Category Archives: Does God Exist?

Free Will and Providence: Metaphysical Issues

“For God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”[1]

 

The Problem

If one were to ask the question “why does a rock fall when released from the hand,” it would, no doubt, be a true yet odd answer to respond, “God wills it.”  Yet, we must not argue that indeed, the falling of the rock does not escape God’s providence.  It certainly did not catch Him by surprise.

 

However, when asking the question, we are usually seeking the more proximate answer.  To say that “the rock falls because of gravity,” that still hardly understood force that draws massive objects toward one another, is to in no way infringe upon God’s power and providence.

Some find it difficult to understand how natural effects are ascribed to God and to the activity of nature. For it would seem impossible that one action should proceed from two agents: hence if the action productive of a natural effect proceeds from a natural body, it does not proceed from God.[2]

 

Here we find a difficulty that has bothered logicians, philosophers, and theologians alike. From this problem we get Occam’s Razor, whereby we need to give two explanations when one seems sufficient. “For Ockham, the only truly necessary entity is God; everything else, the whole of creation, is radically contingent through and through. In short, Ockham does not accept the Principle of Sufficient Reason.”[3]

 

Certainly not unrelated to the nominalism that follows from Ockham’s theories (at least as they were later developed) is the mitigated skepticism of David Hume.  His skepticism towards the reality of causality is well known. “Hume’s account of causation provides a paradigm of how philosophy, as he conceives it, should be done. He goes on to apply his method to other thorny traditional problems of philosophy and theology: liberty and necessity, miracles, design. In each case, the moral is that a priori reasoning and argument gets us nowhere.”[4]

 

Of course, Hume’s theories had a huge impact on the thought of Kant, who may legitimately be seen as the pre-eminent thinker of modern philosophy.  “In the Preface to the Prolegomena Kant considers the supposed science of metaphysics. He states that ‘no event has occurred that could have been more decisive for the fate of this science than the attack made upon it by David Hume’ and goes on to say that ‘Hume proceeded primarily from a single but important concept of metaphysics, namely, that of the connection of cause and effect.’”[5]

 

Ockham believed in God, and Hume, most likely, did not. Kant believed we could not prove God, but must act as if he existed. These are but a few of the philosophical results of a poor understanding of causality.

 

From a flawed or superficial understanding of causality, we also encounter problems in theology. Less often we get the error of Arminianism, which almost seems to entail a limit on God’s sovereignty so as to safeguard man’s freedom. But the more rigorously thought out error is that of the Reformed theologians, who insist that, if all is grace, man is in reality entirely passive in his actions, at least towards salvation.

 

For example, “Luther having denied the freedom of the will in sinful man as also freedom in the use of grace, logically placed the eternal destiny of the individual solely and entirely in the hands of God, who without any regard to merit or demerit metes out heaven or hell just as He pleases…Calvin is the most logical advocate of Predestinarianism pure and simple. Absolute and positive predestination of the elect for eternal life, as well as of the reprobate for hell and for sin, is one of the chief elements of his whole doctrinal system and is closely connected with the all-pervading thought of “the glory of God”.”[6]

 

This ‘glory of God’ is, however, falsely portrayed, for, as Etienne Gilson said so well, “When and where piety is permitted to inundate the philosophical field, the usual outcome is that, the better to extol the glory of God, pious-minded theologians proceed joyfully to annihilate God’s own creation.”[7] With St. Thomas, who is rightfully called the theologian of creation, we can see that God’s sovereign causality is not undermined by a correct understanding of the creatures role as a true cause, and this because the causes are not competitive, but each refers to its own proper sphere.

 

The Solution

The solution to the problem, at least insofar as a solution can be understood by a limited human intellect, is that we differentiate the causes, not as percentages or equals, giving one another a hand with a task, as a strong man may lift 80% of the weight and a weaker helper 20%, but as two causes that are on completely different planes of existence. God transcends his creation, and is not simply the greatest being among many.

 

It would seem that the issue of ‘divvying up’ the task when we seek either God or creature as cause would be more suited to a monistic or polytheistic and pagan universe than to a Thomistic one, in which God completely transcends the world He created. Even in an example like Plotinus, who to my understanding does his best to have his One transcend the emanating world, one can still hardly deny that his doctrine was very near to pantheism.

 

In true monotheism, however, God utterly transcends His creation so as to be in no way in ‘competition’ with that creation. Rightly understood, therefore, we need not assign cause to God or creature in a false either/or dichotomy. Each can be true cause, but with respect to the primary causality of the uncreated Creator in His case and, likewise, with respect to the contingent being in his.

It is, also, clear that the same effect is ascribed to a natural cause and to God, not as though part were effected by God and part by the natural agent: but the whole effect proceeds from each, yet in different ways: just as the whole of the one same effect is ascribed to the instrument, and again the whole is ascribed to the principal agent.[8]

 

Now, assigning the creature merely an instrumental causality is a perfectly good answer when we are considering inanimate beings and, perhaps, even non-rational animals. But we must certainly acknowledge that instrumental causality alone is not sufficient to understand a free creature’s causality as truly free. No one calls a pencil free when it is used as a true cause in the writing of a letter, even if we rightly assign instrumental causality to the pencil. Therefore, we must at least qualify the causality we here speak of if we are to maintain that some creatures are real and free causes.

In government there are two things to be considered; the design of government, which is providence itself; and the execution of the design. As to the design of government, God governs all things immediately; whereas in its execution, He governs some things by means of others.[9]

 

St. Thomas gives this brief description of God’s providence in dealing with creation as a whole, in which St. Thomas states that God lets true causes intervene between He and the intended effect. This answer must be given to the occasionalism that became very prominent in the thinking of later theologians and philosophers. However, it is only a general answer, applying to all of creation, and only hints at an answer to the problem of creaturely causality when we come to discuss rationally free beings as truly causal. Certainly,

The divine will imposes necessity on some things willed but not on all. The reason of this some have chosen to assign to intermediate causes, holding that what God produces by necessary causes is necessary; and what He produces by contingent causes contingent.[10]

 

When St. Thomas answers this more specific question of rational and free creatures, it comes in his treatment of man’s end.

I answer that, as Dionysius says (Div. Nom. iv.) it belongs to Divine providence, not to destroy but to preserve the nature of things. Wherefore it moves all things in accordance with their conditions; so that from necessary causes through the Divine motion, effects follow of necessity; but from contingent causes, effects follow contingently. Since, therefore, the will is an active principle, not determinate to one thing, but having an indifferent relation to many things, God so moves it, that He does not determine it of necessity to one thing, but its movement remains contingent and not necessary, except in those things to which it is moved naturally.[11]

 

If God truly transcends His creation, He can create a world that is, while completely dependent on Him for its existence, still truly independent to the extent that God is not limited to creating creatures that cannot reason and will for themselves. But if God can create creatures that are rational and free, then their actions, while dependent on God for existence, are also truly their own, for that is how God created them. The issue, then, is the question as to whether God can or cannot create things that are both ‘contingent and not necessary.’

 

The answer, in a monistic, pantheistic world, would be no. The Thomist Norman Kretzman argued according to the Neoplatonic dictum that the good must necessarily be diffusive of itself and must necessarily create, although the Good is free to create whatever He likes. This position may be seen as problematic when asking if God could create beings that were contingent and not necessary, but it is hardly a true Thomistic position. A true Thomist natural theology would affirmatively answer that, yes, God can create beings that are contingent and not necessary, and, what’s more, these beings would have the freedom to do the same. These creature’s actions and choices are contingent, and therefore depend on the first cause, which is God. Yet their actions are not necessary, and thus are truly free.

 

Reply Obj. 1. The Divine will extends not only to the doing of something by the thing which He moves, but also to its being done in a way which is fitting to the nature of that thing. And therefore it would be more repugnant to the Divine motion, for the will to be moved of necessity, which is not fitting to its nature; than for it to be moved freely, which is becoming to its nature.[12]

 

If God creates creatures that have free will, then it is repugnant to reason that they be not truly free. God is omnipotent, and this means, not that he can do all things conceived of, but that he can do all things that are true possibilities. As God cannot make square circles because of the intrinsic contradiction in the term, neither can He make rational and free creatures that are completely determined. In a monistic and pantheistic emanationist metaphysics, we would indeed affirm, then, that God could not make free creatures. But when God is understood to completely transcend His creation, we need no longer see a contradiction.

 

Just as Christian theologians have been able to come to an understanding of the Incarnation whereby Christ is truly man and truly God, and with no admixture of these natures, likewise, using the same ‘non-competitiveness’ of God’s nature with that of His creation, we can affirm God’s ability to make rational and free creatures. And in the history of theology, we see that the difficulties in understanding the two natures of Christ often stemmed from the Neoplatonic philosophical underpinnings of the early Church. The Aristotelian approach, modified by St. Thomas because of his faith in revelation and therefore the data of creation ex nihilo, allows us to overcome this difficultly.

 

We need not deny God’s providence here. Certainly, philosophers and theologians have affirmed what we have just said, but in too great and one sided a way, and thus come to the conclusion of deism. But these philosophers have neglected to remember that God does not create from pre-existing material, and therefore, He cannot create it and then simply leave it to itself, as an artisan would do in our human understanding. God is always present as efficient (and final) cause to His creation and, therefore, it is always, at every moment, dependent upon Him. Providence, therefore, is in no way rejected. Yet again, providence must be understood according to the nature of each thing that God providentially governs.

 

It belongs to divine providence to use things according to their mode. And the mode of a thing’s action is in keeping with its form which is the principle of action. Now the form through which a voluntary agent acts is not determinate: because the will acts through a form apprehended by the intellect, since the apprehended good moves the will objectively; and the intellect has not one determinate form of the effect, but is of such a nature as to understand a multitude of forms; so that the will is able to produce manifold effects. Therefore it does not belong to divine providence to exclude freedom of the will.[13]

 

Thomas’ answer to the question of free will and divine providence is far more intricate that we have space to ponder here. Certainly, even then it would not be a complete answer, as if free will and providence can be comprehended by the finite mind of man. But St Thomas denies neither man’s freedom nor God’s providence, and St. Thomas does this, informed by revealed truth, but in perfect consistency with philosophical reasoning.

 

Concluding Thoughts

It is a mystery, for sure, that God is present and governing in all His creation, and yet allows free will. Perhaps, through philosophy alone, we would not come to this conclusion. But, informed by revelation, we can also see that it need not be contradictory to reason that we affirm both free will and providence. The above arguments, therefore, are not meant to convince, from reason alone, that free will and providence are definitively the answer. To do so would be to produce a weak argument, as if this were our entire reason for affirming its truth. But, in the manner of St. Thomas’ Summa Contra Gentiles, it is hoped that the result is two-fold: It affirms that free will and providence are not repugnant to reason, and this is a sufficient response to those who do not believe, that at least their arguments against the faith are not demonstrative and, for the believer, strengthens the faith  by presenting it in such a way that we may grasp a little more understanding of God and His creation.

 

As a practical question, therefore, what does this mean for a believer? It may, at least, help to answer the great question of prayer: Why pray?

So, as natural effects are provided by God in such a way that natural causes are directed to bring about those natural effects, without which those effects would not happen; so the salvation of a person is predestined by God in such a way, that whatever helps that person towards salvation falls under the order of predestination; whether it be one’s own prayers, or those of another; or other good works, and suchlike, without which one would not attain to salvation. Whence, the predestined must strive after good works and prayer; because through these means predestination is most certainly fulfilled.[14]

Lastly, turning briefly from St. Thomas, we can sum up what this means for our life as Christians. The Catechism gives a true and balanced response to the question we have been pondering.

The vocation to eternal life is supernatural. It depends entirely on God’s gratuitous initiative, for he alone can reveal and give himself.[15] The preparation of man for the reception of grace is already a work of grace.[16] God’s free initiative demands man’s free response.[17] God grants his creatures not only their existence, but also the dignity of acting on their own, of being causes and principles for each other, and thus of co-operating in the accomplishment of his plan.[18]

Quotations from Scripture, the Fathers, and the Catechism could certainly be multiplied beyond this, but the Doctor of Grace will be given the final words here. Recognizing that there is an objective and absolute moral law that we must follow, yet finding ourselves in need of God’s mercy and grace to follow His commands, we ask with Augustine that God “”Give me what you command and command what you will,”[19] because “He Who created you without your cooperation, will not save you without your cooperation.”[20]


[1] Phil 2:13

[2] SCG, 3.70

[3] Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Occam

[4] SEP, Hume

[5] SEP, Kant and Hume on Causality

[6] NewAdvent.org, Predestinarianism

[7] Gilson, Etienne, The Unity of Philosophical Experience, p.32

[8] SCG, 3.73.

[9] I, Q.103, ar. 6

[10] ST. I, 19, ar. 8

[11] I-II, Q.10, art. 4

[12] Ibid.

[13] SCG, 3.73

[14] ST I, 23, ar. 8

[15] CCC 1998

[16] CCC 2001

[17] CCC 2002

[18] CCC 306

[19] St. Augustine, Confessions, 10, 29

[20] St. Augustine, Sermon 169, 13

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Knowledge of God’s Perfections through Reason

“Every perfection and goodness which is in creatures belongs to God essentially (Aquinas, SCG, 1.80).” Just as we can know the existence of God from reason alone by reasoning from effects to cause, we likewise can know certain attributes of God.

Yoram Hazony* recently published an opinion piece, in which he claimed that we can know little, if anything, about God. The key concept, which he was adamant to deny, was knowledge of God’s perfection or perfections. While the article showed certain theological and hermeneutical errors, the primary issue was one of reasoning, specifically metaphysical reasoning. It is to that error, its origins, and its solution, that I now turn.

Metaphysical thought inquires beyond our sense experience, but is derived from it.  We can understand something about the world beyond our immediate perceptions, and “come to a knowledge of the truth.”  Philosophical reasoning canbring us to many of the same truths as divine revelation, as truth is one.  But a bad metaphysics, or a doubt of the possibility of metaphysics, can lead to an equally erroneous view.

The two directions of rationalism and empiricism that developed in the modern period of philosophy, as emphasized by Descartes and Hume, respectively, contributed to a divorce between faith and science.  Kant later attempted to reconcile the divergent views, but he also had to deny the ability to prove the existence of God, and many other metaphysical possibilities fell by the wayside in his system as well.

But these problems began earlier than Descartes with theologians who viewed being as either an equivocal or as a univocal concept. Univocity and equivocity are not the only available positions, however.

We must say here something about abstraction if the point is to be understood. We will quickly look at natural philosophy, mathematics, and metaphysics to demonstrate this.

In the study of natural philosophy we merely abstract the universal from the particular.  We study the features of flesh and bones, apart from this particular flesh or this particular bone. This is to consider objects as “matter as such,” such as flesh and bones, but not particular matter, such as “this flesh” and “these bones.”

Freedom from all sensible matter brings us to mathematics.  For we do not need to include matter in the definition of a circle as we do when we define flesh, but there are no existing circles apart from matter.  We see that the difference, then, is that while both require matter to exist, mathematical objects do not require that matter be part of their very definition.

Metaphysics goes beyond this by not only abstracting the object of study from sensible matter, but understanding that some things can exist and be defined apart from any matter whatsoever. In other words, the mind leaves aside all the limitations of matter and cognizes an object that is intelligible without reference to matter and so is independent of matter in both meaning and existence.

The understanding of abstraction and separation are not only important for understanding the difference in the speculative sciences, but in understanding metaphysical topics. It is especially important in contemplating how all created things relate to God without falling into the areas of thinking that God’s being and our being are completely univocal or completely equivocal.

Nominalism is the general philosophical position of many today. Simply put, a nominalist cannot see the connection between beings in any metaphysical way, but only as matters of fact. Nominalism tends to be the underlying premise of empirical scientific positivism.

A different metaphysical understanding than that of univocal or equivocal being is necessary to arrive at an understanding of God. That position, held by St. Thomas Aquinas, is one of analogy. When one understands being analogously, we are able to see that there are similarities and differences in what is common from one being to another, and we can use this understanding to see that effects must have some similarity to their cause. It is through this similarity that we can know something of God and His perfection.

Before we go a little further into exploring the use of analogy in understanding God and His perfections, something must be said of the two ways in which we can, philosophically, know something of God.

The first way is that of negation, which consists in denying of God anything that belongs to contingent beings as contingent. Here, we say more about what God is not than what He is, but in doing so, we really do come closer to understanding God. After all, we move closer to understanding anything when we can limit certain attributes from our concept of the thing. We do this with mathematics, in which we remove the material and simply understanding the thing as, for example, a circle. When we realize a contingent thing, as contingent, requires a cause, we can see that God is uncaused. Uncaused, infinite, etc, are actually negative terms, but they tell us real information about God. In this via negationas, then, while perhaps not stating perfections of God, we do take away imperfections from our concept of God.

The second way we of philosophically speaking of God is the way of eminence, the via eminentiae. In this way, we attribute to God, to an eminent degree and analogously, everything that can be considered a pure perfection. In this way, we can say that God is wise, for example. But He is not wise in the way a human is wise, for a human learns in time, and through discursive reasoning, and learns a limited amount of things. So we, by removing all the imperfections of wisdom as it exists in our own experience, can say that God is wise. Of course, God’s wisdom is really wisdom, but it is spoken of neither equivocally nor univocally as compared to ours, but analogously.

As we stated earlier, we reason to the wisdom of God, for example, by understanding the relation of cause and effect, knowing that effects in some way resemble their cause, and cannot exceed its cause. Therefore, an unwise (primary) cause could not create a wise effect. Being does not come from non-being. Here, we come full circle, and see that, in the same way we prove God’s existence, moving from contingent being’s dependence on necessary being, we can likewise know of some of the perfections of God.

Again, it is by a sort of incomplete abstraction from one subject that we understand such terms as goodness and even being itself.  The primary subject that we abstract these analogies from is being itself, which is God.  For example, God is not [merely] “good” but is goodness itself, whereas other things are “good” by way of analogy, and this goodness is understood as related to God’s goodness but not univocal to it.

Lastly, mention must be made of the supposed imperfections of God mentioned in Scripture, as pointed out by Mr. Hazony in his recent article. Again, we refer here to the importance of analogy. There are several types of analogy used in natural theology, and each has important uses in the field. However, one type of analogy called, by the philosophers, improper proportionality, but might better be known in general as a metaphor.

If God is “like a lion,” then we have an example of this type of analogy. We can derive some knowledge of God, as He relates to His creatures, from such analogies. But obviously, such analogies have limited use. God is not gold-furred, around 450 pounds, and carnivorous, and no one that says that “God is like a lion” intends such things to be conveyed. Likewise, in the places where the Scriptures seem to make statements that limit the perfections of God, they are always stated in metaphorical ways, and almost always meant to show, not an intrinsic attribute of God, but to convey something about how He relates to His creatures, or, more appropriately, how creatures are related to Him.

 

*Yoram Hazony does not exist. This short essay is a response to an imaginary article that denies we can know, through reason, that God has certain perfections.

Evolution, Final Causality, and a Creator

Evolution, Final Causality, and a Creator

Introduction

The order of learning as taught by St. Thomas Aquinas, is that we first sense the created world and because of the understanding we form of it come to know of the truth of its Creator. It is possible, though, to focus on the part and lose the whole, and this myopia has resulted in the current secular understanding of evolution, commonly called Darwinism, which has become one such reductionist belief of a great majority of modern man. Etienne Gilson finds this problematic and has explained that “[t]he pure mechanist in biology is a man whose entire activity has as its end the discovery of the ‘how’ of the vital operations in plants and animals. Looking for nothing else, he sees nothing else, and since he cannot integrate other things in his research, he denies their existence.”[1] Most discussions of evolution, in fact, end up centering on the question of chance, and, once established, it seems permissible for its adherents to do away with not only final causality (already a fatality to the reductionism already mentioned), but also the existence of God.

Our crafting a correct theory of evolution might enable us to come to a greater knowledge of the world around us and to an initial understanding of at least the existence of its necessary cause.

What is Evolution?

Catholics, although not obligated, are certainly encouraged to accept some form of evolution as the most coherent, scientifically verified, and likely material theory for the current state of species. “First, evolution, in its broadest sense, states that the world ‘began’ and gradually more and more complex substances developed.”[2] None other than Pope John Paul II said as much in his Letter on Evolution.[3] The point to be made here, before investigating some of the problems with erroneous theories of evolution, is that faith and reason are not opposed, and the Catholic Church itself has no opposition to such a theory, correctly understood.

We run into philosophical problems when the totality of the actual beings, these new forms, is reduced to a mere sum of the material parts involved. “In philosophical terms, different actual beings (substances with new forms) appear as time progresses.”[4] This reductionism is a constant temptation for scientists, whose observations are of the merely empirical, the measurable. If we say that a book is paper with ink marking bound together by covers, we are correct in as much as we say, but we err when we decide that a book is only those things.

We may ask the question here of the possibility of a million monkeys typing on a million computers for a million years and the question of their achieving “Hamlet.” The truth is, that an infinite amount of monkeys typing for an infinite amount of years could not generate the first sentence of Hamlet, unless we say that “Hamlet” is merely the arrangement of ink on paper. But Hamlet is an idea, and conveys concepts, abstracted thoughts, and many other things than require an intellect to recognize. Perhaps a single monkey could, in 5 minutes, type out the image of words to the first page of Hamlet, but it would not be “Hamlet” without the intellect recognizing it as such. The ink and the paper are there, to be sure, but much more than the ink and the paper.

Reductionism of this type can even take place in those who believe in the existence of a reality beyond the physical. Much of the error of modern reductionist science can be linked back to the views of such a believer as Descartes, who separated the human soul from the body in almost a complete way. Once this occurred, there seemed to be no way to put the two back together. The human body has now become the machine through which a human soul merely operates.

Animals, not having an intellectual soul, therefore become nothing more than their bodies, which are merely matter. Gilson makes the excellent observation “that primitives take a watch for an animal, but only the genius of Descartes has been able to take animals for watches.”[5] It is one thing for us to recognize our tendency to see a biological type of teleology of the kind with an intellectually known purpose “in” an inanimate object. But it is equally erroneous to reduce everything to the material as a correction.[6]

A Note on Charles Darwin and Herbert Spencer

Darwin preferred his doctrine to be taught under the understanding of epigenesis, where successive acquisition and formation of new parts occurs, rather than a strict evolution, which would posit the completed form in the seed that merely develops to its end.  “[True evolution is] the notion of all those who wish to make absolutely certain that the divine act of creation having once taken place, nothing new is added to the created nature.”[7]  Herbert Spencer should probably be credited with coining evolution in the modern scientific sense. He certainly made an effort to defend the proposition that it was he and not Darwin who came up with it, but history seems to have had its unchangeable victory in forever linking Darwin with the foundation of evolution. “Not only is it that Darwin did not teach evolution, but Spencer does not believe in natural selection.”[8] Spencer would be much closer to a Lamarkian (see the works of Chevalier de Lamarck, 1744-1829) than a Darwinian, as we understand the terms.

We need to emphasis the point that Darwin did not intend his thought to be tied with that of evolution. “At the time when Darwin elaborated his own doctrine of the origin of species, the word ‘evolution’ was already in use to signify something completely different.”[9] ‘Evolution,’ from the Latin verb evolver, is an old philosophical notion of the of the Stoics. The word evolution, indeed, cannot be found in Darwin’s Origin of Species until the 6th edition. It seems to have been placed there, not because it was fundamental to his own thought, but because of the intellectual atmosphere of the time.

In place of evolution, Darwin posited a quite different theory. “The authentic Darwinian principle is not that of evolution; it is that of the principle of selection.”[10] This is an important point, because among the majority of laymen, and likely among many scientists, these two theories are erroneously seen as synonymous. For our purposes here, however, we note this point and move on to theories involving chance and then the notion of final causality. I wish to simply affirm, with Gilson, that “the great discovery which was popularly attributed to Darwin was not the evolutionism of Spencer, but his own doctrine of natural selection under the Spencerian name of evolution.”[11]

Chance: An Explanation?

We see that, although he denies it several times,[12] the underlying and strong position a modern biologist such as Dawkins gives to the “explanation” of chance. Chance has been touted as the explanation for much in Darwinian theories of evolution. But an explanation should be a cause, for we have real knowledge when we have knowledge through causes.[13] Is chance, then, a cause?

Aristotle lists four causes, and these are the formal, the material, the efficient, and the final causes. Material and efficient causes play an obviously important role in the empirical sciences. However, it seems that whatever lies beyond these two causes is lumped into the “cause of chance” and left at that. If Aristotle is correct, however, chance is only virtually a cause. Chance is sometimes concurrent with the four causes; therefore, chance is a cause only by virtue of concurrence. There are certainly other possible explanations of the concurrence of events, and they should not be written off outright without justification.

Let us take the example of a chance meeting of two old friends. Bob and Sam meet each other, by chance, in the market. But chance is not a real cause of their meeting. Bob went to purchase a product at the market, and Sam went to file a complaint with the manager at the market. Since they did these at the same time, without knowledge of each others’ intentions, we say they met by chance. But all we are really saying is that the cause of the concurrence of these events is outside the intentions of the individuals. Chance, then, is not an explanation, but merely states the lack of a known cause for the concurrence of the two old friends being in the market at the same time.

Perhaps Sally, a friend of both, was able to arrange this meeting, apart from the knowledge of both Sam and Bob, for she did the favor of reuniting old friends. We may imagine other causes that were intentional as well. The point, for us, is that, for Bob and Sam, as well as any other party unaware of Sally’s intention, the meeting of Sam and Bob in the market would appear as chance. This is because they lack the explanation of their concurrent appearances in the market.

Chance, then, is no true explanation at all. It is more of a placeholder. Chance is the part of the puzzle where we say “here we lack knowledge of the cause.” This is fine, as far as it goes. But when we remove the placeholder and name “placeholder” as “cause,” we have decided that to simply state our ignorance is to state some knowledge. This is as far from the true goal of science as we could get. Materialist atheists tend to charge the theist with worshipping gaps, but the truth is, the theist recognizes the gaps in our explanation and tries to offer a real explanation rather than to push that gap as that explanation.

Final Causality and Teleology

Richard Dawkins makes an attempt to refute Thomas Aquinas’ fifth way, that is, the argument from design, which we can take as one instance of a teleological argument. He writes that “[t]he argument from design is the only one still in regular use today.”[14] This itself is erroneous, but Dawkins has already failed to give a real argument against the first four of Aquinas’ proofs, and so this statement is an instance of rhetoric designed to keep his reader from returning and investigating his “refutation” of them. He continues, stating how “[t]he young Darwin was impressed by it [a version of this argument by William Paley] but…the mature Dawkins blew it out of the water.”[15] In this section, Dawkins argument amounts to this: “Thanks to Darwin, it is no longer true to say that nothing we know looks designed unless it is designed.” His argument here is that, because Darwin was right, Darwin was right. The argument is both circular (and thus fallacious) and is an argument from authority (the weakest kind of argument).He does promise to return to the argument from design in a later chapter, but never really returns to a refutation of the teleological argument as presented by Aquinas. This is, after all, typical of Dawkins and his rhetorical rather systematically reasoned style. Other poor refutations given by Dawkins do not concern us for our purposes here.

Certainly, a biologist, a physicist, a chemist, etc., may rightly reject a teleology where rocks move toward a massive object, such as the earth’s surface, with an intellectually known purpose. But to refute teleology in this way is to refute a straw man, rather intentionally or through ignorance. “Much of the difficulty with teleology in nature arises from conceiving all final causality as intentional or cognitive and not sufficiently differentiating the cognitive from the terminative and the perfective.”[16] Gilson is at pains to remind us throughout his book that, as Aristotle so often stated, art imitates nature, and not the reverse. “Matter, form, and the end are real constituents of being, but they exist only in it and by it. This is what distinguishes the teleology of nature from that of art. The artist is external to his work…The end of living nature is, on the contrary, consubstantial with it.”[17]

Gilson then gives one of the finest examples to clear up our confusion on the “location” of this teleology in nature. “Whatever may be the transcendent origin of it, the teleology of the organism is in it as, once let fly by the archer, that of the arrow which flies to the target without knowing it, is in the arrow.”[18] It may be that Aristotle tending to “biologize” all of nature. He posited intelligences in the celestial matter, and professed that matter to be of a different type than earthly (mundane) matter. His statements that heavy things tend toward a resting place and that fire tends upwards could be taken as if these objects had an intellectual disposition to do so. But to misunderstand the exact “place” of the teleology and to remove it completely are two different things. We cannot, as the saying goes, “throw out the baby with the bathwater.”

Final Causality and the Question of God

One of the principles of metaphysics, in fact, of all thought, is the principle of sufficient reason. “Every being has the sufficient reason for its existence (i.e., the adequate ground or basis in existence for its intelligibility) either in itself or in another.”[19] Any being that does not provide the explanation from within itself of itself, must have an explanation outside of itself. A television exists, but we easily see that the fact of its existence and the reason for its existence are not the same thing. While it may take a moment’s reflection to see that the same thing applies to a natural item like a rock, it should be obvious that the fact of the rock is not the cause or reason for the rock’s being where it is, when it is, and lastly, “that” it is.

We may be tempted here to move directly from our topic of evolution and final causality to an attempt at a proof of the existence of God (and such an attempt would be completely valid). However, we need not take that leap here. Instead, we will look simply at final causality, at least for the moment.

Let us take the example, again, of the arrow that flies “intentionally” towards its target. We have no problem stating that this intention is not in the arrow as a cognitive intention. Nevertheless, we do not reduce to chance, at the moment the arrow leaves the archer’s bow, the question of whether the arrow will strike its target accurately or not. To do so would be to admit living in a world of utter chaos.[20] We cannot see this intention in the arrow, but in some way, it is there. To explain why the arrow strikes the target, we give a reason, and chance is not an explanation (unless we agree that all world class archers are simply those who have, by chance, hit more targets than the rest of us).

The problem is, as we said, that we do not “see” “where” this cause is. But we cannot simply deny its existence, any more than a man, now blind, denies there is anything out there that can be seen. It is merely that this cause, unlike, for example, the material, is not of the class that we can empirically test.

At this point, we can admit final causes without going so far as to admitting the existence of God (although following this through, I believe, will ultimately lead us to this conclusion).

Naturalism would admit that there are indeed final causes, but that these final causes are built into the totality of the universe. The sum total, therefore, contains all that is necessary within it to explain the occurrences of all within it. The tree provides the oxygen and the mammal provides back the carbon dioxide, the system, as a whole, self-explanatory. Theistic naturalism would go a step further and say that an intelligent being started this whole process, but, like a wind-up toy, built it and let it go. This is, perhaps, better called deism.

We can now approach the question of God in a scientific way alongside the metaphysical way. We see leaps in nature that simply are not explainable by theories such as naturalism. Perhaps naturalism can explain, through built-in potentialities in atoms, the possibilities of molecules, and through them, the possibilities of various reactions and conglomerations of larger objects, etc. But when we make qualitative jumps in being, such as from non-living to living beings, living beings (plants) to sensing beings (animals) and sensing life to intellectual creatures (man), we must explain this new “being” (remember the principle of sufficient reason).

While some solutions at this point try not to require the existence of a creator beyond the deist god who creates and abandons, by again trying to posit that all this potentiality is latent within the universe as a complete system, it seems not only to be a metaphysical issue, but one that requires the scientist to simply state facts rather than give explanations. Emergentism is one such “theory.” Emergentism states that it is a “law of nature” that higher beings emerge from lower beings. However, this is merely the stating of a fact, not the providing of an explanation. Stating that something is a law is simply a tautological “explanation” at best. The scientist must explain why it is a law of nature, or he has done nothing to advance our knowledge of the world.

Where Bertrand Russell had to, in debating the existence of a first cause, finally make the statement that “the universe just ‘is’ and we start from there, the scientist that denies a final cause outside the universe must make the “just is” statement of Russell each time a qualitative jump (mentioned above) in being is made.

We offer here, for reflection, one possible solution. If we understand creation in the Thomistic sense, we know that the universe, including its progress through time, is all one single act of a Creator. Therefore, viewed in time (as we must view it, at least empirically), creation of the material world is an ongoing process. In other words, the world, for us, may appear to have periods of interference from “outside” by the Creator, but to God, all things are “now.” The world is not changing; it simply “is.”

Empirically, we can only study our world as one that changes, that has movement. But recognizing that our point of view only gives us one dimension of that reality, we should not count out that there are other ways to study reality. For many empirical scientists, who today have a great hammer, every problem is viewed as a nail.

This is certainly not the only possible explanation. It does, however, fit the facts. It seems to be philosophically sound. It gives a real explanation to the empirical data of science. By “real,” we simply mean that it offers, in scientific terms, at least a theory. Rather than chance, which is no true cause at all, it provides an actual cause to the evolving world around us.

Conclusion

Many scientists hope to find a supertheory, or a “theory of everything.” However, if they do so by only seeking to explain everything through efficient and material causes, it is not only that we will be waiting a very long time for them to achieve this; it is an impossibility. Just because one posits a “great many box cars” it does not constitute the sudden appearance of a locomotive. In other words, multiplying the lack of an explanation by a “very long time” is multiplication by zero, producing a product of zero. It is their reductionism that will always be to blame. Our reductionist empirical scientist in this case is a typical Horatio. And “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”[21]

Etienne Gilson provides some wisdom here once more. “To hold final causality to be beyond science is one thing; to put it completely beyond nature is something completely different…he who loses himself in the contemplation of the form opens himself to the possibility of allowing many a secret to remain hidden in unexplored nature. But it is possible to take account of one without excluding the other, and that is all that we wish to point out…In brief, if there is in nature at least an apparently colossal proportion of finality, by what right do we not take it into account in an objective description of reality?”[22]The empirical scientist is free and should feel free to seek the efficient and material causes of the world around us. That is his role, and it is a worthwhile profession. But to overstep those bounds and claim that those two causes are all that is needed to explain everything would be tantamount to praising “spell check” to the point where the content of the paper matters not as long as the particular words are spelled correctly. Word processors have provided us great tools, but they still need an outside source to provide the direction, the teleology, the purpose of what is written. A million monkeys cannot write Hamlet, and a million years cannot write life into inorganic material.

We will, in other words, never understand the big picture of reality by chopping off its most important parts and trying to explain the whole by the little we let remain.

 

 

Appendix – Excerpts from Magisterium Is Concerned with Question of Evolution For It Involves Conception of Man by Pope John Paul II in a Message to Pontifical Academy of Sciences on October 22, 1996

“Taking into account the state of scientific research at the time as well as of the requirements of theology, the Encyclical Humani generis considered the doctrine of “evolutionism” a serious hypothesis, worthy of investigation and in-depth study equal to that of the opposing hypothesis. Pius XII added two methodological conditions: that this opinion should not be adopted as though it were a certain, proven doctrine and as though one could totally prescind from Revelation with regard to the questions it raises. He also spelled out the condition on which this opinion would be compatible with the Christian faith…

Today, almost half a century after the publication of the Encyclical, fresh knowledge has led to the recognition that evolution is more than a hypothesis. It is indeed remarkable that this theory has been progressively accepted by researchers, following a series of discoveries in various fields of knowledge. The convergence, neither sought nor fabricated, of the results of work that was conducted independently is in itself a significant argument in favour of this theory…

And, to tell the truth, rather than the theory of evolution, we should speak of several theories of evolution. On the one hand, this plurality has to do with the different explanations advanced for the mechanism of evolution, and on the other, with the various philosophies on which it is based. Hence the existence of materialist, reductionist and spiritualist interpretations. What is to be decided here is the true role of philosophy and, beyond it, of theology…

Theories of evolution which, in accordance with the philosophies inspiring them, consider the mind as emerging from the forces of living matter, or as a mere epiphenomenon of this matter, are incompatible with the truth about man. Nor are they able to ground the dignity of the person.

With man, then, we find ourselves in the presence of an ontological difference, an ontological leap, one could say. However, does not the posing of such ontological discontinuity run counter to that physical continuity which seems to be the main thread of research into evolution in the field of physics and chemistry?

Bibliography

Clarke, W. Norris, S.J. The One and the Many: A Contemporary Thomistic Metaphysics. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2001.

Darwin, Charles. The Origin of Species. New York, NY: Barnes and Noble Classics, 2004.

Dawkins, Richard. The God Delusion. New York, New York: First Mariner Books, 2006.

Gilson, Etienne. From Aristotle to Darwin and Back Again: A Journey in Final Causality, Species, and Evolution. San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 2009.

Jaki, Stanley L. The Savior of Science. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, July 2000.

Rizzi, Anthony. The Science Before Science. Baton Rouge, LA: IAP Press, 2004.

Wallace, William A. The Elements of Philosophy: A Compendium for Philosophers and Theologians. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1977.

Wallace, William A. The Modeling of Nature. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1996.


[1] Gilson, Etienne. From Aristotle to Darwin and Back Again: A Journey in Final Causality, Species, and Evolution.(San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 2009) 14

[2] Rizzi, Anthony. The Science Before Science. (Baton Rouge, LA: IAP Press, 2004) 249

[3] I quote at length from this letter to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, dated October 22, 1996, in an appendix to this paper.

[4] Rizzi, 249

[5] Gilson, 145

[6] See below, under Final Causality and Teleology

[7] Gilson, 59

[8] Gilson, 76

[9] Gilson, 59

[10] Gilson, 77

[11] Gilson, 77

[12] See Dawkins, Richard. The God Delusion.(New York, New York: First Mariner Books, 2006) 139, 168, etc

[13] “Scientific knowledge is judgement about things that are universal and necessary, and the conclusions of demonstration, and all scientific knowledge, follow from first principles (for scientific knowledge involves apprehension of a rational ground).” Aristotle, EN vi 6

[14] Dawkins, 103

[15] Ibid, 103

[16] Wallace, William A. The Modeling of Nature (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1996) 17

[17] Gilson, 148

[18] Ibid, 148

[19] Clarke, 21

[20] I will not here address the various issues of occasionalism, Hume’s denial of causes, problems of quantum theory, etc., even though they could all bring up valid points, alas refutable ones.

[21] Shakespeare, Hamlet (1.5.166-7)

[22] Gilson, 31-32, adapted

Bibliography for Atheism, Darwinism, and the Problem of Final Causality

The following works will be consulted for my Atheism and the New Atheism project in PHTH 619: Epistemology at Holy Apostles College and Seminary on “The Absence of Final Causality in the Empirical Sciences.”  While the absence of final causes is completely permissible  as part of the description of reality from an empirically based study, to deny its existence is completely false and unjustified. The freely ordered and created world in which nature acts for an end (to include that rational creatures can act rationally towards an end) will be discussed in reference to this main point.

Clarke, W. Norris, S.J. The One and the Many: A Contemporary Thomistic Metaphysics. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2001. This work, besides providing a good overview of the four causes as understood in an Aristotelian and Thomistic sense, provides, in Chapter 15, an excellent account of the problems and possible solutions of The Metaphysics of Evolution.

Darwin, Charles. The Origin of Species. New York, NY: Barnes and Noble Classics, 2004. Darwin’s book was obviously revolutionary. Here, it will be referenced to see what Darwin originally said.

Dawkins, Richard. The God Delusion. New York, New York: First Mariner Books, 2006. This work shows a typical position taken by a contemporary empirical scientist on the value of empirical study, while dismissing and/or misunderstanding the place of final causality in the greater sum of human knowledge of the world around us.

Gilson, Etienne. From Aristotle to Darwin and Back Again: A Journey in Final Causality, Species, and Evolution. San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 2009. A quote from this work is sufficient to show its usefulness (and indeed priority) in this project. “If the scientist refuses to include final causality in his interpretation of nature, all is in order; his interpretation of nature will be incomplete, not false…To hold final causality to be beyond science is one thing; to put it beyond nature is something completely different.” (pg. 31)

Jaki, Stanley L. The Savior of Science. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, July 2000. This book examines the central role of Christian belief as it affects the empirical sciences. The two central beliefs of creation ex nihilo and of the one and only historical event of the Incarnation are central to the development of science, and we see their influence in the advances made in the Christian west compared to the stagnant lack of advances made in other parts of the world. These two central beliefs lead to the philosophical assurance of an intelligible world and therefore the reality of final causality.

Rizzi, Anthony. The Science Before Science. Baton Rouge, LA: IAP Press, 2004. This book sets forth a balanced understanding of what the empirical sciences can prove and cannot prove, as well as what constitutes a “proof” and/or a theory in the empirical sciences. It also demonstrates, from the knowledge of a distinguished physicist, why the knowledge gained in the empirical sciences must understood within rather than try to supersede the greater field of wisdom known as philosophy, to include the four causes of natural philosophy and metaphysics.

Wallace, William A. The Elements of Philosophy: A Compendium for Philosophers and Theologians. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1977. This work provides a general overview of natural philosophy (chapter 3), metaphysics (chapter 5), and epistemology (chapter 6) , as well as relevant information on the history of philosophy (especially chapter 18) and the many particulars of the philosophy of the natural sciences (chapter 11). Although the project will not go into depth in some of these areas, this reference work offers solid, concrete and clear definitions of relevant information when needed.

Wallace, William A. The Modeling of Nature. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1996. In this work, William Wallace, O.P. shows, in Part I., how contemporary scientific studies and ancient philosophical causes can be synthesized to show that they are not only compatible but bring forth a greater understanding of the world around us. In Part II, the book examines the topic of the “evolution” of the philosophy of science to show both the positive contributions of new forms of thought, along with the errors and dangers that reductionist and materialist thinking can bring to the table. Both of these aspects (Part I. Philosophy of Nature, and Part II.  Philosophy of Science) are pertinent to our study.

C.S. Lewis and the Problem of Pain: a few reflections

The nature of the problem is as it always has been.  God is supposed to be both good and powerful.  But what is more, He is supposed to be all good (even goodness itself) and perfectly powerful (omnipotent). We find it difficult to imagine that if one of us were both perfectly good and perfectly powerful that we would do anything besides “perfect” the world.  There would be no suffering, no evil.  As it is now, these things exist without doubt. How, then, do we maintain a belief in God?

The first thing we cannot do is decide that we will change our definition of God.  “Making God” less than perfectly good and perfectly powerful is not an option.  Denying the evil that exists in the world would be a futile, not to mention dishonest, effort.  What gives?

Perhaps, as we should with all arguments, we must look for an error in our terms.  Our term which lacks the important features of clearness and unambiguous is “perfect world.” The so called perfect world we imagine ourselves creating if we were all good and all powerful would forego the perfection of free will if we were to guarantee that our puppets (and that is what they would be) could not fail to act perfectly in every way.

Forced action loses meaning. Let us take an example. If I stub my toe on a rock, I may or may not curse the rock, shout at the rock about how evil it is, etc.  But this can only be because I am attributing characteristics to the rock that I, in a more stable mode of thought, certainly know the rock lacks.  This “fault” attributed to the rock when it causes harm is no more “real” than any praise of some inanimate object when it “causes” joy. Likewise, a puppet that treated all other puppets with dignity and respect (besides the obviously absurd tone this is already taking on) is worthy of no praise at all.

If God is free, if God is love, and if we are created in the image of God, we must be free to love.  Not that the necessity of freedom belongs to us, but to the love.  One cannot love unless one is free to do so. Our “perfect world” would lack that little thing called love, and be far from perfect after all.

C.S. Lewis closely examines the attributes of God spoken of above, namely, goodness and power.  He shows us the errors of our anthropomorphism when apply our standards of these to God.  Rejecting all arbitrariness, however, in what it means for God to be called good, Lewis basically agrees with St. Thomas Aquinas.  The goodness and the power are found analogously in God.  More exactly, they are found strictly there, in all their perfection, and found in us and in our understanding of them only with all the flaws that come with being attributed to contingent being.

Therefore, it is not enough to say, in response to the question of God’s goodness and a world that looks full of evil, that “God’s ways are different than ours.” That, taken alone, would be a copout. The reality is, God’s ways are higher than ours, and although we cannot fully understand them, there is nothing preventing us from seeing that our goodness is a participation in His, and not the reverse, which is how we tend to think when we are unaware of this truth.

When speaking to one who disbelieves in God because of suffering, I find that I do not have to change my main points much from the discussion of Calvinism.  The principles are the same; the freedom of man demands, logically, the ability to sin or to do good. All talk of freedom, naturally speaking, must include both possibilities (here, I won’t discuss the freedom of the saints in Heaven, which is a freedom “from” sin, rather than a “freedom” to sin).

We, as humans, feel accomplishment only when we achieve something difficult. We jump out of a plane because there is some risk; we play a sport against an equal or even a somewhat superior athlete so that we may attain victory at a price. Without the possibility of failure, success loses much meaning.

Certainly there is a danger in overextending this analogy, but God did not create a world as a mere puppet-show that simply ran the script. He created a world where man is free to love Him and free to fail to do so. God, unlike us, knows the outcome at the moment He sets out to do anything, but this omniscience does not detract from the “risk” in the project.

A better analogy is that of the man courting a woman.  If she was a robot, programmed to love him without fail, the love would be meaningless.  No wonder, to be blunt, hookers, pornography, and the like are only ever physically and momentarily satisfying, but never emotionally so. It is, rather, in winning the love of the beloved that the love is true.

Now, God does not need love, and wills only to give it.  Yet, true to what love is (metaphysically), the love must be mutual, must be returned.  Freedom, then, is necessary, and any rejection (always a possibility) of this love is a loss in being, thus a loss in goodness, and thus a movement towards evil, which is the lack of being where it otherwise should be.

Love is the reason for evil, but only its “cause” in an indirect way.

“Christianity now has to preach the diagnosis – in itself very bad news – before it can win a hearing for the cure.” This was one of the few lines that I remembered clearly from having read the book years ago.  It seems to go hand in hand with Chesterton’s ascertain that “Certain new theologians dispute original sin, which is the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved,” for one must merely look at the front page of the paper each day or view the history of man.

Today, however, it remains more true than even in Lewis’ and Chesterton’s time that the “sickness” is not a given among the majority of men. The fundamentalists would ask “are you saved?” and perhaps their audience would reject that Jesus was that salvation, but now the question is easily returned “saved from what?” It is one thing to discuss with your doctor the best medicinal approach to curing your illness, but it is quite another to tell him, despite the exam results, that you are not sick.  This, in the end, means the worst kind of illness; not merely that of the body, but of the mind.

Lewis speaks of the Fall of Man and the importance of obedience.  I think that this obedience needs to be better understood these days. Obedience and trust, for one, go hand in hand.  Look at Mother Teresa, who reminds us that God asks of us, not to be successful, but faithful. By this, it is clear that obedient faith is what she has in mind.  In his letter to the Romans, St. Paul tells us that “we have received grace and apostleship for obedience to the faith, in all nations, for his name.”

Lewis reminds us, when addressing the purpose of human pain (and the fact of “purpose” is itself extremely important) that Augustine has said “God wants to give us something, but cannot, because our hands are full.” We are reminded of another text of Augustine, this time from the Confessions, “Unhappy the man who knows all these things (the creatures) and knows not thee! But happy the one who knows Thee although he knows not these other things. And the one who knows both Thee and them is not the happier for knowing them, than for knowing Thee alone.” However, our hands are often full and cannot make room for God (this is why “it is difficult for the rich man to enter heaven”), but when we behold God, it is not to the detriment of being able to behold all these created things as well.  The beholding of God, and putting Him first, makes room for all these others as well.

When leaving the temporal and pondering the eternal, C.S. Lewis touches upon a problem that I think many, perhaps most, of us do not take enough time to face: how is eternal punishment to be reconciled with a merciful God? In other words, is it really even possible for a creature, who did not ask to exist in the first place, to do so much wrong in a finite life that he deserves an infinite damnation?

Lewis gives, not a dogmatic solution, but a possibility. He shows that our understanding of time, and parallel time on earth, is not necessarily equated with that of eternity.  Certainly, if I am having a “grand old time” while I know my spouse is at home suffering, it must, if I have any heart, affect me.  But this is based upon the reality that she suffers while I have joy, and these are concurrent.

Eternity is not, however, time simply extended indefinitely.  Likewise, the realms of heaven and hell are not necessarily in the same plane of existence as one another, as the two distinct points on the map are, one where I am enjoying myself and the other where my spouse is feeling sadness. While we cannot understand exactly how this works, we must be open to the fact that the reality is above our understanding, and it need not be that the saints are joyous in heaven “while” friends and family they knew on earth concurrently burn in the underworld.  Likewise, the eternity of the suffering of the damned cannot be understood linearly, as if their 80 years of sin on earth (or worse, their one mortal sin committed and unrepented shortly before death) were simply to be equaled with a “long, long time” in hell. Peter Kreeft takes up this idea of Lewis (as Kreeft takes many ideas of Lewis) and expands upon it in several of his talks and books, and is worth hearing for further reflection.

Animal pain, and its purpose, seems more difficult, and is treated next.  The recognition that we cannot trace animal pain directly to the Fall, at least not in a manner of linear time, because animals existed and hunted one another long before the birth of man, makes for an interesting problem, both philosophically and theologically. Lewis does not, I must say, answer the problem to my satisfaction, but he does not answer it to his own satisfaction either.  He simply shows us a way, once more, to break out of our often anthropomorphic thoughts.  In other words, he does what Hume did for Kant, in “waking us from our dogmatic slumber.”

Lastly, one line I will never forget for its humor, but must ponder often (for it contains much more than at first may be seen) is where Lewis, in answering the question of “where are the mosquitoes” in heaven, says that “it is not hard to imagine that hell for humans and heaven for mosquitoes might be the same place.” This line, as I said, is funny enough to easily commit to memory.  I think it, however, a good starting point for deep reflection on the bigger reality that lies beyond our everyday experience.

Proofs of God

A short reflection on Thomas Aquinas second proof for the existence of God.

 

The principle of sufficient causality tells us that the greater does not come from the lesser.  One cannot give what one does not have.  It is to this basic principle that all of the five proofs of Aquinas seem to fall back upon.

 

For me the case is made most strongly in the second of Aquinas’ proofs, that from efficient causality:

 

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

 

The procedure of this proof is much like that of the first proof.  For in the first proof, it was also the denial of an infinite regress of accidental causes as sufficient that was expressed.  In both proofs, Aquinas need not demonstrate that there is in fact no infinite regress in accidental causes.  This is important, for Aquinas likewise never thought that it was contrary to reason to posit an infinite past; an eternal universe (revelation tells us there was a beginning, but reason cannot say one way or the other; here Thomas disagrees with, for example, his friend St. Bonaventure, who would say that the world’s beginning can be known by reason alone)

 

But in point of fact, it is not the infinite past and series of causes that is as important as the essence of the cause. If we look at the first argument, from motion, we could in some way imagine a clock with a large number of cogs. We can perhaps explain the rotation of a certain cog by the force applied to it by another cog, but we cannot explain the rotation of all the cogs merely by the large number of cogs.  In fact, we could in some way imagine an infinite amount of cogs, yet this would not suddenly explain the motion of the entire series. Rather, something outside the series must explain it. Likewise, we cannot move a train, long or short, by adding one more boxcar.  We must add an engine, something completely unique.

 

The difference in the second argument (from causality) from the first (motion) is that it seems to tell us a little more about God.  It is closer to letting us contemplate the fact that God is pure act, with no potency.  The act/potency distinction may well be the most important in all of Aquinas’ philosophical arsenal.  Knowing God as pure act, and therefore necessary and self-subsisting being, is probably the primary key to all of Thomas Aquinas’ reflections in the Summa from Q.3 through Q.26, known as the Treatise on the One God. Almost everything we can know of God by reason alone is a by-product, so to speak, of our unpacking what it means to be pure act, self-subsisting being.

Delusional Dawkins

The God Delusion: by Richard Dawkins…

What do we mean “by Richard Dawkins?” Is it that, at least when book royalties are concerned, the author recognizes the validity of causality?  It seems that he does not believe the book “just is.” But it would at least be a possibility, if he were consistent.  Of course, every skeptic who writes books about how the door may not really exist still seems to reach out and turn the knob, not just some of the time, but every single time.  They never run into doors.  Odd thing, indeed, if they doubt, in reality, that objective things outside the mind exist.

Dawkins writes a book that, true, is full of absurdities, ad hominem attacks, straw man arguments, and is a demonstration of repeated logical and ontological fallacy.  But he has made some dough off of his books, recognizes that an intelligently designed thing needs an intelligent creator.  Of course, the fact of this book being one of “intelligence” certainly is debatable, depending on how you use the analogous term “intelligence.”

Any book that has as its main thesis the non-existence of God, proved or nearly proved, would at least give some real effort to debating the arguments for God.  But Dawkins, perhaps a decent biologist (I am not sure, as I am not a biologist, but I assume that a good biologist would be a decent logician as well) is not prepared to meet the philosophical arguments for the existence of God.  He certainly fails in this regard, and many atheist and agnostic philosophers concur with me here.

For example, he “refutes” the arguments, commonly known as the five ways, of Thomas Aquinas in a mere three pages.  Three pages, mind you, that tell more jokes than deliver argument.  And the argument offered merely shows that Dawkins has practically no understanding of the arguments themselves.  Dawkins does go on to attempt to refute the so called ontological argument, and devotes much more space to this.  As a Thomist, I believe the ontological argument of St. Anselm (God bless his holy soul) is refutable, but Dawkins fails to do a good job refuting it.  Funny thing, if Dawkins had any real understanding of Aquinas’ understanding of the proofs of God, he would and could simply use Thomas Aquinas’ own brilliant refutation of this proof. As already mentioned, however, Dawkins has no such understanding, and probably does not want to understand. Those who actually seek truth seek to understand the real arguments of the “other side.” Thomas Aquinas does this; Dawkins does not.

Dawkins also refutes the arguments from “personal experiences.” But why, other than to make his book thicker? Personal experiences are not demonstrations, and only hold force, perhaps, to those who had the experience.  No serious philosophers or theologians claim to argue in such a way.  Perhaps, after his very sad attempts to refute other arguments for God’s existence, he needed something to “pad the stats” his way.  Lastly, Dawkins “refutes” Pascal’s wager.  But what does that even mean? Pascal’s wager is not an argument for the existence of God at all.  It is a moral argument that the truth about the existence of God is worth seeking.  Dawkins misses this entirely, as he has no desire to actually know if there is a God or not.  Pascal’s wager may fail in Dawkins case to persuade him to seek whether or not God exists, but it never was an attempt to prove the existence of God.  Dawkins, nevertheless, feels a victory in refuting a proof that, well, unlike God, doesn’t exist.

Each of these will be dealt with in more detail later, as well as other parts of Dawkins’ book, especially his chapter “Why There Almost Certainly Is No God,” in which he makes the constant error of confusing the physical empirical sciences with philosophy, even as he mentions constantly how he is not doing so. We will also, over the next few months as I find time to write them, look as his beliefs that teaching kids religion is child abuse, that the origin of religion is a Darwinian side effect of a survival node in the brain, and other various topics.

We will enjoy the delusion that Dawkins has strong arguments against the existence of God.

I do not, of course, propose to have here argued against Dawkins’ book, but only to excite some interest in it, for or against it.  The actual arguments will come in future blogs, related to this post.  I do not, after having brought up the silliness which Dawkins calls “reason” or “argument,” desire to be classed right there with him.

Does Truth Matter?

Below are excerpts from a discussion I had with an atheist who seems to believe that truth does not matter.  These are merely excerpts, and more of the excerpts are mine than the “doubter’s.” Of course, this is for several reasons.  First, its my blog, and I get to decide what goes here.  Second, sadly, not a lot of my questions were answered, although a lot of my responses are answers to the doubters points as they came up.  A fair conversation by two seekers of truth would have included my objections to the doubters points being answered with a somewhat similar effort to the answers I put forth.  But then again, isn’t this blog titled “Does Truth Matter?” for a reason? Yes.  And the avoiding of difficulties and red herring responses that made up the majority of responses I got simply aids in proving that at the least the doubter is consistent; they do not believe truth is important:

Matthew Menking  –  Truth is the conformity of what is in the mind with what exists in reality.

That that is, is. That that is not, is not.

I agree that truth is not always something people conform to. All that means is they do not have/live/know the truth. Not everyone “conforms” to 4+4 being 8. It’s still 8, whether they “conform” or not. This is what is called objective truth. 4+4 is either 8 or it is not. It can’t be 8 for you but 7 for someone else. If it is 7 for someone else, they are WRONG. Its not a matter of that being “their truth.” There is no such things. We do not create truth, we recognize it. We do not make 4+4 equal 8. We simply come to recognize that that is the case.

It is no different from whether there is a god or not. There either is or is not. It will never be the case that, as long as we are using a univocal definition of god, that there is a god for you and not for me. It may be that you are right and I am wrong and there is no god, or I am right and you are wrong and there is a god, but it will never be that there is a god for one person and not for another.

Its the law of non-contradiction. And you cannot show that the law of non-contradiction is false, for any statement you make to show that it is false thereby proves it is true. Human thought and human communication (one must precede the other) are not even possible without the law of non-contradiction. And the law of non-contradiction proves from its premises the law of objective truth.

Even the great “subjectivist” thinker Descartes knew this, and in fact, based his whole system, the one modern philosophy (which includes the category of “free thinkers”) is based on, on the objective certainty of mathematical proofs. And his premise was mathematical certainty. He also used this premise toward proving the existence of God. So please don’t try to pretend that mathematical objective truth cannot be equated with other ontological objective truth.

Whether we can know for certain [and how we can know and with what degrees of certainty] the particulars of objective truth is debatable, and falls to the field of epistemology, but THAT there is objective truth is certain.

We could, besides your link here on “two-truths” in Indian, look at the two truth theories of the Latin Averroists, based on their readings of the great medieval Arab philosopher Averroes. The two truths theories fall by their own admissions once logically taken to their own conclusions. Even the attempted defenses of these types of theories by “divine miracles” cannot stand. For example, some use to say that philosophically it is true that all human souls are one, but theologically all human souls are individual, by a “miracle” of God. The FACT that God cannot make a square circle or a “rock so big he can’t lift it” prove the absurdity of even miraculous two truth theories. The statements are simply absurdities, and not limits of power, even of divine power. They return to the basic law of non-contradiction, which “even God” cannot supercede.

That that is, is. That that is not, is not.

Doubter –  Why does there even have to be a right and wrong? It isn’t about who wins when it is the truth it is about what is and is not. To many times people try to win that power of knowledge that is not really something to win but to change and grow from. If I say you win does that really make it true? Why do you have to try to win so badly when beliefs are what they are…beliefs? Who do you really try to convince in life things…yourself or others?

Matthew Menking  –  Who says its about winning. Perhaps the statement “there is a truck coming” actually matters so that someone will “get out of the way.” Its not about winning an argument, its about having someone “not crushed by a truck.” I am not sure where the discussion of “winning” came into this (it certainly was not me). You are simply throwing in a red herring.

We were discussing truth, not winning. Why does there have to be a right and wrong? Free will and intellect. If every intellect automatically recognized that 4+4 is 8, there would be no right and wrong, only right. There is only right and wrong because we are capable of error. Clear thinking helps lessen the occurrence of this error. If you are really asking “why there has to be a right and wrong,” this is my answer.

Who should we really be trying to convince? It should be ourselves first, then others. We should want to know the truth. We should seek the truth. We have an intellect for the very purpose of knowing “what is.” We should be aiding one another in seeking the truth. This is the first and primary point of community at any level. This is why we have tradition (our parents can help us know the truth), specialists (because we can’t learn everything ourselves), and revelation (because some things we simply cannot know by our own powers).

Yes, truth matters, not to win, not to have someone else lose, but because of TRUTH.

Doubter  –  Then you should be able to let the truth be found by others what ever truth it is and not worry.
What ever truth there is, and if you really believe with all your faith by the book on Abrahamic gods then you should be able to look at that and follow it with out worrying if this god can’t keep it all under control all by himself.
Don’t have to keep pressing the same information over and over if it is really the other person who is to believe in any truth. The truth is what it is and searching for it is not evil.

Matthew Menking  –  You think that each should be able to live according to their “own truth” it seems. But in practice, I doubt you do. What if “my truth” includes that I must tell others about the truth. Who are you, then, to tell me that I should not? What if my truth is that I think adult men should go around punching little babies for the “fun of it?” Who are you to impose “your truth” on me.

What most people really, in practice, mean when they say that people should be allowed to live according to what they believe is “I should be able to live how I want without interference, and others, as long as they don’t specifically bother me, can do what they want.”

I, rather, believe that there is truth, and that the more we live in conformity with truth, the better off EVERYONE will be. Less people will get hit by trucks, less babies will get punched by grown men, etc, etc. Because there is not only truth, but truth matters.

Searching for the truth is not only not evil (we agree) but I believe it is a responsibility of all. This is what discussions like this are about. Seeking truth. Its a dialogue seeking truth. As the proverb says “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another” (Or one human another, if you prefer).

The truth should be taught with love, of course. In fact, the Bible (which I have rarely mentioned in our “debate” by the way) says explicitly:

“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15)

This is what, through preaching the truth but in love, I hope to do. And if you truly think that each should be able to live according to “their truth,” then you will never question me for doing just that. “My truth” includes sharing this truth with others.

Its Good Friday, I wish you well.
Doubter  –  “3.3 Do We Have Free Will? ”
http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/freewill/

“A belief in free will touches nearly everything that human beings value. It is difficult to think about law, politics, religion, public policy, intimate relationships, morality—as well as feelings of remorse or personal achievement—without first imagining that every person is the true source of his or her thoughts and actions. And yet the facts tell us that free will is an illusion.” –Sam Harris

Matthew Menking  –  Well, I think Sam Harris is wrong about the facts. One of the facts is that of experience. The scientific method, which Sam Harris highly values, is one based on empirical evidence. Personal experience is itself empirical evidence. So he has to discount it to “prove” his theory.”

But let us suppose that Sam (and the ancient materialist philosophers from ancient Greece 2500 years ago; Sam Harris has said nothing new) are correct. That being the case, then I have not freely come to believe in God, and you have not freely come to not believe in God. I, in fact, being nothing more than the movement of material particles in my brain, am in no way responsible for my actions. and you are bound and determined to think as you do, no matter what the truth is. How then do you call yourself a “free thinker” when free thinking doesnt even exist?

Evolution and Genesis

A good approach to this topic would start at a the foundational level, laying down firm underlying principles first.

The two major issues here, to my understanding, will be this:

1. Philosophically, what evolutionary theories are compatible with reason in the first place. By “compatible with reason” I mean we must establish that, for instance, effects do not exceed their cause, etc. Now, as God is the cause of all being, as long as nothing is self-contradictory, the effect will never exceed its principle cause; God. However, I believe we should stick to more proximate causes, and only ask about miracles, when defending evolution (if we choose to do so), when necessary and directly mentioned in Biblical text explicitly.

2. A proper interpretation of what Scripture is saying, given the purpose of God in revealing it, to the people He was revealing it to, in the time and place He was revealing it. This will be of extreme importance so that we do not make one of two errors:

  1.  erring on the side of making Genesis into a pure allegory or metaphor and
  2.  forcing contemporary questions upon a text and having the text say more than it intended.

I bring these two principle points up, not to ignore the wealth of other topics that are available, to to both avoid having to write a book to answer them all at once and also to limit the field to manageable principles, to which the rest of the questions must refer back.

I will say in brief what I think the proper view of “life” must be, and if it cannot be agreed upon, we will have to go back further and establish this principle as well. I accept a hylomorphic view of reality, meaning all material things are made of matter and form. The matter is the primary “stuff” out of which it is made, and the form is that which makes it “what it is.” The wood alone wood not make a chair, nor would “chairness” without the wood. It takes both.

In living things, the form is the soul. All living things have a soul, for that is the unifying principle of the living being. Only humans, among material living things (we aren’t speaking of angels) have a spiritual soul, a rational soul. So the reason, by example, that a car can be taken apart and put back together and a frog cannot (and still function as if nothing happened) is because of the destruction of the unifying form of that frog when it is “disassembled.”

In any theory of evolution, then, one must understand a living being, composed of matter and form, developing over time and perhaps even being differentiated enough for new species to emerge.

Here, the biggest two leaps would be not that of, say, lizard to bird, but rather:

1) Of non-living to living (how would this jump take place?)
2) From living being to living rational being (again, in the material universe, this is only man)

In the genesis account, I think we can see each of these possibilities. God made the animals, he made living things to be living things. He also made man in a special way: He breathed life into him. Now, whether these accounts in Genesis and the two “leaps” as I have called them above are reconcilable will be at the heart of our discussion.
Another major principle is that of time. Certainly, the “six days” problem will come in when discussing millions of years of evolution and reconciling it to the Bible.  I will not state any long arguments here as to a possible reconciliation of the two.  However, it is possible to lay down a few basic principles that can be vastly expanded upon when I do take up the subject again.

As to the philosophical possibility of life coming from non-life, the lack of a rational soul in plants and animals but only a unifying form could possibly be explained by the fact that, in them, the form is “derived from the potency of the matter.” This is by no means the final explanation, but offers a real possibilty of a way in which the effect (living being) may not exceed its cause (non-living matter). Looking at the “virus” and deciding if it is actually alive or not may help to make advances in answering this question.  We will not do so here.

Time is relative to the movement of material objects, or at least to movement of some kind (possibly the thinking process of an angel would be an example here). God is not subject to time, and creation “in time” is a very interesting topic of its own.  It isn’t like God was sitting around with nothing to do and finally got around to creating.  In fact, “My Father in Heaven is working still” says Jesus.  He may have “rested” on the seventh day “to us” but He didn’t created the world (in six days or six billion) and leave it to itself.  All existence is “at once” to God and creation includes His holding it in existence at all moments.  The difference between our experience of time and in time and God’s creation of the universe from “outside of time” so to speak cannot be ignored in any discussion of the creation of the world and its “age” (after all, how old is the world to God?)

Debating Moral Relativists

Below is an excerpt from a discussion with a moral relativist.  His name has been changed to ” Moral Relativist.” The context was whether or not a God and or religion were necessary to morality:

Matthew Menking  –  The main problem with this entire discussion, although I did see Paul bring it up briefly, is that it seems to be a debate about various interpretations of various religions, rather than a discussion of whether or not there needs to be an objective truth behind the world to base an objective morality on. This, the real question, has been mostly lost in this debate.

Utilitarianism, (much referenced in this discussion although I didn’t see it so named) as the basis of morality, simply falls to the same problem. Who says what the “most good” is. The most good would certainly seem, for example, if 90% of the world were cannibalistic in tendency, for them to go ahead and eat the other 10%…for it is not some objective “is it right or wrong to eat other humans” but “doesn’t this cause the most pleasure for the most people” question that is being labeled as the basis of morals. J.S. Mills and his utilitarianist followers certainly hold sway over the secular world in moral theory, but it simply does not stand.

Fr. John Higgins  –  Just looking quickly over the posts here I have to agree with Matthew Menking. It’s simply a diatribe against the actions of humans and a deep misunderstanding of what other people truly think and believe. The idea that concepts held by people in other cultures and other times must be barbaric may be true. But the concepts and actions of people in our own time can be equally as barbaric, and given the efforts of science and technology, what used to take great effort and many years now can be done in the instant flash of a nuclear weapon. Who knows what “progress” might bring.

Moral Relativist  –  First off, +Matthew Menking’s cannibal example doesn’t work. No way a population could become 90% cannibalistic and still work as a “most good” for the most people scenario.

Secondly, I’d need to know that everyone believes in evolution (or at least the heredity of physical and behavioral traits) before human morality can be explained. If you don’t, there’s no point moving forward.

Also, do you guys believe objective morality given by God only applies to humans, or animals too?

Fr. John Higgins  –  Moral Relativist  … Evolution is obvious to those who take a moment to look at reality. We can know from our own experience that nearly everything evolves and can reason that other things have evolved, from rocks to plants and animals. And although I wouldn’t say that I believe IN evolution (it’s not part of my belief system), I believe that evolution has happened, is happening and will continue to happen. Still there are questions that the theory of evolution has not yet answered and may never be able to answer; such as “What is the origin of matter” or “Since evolution occurs over time, what exactly is time?” There is still much to explore. I trust we can all see that.

As for objective morality applying to animals, do you mean all animals or only those with a recognizable brain?

Moral Relativist  –  +Fr. John Higgins I’m worried we are going to have a problem of terms at some point. The evolution I’m refering to can’t be applied to rocks. 🙂 Let’s go with animals with brains. Mammals even.

Fr. John Higgins  –  At some point I’m going to have to learn how to post a reply properly.

Moral Relativist  ,

We are going to have problems with terms. You see, the very essence of communication is understanding what another human being means. Things evolve, whether we’re talking about the entire universe, the solar system, the earth or just living things like plants and animals. Can we apply the term “morality” or “morals” to any of it without running into problems? Probably not. What appears to be “moral” to one person might not be to another. Let’s take a couple of mammals, just for an example. A female bear and her cub are in the forest. A wolf approaches and very carefully eyes the cub. He isn’t thinking with the same rationality that a human has; he’s a wolf. We don’t know what kind of rational thought process a wolf has, if any, because we’ve never been wolves. But he is hungry and somehow he knows that. He also knows, in a wolf way, that a bear cub is food and that a large female bear is dangerous. Can that wolf make a moral decision or is the wolf going to act according to “feelings” (or instinct)? What would be the difference between the way a normal human being would act in the situation and the way the wolf would act in the situation?

Matthew Menking  –  Should a watch keep good time? If it does, is it a good watch? Is it morally a good watch? Well, a watch is made to keep time, and by keeping time, does as it ought to do. Here, what something out to do seems to follow from what it is. And we judge if it is good or not based on how closely is and ought coincide. But do we really say a watch is morally good if it keeps perfect time?

I think we have to make a distinction, when it comes to morality, on a principle of free will. A man who does what he ought to do is a good man; at least in that particular act what he does coincides with what a man ought to do. Is and ought match up. But he can be morally good for having done so, because he could have chosen otherwise, unlike the watch which does not choose to keep good time or not, but simply keeps good time or doesn’t, period.

Can the animate-inanimate distinction be what causes a man to be able to do moral good (or bad) and a watch to only do non-moral good and bad? If this is so, an amoeba is animate and yet not many would say that such and such amoeba is a good, decent, morally upright amoeba for choosing one action over another. So it is more than just “being alive” that makes a moral versus non-moral distinction possible. The problem is, what is this distinction? We can’t just make the claim that “monkeys and dogs” can be moral but “elephants and wasps” cannot. We need an actual distinction to set our boundaries.

Until recently, this distinction was recognized as the free will that man has due to his rational nature. Man, by definition, is “a rational animal,” with rational being the specific difference and animal being the genus. Only man, then, is rational, meaning he can reason (abstract universals from particulars, for example).

If we start from this premise, we can begin the discussion on whether or not:

1. An objective reality must stand being the moral rightness and wrongness of particular actions chosen by rational (aka free) persons

2. Whether or not this objective reality entails, by definition, the existence of a god

But if we do not start from this premise, we need to back up to whatever point we will agree on, and begin the discussion from there. Where do we stand?

Moral Relativist  –  +Fr. John Higgins I’ll get more specific then, do you believe in the scientific Theory of Evolution?

Humans have two sides of their morality. The first are conscious moral decisions. These are based on some perfectly human moral code that may or may not be in the Bible. The Golden Rule is the most popular. It’s unclear that animals make conscious moral decisions.

The second are the moral “feelings” (or instinct)” you mentioned a wolf might have. These are subconscious and don’t require thinking. I feel that this is what theists are referring to when they say God gave us morality, because it doesn’t have to be taught of rationalized. Would you agree?

Matthew Menking  –  Moral Relativist  . This is exactly the opposite of what we believe. Morality entails rational thought. Part of freedom is understanding the choices which are decided between. An animal is not morally culpable for the same thing a human would be for the very reason of its not being able to rationalize. It is my understanding, for example, that to do action X is wrong that makes it morally wrong if I do it.

Moral Relativist  –  Interesting study I heard about recently. Rats in cage 1 saw that rats in cage 2 where randomly shocked when the rats in the cage 1 used the food release mechanism. When the cage 1 rats noticed this, they used the food release much less often. They weren’t willing to starve, but tried to cause the least amount of pain to the cage 2 rats as possible.

Matthew Menking  –  That is interesting. Also interesting is that monkeys will stack boxes like stairs and light fires even. None of these occurrence, however, need be explained by the process of the animal having rational thought, and in fact are still best explained by other processes. No doubt, however, we can learn much from these studies about what it means for us to be animals, as well as about the animals themselves. I would agree with you if you said that too many theists, and a great majority being fundamentalist Christians, these days ignore such things out of a fear of losing their faith. Such a fear is, for one, simply unfounded.

As regarding your final statement about the rats, it is a speculative one: “They weren’t willing to starve, but tried to cause the least amount of pain to the cage 2 rats as possible.” The statement “tried to cause the least amount of pain to the cage 2 rats” is merely a hypothesis to the intent of the cage 1 rats. They may have simply seen “food attempts cause ‘rats’ pain” and only attempted to get food once hungry enough to overcome their own fear of themselves being shocked. I think its important to state this because, too often, the statements made as to “what” an animal did in an experiment are really speculations on “why” they did it. This is poor science.

Moral Relativist  –  +Matthew Menking “This is exactly the opposite of what we believe.” Who is the we, in this case?

Matthew Menking  –  Well, at least Father Higgins and I. At least the doctrine of the Catholic Church, to which we belong. Certainly I cannot speak for “all Christians” and certainly not “all theists.” Of course, this could be said in the agnostic and atheist camps as well. I cannot, I repeat, speak for all.

Faith and reason go together, and one must not be sacrificed for the other. We do not, therefore, deny what is true in any field, be it the empirical sciences, psychology, etc…

So the understanding I present here is both Catholic and Aristotelian, for example.

Fr. John Higgins  –  Moral Relativist  , I believe that the Scientific Theory of Evolution is a theory. It seems, from my limited experience, to rationally explain the existence and development of living beings. It does not, however, answer certain questions, like those I named above and assumes things to be “true” or “factual” without defining certain phenomena or even attempting to explain them. It, like all human theories, is incomplete. But it does seem to be useful as far as it’s limited capacity allows. (My examples above were that it does not attempt to explain or even examine the origin of matter or the concept of time, both on which it depends.

You assert that there moral “feelings” do not require thinking and are subconscious. How do you come to that conclusion? Perhaps your definition of “thinking” does not include all thought, but only rational thought? If that is true, we can eliminate a lot of what rational people call “thinking”. For example, the person who becomes angry at the thought of a woman being subjected to the death penalty might well argue that his or her “feeling” is quite rational. Any attempt to convince that person that they are not thinking and acting rationally might lead to more than an intellectual discussion, but a very strong and perhaps even violent retort. Again, we must always be careful in the use of terms.

“The second are the moral “feelings” (or instinct)” you mentioned a wolf might have. These are subconscious and don’t require thinking. I feel that this is what theists are referring to when they say God gave us morality, because it doesn’t have to be taught of rationalized. Would you agree?”

In a word, no. I would not agree at all. It might be quite normal for a teenage boy to “feel” that he should cheat on an exam in school or get into a fight with a boy over a girl. Most of us would agree that this is not moral behavior. Instincts are not “God given morality”.

Moral Relativist  –  +Fr. John Higgins Yes, the Theory of Evolution doesn’t tackle the origin of matter or the concept of time. Neither does gravity, and at least gravity is in the same field of those questions–physics. Evolution explains the diversity of biology.

Recent posts have thoroughly confused me so I’ll revert to the original question.

If you don’t practice a religion that has well defined moral teachings, how do you determine what is moral and what isn’t? Easy, by my own moral code, which is to treat others how I’d like to be treated and if there are no victims, it’s none of my business.

And as I said before…

I have a personal reason for every moral choice and they are often different for each choice. Give me a situation and I’ll tell you why I would behave the way I would. No one gave me a situation, offer stands.

Fr. John Higgins  –  Moral Relativist  … why would anyone question your personal moral choices?

Matthew Menking  –  I have a couple questions about your answers to how you should behave:

“Easy, by my own moral code”

Is it yours? How so? And why should mine be the same? If it shouldn’t be the same, I have an even bigger question: why would you have a code based on something you believe others should NOT do? How does this not conflict with “treating others as you would be treated”?

Which leads to “which is to treat others how I’d like to be treated.” What if I want to be treated differently than you want to be treated? Like I said earlier, but you didn’t like my cannibal example….let’s use a different one. What does this say about a Sadomasochist? Should they treat you like they want to be treated? If not, why are your morals (you called them “yours”) right and theirs wrong? Shouldn’t you treat people how THEY want to be treated?

“…and if there are no victims.” Well this one is bothersome too. How do we know there are “no victims”? We can see all the second and third order effects of our actions from here to eternity? And on top of that, know whether all those effects are to the liking or at least not the detriment of every various person’s own wants or needs? Is not anything made up of its parts, and thus, society of its particular people and people of their particular actions and dispositions?

My point is, following “our own” morality is meaningless when it comes down to it, apart from our “own morality” having a basis in objective reality. This is the basis of conscience, and the basis of natural law. “Do unto others” is a guide only because it must point to an objective reality that stands beneath it.

If it is argued that I am rejecting the teachings of my own Savior, I say they are being pulled out of context: Jesus Himself said “do unto others” but He also said to act as He acts, and that He is the Truth.

Fr. John Higgins  –  If each of us is left to his own moral code, and want to respect others’ moral codes as we have our own respected, then we are going to have to accept the moral codes of both the white supremacist and the jihadist, the Roman Pontif and the Westboro Baptists, the folks at Planned Parenthood and the owners of Drug Cartels, Mother Teresa and Ghandi and even Hitler and Stalin. I dare say that’s a tall order.

Moral Relativist  –  Sadomasochists, white supremacists and the like are a distinct minorities in the moral arena. Societies adapt the moral codes most used into a larger code usually called the law. Sadomasochists, white supremacists have morals that don’t comply with our law. If there were enough sadomasochists and white supremacists to gather together and form their own society I’d be happy for them as long as they didn’t oppose their morals on other societies or people within the society who don’t have the option to leave.

If you accept that all these groups you list have such opposing morals, how can you hold true to objective morals? There are obviously many who disagree–making morals subjective.

+Matthew Menking Give an example of a situation where you are not sure if there are victims or not, I may be able to shed light.

Matthew Menking  –  “There are obviously many who disagree–making morals subjective.”

There are many who disagree that the world is older than 6000 years, making the truth of the claim “the world is older than 6000 years” subjective. FALSE.

It means people err in regards to the truth. Not that the truth itself is somehow changed. Most 4 year old don’t know that 4^2 is 16. They may indeed believe it is not 16. This has nothing to do with the truth of the proposition 4 squared is 16.” The truth of the claim stands apart from the knowledge the people. Same applies with morality. If rape is wrong, its actually wrong for the habitual rapist, too. Its wrong for the mentally insane. Its wrong, not because of the person doing it, but because of the act done. The fact that one could find many people that think “action X” is OK does not make it so. Morality is not subjective because of the errors of the people…unless you are ok with the FACT that sometimes 4 squared is 13?

Fr. John Higgins  –  Moral Relativist  … ah, but there were white supremacists who imposed their will into law. Some of the remnants of that still exist in the United States today and are vehemently supported by a very large group of very powerful people, including many in the three branches of the Government of the United States.

Matthew Menking  –  Exactly, Father. The law in Germany at one point legalized throwing Jews into ovens and gas chambers. Therefore, it was morally right…at least in Germany.

Moral Relativist  –  +Matthew Menking That reasoning only works after you’ve already been convinced that morality is some kind of greater truth. You must convince me of that before those analogies make sense and at that point you won’t need those analogies.

Fr. John Higgins and Matthew Menking The early US and Germany had laws that, by today’s US standards, are immoral. By pointing out that moral standards change, you are just presenting more evidence against objective morality.

Fr. John Higgins  –  Moral Relativist… No, I am presenting evidence that subjective morality is really not morality at all but only convenience.

Matthew Menking  –  You said “you are just presenting more evidence against objective morality.” Again, this is wrong. In fact, it argues for objective morality. Just as scientific theories change the more we know about the objective world, (moving from Aristotelian to Newtonian to Einsteinian physics, for example) the moves in nations morals show they are moving from what is perceived to be a wrong morality towards one more in conformity to what actually is moral…and this means objective truth!

Moral Relativist  –  +Fr. John Higgins Well, you won’t see me in confession for disagreeing with you. 🙂 I’ve said my peace, hopefully it made sense, if not to you, than to other readers. I respect what you do as a fire captain and expect that what you do for the church comes from the best intentions.Thanks for the conversation.
Matthew Menking  –  Moral Relativist, please don’t take it as anything but good will when I say “God bless you.” While disagreeing with so much you have said, I respect your being a gentleman throughout the discussion. I wish all conversation and debates kept to these standards
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Moral Relativist  –  +Matthew MenkingNice chatting with you too. 🙂