bookmark_borderKreeft’s Case for God – Part 15: Three More Thomist Arguments

EVALUATION OF KREEFT’S CASE SO FAR
In Part 1 through Part 8, I reviewed the last ten arguments in Peter Kreeft’s case for God in Chapter 3 his Handbook of Christian Apologetics (hereafter: HCA), and I concluded in Part 9 that they provided ZERO evidence for the existence of God:
Of the last ten arguments in Kreeft’s case,  I have shown that eight arguments (80%) were AWFUL arguments that are unworthy of serious consideration.  Only two of these ten arguments seemed worthy of serious consideration: Argument #12 and Argument #19.  After careful analysis and evaluation, I concluded that Argument #12 was a BAD argument that provided ZERO support for the claim that God exists, and I concluded that Argument #19 was based on a FALSE premise and also on a dubious premise.  Thus, all ten arguments in the second half of Kreeft’s case for God (i.e. 100%  of those arguments) are BAD arguments, and they fail to provide any good reason to believe that God exists.  
Starting in Part 9, I began to examine the first five arguments in Kreeft’s case for God, which Kreeft appears to believe are among the strongest and best arguments for the existence of God.
In Part 12, I concluded that Argument #1 (the Argument from Change) was another bad argument:
In short, the Argument from Change, one of the five first arguments for the existence of God in Kreeft’s case for God, an argument which is presumably one of the strongest and best arguments for God (in Kreeft’s view), is an UNSOUND argument that is based on two key premises that are both FALSE.
In Part 14, I concluded that Argument #2 (the Argument from Efficient Causality) was yet another bad argument:
Argument #2 clearly FAILS, because Kreeft fails to state or to support the single most important premise of the argument…and because Kreeft supports the second most important premise of the argument with a dubious inference that appears to be invalid, namely the inference from (5a) to (6a).
I have examined twelve out of the twenty arguments in Kreeft’s case for God, and ALL twelve arguments are bad arguments and they FAIL to provide a good reason to believe that God exists.
 
EVALUATION OF THE THREE REMAINING ARGUMENTS FROM AQUINAS
Given Kreeft’s pathetic track record, it appears that he is clueless as to what sort of argument would constitute a strong and solid argument for the existence of God, so I did not expect him to do any better with the remaining three arguments that he borrows from Aquinas.
In Argument #3, the Argument from Time and Contingency, Kreeft argues for the existence of “an absolutely necessary being.”  He does also strongly hint at the single most important premise of this argument:

This absolutely necessary being is God.  (HCA, p.53)

The most important premise of the argument is best stated as a conditional claim:

A. IF an absolutely necessary being exists, THEN God exists.

Kreeft provides NO SUPPORT for premise (A), so Argument #3 is another FAILED argument for the existence of God.
In Argument #5, the Design Argument, Kreeft argues for the existence of “an intelligent designer” of the universe.  The conclusion of Argument #5 is stated as follows:

Therefore the universe is the product of an intelligent Designer.  (HCA, p.56)

Note that the word “God” doesn’t appear in this stated conclusion.  So, in order to make Argument #5 relevant to the question at issue, we have to fill in an unstated premise, and make the ultimate conclusion of this argument explicit:

6. The universe is the product of an intelligent designer.

B. IF the universe is the product of an intelligent designer, THEN God exists.

THEREFORE:

C. God exists.

The most important premise in Argument #5 is premise (B), but Kreeft provides NO SUPPORT for the unstated premise (B).  Thus, Argument #5 is yet another FAILED argument for God.
Argument #3 and Argument #5 FAIL for the same reasons that Argument #1 and Argument #2 FAILED:  Kreeft does not bother to SUPPORT the most important premise in each of these arguments, namely the premise that links his stated conclusion to the conclusion that actually matters: “God exists.” Based on Kreeft’s pathetic track record, and based on the fact that he continues to repeat the same huge blunder as he did in Argument #1 and Argument #2, we can quickly toss aside Argument #3 and Argument #5.
In Argument #4, the Argument from Degrees of Perfection, Kreeft argues for the existence of an “absolutely perfect being”.  He does strongly hint at the single most important premise of this argument:

This absolutely perfect being…is God. (HCA, p.55)

The most important premise of this argument is best stated as a conditional claim:

D. IF an absolutely perfect being exists, THEN God exists.

Kreeft provides very little support for premise (D), so Argument #4 could reasonably be set aside as yet one more FAILED argument for the existence of God.  However, Kreeft does briefly hint at a line of reasoning that could be used to support (D), and it seems to me that (D) is more plausible than any of the other key premises that Kreeft failed to support in the other four Thomistic arguments:

  • IF there is exactly ONE being outside the material universe and that being is the unchanging Source of  change, THEN God exists.
  • IF there is an uncaused cause of the present existence of other beings, THEN God exists.
  • IF an absolutely necessary being exists, THEN God exists.
  • IF the universe is the product of an intelligent designer, THEN God exists.

The very long, very convoluted, and very implausible reasoning that Aquinas provides in support of these four key premises related to four of his Five Ways has almost no chance of being sound.   Kreeft doesn’t even make an attempt to provide a rational justification of these four key premises; thus Kreeft’s versions of these four arguments are complete and utter FAILURES.
 
THE HINT OF AN ARGUMENT FOR (D)
The most important premise in Argument #4 is a premise that is not clearly stated by Kreeft:

D. IF an absolutely perfect being exists, THEN God exists.

Probably because Kreeft fails to clearly and explicitly state this premise, he fails to provide an argument to show that premise (D) is true.  However, he does hint at a line of reasoning that could be used in support of (D):
In other words, we all recognize that intelligent being is better than unintelligent being; that a being able to give and receive love is better than one that cannot; that our way of being is better, richer and fuller than that of a stone, a flower, an earthworm, an ant, or even a baby seal. (HCA, p.54-55)
This suggests a line of reasoning that could be used to argue that “an absolutely perfect being” would be an intelligent and loving being, because having such attributes makes something better than, more perfect than, something that lacks them.  This line of thought was used by Anselm to derive the Christian concept of God from the concept of a being “than which nothing greater can be conceived”, or what is called Perfect Being theology.  There is a nice brief introduction to Perfect Being theology by Thomas Morris in Chapter 2 his book Our Idea of God (hereafter: IOG).
In the end, the reasoning in Perfect Being theology might turn out to be just as convoluted and implausible as the usual Thomistic BS given in support of the four key premises of the other four Ways or proofs of the existence of God, but in my view, (D) has significantly greater initial plausibility, in comparison to the four other key premises.  So, I plan to take a closer look at Argument #4, in the next post in this series, because it appears to be the only argument among the Five Ways that has any chance of being a strong and solid argument for God.

bookmark_borderFeser’s Case for God – Part 3: Actualization of Potential

FESER TAKES OWNERSHIP OF THE FIVE ARGUMENTS
In Five Proofs of the Existence of God (hereafter: FPEG), Edward Feser presents five “proofs” or arguments, each of which was inspired by an historical philosopher (or two).  However,  Feser takes full ownership of these five arguments, so that none of these arguments is put forward as merely an historical presentation or as merely a scholarly interpretation of a specific argument by an historical philosopher:
In my earlier books The Last Superstition and Aquinas, and elsewhere, I approached questions of natural theology…by way of exposition and defense of what Aquinas had to say on the subject. (FPEG, Location 39, p.9-10)
…there is a need for an exposition and defense of all the most important arguments for God’s existence that is neither burdened with complex and often tedious issues of textual exegesis, nor preceded by any detailed metaphysical prolegomenon, but which simply gets straight to the heart of the argument and introduces any needed background metaphysical principles along the way. (FPEG, Location 53, p.10)
…the arguments [in this book] are all certainly inspired by several great thinkers of the past–in particular, by Aristotle, Plotinus, Augustine, Aquinas, and Leibniz.  Indeed, I think that the proofs that I defend here capture what is essential to the arguments of those thinkers.  But I am not presenting an interpretation of any text to be found in the writings of any of these thinkers, and I am not claiming that any of these thinkers said or would agree with everything I have to say.  I defend an Aristotelian proof of God’s existence, but not Aristotle’s own proof, exactly; an Augustinian proof, but not an exegesis of anything Augustine himself actually wrote; and so forth. (FPEG, Location 59, p.11)
The five arguments are thus inspired by historical philosophers, but they are presented as Feser’s arguments, not as Aristotle’s argument, not as Augustine’s argument, not as Aquinas’s argument.  This is one more thing that Feser gets right.  A book that takes on the issue of the existence of God, especially one that provides a case for the existence of God, ought to contain only arguments of which the author takes ownership, and that the author sincerely believes to be good and solid arguments, or at least the best and strongest arguments available.
 
CHUNK NUMBER 1 OF THE ARISTOTELIAN ARGUMENT
The first chunk of Feser’s Aristotelian argument attempts to prove the following metaphysical claim:

14. So, there is a purely actual actualizer.  (FPEG, Location 493, p.36)

Although Chunk #1 can be viewed as being unique to the Aristotelian argument (because each argument attempts to prove the existence of a metaphysical being of a different type), Chunk #1 is still very important to how one evaluates ALL FIVE of the arguments presented by Feser.  This is because, the other four arguments are dependent upon the success of the rest of the Aristotelian argument (i.e. premises (15) through (49) ), and the rest of the Aristotelian argument has a dependency on Chunk #1.
The dependency of the rest of the Aristotelian argument on Chunk #1 is NOT a dependency on the TRUTH of premise (14), however.  Rather, it is in Chunk #1 that the concept of “a purely actual actualizer” is developed and clarified, and the rest of the Aristotelian argument is ABOUT the alleged attributes of “a purely actual actualizer”, so any unclarity, confusion, or logical problems with this concept are likely to impact the truth or the logic of the rest of the Aristotelian argument that follows after Chunk #1.
The rest of the Aristotelian argument could be logically valid, even if premise (14) was FALSE.  It could still be the case that IF “a purely actual actualizer” existed, THEN that being would have various key divine attributes (e.g. omnipotence, omniscience, being the cause of the existence of all things, etc.).   The point of the rest of the Aristotelian argument is to show that various key divine attributes are logically implied by the concept of “a purely actual actualizer”.  But what this concept logically implies, or does not imply, depends on what this concept MEANS.  So,  the success of the rest of the argument depends on the precise meaning of the phrase “a purely actual actualizer”, and the meaning of this phrase is developed and clarified in Chunk #1.
Therefore, Chunk #1 is NOT merely of significance in terms of our evaluation of the Aristotelian argument, but it is of significance to our evaluation of ALL FIVE of Feser’s arguments for the existence of God.
Here are the premises and inferences that Feser provides in support of claim (14):

  1. Change is a real feature of the world.
  2. But change is the actualization of a potential.
  3. So, the actualization of potential is a real feature of the world.
  4. No potential can be actualized unless something already actual actualizes it (the principle of causality).
  5. So, any change is caused by something already actual.
  6. The occurrence of any change C presupposes some thing or substance S which changes.
  7. the existence of S at any given moment itself presupposes the concurrent actualization of S’s potential for existence.
  8. So, any substance S has at any moment some actualizer A of its existence.
  9. A’s own existence at the moment it actualizes S itself presupposes either (a) the concurrent actualization of its own potential for existence or (b) A’s being purely actual.
  10. If A’s existence at the moment it actualizes S presupposes the concurrent actualization of its own potential for existence, then there exists a regress of concurrent actualizers that is either infinite or terminates in a purely actual actualizer.
  11. But such a regress of concurrent actualizers would constitute a hierarchical causal series, and such a series cannot regress infinitely.
  12. So, either A itself is a purely actual actualizer or there is a purely actual actualizer which terminates the regress that begins with the actualization of A.
  13. So, the occurrence of C and thus the existence of S at any given moment presupposes the existence of a purely actual actualizer.
  14. So, there is a purely actual actualizer. 

(FPEG, Location 477-493, p.35-36)
There is a lot going on here in Chunk #1, so it will probably take me a few posts to walk through this part of the Aristotelian argument.
 
THE FIRST SUB-CONCLUSION OF CHUNK #1
The first sub-conclusion that Feser argues for is this:

3. So, the actualization of potential is a real feature of the world. (FPEG, Location 477, p. 35)

Here is the summary argument for (3):

  1. Change is a real feature of the world.
  2. But change is the actualization of a potential.
  3. So, the actualization of potential is a real feature of the world.

 
I take it that the word “change” is NOT a technical term, but has its ordinary meaning, and thus there is no problem with premise (1); it is clearly and obviously true.
Premise (2) might seem fairly innocent at first blush, but I am deeply suspicious of this premise.  Here Feser is inserting some technical metaphysical concepts or terminology into the argument.  Feser makes no effort to hide this fact, and he provides some examples and clarifications of the terms “the actualization of” and “a potential”, so I’m NOT saying that Feser is trying to mislead anyone.  I’m just saying that we ought to be cautious about accepting premise (2), because it seems to involve acceptance of a philosophical point of view, of a metaphysical theory, or of a significant portion of a metaphysical theory.
Premise (3) clearly follows logically from the combination of (1) and (2), so the logic here is OK.
The only concern I have, so far, is with premise (2).  I doubt that (2) is true, but more importantly,  I do not, at this point, have a clear understanding of what (2) means.  What (2) means is crucial for understanding and evaluating both Chunk #1, and the rest of the Aristotelian argument that follows Chunk #1.  So, we cannot pass Go and collect $200 until we are clear about what premise (2) means.
 
CLARIFYING THE MEANING OF PREMISE (2)
Here is what Feser has to say in support of premise (2):
…it is a mistake to think that change would have to involve something coming from nothing.  Go back to the coffee [an example of a change given previously by Feser].  It is true that while the coffee is hot, the coldness is not actually present.  Still, it is there potentially in a way other qualities are not.  The coffee does not, after all, have the potential to fuel a gasoline engine, or to turn itself into chicken soup, or for that matter to morph into a chicken and begin squawking.  But it does have the potential to grow cold, and it has various other potentials too–to make you more alert if you drink it, to stain the floor if you spill it, and so forth.  That it has the potential to become cold while lacking other potentials shows that the coldness is not exactly nothing, even if it is not yet actual either.  
What change involves, then, is…the actualization of a potential.  The coffee has the potential to become cold, and after sitting out for a while, that potential is made actual.  This is not a case of something coming from nothing…because, again, a potential is not nothing.     (FPEG, Location 167 to 179, p.18)
Based on the above comments about the “actualization of a potential”, we can eliminate the following interpretation of (2):

2aBut change is when a logically possible state of affairs that was not an actual state of affairs becomes an actual state of affairs.

On this interpretation the coffee is hot at time T1, and it is logically possible for the coffee to be cold, but it is not actually the case that the coffee is cold at time T1.  However, if at time T2 the coffee is in fact cold, then a logical possibility that was previously not an actual state of affairs at time T1 has become an actual state of affairs at time T2.
First, let me explain why I think that (2a) is NOT what Feser means by premise (2).  In explaining the claim that the coffee has the potential to become cold, Feser says this:
The coffee does not, after all, have the potential to fuel a gasoline engine, or to turn itself into chicken soup, or for that matter to morph into a chicken and begin squawking.  (FPEG, Location 167, p.18)
Could some coffee turn “into chicken soup”?  This is NOT a physical possibility.  It would be contrary to the laws of nature for a cup of coffee to turn into chicken soup.  In fact, this would constitute a “miracle” if such an event were brought about by God.  However, as Christians often argue, miracles are logically possible even though they are physically impossible. God, being omnipotent, could change a cup of coffee into a cup of chicken soup.  This would be contrary to the laws of nature, contrary to the laws of chemistry, and thus it is a physically impossible event, but it is NOT a logical impossibility.  There is no logical contradiction involved in the claim that a cup of coffee turned into a cup of chicken soup.
 
AN OBJECTION TO PREMISE (2)
It seems to me that (2a) is TRUE.  But if (2a) is true, then (2) is FALSE.  So, it seems to me that (2) is FALSE.
Feser is clearly asserting that coffee does NOT have the “potential” to become chicken soup, but it is logically possible for coffee to become chicken soup, so having the “potential” to turn into chicken soup requires something MORE than just the logical possibility of turning into chicken soup.  Therefore, when Feser speaks of something having a “potential” this implies MORE than just a logical possibility.   It is logically possible for a cup of coffee to turn into a cup of chicken soup, but given Feser’s conception of a “potential”, a cup of coffee does NOT have the potential to turn into a cup of chicken soup.
This, it seems to me, creates a serious problem for Feser in relation to miracles.  God, being omnipotent, can turn a cup of coffee into a cup of chicken soup (this is clearly analogous to the NT miracle where Jesus allegedly turned water into wine).  This would constitute a miracle, in that such an event would be contrary to the laws of nature and would be brought about by God.  But if we accept (2), then we would be forced to conclude that NO CHANGE OCCURS when God turns the cup of coffee into a cup of chicken soup (or when Jesus turned the water into wine).  The cup of coffee had no “potential” to turn into a cup of chicken soup, so when God turned it into a cup of chicken soup, this would NOT be a case of actualizing “the potential” of the coffee to be chicken soup.  But since this is NOT a case of the potential of the coffee being actualized, it would not be a CHANGE, according to Feser’s concept of change.
But the idea that God performing the miracle of turning a cup of coffee into a cup of chicken soup (or Jesus turning water into wine) would NOT involve a CHANGE is absurd.  So, if we are going to accept the idea that miracles are logically possible, and that miracles like this involve a CHANGE, then we must accept (2a) and reject (2).
I doubt that I’m the first person to make this objection to Feser’s concept of CHANGE, so I’m going to stop here for now, and look to see if Feser addresses this objection somewhere in his book Five Proofs of the Existence of God.  
Before we can confidently conclude that we have a clear understanding of premise (2), we need to understand precisely how the meaning of (2) differs from (2a) and either how both (2) and (2a) could be true, or else WHY Feser believes (2a) to be false.  Once these questions have been answered, we should be in a good position to understand and to explicitly state a correct analysis of the meaning of (2).

bookmark_borderI Don’t Care – Part 3

According to the Christian philosopher Peter Kreeft, and many others, Aquinas gives five different arguments for the existence of God.  In the Handbook of Christian Apologetics (IVP, 1994; hereafter: HCA) by Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli, there is a chapter that lays out twenty different arguments for the existence of God, and the first five arguments are versions of Aquinas’ Five Ways:
A word about the organization of the arguments.  We have organized them into two basic groups: those which take their data from without–cosmological arguments–and those that take it from within–psychological arguments.  The group of cosmological arguments begins with our versions of Aquinas’ famous “five ways.” (HCA, p.49)
Kreeft is Catholic, so it is not surprising that he puts these arguments by Aquinas at the front of his list of arguments.  On pages 50 through 58 of HCA, Kreeft and Tacelli lay out five different arguments for the existence God that they take to be versions of five different arguments for the existence of God presented by Aquinas in Summa Theologica (Part I, Question 2, Article 3: Whether God Exists?).
I believe, however, that Kreeft and Tacelli are WRONG on this point, and that Aquinas has only ONE argument for the existence of God, or possibly TWO arguments.  I will need to study the details of Aquinas’ case for God a bit further in order to make a final determination on whether he has ONE argument or TWO arguments for God.  (Note: This alternative way of understanding the Five Ways passage is presented by Knut Tranoy in A Critical History of Western Philosophy; see pages 110-112).
Kreeft and Tacelli, I suspect, were deceived by the misleading title of the famous Five Ways passage in Summa Theologica:  “Whether God Exists?”.   Since Aquinas gives five different arguments in that passage, this makes it seem as though he was giving five different arguments for the existence of God.  But this is a gross distortion and a serious misunderstanding of the Five Ways passage.  There are exactly ZERO arguments for the existence of God in the Five Ways passage.
The problem is that Aquinas does not define what he means by “God”, and that what he apparently means by “God” is NOT what the word “God” means in the English language, especially in relation to the Christian religion and Christian theology.  So, in the Five Ways passage, Aquinas does NOT argue for the existence of “God” in the ordinary sense of the word, as used by Christian believers and Christian philosophers and apologists.
The word “God” is a proper noun, the name of a single being.  The meaning of this name is based on a definite description, a list of properties or characteristics that (allegedly) belong to one, and only one, person.  A bare-bones definite description of this person would include the following properties (at least in relation to the use of the word “God” by Christian believers, and especially Christian philosophers and apologists):

  • the creator of the universe
  • an eternally bodiless person
  • an eternally omnipotent person
  • an eternally omniscient person
  • an eternally perfectly morally good person

Although the ordinary use of the word “God” probably does not entail the possession of each and every one of these properties by the being in question (because the ordinary use of famous names typically is criterial  and thus allows some wiggle room, allowing the name to be properly applied so long as the being in question possesses MOST of the properties in the definite description and no other being possesses MOST of the properties), it is clearer, logically cleaner, and more theologically conservative to treat the list of properties in this definite description as necessary conditions for the proper application of the name “God” to a particular being, and to take them jointly as a sufficient condition for the proper application of the name “God” to a particular being.
What Aquinas actually argues for in the Five Ways is the following five metaphysical claims:
(MC1) There exists an AP being.  
(“an AP being” = a being that is actus purus, i.e. pure act)
(MC2) There exists an FEC being.  
(“an FEC being” =  a being that is a first efficient cause)
(MC3) There exists an IES being.
(“an IES being” = a being that is ipsum esse subsistens, i.e. its own self-subisting existence)
(MC4) There exists a COP being.
(“a COP being” = a being that is the cause of all perfections)
(MC5)  There exists an IDN being.
(“a IDN being” = a being that is the intelligent designer of nature)
Aquinas goes on in OTHER passages of Summa Theologica to use (MC3) as the basis for an argument for the existence of God (in the ordinary sense of the word that I have outlined above), and one could argue that he has a second argument for the existence of God that is based on (MC1).  Each argument can be summarized as a modus ponens that contains a metaphysical claim as the first premise and a conditional claim that links the metaphysical claim to the existence of God:
THE IES ARGUMENT
(MC3) There exists an IES being.
(CC1) IF there exists an IES being, THEN God exists.
Therefore:
(G) God exists.
 
THE AP ARGUMENT
 (MC1) There exists an AP being.
(CC2) IF there exists an AP being, THEN God exists.
Therefore:
(G) God exists.
It might be the case that Aquinas intended for the two key metaphysical claims to function together in a single argument for God (or possibly although this was not his intention, this might be an improved way to make use of Aquinas’ reasoning about God to formulate an argument for the existence of God):
THE COMBINED IES & AP ARGUMENT
(MC6)  There exists a being that is both an IES being and an AP being.
(CC3) IF there exists a being that is both an IES being and an AP being, THEN God exists.
Therefore:
(G) God exists.
Whether Aquinas gives ONE argument or TWO arguments for the existence of God, it is clear that the Five Ways passage contains arguments for only five metaphysical claims, and contains ZERO arguments for the conditional claims in the above modus ponens arguments for the existence of God.  Crudely speaking, the Five Ways passage is concerned with only HALF of Aquinas’ argument for the existence of God: the metaphysical claim but not the conditional claim.
But, more accurately, MOST of Aquinas’ reasoning about the existence of God is found in later sections of Summa Theologica that contain a lengthy and complex chain of reasoning consisting of four or five phases (see  post 2 of the I Don’t Care series for a chart that lays out the phases) in order to support the conditional claim(s) in the above argument(s).  So MOST of Aquinas’ argument for the existence of God is found OUTSIDE of the Five Ways passage.
Each of the conditional claims in the above modus ponens arguments is a summary of a lengthy and complex line of reasoning by Aquinas and can be broken down further into a series of conditional claims of the following form:
(P1) If there exists a being with property W, then there exists a being with properties W & X.
(P2) If there exists a being with properties W & X, then there exists a being with properties W & X & Y.
(P3) If there exists a being with properties W & X & Y, then there exists a being with properties W & X & Y & Z.
Therefore:
(P4) If there exists a being with property W, then there exists a being with properties W & X & Y & Z.
(P5) If there exists a being with properties W & X & Y & Z, then God exists.
Therefore:
(CC) If there exists a being with property W, then God exists.
Aquinas provides reasoning in support each of the conditional claims in this more complex argument, but he does so OUTSIDE of the Five Ways passage.  Thus, MOST of the reasoning that Aquinas provides in support of the existence of God is OUTSIDE of the Five Ways passage.
This means that Kreeft and Tacelli (and many others as well) have completely misunderstood Aquinas’ argument(s) for the existence of God and have only touched upon a small portion of the actual reasoning that Aquinas puts forward for the existence of God in Summa Theologica.
Given this point of view, let me re-state and clarify the meaning of the title of this series of posts:
I DON’T CARE about the first five arguments in Chapter 3 of HCA by Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli, because those arguments are gross distortions and serious misunderstandings of the actual argument(s) for the existence of God given by Aquinas in Summa Theologica.
HOWEVER, I am very much interested in the actual argument(s) that Aquinas gives for the existence of God in Summa Theologica, and I plan to study his reasoning on this issue more closely and then present it in greater detail in future installments of this series.

bookmark_borderI Don’t Care – Part 2

OK. Maybe I care just a little bit.
I summarized my complaint against Aquinas’ Five Ways this way (in response to a comment from Jeff Lowder):
I’m just pointing out that (a) NONE of the Five Ways is an argument for the existence of God as it stands (in the section called “Whether God Exists?”), and (b) in order to make use of any of the Five Ways as an argument for the existence of God, there is a serious amount of intellectual effort required to fill the logical gap that is located in the space where Aquinas dropped this philosophical turd: “to which everyone gives the name of God.”
I also re-iterated a similar complaint against William Craig:
This seems to be a bit of a habit for William Craig. Craig is literally a half-ass thinker. His case for the resurrection is half-assed because he completely ignores the question of whether Jesus died on the cross, which is HALF of his burden of proof. In most of the presentations of the Kalam cosmological argument that I have read, Craig makes only brief and cursory attempts to argue that the cause of the beginning of the universe is God. So, on two of the most central issues of Christian apologetics, Craig leaves half the argument largely untouched.
However, the writings of Aquinas are extensive, and he has a lot to say about God, so as Peter Kreeft points out, we cannot properly evaluate Aquinas’ case for God based just on the presentation of the Five Ways in Summa Theologica (Part I, Question 2, Article 3:”Whether God Exists?”):
These five are not the proofs themselves but ways, i.e. indications or summaries of proofs. The proofs themselves are elsewhere worked out in much greater detail; e.g. in the Summa contra Gentiles the first way takes thirty-one paragraphs (Bk 1 Chap. 13); here it takes only one. (Summa of the Summa, p.61)
Although I’m sticking to my guns on the two points of criticism against Aquinas above,  I have to apologize to Aquinas (and his fans) for the implication that he was a “half-ass thinker” (given my unkind comparison of Aquinas with the half-ass philosophers William Craig and J.P. Moreleand).  A wider look at the works of Aquinas reveals that he actually DOES make an argument for the existence of God, just not in the section of Summa Theologica called “Whether God Exists?”.  I will outline Aquinas’ argument for God a bit later in this post.
I took a look at the passage in the Summa contra Gentiles that Kreeft pointed to as presenting the First Way in greater depth and detail.  That passage does provide a more detailed expostion of the argument for the existence of an unmoved mover, but Aquinas makes NO ATTEMPT (in that section of Summa contra Gentiles) to argue that an unmoved mover has ANY of the major divine attributes (i.e. personhood, creator of the universe, eternally omnipotent, eternally omniscient, eternally perfectly good). Aquinas just goes into greater detail and depth to argue that there exists an unmoved mover.  So, in the section of Summa contra Gentiles that Kreeft points us to, Aquinas still does NOT present an argument for the existence of God.
Kreeft is correct that the Five Ways passage is only a summary of reasoning that Aquinas presents in greater detail and depth elsewhere.  However, Kreeft fails to point out a very basic and important point about the content of the Five Ways:  they represent only the FIRST PHASE of an argument that consists of at least FIVE PHASES.  So, the Five Ways are summaries of more extensive reasoning, but they are NOT summaries of Aquinas’ argument for the existence of God; they are summaries of the FIRST PHASE of his multi-phased argument! (I suspect that Kreeft is not aware of Aquinas’ actual argument for the existence of God, otherwise he would have mentioned this very important point).
The fact that it takes Aquinas four more phases of argumentation to finally get to the conclusion that God exists shows that my objection was absolutely spot on when I complained that “there is a serious amount of intellectual effort required to fill the logical gap that is located in the space where Aquinas dropped this philosophical turd: ‘to which everyone gives the name of God.’ ”  Aquinas does make a serious attempt to fill in that HUGE logical gap; you just have to search through his various writings to find this intellectual effort.
I turned to A Critical History of Western Philosophy (edited by D.J. O’Connor; hereafter: CHOWP) in hopes of getting a better perspective on Aquinas’ thinking about God, and was delighted to find an excellent article on Aquinas by Knut Tranoy.  The article expresses an objection similar to mine, perhaps a bit more clearly than my own attempt to express it:
Granted that each argument is in order as it stands, we then have five different series, each terminating in a “first” which is, respectively, a prime mover, a first efficient cause, a necessary being, a supreme perfection, and a designer or governor of the universe.  In order to amount to a proof of the existence of God, it must then also be shown that (1) the five series converge in one and the same point (the prime mover = first efficient cause, etc.), and (2) that the point of convergence has all the properties which the God of Christianity is said to have.  And this Thomas does not show.  (CHOWP, p.110)
The criticism in the last sentence has an unstated qualification: Thomas does not show these two key points in the passage on the Five Ways in Summa Theologica.  Tranoy goes on to describe how Aquinas does address at least point (2) in other passages and other books.
Tranoy makes a basic point of logic that Aquinas was apparently unclear on:
To prove or to produce evidence that a certain being x, exists, is, one might say, to prove that a certain set of compossible properties is actualized.  That is, we cannot prove or know that x exists without at the same time knowing something about the nature or essence of x.
To prove the existence of God is, then, to show that the properties ascribed to the Christian God in the Bible are actualized in one and only one being.  At least our proof must show that the property or set of properties is actualized from which all the other required properties necessarily follow.  (CHOWP, p.110)
Aquinas should have started out with a definition or analysis of the word “God” that spells out what this word means in relation to the Christian faith (or perhaps in relation to the big three western theistic religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam).  The definition or analysis would contain the main divine attributes, such as:  bodiless person, creator of the universe, eternally omnipotent, eternally omniscient, eternally perfectly good.  After proving the existence of an unmoved mover and a first efficient cause, etc.  He should have immediately argued that these beings were a single being, and then he should have argued that this single being has all (or perhaps most) of the main divine attributes that constitute the definition/analysis of the word “God” from a Christian point of view. Aquinas did not proceed this way.
However, based on Tranoy’s explication of Aquinas’ thinking about God, it appears that one can piece together from various writings by Aquinas an argument for the existence of God that involves at least FIVE PHASES.  Tranoy has a little diagram that lays out the logic at a high level (see CHOWP, p.112), and I have added some details and distinctions to his diagram to produce the following chart (click on the image for a clearer view of the chart):
Aquinas Argument for God
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
The arguments that constitute the Five Ways are summaries of the reasoning in support of Phase 1 (particularly Way 3, which argues for a “necessary being” i.e. a being that is ipsum esse subsistens).  Thus, Aquinas’ argument for the existence of God is like an iceberg, and the Five Ways are merely the visible tip of that iceberg.  MOST of the argument is invisible in the section of the Summa Theologica that is called “Whether God Exists?”.  MOST of the argument is simply missing from the presentation of the Five Ways in that passage.
The overall logic is that Aquinas first establishes the existence of a being with various “metaphysical” properties, and then on the basis of that conclusion he argues for the existence of a being who has various “religious” properties, the divine attributes that constitute the meaning of the word “God” from a Christian or religious point of view (I think this line of reasoning could also be used by Jewish or Muslim apologists to defend their belief in the existence of God).  The effort to establish the existence of a being with various metaphysical properties involves three phases:
1. Show the existence of beings that each have a core metaphysical property.
2. Show that these beings with a core metaphysical property are the same being.
3. Show the existence of a being with a variety of derived metaphysical properties (logically derived from the core metaphysical properties).
The next two phases are concerned with establishing the existence of a being with a variety of religious properties:
4. Show the existence of a being with a core religious property (i.e. perfect knowledge).
5. Show the existence of a being with various derived religious properties (logically derived from the core religious property and from previously established metaphysical properties).
Once Phase 5 is completed, it is a short step of logic to the ultimate conclusion: God exists.
Recall that in Summa contra Gentiles, Aquinas writes several pages of reasoning just to arrive at the Phase 1 conclusion that there exists an unmoved mover.  I don’t know if Aquinas goes into the same degree of detail and depth in his reasoning supporting the other phases of his argument, but I would not be surprised if he did.  I’m not certain that Aquinas argues for the claim of Phase 2 (that the IES being and the AP being are the same being), but I suspect that he does.  According to Tranoy, Aquinas does provide reasoning is support of the other Phases of the argument.
I strongly suspect that there are logical errors and dubious assumptions sprinkled throughout the long and complex development of this line of reasoning by Aquinas, and that I will find multiple reasons to reject his “proof” of the existence of God, but at least Aquinas made the attempt, at least he realized, at some level, that there was a huge logical gap in the argument presented in the passage laying out the Five Ways.  
Aquinas, unlike Craig and Moreland, recognized that there was a large logical gap between establishing the existence of a being with a metaphysical property (like being an “unmoved mover” or a “first efficient cause”) on the one hand, and the existence of God on the other.

bookmark_borderWhat is Faith? – Part 9

Here are some key points from the first section (Relation of Faith to Reason) of Geisler’s article “Faith and Reason” (Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, p. 239; hereafter: BECA):

  • The contents of faith “are above reason.” and so must be revealed to humans by God.
  • Faith “involves will (freedom) and reason doesn’t coerce the will”.
  • Some theological truths “have been proved demonstratively” and can be based on reason, such as the existence of God.

If we take the second point in a straightforward manner, then there appears to be no conflict between faith and reason, at least in terms of the requirement that the assent of faith be a free choice.  If reason doesn’t compel a person to give assent to any theological claim or doctrine (or against any such claim or doctrine), then reason doesn’t preclude a person from freely choosing to give assent to any theological claim or doctrine.
The question I’m not clear how to answer is this:  Can a demonstrative proof compel a person to assent to the conclusion of the proof?  always? sometimes? never?  What is Aquinas’ view on this question?  I’m not sure.
The second section of the article is about Three Uses of Reason:  1. Reason can be used to prove the “preambles of faith”, such as the existence of God.  2. Reason can be used to explain or clarify a theological concept or doctrine.  3. Reason can be used to defend a theological belief by refuting an objection or an argument against that belief. (BECA, p.239).
Although the “preambles of faith” can be “proved demonstratively”(Summa Theologica, 1a.3.2), “such arguments are not available for the second kind of divine truth…” (Gentiles, 1.9, quoted in BECA, p.239).  An example of the second kind of divine truth would be the doctrine of the Trinity.  Aquinas believed that reason alone was insufficient to discover or to prove the doctrine of the Trinity, and that humans can possess this truth only because God has revealed this to us.
The passage quoted from Gentiles 1.9 also includes the following comments about divine revelation:
The sole way to overcome an adversary of divine truth is from the authority of Scripture–an authority divinely confirmed by miracles.  For that which is above the human reason we believe only because God has revealed it.  Nevertheless, there are certainly likely [probable] arguments that should be brought forth in order to make divine truth known.
Apparently when Aquinas speaks of “divine truth” here, he is speaking of the second kind of divine truth (e.g. the doctrine of the Trinity) and not the first kind of divine truth (e.g.  the existence of God), for the first kind of divine truth can be “proved demonstratively” and based on reason alone.
When Aquinas speaks of using “likely [probable] arguments” to support the second kind of divine truth I think he means showing the divine authority of the scriptures (or of Jesus or of the apostles) by making an appeal to the occurence of miracles that allegedly confirm the messages or teachings from those sources.  The authority of the scriptures or revelation is also supported by the belief that God is completely truthful:
…it was necessary for divine truth to be delivered by way of faith, being told to them as it were, by God Himself Who cannot lie…(Summa Theologica, 2a2ae.1, 5.4).
So, Aquinas suggests the basic apologetic argument for the authority of scripture:  Miracles confirm that a book or a messenger are bringing a message that truly comes from God, and God is completely truthful, so we can have complete confidence in the truth and accuracy of books or messengers that have been confirmed by miracles.
Apparently, Aquinas does not see this as a demonstrative proof, but rather as a “likely [probable]” argument. Nevertheless, it is still an argument, a bit of reasoning.  Thus, it seems to me that even the second kind of “divine truth”, such as the doctine of the Trinity, ultimately rests on reason, in that it rests on an argument, a bit of reasoning, about the alleged divine inspiration of the scriptures.  The appeal to confirming miracles requires empirical evidence and the evaluation of that evidence, and the important premise that God is completely truthful, is, presumably, based on a “demonstrative” proof about God being a perfectly good person.
 

bookmark_borderWhat is Faith? – Part 8

In the Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics (1999; hereafter: BECA), Geisler has written a fairly long and detailed article on “Faith and Reason”, and the entire article is basically an exposition of the views of Aquinas about faith and the relationship between faith and reason.
There are nine bolded subheadings in Geisler’s article on “Faith and Reason”:
1. Relation of Faith to Reason
2. Three Uses of Reason
3. Divine Authority
4. Reason in Support of Faith
5. Distinguishing Faith and Reason
6. Perfected by Love, Produced by Grace
7. The Limitations of Reason
8. Things Above Reason
9. Summary
1. Relation of Faith to Reason
In part 7 of this series, I started to examine this section of Geisler’s article.  I will now continue that effort.
Here is another interesting passage from that section:
Faith and reason are parallel.  One does not cause the other because “faith involves will (freedom) and reason doesn’t coerce the will” [quoted from On Truth 14.A1.6, by Aquinas]…. A person is free to dissent, even though there may be convincing reasons to believe. (BECA, p.239)
Previously, Geisler stated that “Faith is consent without inquiry in that faith’s assent is not caused by investigation.” (BECA, p.239)
Geisler’s conclusion that “Faith is consent without inquiry” does NOT follow from the premise that “faith’s assent is not caused by investigation.”  Such assent is not caused by investigation because the assent of faith is supposed to be a choice someone makes freely, and faith’s assent is supposed to be made by a free choice because faith is a virtue.  If the assent to a claim was caused or compelled, then the assent would have no merit.
Free will and causation appear to be logically incompatible, at least that is how Aquinas and many Christian thinkers have viewed these two ideas.  But a free choice does NOT imply that the choice is completely uninformed by reasons and evidence.  Reasons and evidence in some cases will point clearly to one particular conclusion and away from other alternative conclusions.  In such cases, reasonable people will be strongly influenced by those reasons and that evidence.  If Aquinas wishes to deny that reason can compel belief, that is one thing, but it would be absurd to deny that reason can have significant influence over a person’s beliefs.  In some cases reason obviously has a very powerful influence over whether a person believes a particular claim or not.
Given these qualifications, the consent of faith may, in some cases be powerfully influenced by reason, even if one wishes to deny that reason can CAUSE a person to assent to a particular claim.  As Geisler says, “A person is free to dissent, even though there may be convincing reasons to believe.”  So, if Aquinas’s Five Ways to prove the existence of God amounted to “convincing reasons to believe” in God, one would still be “free to dissent” and thus if one assented to the claim “God exists” on the basis of those “convincing reasons to believe” that could still count as “faith” and be a belief that was freely chosen (i.e. not CAUSED or compelled by reason).   Therefore, Geisler’s conclusion that “Faith is consent without inquiry” appears to be a misunderstanding of Aquinas’ view of the relationship of faith and reason.
Geisler notes that reason can at least guide us to belief in the existence of God:
However, some Christian truths are attainable by human reason, for example, that God exists and is one.  “Such truths about God have been proved demonstratively by the philosophers, guided by the light of the natural reason” [quoted from Summa Theologica 1a.3.2, by Aquinas] (BECA, p.239) 
So, in the case of the claim “God exists”, Aquinas thinks that reason can deliver the content of that theological claim as well as providing convincing reasons to assent to that claim, though Aquinas would deny that reason can compell belief in the existence of God.
If Aquinas believes that reason is incapable of compelling a person to assent to a belief, even when reason has the strong force of a demonstrative proof, then there appears to be no threat to faith from reason, at least not on this account.  The assent of faith, according to Aquinas must be a matter of free choice, so that faith can be a virtue.  OK, but if reason can never compel belief, then even when reason exerts powerful influence over a person’s choice to believe a particular claim, that belief remains a matter of free choice, and thus it remains a candidate for being the assent of faith.
 

bookmark_borderWhat is Faith – Part 6

I have noticed a problem of unclarity in my own thinking and writing about the Thomist view of faith.  Before I go further in discussing Swinburne’s characterization of the Thomist view of faith, I want to briefly consider the point of unclarity or ambiguity in my previous discussion of this view of faith. I have been sliding too easily over the distinction between possibility and necessity concerning the role of reasons and arguments in the Thomist view of faith.
Aquinas believes that it is POSSIBLE to base one’s belief in the existence of God on reasons and arguments.  Aquinas believes it is POSSIBLE to know that God exists on the basis of arguments for the existence of God.  But that does NOT mean that everyone who believes in God bases this belief on reasons and arguments.  The view of Aquinas is that a few people, who are intellectually sharp and who have received a thorough education in philosophy and metaphysics are able to come to know that God exists on the basis of philosophical and metaphysical reasoning about God.  But many people who are not intellectually sharp or who have not had the benefit of a thorough education in philosophy and metaphysics, believe in God and this belief is not based on philosophical and metaphysical reasoning about God.  Thus, although it is POSSIBLE  to have knowledge of the existence of God based on REASON, belief in the existence of God is often NOT based on REASON.
Aquinas thinks that there are some beliefs about the properties and actions of God that are not knowable, even by intellectually sophisticated philosophers, on the basis of REASON, on the basis of reasons and arguments that are grounded in empirical and/or conceptual facts.  For example, Christians believe that God is a Trinity, that God is three persons and yet one being.  Aquinas does not think that belief in the Trinitarian nature of God is something that can be based on REASON; one cannot prove the doctrine of the Trinity on the basis of reasons and arguments grounded in empirical and/or conceptual facts.  So, even philosophers must rely upon REVELATION from God, in order to arrive at the belief that God is a Trinity.
I have argued that when a person TRUSTS in God as a source of information and advice, that this trust is based upon beliefs about the knowledge, character, and motivations of God, and thus that this TRUST is based upon REASON.  But this inference is problematic, because in some cases beliefs about the knowledge, character, and motivations of God are NOT based upon REASON, not based upon reasons and arguments that are grounded in empircal and/or conceptual facts.   Although intellectually sophisticated philosophers can believe in God on the basis of REASON, and thus have beliefs about the knowledge, character, and motivations of God that are based on reasons and arguments grounded in emprical and/or conceptual facts, many people believe in God in a way that is NOT based on REASON, in the view of Aquinas.
Furthermore, just as it appears to be POSSIBLE but not NECESSARY to believe in God’s existence on the basis of REASON, so it would also appear to be POSSIBLE but not NECESSARY to TRUST in God as a source of information and advice on the basis of REASON, given the Thomist view of ‘faith in God’. So, it seems to me that I have over-estimated the role of REASON in the Thomist view of ‘faith in God’.
On the one hand, the Thomist view does make it POSSIBLE for ‘faith in God’ to be a purely rational thing:
Purely Rational Faith:  An intellectually sophisticated philosopher can believe in the existence of God on the basis of philosophical arguments grounded in empirical and/or conceptual facts, and that belief in the existence of God can then provide a rational basis for TRUST in God as a source of information and advice, and given further rationally-based beliefs about God having communicated certain claims (e.g. ‘God is a Trinity’), such a believer can have other additional rationally-justified beliefs about the properties and actions of God (e.g. ‘God is a Trinity’).
However, although the Thomist view allows for such purely rational ‘faith in God’, this view also allows for other ways of having ‘faith in God’ that appear to be much less rational:
Non-Rational Faith:  An intellectually unsophisticated person can believe in the existence of God without basing that belief on reasons or arguments grounded in empirical and/or conceptual facts.  Such a person might also TRUST in God as a source of information and advice on the basis of this belief in the existence of God.  But since his/her belief in the existence of God is not based on REASON, neither is that person’s TRUST in God as a source of information and advice based on REASON.  Any beliefs such a person forms on the basis of beliefs about God communicating certain claims (e.g. ‘God is a Trinity’) must therefore also not be based on REASON.
So, contrary to my previous post, it appears that the Thomist view of faith allows for the POSSIBILITY of purely rational faith, but it does NOT imply that ‘faith in God’ is NECESSARILY purely rational faith, but leaves open the possiblity that ‘faith in God’ is quite often NOT purely rational faith.

bookmark_borderWhat is Faith? – Part 5

We have been examining the Thomist view of faith, as characterized by Richard Swinburne in Faith and Reason (FAR).
In order to avoid the implication that one must reason in a circle in order to have ‘faith in God’, a supporter of the Thomist view of faith can draw a distinction between beliefs about God that are implied by the statement ‘God exists’ and other beliefs about God that are NOT implied by this claim.  For a Thomist, belief in the existence of God is (or can be) based on reasons or arguments, thus some beliefs about God can be based on reasons and arguments, while other beliefs about God are (for a person who has ‘faith in God’) based on divine revelation.
The use of this distinction to rescue the Thomist view of faith, required that the analysis of ‘faith in God’ be modified slightly, as follows:
Definition 3
Person P has faith in God
IF AND ONLY IF
(a) P believes that God exists,  AND
(b) P believes that God has various properties (divine attributes),  AND
(c) P believes that God has performed various actions,  AND
(d) any beliefs that P has about God’s properties or actions that are not implied by the concept of God are accepted by P because P believes that God has revealed those beliefs.
Swinburne gives two examples of beliefs about God,  taken from the Nicene Creed, that are supposed to be based on divine revelation:
(MHE) God made Heaven and Earth.
(RTD) God will one day  raise the dead.
Both examples are, however, problematic.
Swinburne’s analysis of the claim ‘God exists’ involves the identification of a person who has several divine attributes.  One of the divine attributes used to identify a person as being ‘God’ is that of being ‘the creator of all things’ (The Existence of God, 2nd ed., p.7).  If one can make a case for the probable existence of God, then that means that one has shown that there probably is a person who is ‘the creator of all things.’   Such a person must obviously also be a person who ‘made Heaven and Earth’.  Therefore, if one can show that God exists on the basis of reasons and arguments, then in doing so one has also shown that (MHE) is true. There would thus be no need for divine revelation as the basis for the belief that (MHE) was true.
Now (RTD) is not so directly and obviously implied by the statement ‘God exists’, but it does have a very close connection to a rational case for the claim ‘God exists’.  Any rational case for the claim that ‘God exists’ must deal with the problem of evil to be successful.  Swinburne’s case for the claim ‘God exists’, for example, involves an extended examination of the problem of evil (see The Existence of God, Chapters 10 & 11).  One aspect of the problem of evil that is particularly challenging for belief in God, is the fact that some people appear to have lives that are very miserable, lives in which the pain, sorrow, and suffering of the person appears to outweigh any pleasure, happiness, and comfort that person has experienced.
Swinburne believes that human suffering could be allowed by a perfectly good and omniscient and omnipotent deity, but that it would be unjust for God to bring about a human life in which the pain, sorrow, and suffering of that life outweighed any good aspects of that life.  The key response to this particular aspect of the problem of evil is that God has the power to grant further life after death to such persons, so that in the long run there is more good than bad in that person’s experience (The Existence of God, p.262).
So, although resurrection of the dead might not be absolutely necessary to ensure justice to those people whose lives were filled with pain, sorrow, and suffering, some sort of afterlife appears to be required in order to make sure that every human life contains more good than bad in the long run.  The claim ‘God exists’ does not directly imply that there will be life after death, but given the sorts of evils and distribution of evils that actually exist in this world, it would be difficult if not impossible to defend the idea that God is perfectly good, omnipotent, and omniscient apart from the supposition that God will provide a life after death, at least for some people who got the short end of the stick in this life.  Thus, given that the supposition of a life after death is a necessary component of any halfway plausible case for the existence of God, rational belief in the existence of God will involve belief in life after death, and it is only a short step from that belief to (RTD).  So, in arriving at belief in the existence of God on the basis of a rational case for God, one will already have good reason to believe (RTD) or that something similar to (RTD) is the case.
I’m not saying that there are no beliefs about God besides beliefs that are implied by the claim ‘God exists’.  But the fact that both of Swinburne’s examples are problematic, provides some support for my view that the central and most important beliefs about God’s properties and actions are already contained in the concept of ‘God’ and implied by the claim that ‘God exists.’  One example of a belief that goes beyond the claim ‘God exists’ is the belief that God is a Trinity of three persons in one being.  Aquinas did not think that one could prove that God was a Trinity.  This was a belief about God that one must accept on the basis of divine revelation.  I’m inclined to agree with Aquinas that the Trinitarian nature of God cannot be established on the basis of reasons and arguments.  However, Swinburne puts forward a philosophical argument for the Trinity in his book The Christian God (see Chapter 8), so for Swinburne it is possible to base belief in the Trinity on reasons and arguments.
There probably are some beliefs about the properties and actions of God that go beyond the concept of ‘God’ and the belief that ‘God exists’, but it seems to me that most of the central and important beliefs that Christians have about God are contained in the concept of ‘God’ or implied by the claim ‘God exists’ or are implied by essential parts of a rational case for the existence of God.  If that is so, then the Thomist view of ‘faith in God’ delegates most of the central and important beliefs that Christians have about God to REASON, and leaves a secondary and rather less important role for trust in divine revelation, for TRUST in the truth and correctness of what God has (allegedly) communicated to humans.
Furthermore, the TRUST that believers who have this sort of ‘faith in God’ have in the advice and information that they think comes from God is itself based on beliefs about the properties of God, such as that God is omniscient and perfectly good.  Those beliefs about the properties of God, are (from a Thomist viewpoint) based on REASON.  So, the Thomist conception of ‘faith in God’ seems to be very heavily grounded in REASON, since even those theological beliefs that are accepted on the basis of divine revelation, are accepted on the basis of beliefs about the knowledge, character, and motivations of God, which are in turn based on reasons and arguments that are independent of divine revelation.
 

bookmark_borderWhat is Faith? – Part 4

We have looked at a simple and widespread understanding of ‘faith in God’:
Definition 1
Person P has faith in God IF AND ONLY IF  P believes that God exists.
One problem with Def. 1 is that the devil himself would have ‘faith in God’ based on this definition, and thus this could hardly be considered  to be a virtue, to be the kind of faith that is commended by the Christian religion.
According to Swinburne (in Faith and Reason, 2nd ed., hereafter: FAR), the Thomist view of faith is similar to Def. 1, but with “one addition and two qualifications” (FAR, p.138).  Swinburne’s characterization of this view of faith has, however, two additions.  Here is my attempt to capture that characterization (with the additions, not the qualifications):
Definition 2
Person P has faith in God
IF AND ONLY IF
(a) P believes that God exists,  AND
(b) P believes that God has various properties (divine attributes),  AND
(c) P believes that God has performed various actions,  AND
(d) any beliefs that P has about God’s properties or actions are accepted on the ground that God has revealed those beliefs.
This definition might get around the counterexample that the devil has ‘faith in God’ if we assume that the devil can directly perceive God in a way that humans cannot (so the devil would not have to rely upon God revealing theological truths).
I suggested an objective and a subjective interpretation of condition (d):
Objective Interpretation
(d#) any beliefs that P has about God’s properties or actions are accepted by P as a result of God revealing those beliefs.
On this interpretation the definition fails, because it implies the counterintuitive view that NOBODY has ever had ‘faith in God’ if it turns out that there is no God. If there is no God, then there can be no divine revelation of theological truths, and on the objective interpretation of condition (d) there can be ‘faith in God’ only if God actually reveals some theological truths.
Subjective Interpretation
(d*) any beliefs that P has about God’s properties or actions are accepted by P because P believes that God has revealed those beliefs.
The subjective interpretation of (d) allows for there to be people who have ‘faith in God’ even if there is no God, so this interpretation is to be preferred over the objective interpretation.  But, there seems to be a problem of circularity looming here.
If I trust my doctor for medical information and advice, I do so because I have various beliefs about her knowledge, character, and motivations.  Similarly, if someone trusts God for information or advice, this implies that this person has various beliefs about God’s knowledge, God’s character, and God’s motivations.  If someone places great confidence in information or advice that he/she believes came from God, this is presumably based, in part on the belief that God is omniscient (all-knowing), and presumably is based, in part on the belief that God is a perfectly good person who loves all human beings and cares about their well-being.
If one has ‘faith in God’, then beliefs about the properties of God are supposed to be accepted on the basis of trusting in God, specifically trusting in God for information and advice.  But that trust is in turn based on beliefs about the properties of God.  This is reasoning in a circle:
1.  God is omniscient and perfectly good and cares about the well-being of each and every human.
Therefore:
2.  Whatever information or advice God gives to humans must be true or correct.
3. God has communicated the information that God is omniscient, perfectly good, and that God cares about the well-being of each and every human.
Therefore:
4. It must be true that God is omniscient, perfectly good, and that God cares about the well-being of each and every human.
So, Definition 2, on the subjective interpretation of (d), appears to require that a person who has ‘faith in God’ must engage in circular reasoning.
Someone who wanted to defend the Thomist view of faith might make use of the distinction between knowing that God exists on the basis of a proof or argument for God, and believing other things about God on the basis of divine revelation.  In trying to prove that God exists, or to show that it is probable that God exists, one must define what one means by the word ‘God’, and this is usually done in terms of a list of divine attributes (e.g. omniscience, omnipotence, perfect goodness, being eternal, etc.).  But not every property and activity of God is included in the definition of ‘God’.   So, whatever properties (divine attributes) are included in the definition of ‘God’ are established on the basis of reasons and evidence. Then, when one has been persuaded that there is such a person as God, one would be rationally justified in placing trust in any information or advice that one believes came from God, and such information apparently from God might include claims about other properties or actions of God that are not contained in the basic concept of God.
In order for this distinction to help rescue the concept of ‘faith in God’, the above definition needs to be modified a bit:
Definition 3
Person P has faith in God
IF AND ONLY IF
(a) P believes that God exists,  AND
(b) P believes that God has various properties (divine attributes),  AND
(c) P believes that God has performed various actions,  AND
(d) any beliefs that P has about God’s properties or actions that are not implied by the concept of God are accepted by P because P believes that God has revealed those beliefs.
By dividing beliefs about God into two categories (those believed on the basis of arguments or evidence and those believed on the basis of divine revelation), it does appear that one can avoid the circular reasoning that Definition 2 required of people in order to have ‘faith in God’.
However, the reason why some properties and actions are built into the concept of God is, generally, because those properties and actions are the most important and significant ones, from a religious point of view.  Therefore, it appears that beliefs about God accepted on the basis of divine revelation will, in general, be beliefs that are less important and less significant than the beliefs about God that are accepted on the basis of arguments or reasons.  This seems to give reason the primary role in the concept of ‘faith in God’ and to give divine revelation a secondary and less important role in the concept of ‘faith in God’.

bookmark_borderWhat is Faith? – Part 3

I said that I was not going to walk slowly through the rest of Chapter 4 of Faith and Reason (FAR), by Richard Swinburne.  But there is a lot going on in the next few paragraphs of Chapter 4, and I find myself wanting to make several comments on them.  So, contrary to my previous plans,  I’m going to continue to walk slowly through at least the next few paragraphs.
Before we get to Swinburne’s characterization of the Thomist view of faith,  I have a couple more comments.  Swinburne focuses on the ideas of “belief that” and “trust in a person” as key aspects of different views of faith.  The Thomist view focuses on “belief that”, while the Lutheran view focuses on “trust in a person”.  I would like to point out two fairly obvious logical connections between these ideas, before we see what Swinburne has to say about how they are related to the concept of faith:
1.  One kind of “trust in a person” leads quite naturally to the formation of beliefs.
If I trust a person for advice or information, then when that person gives me advice, or gives me information, I will be inclined to form beliefs in accordance with that advice or information.  If my doctor tells me “The best way to ensure a full recovery from your illness is to do X”, and if I trust my doctor for medical advice, then I will be inclined to form the belief that “The best way to ensure a full recovery from my illness is to do X.”  If my chemistry professor tells me that “Hydrogen has an atomic weight of 1.00794 u, and hydrogen is the lightest element in the periodic table.”, and if I trust my professor to know about such things in the field of chemistry, then I will be inclined to form the belief that  “Hydrogen has an atomic weight of 1.00794 u, and hydrogen is the lightest element in the periodic table.” (Thanks to Wikipedia for this example).
2. Trust in a person normally (always?) involves beliefs about that person.
If I trust a person to take good care of my daughter while I am on a trip out of town, I do so on the basis of beliefs about the trustworthiness of that person.  I believe that this person cares about the well-being of my daughter.  I believe that this person is capable of taking good care of my daughter.  I believe that this person has a strong commitment to take good care of my daughter while I’m away, and I believe that this person is a responsible person who will do their best to fulfill this commitment.  My trusting this person is grounded in various beliefs that I have about the character and abilities of this person.
According to Swinburne, the Thomist view of faith is closely related to what…
…is by far the most widespread and natural view of the nature of religious faith.  This is the view that, with one addition and two qualifications, to have faith in God is simply to have a belief-that God exists. (FAR, p.138)
So we now have a proposed simple definition of faith:
Definition 1
Person P has faith in God IF AND ONLY IF  P believes that God exists.
One interesting and problematic implication of this definition is that the devil has ‘faith in God’.  According to the Christian scriptures, the devil believes that God exists.  But clearly, the devil does NOT trust in God, and the devil does NOT love God, and the devil has no desire to obey God.  The devil is at war with God, but to be at war with God requires that the devil believe that God exists.  If the devil has ‘faith in God’, then it would seem that ‘faith in God’ is NOT the kind of faith that the Christian religion commends.  Or, at least, the particular sort of ‘faith in God’ that the devil has falls short of the kind of ‘faith in God’ that is commended by Christianity.
Here is the “one addition” that Aquinas makes to the simple definition of ‘faith in God’ above:
…to have faith in God, you have to believe not merely that there is a God, but certain other propositions as well…. More central to faith are the other propositions about what God is like and what acts He has done, and you have to believe these latter propositions on the ground that God has revealed them. (FAR, p.138)
In case you didn’t notice, there are at least TWO additional elements that have been added to the initial simple definition.  First, there is the additional element that there are beliefs beyond just the existence of God that are central to faith, beliefs about “what God is like and what acts He has done”.  Second, these beliefs must be accepted “on the ground that God has revealed them.”:
Definition 2
Person P has faith in God
IF AND ONLY IF
(a) P believes that God exists,  AND
(b) P believes that God has various properties (divine attributes),  AND
(c) P believes that God has performed various actions,  AND
(d) any beliefs that P has about God’s properties or actions are accepted on the ground that God has revealed those beliefs.
This is clearly a bit more complicated than the initial simple definition of ‘faith in God’.  However, even with the additional requirements, it still looks to me like the devil would have ‘faith in God’ on this definition.
The only potential reason for denying that the devil meets these conditions would be doubt about whether the devil’s beliefs about the properties and actions of God are “accepted on the ground that God has revealed those beliefs.”
Aquinas might argue that the devil knows about God’s properties and actions in a way that is more direct than the way that humans know, or become aware of, God’s properties and actions.  The devil, Aquinas might say, doesn’t need God’s help to learn about God’s properties and actions; the devil can directly perceive God in a way that humans cannot.  Humans need God to reveal his properties and actions to them; they cannot simply or directly perceive God, God’s properties, or God’s actions, at least not without God’s assistance.
There might be an ambiguity in condition (d).  It is not immediately clear to me whether (d) could be satisfied if God did NOT exist.  In other words, it is not clear to me whether (d) states a subjective or an objective requirement.   Let me try to formulate (d) in a way that is more clearly objective in nature:
(d#) any beliefs that P has about God’s properties or actions are accepted as a result of God revealing those beliefs.
If we understand (d) in this way, as requiring that P’s beliefs about God have a certain kind of CAUSE, namely an act of divine revelation, then (d) could be satisfied ONLY IF God in fact exists and can perform actions that cause events or changes to occur.  But this would have the counter-intuitive implication that no Christian or Jew or Muslim has ever had ‘faith in God’ if it turns out that there is no God.   It seems to me that we skeptics and atheists are inclined to say that many religious believers have ‘faith in God’ even if we are completely convinced that there is no such being as God.  So, I don’t think the definition works on this objective interpretation of condition (d).
Here is a formulation of (d) that is more clearly a subjective one:
(d*) any beliefs that P has about God’s properties or actions are accepted by P because P believes that God has revealed those beliefs.
On this subjective interpretation of (d), it does not matter whether God exists or not.  So long as P believes that God exists and believes that God sometimes reveals truths to humans, then (d) could be satisfied even if it turns out that there is no such being as God (or even if there were a God who chose not to reveal theological truths to humans).