Thursday, November 18, 2021

Geach’s argument against modernism

Catholic philosopher Peter Geach’s book Providence and Evil is interesting not only for what it says about the topics referred to in the title, but also for its many insights and arguments concerning other matters that Geach treats along the way.  Among these passing remarks is a brief but trenchant critique of those who propose a “denatured” brand of Christianity in the name of “man’s evolution and progress” (p. 85).  Theirs is the view that Christian tradition is “mutable,” so that “with the progress of knowledge a doctrine hitherto continuously taught in one sense now needs to be construed in another sense” (pp. 86-87).  Geach doesn’t use the label “modernism,” but that is what he is talking about.  

One problem with this sort of view, Geach points out, is that we could never have grounds for believing it.  For there are really only two possible sources for a theological doctrine, either reason or revelation.  To be more precise, one way we might come to know it is via philosophical argumentation whose premises are completely independent of revelation.  Philosophical arguments for God’s existence would be an example.  The other way is through special divine revelation, such as a message given through a prophet whose authority is backed by miracles.  The doctrine of the Incarnation would be an example.  Christianity traditionally appeals to both sources of knowledge, but what is distinctively Christian comes through revelation.

Now, the problem for the modernist identified by Geach is this.  Modernism is a specifically Christian view.  The modernist claims (falsely, to be sure, but still he claims) to preserve what is essential to Christian teaching.  And what is essential to this teaching, Christianity says, was divinely revealed at the time of Christ and the apostles.  Hence modernism cannot appeal to a purely philosophical argument to justify itself.  It has to make some appeal to the content of this divine revelation given at the time of the Church’s origin.

But how do we know that something really is part of the content of this revelation?  Geach points out that continuity of teaching is a necessary condition of our knowing it. To be sure, it is not a sufficient condition.  If some doctrine has consistently been taught by the Church for two millennia, that does not by itself guarantee that it is true, since we need some independent reason to think it really was divinely revealed two millennia ago.  But, again, it is a necessary condition.  If some doctrine has not been taught for two millennia, or even conflicts with what has been taught for two millennia, it can hardly be known to have been part of the divine revelation that was given two millennia ago.  And in that case it cannot be justified by appeal to that revelation.

The problem for the modernist is that the new doctrines he wants to teach, or the new interpretations he wants to give old doctrines, by definition cannot be traced to that original revelation from two millennia ago.  If they could be, they would not be new.  Hence the modernist cannot defend them by appealing to revelation any more than he can defend them by appealing to philosophical arguments.  And since those are the only possible ways he could have defended them, he cannot defend them at all.  They simply float in midair, ungrounded.  Thus does Geach say of the modernist:

His teaching will be a matter of learned conjectures intermixed with such fragments, few or many, of the old tradition as he chooses still to believe.  He may choose to believe all this; but he will scarcely persuade a rational outsider, and he can claim no authority that should bind the conscience of a Christian. (p. 86)

Modernism is in this way an inevitably self-defeating position.  By rejecting the continuous teaching of tradition, it rejects the only basis for its own teaching that it might have had.

In my early years as a grad student I took a class with John Hick (who was one of the best teachers I ever had, even if his philosophical and theological views left much to be desired).  Hick was a modernist if ever there was one, and an influential proponent of the religious pluralist view that all of the world religions are more or less equally good and salvific.  Now, you can’t coherently take such a view unless you drastically water down the truth claims of these religions, since those claims conflict with one another.  And Hick acknowledged (in conversation – I don’t know offhand if he ever said this in print) that few people were likely to convert to Christianity or any other religion in such watered-down forms.  There simply isn’t much point in converting to Christianity if you’re told from the get-go that doctrines like the Trinity and the Incarnation are not really true, but just poetic ways of speaking.  Hence, for views like his to prevail, Hick acknowledged, people have to start by believing the more traditional doctrines and then gradually move away from them under the influence of arguments like his.

This illustrates how modernism is psychologically and sociologically parasitic on the traditional doctrines it rejects.  But Geach’s point is essentially that modernism is also logically parasitic on the doctrines it rejects.  For it has no freestanding basis, but presupposes the traditional view that there really was a divine revelation two millennia ago, of which (modernism claims) it is itself at long last the correct interpretation. 

Yet at the same time, and in the manner we’ve seen, modernism subverts any confidence we could have in a claim to know such a revelation.  If you say “Such-and-such really was revealed two millennia ago, but the Church has misunderstood it for two millennia,” that inevitably raises the question “If you’ve been getting the content of the revelation wrong for that long, why suppose you’re right even about there having been any revelation in the first place?”  Hence it is no surprise that it is only ever theologically conservative brands of Christianity that thrive, while liberal denominations shrink and die out.  Logically, and thus psychologically and sociologically, modernism inevitably destroys the faith it claims to be preserving by adapting it to modern times.  Modernism is in this way like a cancer that slowly kills the host on whose life it depends.

There is another irony in modernism, and one to which Geach also calls our attention.  He writes:

It is often said that in our world and time the Christian story is irrelevant.  A curious adjective, when the grimmest Christian prophecies of the last days might seem, even by human calculation, all too likely to be literally fulfilled. (p. 84)

If the prophecies in question seemed close to fulfilment in the 1970s, when Geach was writing, how much more so in light of the unprecedented moral depravity and runaway heterodoxy of the present day?  Be that as it may, though modernism claims to save Christianity from being “irrelevant,” it is in reality an instance of the widespread apostasy from the Catholic faith that is among the things grimly prophesied by Christ and the apostles.  In that way, the prevalence of modernism inadvertently confirms the predictions of the traditional theology it aims to subvert. 

Related reading:

Geach on worshipping the right God


  1. In your fourth paragraph, you make the point that having been taught continuously for two thousand years is at best a necessary and not a sufficient condition of a doctrine's being revealed truth. This, it seems to me, opens the way to "negative modernism": perhaps the rest of your argument succeeds in showing that the modernist cannot coherently put forward any new positive theological claim, but there seems to be no incoherence in proclaiming (perhaps on the basis of a careful study of what scripture does NOT say) that some traditional doctrine -- say, for example, that only men and not women can be priests -- is not founded in revelation but was introduced by error early in the Christian tradition. (I only met Geach once. I don't think he was a pleasant person -- his response to opponents went beyond combativeness to sheer viciousness -- but he was certainly an acute logician and, I think, an important philosopher.)

    1. Or the Doctrine of Geocentrism?
      There are Catholics supporting it still.

  2. Would this line of argument not also apply to Christianity and Paganism (switching Christianity for Modernism and Paganism for Christianity)...meaning to say it came after Paganism so was parasitic on it/relied on it as Modernism does on Christianity?

    1. I mean, it did rely on paganism on the sense that some philosophical ideas were used by christians(think of the Logos,for instance) and that it was shaped by his opposition to paganism, but it did drink more from judaism and his more unique views(Trinity, incarnation, the soul as a temple) are quite original.

      But the paralel also fails because christianity actually has miracles claims to use in support of it being revelation, while modernism, as Dr. Feser arfued, tend to weaken his own appeals to revelation by insisting that the Church got it wrong.

      Besides, it fails on a sociological level as well, seeing how christianity was pretty suscessful on killing roman paganism while, as Dr. Feser pointed out, modernism is quite bad at getting rid of his traditionalism brother.

    2. Sandymount,

      Talmid is right. Christianity is not parasitic on paganism or Judaism or anything that came before it. It has its own miracles and own divine revelation unique to it. The Modernists give no good reason for why their position is correct.

  3. At the start of the Summa Theological, St. Thomas asserts that theology receives its principles directly from God, not from other sciences, and that their certainty comes from divine knowledge.

    The Church, which was miraculously established, does proclaim dogmas (like the Assumption) which don't seem to be revelations backed by any particular miracles for which there is a record. I'm not sure how this squares with what is written above.

    The history of our religion from Adam onward, is the history of revelation (there is no revelation which is not special - inference is the use of our reason, not divine revelation).

  4. Another great article!

    Of course the problem of Modernism/Leftism, or whatever you want to call it, is a general problem that infects all human attempts at grounding meaning. I remember Justice Scalia saying that he asked Ruth Bader Ginsburg one time that if the Constitution is a living document, what prevents you from reading into it anything at all that you want to see there? Of course the only true response to that question is to just admit the naked desire for power.

  5. I'm not following. Seems non sequitur to say Modernism has to appeal to revelation to justify itself. Clearly, it has to appeal to revelation to justify itself qua Christian, but why qua Modernist? Just because Modernism is associated with Christianity specifically it doesn't mean it can't transcend it. Doesn't even Pius X in Pascendi treat Modernism as primarily a *philosophical* system?

    Further, Modernism arguably *can* justify itself from revelation. One need only look at how the Church Fathers interpret much of the Old Testament typologically/allegorically and arguably give a *different* meaning from what the Jews would have understood originally, perhaps even for thousands of years. For example, the Messiah as an earthly warrior king. So the Modernist could say there is precedent in Christianity itself for "evolution of dogma". On the other hand, if one rejects in principle the Modernist project on account of its new interpretations, it seems one might likewise reject Christianity for its new interpretations of the old revelation. To the Jews, traditional Christianity is Modernism.

    There is also an indirect way in which the Modernist can argue from revelation. If Christian revelation taken literally leads to contradiction and if contradiction cannot come from God, then Christian revelation if true cannot be taken literally. Thus, if true, it needs to be understood in a different way (symbolically, etc).

    There is yet another way the Modernist can argue from revelation. Per the Church, the true understanding of revelation comes through the Church. Well, the Modernist is in many ways today vindicated by the Church through Vatican II and its implementation, Pope Francis on capital punishment etc. The teachings have (arguably) changed! Even the condemnation itself of Modernism (under Pius X etc) can be seen as merely historically conditioned. The Modernist can point to all this and say: "See? We were right. The Church Herself doesn't believe the tradition in the same sense anymore and is in a perpetual state of progress and evolution".

    1. @ Albinus

      The Church's sacred tradition was not reversed by Vatican II. Your post seeks merely to undermine and deny the authority of the Church. Why would you want to do that?

      Tom Cohoe

    2. Albinus,

      First, your argument implies that Second Temple Judaism had the full, infallible truth about God, but an anti-Modernist need not assume that to make their case - only that the fullness of truth came from the Catholic Church and the Revelation of the Gospels. Second, neither Vatican II nor Pope Francis have changed Church teaching on anything, so the argument that the Church Herself doesn't believe in the 2,000-year-old tradition is clearly false. If you have an actual example from Vatican II of it teaching something contrary to the tradition, then show me the text. And as for Pope Francis, a pope's opinions do not constitute a change in Church doctrine.

    3. Well, the Modernist is in many ways today vindicated by the Church through Vatican II and its implementation, Pope Francis on capital punishment etc. The teachings have (arguably) changed! Even the condemnation itself of Modernism (under Pius X etc.) can be seen as merely historically conditioned. The Modernist can point to all this and say: "See? We were right. The Church Herself doesn't believe the tradition in the same sense anymore and is in a perpetual state of progress and evolution".

      Thanks, Albinus, I couldn't have said it better myself. This is why we say that in order to avoid modernism (which is a philosophical and theological train-wreck by any rational standard) one must also reject the Vatican II church and all its heretical anti-popes.

    4. Mr Geocon,

      You asked where VII taught error. Well, the answer you'll get will either be a non-sequitur like VII taught Universalism, or you'll get something like this: since there are liturgical abuses at my local parish, and Pope Francis says dumb things on airplanes, and VII didn't explicitly condemn every heresy that ever was or ever could be, therefore VII was heretical.

      What you won't get is a valid argument that VII was heretical.

    5. Pius X was right on Modernism; you can see it every time you look at the news. The problem is that Vat II is not an example of Modernism.

    6. Tom Cohoe, truth is my goal. Treat my comments like objections in the Summa.

      That's a fair point though actually I think my argument only presupposes that a true revelation was made to the Jews and that it was naturally understood as meaning X but was later re-interpreted to mean non-X. However, even if I conceded, my argument could be strengthened by showing how the same thing was done with revelations made under the New Testament. For example, Christ plainly saying that certain signs would happen within the lifetime of the disciples and that He would return very soon after these signs (Matthew 24). Orthodox ways of understanding passages like these support a quasi-Modernist framework of new interpretations.
      Also, it is highly implausible to dismiss as the Pope's mere opinion an official Vatican statement approved by the "Supreme Pontiff Francis" which states: "The Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that the death penalty is inadmissble because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person" ( The reference in the footnote there is to yet another official act of Pope Francis in which he states: "It must be clearly stated that the death penalty is an inhumane measure that, regardless of how it is carried out, abases human dignity. It is per se contrary to the Gospel, because it entails the willful suppression of a human life that never ceases to be sacred in the eyes of its Creator...". If this isn't a change in Church doctrine then what exactly does a change in Church doctrine look like? Don't forget to compare Francis' teaching with error #33 in Leo X's Exurge Domine: "That heretics be burned is against the will of the Spirit" (condemned).

      George R,
      But then of course a rejection of Vatican II and its "heretical anti-popes" is just to admit that the Church can defect and has defected.

      T N,
      Virtually anything can be made to mean whatever you want if you try hard enough. It's next to impossible to conclusively prove an explicit heresy from a Vatican II document. However, I don't need to do that. Anyone not missing the forest for the trees can see that Vatican II and the post-conciliar papal teaching continues to be a huge victory for the Modernists. Pope Francis on the death penalty is probably the best example of this but there are many others. And no, it's not just what the Church teaches but also what it *doesn't* teach now. "Error which is not resisted is approved" (Pope Felix III, quoted by Leo XIII in Inimica Vis). Abandoning the Tradition is just as damning as rejecting it. For example, where is the Church today urgently stressing that the Greek Schismatics (aka "the Orthodox") as well as the Jews and heretics are heading to eternal damnation if they do not repent as the Council of Florence teaches? Anyone can see that it's a different religion now, or if you prefer, the same religion seen through a Modernist lens.

    7. @ Albinus,

      "[...] truth is my goal."

      You cite, ad populum, the angry George R. in support of the idea that you can create truth _de novo ad nihilum_. You can't. Also _argumentum ad popolum_ is a fallacy.

      "Anyone can see [...]"

      You just say "anyone can see" and then what follows must be true? That's interesting but incorrect logic.

      "[It's] the same religion seen through a modernist lens."

      Yes, that lens whereby you create truth from fallacy. I suppose two fallacies make a truth the way the multiplication of two negatives makes a positive? Again interesting but false logic.

      You can attack from the outside, but you can't understand from the outside.

      Tom Cohoe

    8. But then of course a rejection of Vatican II and its "heretical anti-popes" is just to admit that the Church can defect and has defected.

      Touche, Albinus. This is certainly a difficulty for my position. I admit that if I were alive 100 years ago, and someone were to say that what happened 60 years ago was going to happen, I would have said, "No way, because then the Church will have defected, which is impossible according to the faith."

      However, since it has now happened, I do not believe that the Church has defected, because it is of faith that she cannot defect. And I have faith.

    9. Albinus,

      I've seen those passages interpreted in other ways, such as Jesus prophesying his Ascension into Heaven or the destruction of the Jewish Temple, both of which came about during the Apostles' lifetime. I fail to see how these interpretations are necessarily done under a "quasi-Modernist framework."

      About Pope Francis: Changes to the Catechism of the Catholic Church do not amount to a change in Church teaching. For the Church to really change its teaching, the Pope would have to come out with some kind of Ecumenical Council or otherwise solemnly declare based on the Extraordinary Magisterium that his predecessors were in grave error about the death penalty. Then we'd be living through another Stephen VI.

    10. George R,
      I appreciate your honesty. For me at least, if I were to come to that realization (i.e., that the Church has done something that should be impossible) I would begin examining more closely why I believe in the Church in the first place and weighing the motives of credibility against counter-indications (Vatican II etc) to see which is the stronger argument. Perhaps you have done this though to your satisfaction.

      It's true that it is possible to interpret such passages in different ways, I just don't find most of them plausible at all. They strike me more as post hoc forced re-interpretations. I.e., this didn't happen, but Jesus can't be wrong, therefore it MUST mean something else no matter how much of a stretch. That said, there are other examples of the quasi-Modernist framework at play throughout Church history. For example, the re-interpretation of the Tradition on geocentrism. The Holy Office in 1633 condemned heliocentrism as "formaly heretical" and "declared and defined to be contrary to divine Scripture". And yet, in 1820, Pius VII through the Holy Office admitted that Catholics were free to now accept the motion of the earth. Why? The stated reason was that the difficulties that existed in the past were removed by astronomical observations. I.e., the Church was re-interpreting the Tradition based on the empirical science of the time! Sounds like Modernism to me.

    11. the Church was re-interpreting the Tradition based on the empirical science of the time!
      Sounds like Modernism to me.

      The backing away from the condemnation of Copernicanism by the Church was the camel's nose in the tent for Modernism.

  6. I think that it is brilliant text!
    Luke 11:17 But He, knowing their thoughts, said to them: "Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and a house divided against a house falls.

  7. This post wisely limits its criticism of modernism to the inability for a modernist to claim to keep what is “essential” to Christianity, in the sense of what is particular to Christianity in its revelation that makes it distinct from other faiths or traditions which admit natural law or other universally-accessible rational bases. However, I think that many Catholic writers take this fine deduction and wrongly apply it to areas of theological dispute which are not strictly limited to those which derive from the “revelation” sphere of the faith. Ed’s examples in this post are the incarnation and the trinity – doctrines which are certainly, foolishly transmogrified into poetic metaphors by modernists who weirdly still want to claim the mantle of Christianity.
    However, most of the fevered debate around “modernism” centers on disputes which have a large footing in the sphere of reason, the sphere of universally-knowable moral law in particular. These disputes are over whether apparent revisions in church doctrine are “developments” or “innovations,” the former being acceptable and the latter being heresy. The revisions in policy on the death penalty are controversial for this reason, as even Ed admits when the shoe is on the other foot and the church hierarchy finds that its revisions re: the death penalty are “developments”; however, the traditionalists will refuse to see that “modernists” making rational arguments in favor of, e.g. allowing that some contraceptive behavior between spouses is morally acceptable, or that planning when and how to have children is licit in light of contemporary conditions in an argument which is analogous to how the logic prohibiting usury was applicable in an ancient economics but not in a modern one, are engaging in the same sort of philosophic exercise (and NOT committing the error delineated in this post). These issues are ones which are apt for proper rationalistic debate – the two sides, of course, find each other’s arguments erroneous, but the issues in that sphere of the “modernism” debate are not implicated by the critique in this post.

    1. These disputes are over whether apparent revisions in church doctrine are “developments” or “innovations,” the former being acceptable and the latter being heresy. The revisions in policy on the death penalty are controversial for this reason, as even Ed admits when the shoe is on the other foot and the church hierarchy finds that its revisions re: the death penalty are “developments”; however, the traditionalists will refuse to see that “modernists” making rational arguments in favor of

      It would be wonderful if the revisionists were actually making an argument about the death penalty, and the proper interpretation of biblical revelation regarding it. What has been happening, though, is the modernists refusing to make arguments, putting forth FEELINGS, INTUITIONS; and bald claims of "new awareness" and "new understandings" without any effort to either substantiate these claims or explain (or even SUGGEST) what content inhabits these "new understandings", there is, in the main, no argument being made here. That is a pretty decent gauge of the degree to which the revision should be granted a hearing. In effect, at least on THIS one point, the modernist revision is being urged as a change in wishes and preferences by people who don't like the retributive aspect of punishment. Whether modernism has a better claim elsewhere or not, this issue not a stellar example of how modernism does better than tradition.

    2. Right - the debate on that issue is one which is not implicated by the critique set out in this post, as I asserted. As evidenced by your reply, the thrust of most disputes with modernism are not its incoherent appeals to preserve the essence of the revealed faith, but rather with claims about the church's moral teaching which require wading into the realm of rational argumentation. I agree with you that much modernist argument is subpar.

  8. It would seem that certain parts of modernism come from nihilism that either could be a reduction in God's role of requiring moral actions He has made known through Chistianity or from an atheistic point of view that leaves morality completely within the sphere of man's subjective moral intentionality with the assumption there is no God and it is up to man to decide and form a society from an atheistic viewpoint. Hence we have the emergence of power of man as the most important factor in both of these views.

  9. Hi Ed,

    My advice to you is: beware of sawing off the branch you're sitting on.

    You write:

    "If some doctrine has not been taught for two millennia, or even conflicts with what has been taught for two millennia, it can hardly be known to have been part of the divine revelation that was given two millennia ago. And in that case it cannot be justified by appeal to that revelation."

    The problem I have with this statement is that it appears to rule out the development of Christian doctrine. There are plenty of Catholic doctrines which have not been taught or even believed for the past two millennia. The Immaculate Conception (a doctrine which arose c. 1100 A.D.), the Assumption (c. 600 A.D.) and Papal Infallibility (c. 1300 A.D.) are a few obvious examples, but one can dig deeper. The doctrine of the Trinity has only been taught for 1,700 years. Although many of the Apostolic Fathers called Jesus "God," it was not until the time of Origen (mid-third century A.D.) that the Son was said to be co-eternal with the Father. Indeed, Tertullian, who coined the very word "Trinity," expressly denied that He was: he held that before the creation of the world, God had no Son. Nor were the persons originally said to be equal. St. Justin Martyr, writing of the Son in 165 A.D., declares: "[we] believe him to be in second place and the prophetic Spirit in the third" (1 Apology 13, cf. ch. 60). Incidentally, the Holy Spirit wasn't even called "God" in the Nicene Creed of 325 A.D.

    One might argue that the Trinity was taught "implicitly" by the early Church, but the problem here is that implicitness is in the eye of the beholder. Also, it seems that the modernist could make the same move.

    You ask how a new doctrine could ever be known to be true, but listen to St. Bernard of Clairvaux, writing to those who celebrated the feast of Mary's Conception in the 12th century:

    "When the Chapter of Canons at the Cathedral of Lyons introduced the celebration of the feast around 1140, Bernard of Clairvaux (d. 1153) wrote to them expressing his displeasure. Bernard asks them how can they introduce a celebration which the ritual of the Church does not know, reason does not assert, and ancient tradition does not commend. He wonders if they are more devout than the Fathers and Doctors."

    ("History of the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception," by Vincent Wiseman, O.P October 17, 2003.)

    Here's the Latin, for those who can read it:

    "...novam inducendo celebritatem, quam ritus Ecclesiae nescit, non probat ratio, non commendat antiqua traditio. Nunquid Patribus doctores, aut devotiores summus? " Bernard "Ad Canonicos Lugdunenses, De Conceptione S. Mariae," Epistolo CLXXIV, 1; PL 182, 333.

    Lastly, you attack the Modernist claim that “Such-and-such really was revealed two millennia ago, but the Church has misunderstood it for two millennia,” as self-defeating, but doesn't the Church itself take a similar line now with regard to the morality of slavery and the massacres reported in the Hebrew Bible (which are now both rightly regarded as immoral, despite having been endorsed by the overwhelming majority of Church Fathers and apparently by Scripture)?

    In short: deciding what counts as an unlawful innovation is no easy matter, and no branch of Christianity can claim to be free of innovation. Cheers.

    1. Torley,

      You seem to be fond of misinterpreting the Church Fathers. I mean, if you look at sources like this, you'll find that the teachings like the divinity of Christ, the Trinity, the primacy of Rome, the Immaculate Conception, and the Assumption were there from the beginning by implication if not outright stated. You also draw out inferences from the text that the texts themselves do not justify or somehow take them out of context. For example, your quote about Bernard of Clairvaux is him condemning the feast celebrating the immaculate conception and not the doctrine itself, St. Justin Martyr affirms that Jesus is God in his writings, etc. Others are just based on a misunderstanding of Christian doctrines, such as what Christians mean when they say that the Father is first (they're talking about His being the arche or source from which the Son is begotten and the Spirit proceeds, not talking about the ontological substance).

      A common fallacy non-Catholics often make is that they believe that, when the Church dogmatically declares something to be dogma, that means that they are inventing the dogma wholesale. In reality, the Church declares dogma only to defend what was already there before and settle some contemporary controversy or debate.

    2. For some reason, my citation wasn't linked in my comment, so here is the URL:

    3. Re the "Staycatholic" site:

      This is a good resource.


      Tom Cohoe

    4. Vince didn't you used to be Catholic? What are you an Atheist now? I told you ID was bullshite. Classic Theism followed the ID people and their positivism nonsense right out of the Church.

      Geez is there something in the water down in Australia???

      Development of doctrine is part of the Catholic Faith and just because it take centuries for some doctrines to develop does not mean they where not there in seed form at the beginning.

    5. Bugger I think I posted under my wife's account?

      _Son of Yachov.

    6. Mystic Meg - there is no physical distinction between the persons of the Trinity, or metaphysical ones. But there is a MYSTERIOUS distinction. I hope that all is clear now.

    7. Anonymous in other news water is wee wet.

    8. Rather than address all the individual objections raised by Vincent Torley, which Mr. Geocon has a good summary of, I'll just point out that VT is arguing that there can't be this philosophical system which is always correct. And he knows this because his philosophical system (which is always correct) tells him so.

      Thomas Nagel's view from nowhere.

    9. Hi Son of Ya'Kov/Mystic Rose,

      I haven't apostasized, if that's what you're wondering, and I'm certainly not an atheist. And by the way, although I'm from Australia, I've lived in Japan for the past two decades.

      In the past few years, I've read books and watched videos which have made me aware of how weak the traditional apologetic arguments really are, which has forced a rethink on my part. (Dale Tuggy, Bart Ehrman, Joshua Bowen, Hector Avalos and Myth Vision are just a few of the influences that have shaped my views.)

      Classical theism vs. personalistic theism is just a small part of the picture. Traditional Christianity faces challenges on multiple fronts.

      Apologists need to quit kidding themselves that the intellectual case for Catholicism is one that would convince any open-minded seeker. Faith is as much an effort of the will as of the intellect. And it is only through the eye of faith that the innovations in doctrine down the ages can be seen as "developments."

      Mister GeoCon,

      I had a look at "The Early Church Fathers on The Divinity of Christ" at . There was a two-line quote from St. Justin Martyr - not very impressive. You would have done better had you looked here: . For a better treatment of Justin's views, see this article by Dale Tuggy: . Justin called Jesus God, but only the Father was "the true God." Jesus was "the Son of the true God Himself," which is why Christians hold Him "in the second place" (1 Apology 13).

      Incidentally, Fr. William Most, in an article
      for EWTN titled "Mary's Immaculate Conception" at , acknowledges that during the Middle Ages, "authors such as St. Bernard of Clairvaux and St. Thomas Aquinas denied the doctrine" of the Immaculate Conception, although he adds that at the time, "the understanding of original sin was not as clear as it should have been."

      So when you write that "teachings like the divinity of Christ, the Trinity, the primacy of Rome, the Immaculate Conception, and the Assumption were there from the beginning by implication if not outright stated," I would reply that only in retrospect can they be considered to have been there in germinal form from the start, and only with the eye of faith. Cheers.

    10. @ Vincent Torley,

      "I would reply that only in retrospect can they be considered to have been there in germinal form from the start, and only with the eye of faith."

      That's rhetoric based on preformed opinion. It is not good thinking.

      Tom Cohoe

    11. Torley,

      St. Justin Martyr's views on the Trinity aren't Arian, contra you and Tuggy. It's very much in line with the Eastern emphasis on the Father being the arche of the Godhead. It's unsurprising that Tuggy wouldn't understand this, as he's more than once leveled such accusations like accusing Thomists of being atheists, claiming that theistic personalism is the norm throughout Christian history, and misquoting St. Ignatius Loyola, among others.

      Furthermore, the Immaculate Conception was only denied by people like Thomas Aquinas because they had a very different understanding of how conception worked. He never denied Mary's immaculate nature, which is the core of the doctrine.

    12. @VT

      >I haven't apostasized, if that's what you're wondering, and I'm certainly not an atheist.

      Does that mean yer still Catholic? It is like being pregnant. Either ye are or you are not?
      Yer responses don't fill me with confidence.

      > And by the way, although I'm from Australia, I've lived in Japan for the past two decades.

      Yeh but with one or two exceptions you people are dodgy....just saying. If only ye where Scottish but nobody is perfect.:D

      >In the past few years, I've read books and watched videos which have made me aware of how weak the traditional apologetic arguments really are,

      Don't you mean Protestant Apologetics? Because it is weak but some of the names you cite are weaker.

      >which has forced a rethink on my part. (Dale Tuggy, Bart Ehrman, Joshua Bowen, Hector Avalos and Myth Vision are just a few of the i
      nfluences that have shaped my views.)

      As Australian Atheist & self Proclaimed Bastard Tim O'Neil said (one of the two of you lot that are reasonable) "Jesus Mytherism is Young Earth Creationism for Atheism." What a nonsense viewpoint.

      Hecktor Avalos? Gnu Atheist moron. All ex-fundies or Unitarians. Very un-impressive the lot of 'em.

      >Classical theism vs. personalistic theism is just a small part of the picture. Traditional Christianity faces challenges on multiple fronts.

      Classical Theism is the infallible dogma of the Catholic Church. It is not a Challenge to Christianity. It is true Christianity.

      >Apologists need to quit kidding themselves that the intellectual case for Catholicism is one that would convince any open-minded seeker.

      That begs the question. How do I know who is or is not "open minded"? What is yer standard?

      > Faith is as much an effort of the will as of the intellect.

      Except the Intellect moves the will not the other way around unless it is a sinful obstinate will.

      > And it is only through the eye of faith that the innovations in doctrine down the ages can be seen as "developments."

      The claim they are not legitimate developments is to be laughed at, loudly, and with sever cruelty. I mean I can go back to the Second Century to show Irenaeus implicitly believed Mary was in some sense equivalent to Jesus in holiness(He called Her a Ewe without stain in contrast to Jesus being the spotless Lamb and her womb "most pure"). Sure the Holy Spirit lead the Church into developing the final formulation of the Immaculate Conception later one but the seed was there. To not see it is willful blindness.

      Yer reading idiots my friend. Stop it please.

      >St. Bernard of Clairvaux and St. Thomas Aquinas denied the doctrine" of the Immaculate Conception,

      Actually they both believed in her general sinlessness and that she was purified in the Womb. So they are hardly modern Protestant heretics who believe she was a sinner and an ordinary woman.

      I don't think you have been reading that much Catholic Apologetics. I think you have been reading too many Protestants and Theistic Personalist nonsense & ID horsepoop.

      We need to correct you. So I am here for ya guy.

    13. Mister Geocon,

      Here's what St. Justin Martyr writes in his Dialogue With Trypho, ch. 56:

      "Then I replied, 'I shall attempt to persuade you, since you have understood the Scriptures, [of the truth] of what I say, that there is, and that there is said to be, another God and Lord subject to the Maker of all things; who is also called an Angel, because He announces to men whatsoever the Maker of all things — above whom there is no other God — wishes to announce to them.'”

      So the Son is "another God and Lord subject to the Maker of all things"? Sounds pretty subordinationist to me.

      And here's Aquinas explaining why he believed the Virgin Mary wasn't immaculately conceived: "If the soul of the Blessed Virgin had never incurred the stain of original sin, this would be derogatory to the dignity of Christ, by reason of His being the universal Saviour of all." (S.T. III, q. 27 art. 2 ad. 2) Contrary to your claim, this argument has absolutely nothing to do with Aquinas' mistaken medieval beliefs about how conception occurred. In S.T. III, q. 27, art. 3, Aquinas adds that even after Mary was sanctified in the womb, she was "not freed from the fomes [i.e. the law of the flesh] in its essence, but that it remained fettered." Clearly, he did not consider Mary to have been immaculate by nature either, despite the fact that he believed she had been sanctified from original sin prior to her birth.

      Son of Ya'Kov:

      It may interest you to know that: (i) I'm not a Jesus Myther (and neither is Bart Ehrman); (ii) I'm well acquainted with the online writings of my compatriot Tim O'Neill, who argues in an online essay that "the idea that the historical Jesus was a Jewish apocalyptic prophet remains the most likely interpretation of the evidence"; and (iii) I'm three-eighths Scottish.

      You doubt my claim that the intellectual case for Catholicism is far from ironclad. OK. Imagine this scene. You're talking to an atheist, explaining the doctrine of the Trinity (three persons in one God, where "person" is defined as "rational individual") and the atheist interrupts:

      "You believe that God is One Being, with One Mind. You also believe that the three Divine persons are distinct individuals. Tell me this: how can it possibly make sense to claim that three individuals share one and the same mind? What's more, the belief that the three Divine persons possess one and the same Mind was not articulated by any of the Church Fathers until after the Council of Nicea, in the fourth century, which means you can't call it apostolic, either."

      How would you respond to such an objection? It looks pretty devastating, and it seems absurd to claim (as you do) that it would not impress an open-minded seeker after truth.


  10. @ Vincent Torley,

    "St. Bernard of Clairvaux, [...]"

    There is no doctrine of the infallibility of saints or other Christians except for an implied papal infallibility (under obviously restricted conditions) in the Bible.

    "Trinity" is certainly at least implied in the Bible and the coining of a word does not in any way imply that it is not.

    Errors of society are not errors of Christianity although false reasoning has always tried to make out that they are.

    One wonders what motivates the bad reasoning.

    Tom Cohoe

    1. His argument does not presuppose that saints are infallible or anything of the sort.

      Pretty strange that you can't follow his argument.

    2. "His argument does not presuppose that saints are infallible or anything of the sort.

      Pretty strange that you can't follow his argument."

      That doesn't make any sense, so you are joking of course ... but you should have used a smiley so that you don't look like someone who doesn't know how logic works.

      Tom Cohoe

    3. If someone doesn't assert the infallibility of the saints I must become his follower? Now that's the strange assertion.

      Tom Cohoe

  11. Could one do a similar argument against protestantism? The argument for logical dependence of modernism on traditional christianity does sound like what i heard on a few catholic-protestant discussions.

    1. Actually, there was one Catholic author named John C. Wright who made such an argument, which he called "The Parable of the Messengers" (Link: He argues that the Protestant position vis-à-vis Catholicism is like that of two messengers from a distant king who accuse each other of corrupting the message (Scripture). However, the second messenger not only got his copy of the message from the first, the second's interpretation of the message is based on the first's in key areas (like the Incarnation and the Trinity). Furthermore, the second messenger redacted entire portions of the message (the Deuterocanon) that he claims is the sole way of knowing the King's will.

    2. The classic Protestant argument that they are depending on Scripture -- which all Christians agree is correct, even if they (we) disagree about the application -- puts them in a different position than the modernist.

    3. @Mister Geocon

      Interesting parable, even if its execution was better on your summary. That is the type of argument i was imagining.


      Correct, modernists and protestants are diferent. I do see some similarities between they when we see by the angle of this Dr. Feser point:

      "But Geach’s point is essentially that modernism is also logically parasitic on the doctrines it rejects. For it has no freestanding basis, but presupposes the traditional view that there really was a divine revelation two millennia ago, of which (modernism claims) it is itself at long last the correct interpretation. "

      The reformers were asked if they considered possible that the Church got things wrong and the answer was a yes, the Church(they said) actually did fail at correct teaching for centuries.

      It is true that the reformers did put some value on what the church fathers teached, but the ahistorical position seems common among evangelicals* and the reformers were at least capable of accepting it.

      *it could be more on my country, though

    4. I think that the most charitable interpretation of the Protestant Reformers a Catholic can give is given by Robert C. Koons' A Lutheran's Case for Roman Catholicism. The argument he presents in that book is that any theological innovation has a heavy burden of proof because Jesus clearly intended for the church to remain visibly united, and the Protestant Reformers failed to meet that burden despite their best efforts.

  12. I came across this article by a Mr. Tim O'Neill. Do you have any thoughts on it?

  13. Catholic modernism is much more than “an inevitably self-defeating position”: it is a sheer “contraddictio in termins”, and as such it cannot really exist.
    Depending on the observer it will be seen either as a heresy or as scientist attempt to explain the religious phenomenon: honestly there is no third possibility for a concept which does not represent any reality.
    What is specific to the Catholic Religion, what makes Her unique among all religions and believes of any kind included atheism, is that the catholic believes the Church: I emphasize the fact that the catholic does not believe in the Church but believes Her.
    The Church is the immediate source of authority for all of us catholic believers: it is because of Her faithful and unaltered testimony of the Apostles and first Disciples of the Death of Jesus Christ and the and her subsequent encounter with the Risen One through centuries, that we receive the Faith.
    Her testimony is apodictic: it cannot be demonstrated true by other means than receiving this witness, and it cannot be demonstrated false as it is something She witnesses, i.e., experiences and shares as such. All Her teachings in their essence are apodictic: they do not need any justification neither rationale nor experimental to be proven right or demonstrated wrong.
    Of course, the Church is not limited to the pastors only or the theologians but includes all the faithful who fully live of the Church: state of grace, assiduous attendance of the sacraments, intense prayer life, charity according to one's state of life, knowledge of the Authentic Magistery.
    Jesus orders His disciples to go, not to stay home, and to announce, not to explaining or to listen, and to baptize, not to refrain to make new disciples up to the ends of the earth.
    The modernist pretends to be Catholic and, in same movement, wants to "adapt" the Catholic religion to all the achievements of the modern age in the domain of science, culture, and social progress.
    We see people who pretend to believe in the Resurrection but need to "explain" how the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes could happen; who do not believe that Lazarus was dead; that Our Lady is a virgin; who do not want to abide to the fact that one must follow the ten commandments and avoid vicious lives and counternatural behavior to be saved.
    The scientific discourse is not opposite but in another dimension of the apodictic teaching of the Church: one can trust Science only when it decides that a statement must be falsified, and mistrust scientist who will assert that a statement is true.
    How could a Reality which is in its nature apodictic witness statement be also object of falsification?

  14. Are arguments for theism valid reasons to believe instead of material evidence?

    1. The kinds of arguments for theism found on this blog are logical deductions made from simple observations about the world (things exist, change occurs, etc.) and metaphysical propositions (like act and potency, the principle of causality, and the like). They're logical proofs and not probabilistic claims. How does that fit into your dichotomy?

  15. Many of the posts on this thread are basically asking if we can just swap philosophical systems and get the same result: for example, swap Judaism in for Christianity and Christianity in for Modernism, or some similar comparisons.

    Sure, but the claim that a false philosophical system is parasitic on a true one, is a different question than how to spot the false ones. Cardinal Newman's "Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine" is a guide on how to do just that. To oversimplify his point: authentic development is organic, whereas an illegitimate development is not.

  16. Good argument, but... when in the 1900 first years of the Church did it teach that men evolved from lower animals? That the story of the pre-Abrahamic patriarchs was not actually true? I see that Torley already brought the other difficult points (slavery, etc.).

    1. Saint Irinaeus (140-202) thought that Adam and Eve didn't really exist. He was disciple of Polycarp, who was disciple of the apostle John. You can't get earlier than that.

      Saint Augustine said that the Genesis story should not be interpreted literally.

      The difference is that, unlike modernism, the points to be interpreted in a metaphorical way are not the core beliefs of Christianity. You can believe in evolution and be Christian. You can"t disbelief in the Trinity and be Christian, the same way you can"t disbelief in Muhammad and be Muslim.

    2. Al,

      Torley didn't bring up any difficulties with slavery or anything else. Most of his arguments rely on misinterpreting the Church Fathers in some rather egregious ways. Also, as I've covered before, Torley, like most atheists, is guilty of anthropomorphizing God and treating Him as though He were a moral agent bound by the same moral rules as humans.

      As Chent points out, an overly-literal interpretation of the Book of Genesis is not essential to Christianity.

    3. @Mister Geocon

      Torley clearly denies being a atheist on this very comment section. One could argue that his more neo-theistic view takes him there, but that is a diferent thing.

      Other than that, things look good.

    4. Talmid,

      Thanks for correcting me.

      Still, if he is a non-Christian neo-theist, then that makes it more understandable why he'd think that God was an anthropomorphic entity.


  18. The reason why the Church did not teach for 1900 years that men evolved from lower animals was because men did not evolve from lower animals.

    The reason why the Church did not teach that the story of the pre-Abrahamic patriarchs was not true was because the pre-Abrahamic story was true.

    Saint Augustine interpreted the Genesis story literally, except that he thought it would be unbecoming for God to take a whole six days to create it, therefore he thought that it happened all at once. I wonder what he would think of the billion-of-years thesis of our modern-day geniuses?

    Saint Irenaeus believed it Adam and Eve, as did every Saint there ever was or ever will be.

    Why do you people who evidently like to call yourselves Christians just reflexively believe whatever modern scientists teach concerning the truth of the sacred texts? Have you not considered that the world is a moral sewer because it was first an intellectual sewer; that we find ourselves surrounded by moral perverts because we were first overrun by intellectual perverts?

    1. George,

      "Have you not considered that the world is a moral sewer"

      Yeah, it's called original sin and it's been around awhile.

    2. So the Sun revolves around the Earth?

    3. Yes, TN, but have you not noticed that things have gotten rather worse lately?

      Actually, Tom, the sun does revolve around the earth. You can laugh at that, but you can't disprove it.

      And ask yourself this: If the Copernican thesis is so strong, why did the perverts have to cook up such an errant piece of self-contradicting adhockery, i.e., the Special Theory of Relativity, in order to rescue it from the geocentric results of the Michelson-Morley experiment?

    4. Tom Mazanec,

      "So the Sun revolves around the Earth?"

      I think the word you are looking for is "orbits",

      Tom Cohoe

    5. George R the High Church Protestant Sede. He is not a "Traditional Catholic". He is at best a Protestant with Rosary beeds.

      >"So the Sun revolves around the Earth?"

      Sure pal.

    6. @George R.

      "[...] perverts [...]"

      You do not become right by calling people names just because you see yourself opposed to them.

      Most simply, the force between two electrons, as calculated by Maxwell's equations is different in different reference frames as transformed by Galilean relativity. Transformation by the Lorentz transformation corrects this error, in which the quantity of a single local force would depend on the movement of a non-interacting observer. Under the same Lorentz transformation, the famous Michaelson-Morley null result is predicted, so there is no inconsistency. The significance of the Michalson-Morley null, then, is that the aether is unobservable. Sorry, but Maxwell's equations do not work without the Lorentz transformation.

      Special relativity is just an interpretation of this. Einstein does not deserve to be called the names that many evil regimes applied to him just because he was a Jew.

      Tom Cohoe

    7. Tom, the Lorentz Transformation did not predict the results of the MM experiment. It was an ad hoc response to those results concocted in order to rescue Copernicanism from the obvious implication of them. As for Einstein's work in this area, it was a philosophical train wreck, and I'll leave it at that.

    8. @ George R.

      The Lorentz transformation indeed predicts the MM null. In fact, a null is predicted no matter how the experimental apparatus is moving inertially wrt the Earth, so it throws no light on the motion of the Earth and it could not have been "concocted in order to rescue Copernicanism".

      The Lorentz transformation corrects an inconsistency in the Galilean transformation of Maxwell's equations.

      Where do you get your authority?

      Requiring God to have arranged the universe to confirm your belief about the meaning of scripture is a form of putting God to the test. Believe it or not, He is sufficiently smarter than you for you to have to rely on faith rather than on experiments.

      Tom Cohoe

  19. George R

    Actually, it is easy to demonstrate that the earth orbits the sun and not the other way around ( to a very good approximation anyway - they actually both move about their common centre of gravity, which is located inside the sun ). Ever heard of the abberation of starlight?

    Basically, because the earth is moving around the sun, the stars are shifted from their otherwise expected positions by an amount that depends upon the speed of light and the earth's orbital velocity. This is a much smaller effect than the shift due to parallax.

    During the course of one year, stars in the plane of the ecliptic describe a line on the celestial sphere, those at the ecliptic poles a circle and those im between an ellipse. The magnitude of the shifts and the path traced out by stars according to their location in the sky is exactly as one would expect if the earth was orbiting the sun in the manner described by Newtonian mechanics , given the laboratory determined speed of light in a vacuum. If the earth was stationary there would be no abberation of starlight at all.

    The earth orbits the sun George and provably so.

    1. Ever heard of the abberation of starlight?

      Ever hear of Airy's water-telescope experiment which disproved Bradley's theory, proved that the earth did not move through the aether at all, and that the annual changes in the angle of incidence of starlight are not merely apparent, but real?

    2. "The earth orbits the sun"

      Special and general relativity says otherwise. Motion always occurs relative to a given frame of reference. There is no absolute frame of reference. You can use any point you like. The choice of an inertial frame of reference really depends on what you are trying to do, and it will be a choice made, by and large, to make your math easier.

      If you want to, you can pick the center of mass of the earth as your frame of reference. In which case, within this frame of reference, all motion in the universe does, in fact, move around or is relative to the center of the earth, which is stationary.

    3. Geocon

      Of course motion can be described in relation to any origin of coordinates, and in the special theory of relativity all motion in inertial frames of reference is relative, but the movement of the earth about the sun involves accelleration which is not relative. When I say that the earth orbits the sun and not the other way around I mean to say that it is accellerating about a point at the centre of the sun ( this is approximate of course - the earth and the sun are both accellerating about their barycentre some way below the solar photosphere ).


      At 12.29pm above I said that the abberration of starlight is a much smaller effect than heliocentric parallax. Apologies for the slip, but it is of course the other way around.

    5. Well watching a Radtrad(George R) and a Leftist(FreeThinker) debate each other is very entertaining but as a Secular Professor at my college said

      Einstein rendered the whole Galileo affair moot. Motion being something that is dependent on the frame of reference of the observer to simplify.

      As grodrigues correctly points out below we don't live in a Newtonian Universe it seems.

  20. "The choice of an inertial frame of reference really depends on what you are trying to do, and it will be a choice made, by and large, to make your math easier."

    Just a little quibble to what is most surely a typo: there are no "inertial frames" in GR. There is no preferred class of frames in GR and all frames are equivalent by the principle of local equivalence. There is no frame-invariant content to a statement like "The Earth orbits around the sun". The difference between acceleration and gravitational fields is a global, asymptotic one (the latter falls off to zero asymptotically).

    In contrast, in classical mechanics there is a preferred class of frames, and while it is obviously possible to describe motion with origin the Earth one has to use "fake forces". But our universe is not Newtonian, so this is moot.

    1. @grodrigues,

      There are preferred reference frames in general relativity, but they are local, not global, and could be called inertial frames. In free fall, sufficiently local in time and space that tidal effects are small, a local frame can be treated as a Minkowski space ... an inertial reference frame in special relativity.

      Without the Lorentz transformation, Maxwell's equations will give a different calculation for the same force calculated in different reference frames, as I previously described. The Lorentz transformation fixes this local problem, a problem inherent in Maxwell's equations and the Lorentz transformation also implies a single value for the local speed of light no matter the local inertial frame used as a reference frame in which the local speed of light is calculated.

      General relativity and the curvature of spacetime reduce special relativity to its now local only applicability, the special relativity implied as the simplest interpretation of the Lorentz transformation.

      Both special relativity and general relativity are the fine work of the great philosopher and scientist, Albert Einstein.

      Unfortunately for some, the necessary Lorentz contraction also implies that no motion relative to the aether can be measured, no matter what that motion might hypothetically be. The Michaelson-Morley experiment can only give a null and can throw no light on whether or not the apparatus moves in the aether. It says nothing about geocentrism.

      I never did claim that a geocentric theory could be true or not, and as grodrigues points out, general relativity makes the question moot, just as the Lorentz transformation implies nothing about local absolute motion.

      I basically entered the discussion to object to a poser's calling Einstein and many other scientists "perverts". "Modernism" and unchecked modernism's end point, "postmodernism", threaten another tyranny of the kind we became familiar with in the twentieth century, but the science discussed in this thread have nothing to do with the emergence of these evils.

      Tom Cohoe

  21. I think that the discussion about this would be aided by a definition of modernism. If we know what modernism is, then we can understand why skepticism, materialism, and relativism inevitably proceed from it. This requires an account of metaphysical realism and a history of the problem of universals as well as an account of Ockham's denial of the existence of extramental universal form. If this is understood, it becomes clear how abstraction came to be regarded as impossible by modernists because there was no extra-mental form to abstract. This created the intractable problems in modern epistemology that require a return to realist metaphysics to solve. This also helps us to see how the denial of extramental form led to materialism as form is the immaterial component of things composed of matter and form (e.g. the soul is the form of the body). It also helps us to see how the denial of universals led to a denial of universal truth. For this reason, St. Pius X recognized modernism as the synthesis of all heresies. It made such a fundamental mistake at the deepest levels in metaphysics that everything that followed upon that corrupted metaphysics was itself fundamentally corrupted or at least lacking foundation. If a truth were affirmed it was now per accidens rather than proceeding from knowledge as knowledge itself was undermined by modernity. I think that starting with the definition of modernism as the position that universals are mere names (nominalism or the via moderna) helps to show how certain errors both philosophical and theological flow out of modernism.

    1. That is a good point. The whole "oh, don't take a little change too serious" or the "this is not set in stone, relax" thing that you see on modernists aways sounds to me a bit like "actually, the traditional position is not really true" but with less courage.

  22. There are ugly things in the world. If one assumes that ugliness is objective, then they must conclude God doesn't exist. This is for 2 reasons. A holy God cannot sustain ugliness. And two, the fact that ugliness is needed for a "greater good" shows imperfection in the nature that creation is supposed to represent. I hear beauty in music that tells me atheism is true. I never got the Gregory's chant thing

    1. What is yer working metaphysical definition of "ugly"?

      Metaphysically Evil is privation or lack of being that a particular being should have and it's absence doesn't affect God's Holiness or sustaining action since God doesn't literally maintain nothing. If I loose the perfection of having two legs in an accident God doesn't maintain the "existence" of my lack of a leg since there is no longer any leg to maintain an existence.

      Yer equivocation here is noted.

      Given scholastic presuppositions ugly is a descriptive term of a thing that lacks a perfection it ought to have but as I said above God's holiness does not sustain Zero as there is nothing to sustain.

    2. Yakov

      That was absolutely hilarious!

      Given your analysis of 'evil' God cannot maintain it in existance as it is an absence or privation, but he can and does maintain things in existance which exhibit the privation! You elaborate a distinction without a difference. No need to wonder why God maintains the horrors of appalling burns to a babies body as what is being maintained is a system exhibiting privations to the skin, and not the absent things themselves, so God does not maintain an evil! Fall on the floor and roll about wetting oneself!!

    3. @anonymous:

      This is a crude variation of the problem of evil as an argument against the existence of God. The argument from the problem of evil can be constructed as follows: 1. Evil exists, 2. If God is all good and all powerful, He could and would remove evil from the world, 3. As He has not done so, God does not exist.

      The variation you have presented attends not to goodness and evil, but to beauty and ugliness and could be constructed similarly. 1. Ugliness exists, 2. If God were all beautiful and all powerful, He could and would eliminate ugliness in the world. 3. As He has not done so, God does not exist.

      The reason that I refer to your variation as crude is because you introduce ambiguous language ("sustain ugliness") and you don't bother to construct your argument well. I have helped with that above, but you have neither had the courtesy of offering a basic definition of key terms like beauty and ugliness (something that could be done in a relatively brief manner even in a blog combox) nor made the effort to understand how a Thomist might define these terms.

      To help remedy the latter problem, St. Thomas understands beauty in terms of order and proportion. Something is beautiful to the extent that it is proportionate or well ordered. For example, a face is beautiful in its structure to the extent that its parts are proportionate to the whole and manifest the order of symmetry. A symphony is beautiful to the extent that it’s notes fit with one another in a melodious order. Writing can also have a cadence to it that makes it beautiful. Computer codes are described by programmers as elegant or beautiful to the extent that they are well constructed. So fittingness or order are essential features of beauty. Something that is beautiful is well ordered.

      Conversely ugliness is a lack of order. A face is ugly because it lacks order and is misshapen or misfigured. A symphony is ugly when the notes are not related in a melodious order. Writing is ugly when it is poorly constructed and lacks order. Finally, computer codes lack elegance and beauty when they lack structure and order.

      Ugliness is both logically and metaphysically posterior to beauty. It is logically posterior to beauty in that beauty consists of right order or proportion and ugliness is privation of that order/proportion. The order is more fundamental metaphysically in that there are consistent patterns to the operation of the natural world. The natural world operates according to laws that can be known. The movement of the planets and laws of motion are so ordered that they can be understood with mathematical precision.

      This order is so normal to us that we expect it and are shocked when it is absent. We go to a symphony and expect beauty and are angry when we have paid good money and the notes are cacophinuos rather than melodiously well ordered. We are shocked by a misfigured face in a way that we are not shocked at a particularly beautiful face. The reason for this is that we expect beauty as more fundamental to reality than ugliness. (see continuation)

  23. @ anonymous (continued)

    Nevertheless, ugliness does exist, so how are we to account for it? Although there are other forms of ugliness, it is moral ugliness that tends to cause people to have objections against God’s existence. It is for this reason that such arguments are typically structured in the form of the problem of evil. However, they can also be structured in relation to beauty and ugliness as moral acts are well ordered acts (and thus beautiful) and immoral acts are disordered and thus ugly.

    We recognize that there is something ugly about cruelty. We recognize that there is something very ugly and unattractive about racism. We recognize that this is not fitting because race neither increases nor decreases the worth of a person. Likewise, it is morally ugly to be ungrateful to those who have given to your sacrificially for your good. Gratefulness would be a more fitting or proportionate (or we might say appropriate) response. There is something repulsive about people who are racists, cruel, or ungrateful. Conversely there is a moral beauty to people who are grateful, kind, and who treat others justly. Their actions are beautiful because their actions are fitting or proportionate.

    This recognition of beauty and ugliness in moral acts is reflected in our language. It is for this reason that parents say to their children, “Don’t be ugly” when those children are being unkind to their siblings. It is also for this reason that Mother Theresa’ exhorted others to live a sacrificial life in service of God in terms of “Doing something beautiful for God.”

    As a final example of ugliness, it is ugly for someone to be habitually skeptical of those who merit their trust. The problem with habitual skeptics is that they are not able to recognize either good will or good arguments. This is a moral defect that is ugly and damages the relationships the skeptic has with other people whom he or she should trust and damages the skeptics ability to discern truth. The alternative to such a disposition is not naïve credulity. The alternative is an openness to good arguments and a good faith effort to understand such arguments. This allows us to recognize truth as we earnestly seek it and to recognize people of good will and sound mind who can teach us the truth. Such a disposition allows people to learn from St. Thomas Aquinas and if they have goodwill to begin to see that his arguments are extremely strong if they are only given a real hearing (the life of Dr. Feser attests to this).

    So moral ugliness exists and it consists of a disordered disposition and disordered acts. Is there reason for us to think that this impugns the Beauty of God? Here the basic distinction between necessity and contingency is extremely important. God is necessarily good as He is Goodness Itself. He is also necessarily Beautiful as He is Beauty Itself. We are beautiful by nature but are not necessarily beautiful. That is to say that moral ugliness is a possibility for us precisely because we are created. If we had a will that was coterminous with beauty, we would be the creator and not the creature (making the creation of a necessarily beautiful person as contradictory as a square circle and thus not impugning God’s power). By nature of being a creature, our will can be set on beauty (morally well ordered acts), but it is not set there with necessity. Our beauty is contingent based on the contingency of our moral acts. This summarizes briefly a Catholic Thomistic account of how moral ugliness is present in the world and shows that the existence of moral ugliness in no way impugns the beauty of God. For a positive account of the existence of God, buy a copy of Edward Feser’s Five Proofs.

    1. Never had any trouble with Moral Evil "disproving" God's existence. That is just Free Will. It is natural evil (disease especially, but also natural disasters) that sometimes gives me...pause.

    2. @Tom:

      That is really the more difficult problem as it requires a deeper engagement with a wider range of questions to adequately address. There is a book length treatment on this question by Eleonore Stump called Wandering in the Darkness. Although I have not read it, I suspect it is well done as Dr. Stump is a first rate Thomist philosopher.

      I will also offer a few thoughts that I hope will be helpful. First, the problem of evil in terms of natural disaster seems to call into question God's goodness or justice in a way that the problem of moral evil does not. The problem of moral evil is disolved by the recognition of creatures who are contingently good by a free will. It impugns neither God's goodness nor God's power. While this problem is disolved primarily in term of an exposition of God's power (it does not impugn anyone's power to say that He cannot draw a square circle nor created an uncreated being--i.e. one that is necessarily good and created), the latter problem must be resolved in terms of an exposition of God's Goodness and particularly His justice.

      How could it be just for an innocent baby to suffer from cancer or a tornado when he has done no wrong? How could a just God allow this to occur? Although the question is made palpable by our experience of suffering, it needs to be analyzed deeply if we are going to come to terms with it in a reasonable way. In other words, we must not allow a visceral first response to the question to keep us from examining the premises behind the question.

      For example, the most fundamental premise is that our greatest good lies in the avoidance of temporary suffering and that a loving and just God would not allow us to undergo temporary suffering. However, this premise is problematic. A just and loving father will allow his son to train for football when this entails some level of intense and even sustained suffering for something that can only be achieved through such suffering. There is a higher good in mind that the dad and the coach see more clearly than the linebacker son who is struggling through the two a days with asthma. In this instance, the parent and coach have an understanding of the value of the end goal and how it is worthy of pursuit and even suffering.

      With this in mind, it is important to analyze more deeply the premise that temporary suffering is the greatest evil that we could possibly endure. That premise either presupposes materialism and that the body is all that there is. If this were the case, bodily suffering would be the worst thing possible and should be avoided at all costs. However, such a view does not disprove God's existence; it presupposes that he does not exist. If however we recognize the existence of an immaterial soul, we have to assess the relation of the body and the soul. If the soul is more noble than the body, could we not justify bodily suffering for the good of the soul? Could not bodily suffering be *useful* for the good of the soul in that it helps us to recognize that the material world is temporary as it is subject to decay? This is precisely how the Catholic Tradition understands both the voluntary suffering of self denial which occurs, for example, through fasting and involuntary suffering that occurs through events outside our control. Such bodily suffering can be good for our own soul and our own suffering can be good for the soul of others as well. If there is a soul that is more noble than the body and is eternal, it is the eternal happiness of the soul that is most important and not the temporary pleasure or displeasure of the body (This is not to day that the body is bad or that pleasure is bad per se. It is only to recognize that pleasure is not ultimate because the body is a lower good than the soul).

    3. @Tom (continued)

      Another premise that requires analysis is the premise that we only merit temporary bodily suffering for our own misdeeds. That is a key premise to the suggestion that it is unjust for an innocent child to suffer from cancer or a tornado. Although the child has committed no wrong, he suffers. How in this world could this be just for God to allow this?

      The fact that it is temporary and bodily suffering at least leaves open the possibility that such suffering may benefit the soul (either the child's soul or the soul of another person).

      Sometimes the suffering of one person can be for the good of another person. This occurs in war and in the case of anyone who makes a sacrifice for someone else. The difference between the suffering of an adult in war is that such suffering is generally voluntary and the suffering of an innocent child is not. Yet this only poses a problem if we hold the premise that the child must understand the reason for his suffering for the suffering to have a reason. That is, again, a faulty premise as we need not understand all or any of the good that our suffering does for others for that suffering to in fact do such good.

      Although there is much more that could be said about concepts such as "corporate solidarity" and the implications of original sin for suffering and Divine Justice, I will stop there as I think that some of the most important distinctions have been put in place.