me who is too shitty to have a religion or denomination or even a communion.

“Our Protestant ideas such as 'sola fide' are themselves the result of different kinds of theology, and such reasoning is necessary to make sense of Scripture itself.”

Theology ≠ philosophy. Certainly not modern philosophy. Things like sola fide can be understood from the Epistles without recourse to Euclidean proofs.

“… I'm pretty confident that any Christian here, Catholic or Protestant, would not begin sharing the Good News with someone by talking to them about Aristotelian-Scholastic Theology.”

Actually, the excellent Prof. Edward Feser, our gentle host, did exactly that in his book. When given a chance to preach to atheists, he opened with a chapter on Greek philosophers. On the other hand, St. Paul says “For I was determined to know nothing among you, except Christ crucified.” There is a serious difference, there. When one accepts what Prof. Feser says, he accepts a philosophy, not a faith. But we know that the just shall live by faith; and this we know by faith, as well. St. Paul also says—and he has been borned out!—that “The message of Christ is foolishness to those who are perishing … Where are the philosophers?” The little children that Jesus Christ set as models are far from accepting only the rational; it is why they become atheists only after they grow up and become clever.

The 27th Comrade said...

A certain comment of mine has vanished down the bit bucket. All the same …

“I'll give you three: a.) that God is three Persons in one Substance … that it is even possible for God to be such … that God created the world with a beginning …”

And you realise that this is irrational, and that it is not a feature of Classical Theos? If it were, Plotinus would have insisted on the Trinity. But Plotinus was a Classical Theist, and Classical Theos is rational. The hypostases are; but the Trinity is not. Now at this point the Classical Theist breaks logic—“to be X, in God’s case, has two meanings”—so that he might smuggle in the offence to the P ∨ ¬P that the Trinity is. Yet he still maintains that he is showing the harmony of faith and reason. And I laugh. Do you know that now that you have one irrational thing about God—and that is why reason could not lead you there—you are giving up all rights to thinking God rational? You do know that Classical Theism—precisely because it is Classical Theism!—is not exempted from ECQ, do you not?

“Duns Scotus is even better: using reason alone, we cannot discover God's justice, His omnipotence, etc.”

I think Bl. Scotus is right. How this makes him better to you, I do not understand. How do you hold that Aquinas is right, and Scotus is better?

“… and something cannot be both absurd and true.”

So reasonable is what draws the line that God cannot transgress. This is exactly the mistake that I hope people avoid; for unless they avoid it, they will successfully avoid faith. But the just shall live by faith.
Next time you think that something cannot be both absurd and true, think again about Abraham and Sarah. You impotent Semite will father nations. Through your barren wife. Kill your only son Isaac; you will father nations. The Everlasting God is hanging on a cross, between two apes. He is Himself an ape, The Living God. “Our father who art in Heaven … My father who sent me … I and my father are one.”

“Siger of Brabant, for example, held that several conclusions of philosophy, though necessarily following from self-evident premises, were false because they contradicted the Faith. That, however, is not even fideism: it's just stupid.”

It is fideism, and it is laudable. St. Ignatius Loyola is not stupid. Having faith above reason is not stupid. This shows your problem! Why this undue primacy of reason? Read Prof. Feser’s post, “What is Black and White and Misread All Over?”

“Because you were claiming to discredit reason's presumptions through reason itself. That's why.”

When I am showing that it is limited, I can use reason. Like I said, Gödel does not hold patents to that. Just by demonstrating that the First Principles are articles of faith, we demonstrate with reason, the primacy of faith. However, I can just appeal to faith over reason any time, and I do not have to be reasonable. Saying that my appeal was not reasonable is missing my point.

“Although the Divine attributes are one really, they differ logically, like the road from Thebes to Athens and the road from Athens to Thebes.”

I do not agree with that. The Athens-Thebes road is one. Prove one thing about Athens-Thebes, and you have proven it about Thebes-Athens. By the way, opening a difference between “logically” and “really” makes you transgress at least two laws of logic, and makes you indeed defeat your position. For even with such a distinction, the problem is moved to the meta level. Understand it, then, as such: “Is God really His Divine Simplicity, even if He may not be logically so?” Still, if you give a pass for God to not be simple, logically, what is all this stuff about using Divine Simplicity logically? After all, His Existence and Him are not the same logically, so why do Classical Theists say that God is His Existence logically?

The 27th Comrade said...

“What's to stop something from being both impossible to grasp without also refusing to violate the discoveries of reason?”

Because only and all those things that are beyond the grasp of reason are deemed unreasonable. Whatever can follow from the axioms will. Whatever can be reasonable is. If it is not, it is unreasonable. Again, this is the (otherwise-beneficial) fruit of the two-valued Aristotelian logics.

“Sure [God is His Divine Simplicity]. Why not?”

Because of the halting problem. Because now we are using X to define X. Because now we have landed on circularity. And whatever you do, you do not accept tautologies—and axioms—as demonstranda of reason, but rather of faith. They precede the reason. Because now any pretences of having rendered an argument for God is in fact from the get-go, by confession, a circular argument; seeing as it uses God (Divine Simplicity) as one of the ways to explain that God.
And then they talk of the harmony of faith and reason? —And laugh at us who believe what we must, reason be damned? “The intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate,” says the Lord. ‘Tis written: “Cover their faces with shame, so that men will seek your name, O Lord” “The just shall live by faith,” says the Lord of Hosts.

“What are you talking about? Have you ever read the Beatitudes? Enthymemes all the way, my friend! Enthymemes all the way.”

Yes, I have read the Beatitudes. They are not logical demonstranda, and they are not enthymemes. Even if they had been, enthymemes are not logical demonstranda. But, by all means, go ahead and cast Jesus in the likeness of a Greek philosopher, if it does you some good. In particular, if it helps you believe.

“But do you want to know who is? Well, Plato, for one. And Aristotle. And the Stoics. And Plotinus. And Augustine, and Boethius, and Anselm, and Albertus Magnus, and Avicenna, and Averroes, and Moses Maimonides, and Thomas Aquinas, and Duns Scotus, and G. W. Leibniz, and... well, I think you get the picture.”

I do! And Jesus of Nazareth was not in it!

“In other words, don't say what classical theism does or does not teach based upon what you've read on some philosopher's blog (even if said philosopher is supremely cool).”

He is supremely-cool. But I got the picture, and it is not one I like to look at. Faith is the only lifeline humanity has—“whosoever believeth in Him”—and the Classical Theists are silent, even opposed, to it. I do not make reference to other philosophers, even when I could (I avoid their surnames, in particular) because that, in fora like these, has evolved to become a simple exhibitionist trick, to wow people with name-dropping; so I avoid it, to maintain a low wall between me and whoever may be so unfortunate as to read what I write.

“… (LEM) does not necessarily lead to positive knowledge if we eliminate one possibility …”

It does. Under Aristotelian logic, there is only the negative and the positive. (In my work, I use non-Aristotelian logics a lot, and I know why I hate non-Aristotelian logics.)

“There's nothing wrong with taking God's existence on faith (cf. ST I:2:2:rep. 1), just with a circular "I believe that God exists because God says so, and I know He says so because He exists" argument.”

Of course I agree. But that is not reasonable. Are you now suggesting that fideism is okay? Do you have a fixed position on this, or will you, like those who came before you, give lip service to faith?

The 27th Comrade said...

I shall stop trying to post the comment that got away. Perhaps it was characterised (perhaps correctly) as nonsense by the system.
All the same, I did have a response to Mr John Lately and to Brandon.

RP said...

27th,

You keep mentioning "axiom" and "Godel" and the "halting problem" as if classical theism is a formal axiomatic system. Well, it's not and as far as I know no one has ever claimed that it is or presented it as such.

As it says in Isaiah, "Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD". What do you suppose God meant? Aristotelian or non-Aristotelian reasoning?

By the way, how does your faith tell you which version of scripture is the correct one? Or, if your non-Aristotelian logic makes it impossible to say "correct", which is the preferred one?

The 27th Comrade said...

“… as if classical theism is a formal axiomatic system. Well, it's not …”

It is. Most things are formal systems. (Even the lowly iota and SK calculi.) In any system where it is possible to be wrong, you have a formal system.

“What do you suppose God meant? Aristotelian or non-Aristotelian reasoning?”

I think He did not mean any reasoning that did not leave room for faith. After all, by faith we accept that we are being called to reason together.

“By the way, how does your faith tell you which version of scripture is the correct one?”

Especially on this question, I do not have a reasonable answer. It is all a circularity for me. I believe in which scriptures I believe in, because I do. This is why I do not try to defend sola scriptura, even though I probably take it as true. (Even as I am not a Protestant.)

Mr. John Lately,
I identified with Kierkegaard because of being one for whom God is primarily approached by faith. Nevertheless, the point of having to be schooled—cathechised, shall we say—in Christian doctrine and the like is, in my opinion, indeed very necessary to set apart the Christian from that one to whom God has been made manifest by natural revelation. I agree on that. It is the content of the schooling on which I part ways with a (very) large number of my brothers and sisters. I do not believe that we should be rendering God at the end of a Euclidean-style proof to catechists, before we give the catechists the understanding that Christianity is faith. Or, as Kierkegaard said, that “in Christianity, the opposite of sin is faith.” Though John 3:16 is the most-repeated sentence in history, it seems we do not pause to think about the fact that the only condition there is “believe,” and the people able to do that are “whosoever”. One thing you can be certain of is that people as intellectually-unendowed as I am cannot be to Classical Theism what they are to Christianity, which is made of believing.

As you said, “Surely these are questions that Christian thinkers might wish to ponder in good faith and not just dismiss out of hand as the maundering of philosophical idiots.”

RP said...

27th Comrade,

It is. Most things are formal systems. (Even the lowly iota and SK calculi.) In any system where it is possible to be wrong, you have a formal system.

Classical theism isn't a system.It also isn't a set of theorems derived from a few axioms by some rules.

Language is more than syntax. You seem to have an affinity with the Alice In Wonderland character who said words mean what he says they mean.

Mathematics is not all of reality - in fact as C.S. Lewis once said it obscures more than it reveals.

Would you classify yourself as a realist?

Why "27th Comrade"?

The 27th Comrade said...

“Classical theism isn't a system.It also isn't a set of theorems derived from a few axioms by some rules.”

It is. That is why it is possible to be wrong according to it.

“Mathematics is not all of reality … Would you classify yourself as a realist? ”

I agree. I am not a realist, and also not a Platonist. I guess it is not something I have felt a need to take a position on. What I seem certain of is that the Pythagoreans are wrong. I used the mathematical systems as an example, because my work has exposed me too much to such unfortunately-narrow-minded things. I could have used grammar as an example, as you did; but even that has been mathematised, Chomskyised.

“Why "27th Comrade"?”

My rank in a Pythagorean cult! Kidding; it is a sly reference to some political event that involved 27 men. Discussing it, however, would make a bona fide troll.

Anonymous said...

27th Comrade-

"Instead, you choose to make “Our Father Who Art in Heaven” a vacuous well-veiled reference to a philosophical idea, out of terror of faith somehow contaminating your reason. Forgivable, if the two—reason and faith—are equal in stature. But they are not; neither for you Protestants, nor for me who is too shitty to have a religion or denomination or even a communion."

First of all, much as I love profanity, it's rather unprofessional. Second of all, very good; then why the hell are you here? You keep bragging about apparently having no religion, or denomination or what have you, thereby making your position so vague it seems impossible to refute. Are you an Atheist who just likes to squabble on theological matters? Or are you one of those freelance Christians who brags about not belonging to the messy and sinful bunch of people known as the Church? In any event, you keep telling us how it's wrong to try to incorporate reason into the fabric of our faith, and then keep arguing using reason trying to convince us of your heretical ideas. Thirdly, my comment was in response to someone else so I'm not sure why you chose to respond to it.

"Actually, the excellent Prof. Edward Feser, our gentle host, did exactly that in his book. When given a chance to preach to atheists, he opened with a chapter on Greek philosophers. On the other hand, St. Paul says “For I was determined to know nothing among you, except Christ crucified.”"

Professor Feser was responding to a band of angry, thoughtless, intolerant Atheists by getting on their level and giving them what so many Christians like yourself (if you would even call yourself a Christian) would not do; argument and actual reason instead of just screaming 'YOU JUST HAVE TO BELIEVE.' In case you haven't noticed, your method of 'ministry' has not been particularly effective in the modern day and age. The way we minister to people and share the gospel with them evolves and changes over time. Yes, St. Paul preached Christ crucified, as do we. But when St. Paul wrote those epistles the events in question had happened a mere 10 to 20 years before, and lots of people were still alive to attest to them; not to mention the worldview and values of the people at the time were wholly different from those of today.

Yes, I can understand your concern that many theologians or philosophers have tried to quantify or rationalize every single little aspect of our faith, perhaps too much so. But it seems to me you're clearly going much too far in the opposite direction.

The 27th Comrade said...

“First of all, much as I love profanity, it's rather unprofessional.”

My apologies. I noticed, but only too late. I do not usually keep company that is this well-kempt.

“Second of all … why the hell are you here? You keep bragging about apparently having no religion … making your position so vague it seems impossible to refute.”

I do not brag about having no religion. If you look closely, that is a lament. Just because I have no labels should not make me impossible to refute. I have beliefs, as I said, and I put them here. Shoot those down, you get me; it is what you would do for a churched person.
Is this place only for those who agree with you (plural), and who have religion? Seekers and viators like meself are not welcome?

“Are you an Atheist … Or are you one of those freelance Christians who brags about not belonging to the messy and sinful bunch of people known as the Church?”

Neither. I do not even think I am upright enough to be called a Christian; but I certainly share many beliefs with them, some of them being theological. g = 9.8m/s is another, just to avoid a common reply.

“In any event, you keep telling us how it's wrong to try to incorporate reason into the fabric of our faith, and then keep arguing using reason trying to convince us of your heretical ideas. Thirdly, my comment was in response to someone else so I'm not sure why you chose to respond to it.”

Once again, I do not say it is wrong to incorporate reason; just for reason to have undue primacy over faith. I earn by reason. I do not want to convince anyone of my heretical ideas; after all, if reason is in your camp, then I am wrong, and you will show it. You have the floor. As St. Paul said, “My conscience is clear, but that does not mean I am innocent.” And it is true of you, too. Sorry I responded to your earlier comment.

“… getting on their level and giving them … argument and actual reason instead of just screaming 'YOU JUST HAVE TO BELIEVE.'”

Is it okay to silence the truth to win a debate. Remember: “The message is foolishness to those who are perishing.” Should I reject “Christ, the wisdom and power of God,” so that I can win a debate against the “disputers of this age”? All this is from 1 Cor 1. If it is wrong to tell people “YOU JUST HAVE TO BELIEVE,” then Jesus of Nazareth was wrong. John 3 has the most-dense repetition of “believe” of any chapter. I do not abandon the truth to win debates with atheists.
The excellent Prof. Feser got down to their level and ended convincing them that Aristotle is great. That spot I reserve for Jesus; first by not abandoning the “repent and believe the gospel” mantra.

“In case you haven't noticed, your method of 'ministry' has not been particularly effective in the modern day and age.”

If any method has been effective in rendering the truth, ours has been. Anything else is not the gospel. Only we preach, as Jesus and the Apostles preached, “Believe and you shall be saved.” “Repent and believe the gospel.” These moderns “gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear,” but that is not effective unto truth. Should tell good lies to many to be effective?

“Yes, St. Paul preached Christ crucified, as do we. … the worldview and values of the people at the time were wholly different from those of today.”

Classical Theism does not preach Christ crucified. All the same, you are wrong about the worldview; because at all times, people have always been capable of believing. If you think that the Resurrection was not greeted the way we greet it now (save for the amplifier that is the Internet), you should read Acts.

“But it seems to me you're clearly going much too far in the opposite direction.”

It is they who have moved. Of the things I say, and the things the Classical Theists say, which set cannot be found in Acts? (Remember that St. Paul did in fact show down with philosophers at the Areopagus.)

Josh said...

You guys are feedin' the troll.

Anonymous said...

Excellent post Ed. It was something of a shock to discover that there were people who disputed Divine simplicity and were also Christians. There is much more to be said I suppose about simplicity and God's interaction with the world, but it seems to me the only coherent account of God is one which acknowledges his simplicity. It also explains why Dawkins bangs on about how complex God must be, which from the outset seemed to me retarded considering the Classical Theist tradition and Christian orthoxdoxy.

And guys stop talking to the troll. Something is seriously up with this guy!

Matt Beck said...

My thanks to my anonymous defender at 8:28 PM, October 10th.

The 27th Comrade said...

I have not been exonerated of the charge of trolling by anyone of authority here, so I will own up. It is not what I intended to do, when I posted my comments. I only tried to defend what I think is the truth.
Peccavi. Mea culpa. And, of course, I’m sorry.

I’m dismissing myself from the blog, as is obviously necessary, so that you do not have to do it.

Josh said...

This is the internet, amigo. The good Professor hasn't closed it off yet. But if you are going to divorce faith and reason in an argument here, you ain't going to find many sympathetic ears. The orthodox Catholic won't hear of it!

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

Edward Faser wrote: “3. Of course, the theistic personalist may at this point decide to modify his understanding of God as creator rather than accept classical theism. For example, [the theistic personalist] might acknowledge that the classical theist is correct to say that if God has the sort of absolute metaphysical ultimacy classical theism attributes to Him, then He must be simple, immutable, and eternal, in which case biblical passages like those which seem to imply that God sometimes changes His mind could not be taken literally.

God has the sort of absolute metaphysical ultimacy classical theism attributes to Him and is thus simple, immutable, and eternal; that much is implied by St Anselm’s definition. God is also a person, who creates for a purpose, who loves, and who incarnates into creation to suffer and doubt; that much is implied by St Anselm’s definition too. So what’s the problem exactly? God is not to be put in a small box and labeled. There are intrinsic divine attributes which are simple/immutable/eternal and there are also intrinsic divine attributes which are personal/creative/temporal.

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

Just a suggestion. Perhaps we should say that "God is not a person in the same way God is not a being." God is not in a genus, not even in that of substance, according to, say, St Thomas, and I believe a fruitful parallel can be drawn between God's "superousia" and His relation to "personhood."

Thoughts?

Anonymous said...

27th comrade:

Please read Pascal's Pensee.

Your questions and arguments are nothing new. Pascal asked the same questions and sided with the Catholic Church. He easily refutes your position on the primacy of faith.

Anonymous said...

27th Comrade:

Neither. I do not even think I am upright enough to be called a Christian; but I certainly share many beliefs with them, some of them being theological. g = 9.8m/s is another, just to avoid a common reply.

I hope there are not a lot of Christians that believe g = 9.8m/s. Surely they would believe g = 9.8m/s^2.

Anonymous said...

An apropos comment from the late W. Norris Clarke:

"Some religious thinkers tend to exaggerate the gap between “the God of the philosophers” and “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,” a strictly personal God, claiming that the God of metaphysics is too cold, abstract, impersonal to be the God of religious worship. This does not seem quite fair to me. The God of historical, revealed religion has indeed a richer set of attributes of more personal, free, historical relations with us than the God arrived at by philosophical reason alone. But the arguments we have presented lead necessarily to the conclusion of a God who is intelligent (wise) and loving, with a totally gratuitous, benevolent love for us, who wishes to share his own goodness and happiness with us as much as possible. But this is the very definition of a person, as a center of intelligent, free, responsible, loving action. The God of the philosophers and the God of Abraham are clearly pointing to the identical Ultimate Source of all Being; but the latter has richer set of attributes than the former because it has a richer set of data to work from, supplied by Revelation.” (The One and the Many, pp. 238-239).