Happy Birthday, St. Thomas Aquinas

Years ago, as I wrestled with weighty philosophical problems, I studied St. Thomas Aquinas’ magisterial Summa Theologica. It’s an extraordinary effort to understand everything. I’m not a Catholic, nor am I religious in any ordinary sense of the term, although I happily regard myself as a mystic in rationalistic clothing. Still, I love Aquinas, I love his style of thinking. He’s so expansive and fair-minded and non-combative. He proceeds by means of objections and rebuttals, and by engaging points of view that threaten his position and belief. I suspect that he’d have very little patience for ideaologues and sectarians. According to one source, Aquinas was born some time between the end of 1224 and the beginning of 1225. I can think of no better tribute to Aquinas on this day, so close to his birthday, than to adopt his form of exposition and state an argument as clearly as possible.

Article 1. Whether theology is intellectually bankrupt.

We proceed thus to the First Article: It seems that theology is not intellectually bankrupt.

Objection 1. A science has intellectual content when its subject matter can be clearly defined and treated through rational inquiry, through logic, reasoning, and empirical observation. The subject matter of theology is God and His effects, and can be treated through rational inquiry. Therefore, theology is a science with intellectual content.

Objection 2. Further, a science has intellectual content if it enables us to make surprising insights into other domains of knowledge. Theology allows us to make surprising insights into cosmology, biology, and especially human morality. Therefore, theology has intellectual content.   

On the contrary, the subject matter of theology is poorly defined. For we don’t know if God exists, whether He’s part of the world or beyond it, whether He’s matter or spirit, whether He’s personal or impersonal, or whether He’s simple or complex.

I answer that, sciences have different subject matters. Geometry has the nature of shape and figure as its subject matter; logic, the formal rules of thought; physics, matter, energy, and time; history, past actions of people in society. While all sciences aim at truth, they don’t have the same degree of certainty. As The Philosopher says, we must be content with the “degree of exactness that fits the subject matter in each area and is proper to the investigation.” Geometry is more precise than physics, which is more precise than history, psychology, or philosophy. Yet all sciences attempt to explain features of reality. Theology professes to be a science about God and His effects. But the subject matter of theology is so poorly defined that it’s not amenable to rational inquiry. Further, there is no impartial method for resolving disputes about purported matters of fact (God is a trinity vs. God is Yahweh, etc.). Indeed, not a single “theological” fact has ever been identified, let alone explained. Therefore, theology isn’t a science and doesn’t explain any features of reality whatsoever, including the nature and existence of God, the origin of the world, the purpose of humanity, or the nature of good and evil. At best, theology is a possible science, emphasis on possible.

Reply Obj. 1. Sciences have a well-defined subject matter and explain features of reality through rational inquiry. But theology’s subject matter is poorly defined, as already noted. Therefore, theology isn’t a science and doesn’t expand our knowledge of the world.

Reply Obj. 2. Because theology isn’t a science, it doesn’t allow us to make surprising insights into other domains of knowledge, including cosmology, biology, or even human morality. God-concepts lack percepts, to invoke Kant. That’s why rational inquiry passes over them in silence, assuming a spirit of politeness prevails.

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29 Responses to Happy Birthday, St. Thomas Aquinas

  1. Fred says:

    Does that bring back memories! I was raised Catholic and went to a Catholic grammar and high school, and was graduated from a Catholic university (De Paul in Chicago).

    I took a number of theology and philosophy courses at De Paul and of course St. Thomas was the major philosopher–a much different acceptance of him from when he was alive and his works were almost considered heretical. He was an Aristotelian and opposed the Platonic philosophy of St. Augustine, who had been the major Church philosopher up to that time (assuming I still remember my Church history correctly).

    • Hi Fred, I’m glad to hear that it gave you a memory jolt. I was hoping to accurately convey something of St. Aq’s style and form of thinking. It’s rather grand and oh-so enjoyable to read and ponder and challenge. His task is a difficult one, trying as he is to fuse the natural philosophy of Aristotle, which was eventually incorporated into what we nowadays call science, with the articles of faith given in what he thinks is a revealed religion. His failure to accomplish his goal is an instructive example to anyone who would follow in his footsteps. Still, very good stuff. Many cheers, Kevin

  2. Fiona Bell says:

    Hello again. I am enjoying catching up on blog land now that my internet is working again. Great post by the way. I like the term “intellectually bankrupt”, but it doesn’t reappear in the answer or the reply; does it cease to be part of the equation once you have moved to the debate as to weather or not theology is a science?

    • Hi Fiona, by “intellectually bankrupt,” I mean that theology has no content, it doesn’t pack any explanatory power, and the result is that theologians, despite their claims, don’t extend our knowledge of reality. Lastly, I make a distinction between theology and religion, which I’ll address in my response to Steven. Cheers, Kevin

  3. Fiona Bell says:

    I mean whether, not weather… sorry.

  4. Dear Kevin,

    Ah, but then you are not using the terms as Thomas Aquinas understood them. And I would contest your postulate that Theology is not a science. Much would depend on how one defines the term and I prefer the more “catholic” definition of Thomas Aquinas in which science derives its meaning from its roots and refers as a “means of knowing” or knowledge. Taken in this way, while Theology is not a rationalist, empirical science, it is undoubtedly a science that has as its realm its own magisterium. Can it be compared to the relatively small compass of what we presently call science? No. But is it a way of knowing–undoubtedly. It has its own rules and its own way of inquiry–but that rational discourse can be so conducted, although ultimately it cannot be tested except by faith.

    So, I would ask that you address the first question that must come before this whether or not Theology is a Science and under what circumstances one understands a science. Then I can accept or reject your givens and hypotheses as a coherent unity.

    shalom,

    Steven

  5. Dear Kevin,

    How is theology’s subject matter poorly defined? I can agree that testable and provable are matters for consideration, but can human reason infer or know something of the divine? If so, even if everything is not perfectly clear regarding this knowledge, then it is a science. Can it be finally proven? Ah, most certainly, but not within this lifetime–one must make it to the next to know who was right?

    Does that mean one should abandon the pursuit or assume the pursuit is worthless–no. We cannot know where an atomic particle is at any given time, nor can we know both position and velocity, nor can we even know for sure that they are particles–and yet we do not see in this essential unprovability any problem. Why is theoretical physics so much more a science when very little regarding it can be proven.

    I don’t think that you’ve shown that either the matter is indeterminate, nor that it is any less verifiable than aspects of other acknowledged sciences. Therefore, the point is still mooted.

    shalom

    Steven

  6. Dear Kevin,

    This is the statement that needs proof rather than declamation:

    “Theology professes to be a science about God and His effects. But the subject matter of theology is so poorly defined that it’s not amenable to rational inquiry.”

    Why is the subject matter so poorly defined. It is very clearly defined in my mind–what is poor about its definition. It is only poorly defined if one does not believe in a God, otherwise, it is perfectly clear, and obviously has admitted of a great deal of rational inquiry and civil discourse through the years–as exhibit Thomas Aquinas himself. The fact that one cannot arrive at a final conclusion makes it no more vague than the majority of sciences. Prove, for example, evolution and its principles. Not demonstrate but show clearly the mechanisms. While the preponderance of the evidence suggest that evolution is the source of diversity of life on earth, its mechanisms continue to be debated.

    shalom

    Steven

    shalom,

    Steven

  7. Dear Kevin,

    Sorry to inundate you, but I did learn an extremely valuable lesson from this. Don’t try to cram commentary into spaces between reading a hundred posts. I think you could easily delete the first of the posts above and then sort of blenderize the second two to make something of a coherent point, maybe, if you stand back and squint at it a while.

    Sorry.

    Steven

    • Hi Steven, I stood back and squinted a while, and blenderize I shall!

      First of all, thank you for your comments. I especially appreciate the fact that you embody the intellectual values that Aquinas holds dear.

      You write, “So, I would ask that you address the first question that must come before this whether or not Theology is a Science and under what circumstances one understands a science.”

      A science or a discipline has explanatory power when, among other things, (1) its subject matter can be clearly defined, (2) its central concepts have objective validity, and (3) when it proceeds by means of rational inquiry, i.e., logic, evidence, justification, etc.

      We don’t know if God exists; we don’t know if He’s one or two or three, or more; we don’t if He/they are persons or people; we don’t know where divine agency ends and human agency begins; we don’t know His/Her/their relationship to human history, and so on.

      As a result, conditions (1) and (2) are not satisfied.

      As regards (3), it might obtain, but this entirely depends on the nature of the argument advanced to establish God’s/gods’ existence, nature, and relationship to natura naturata, i.e., the “created” world. Every argument that I’ve ever seen is faulty. But of course a new one might emerge, and I’d be happy to consider it.

      Moving on.

      You write, “But is it a way of knowing–undoubtedly. It has its own rules and its own way of inquiry–but that rational discourse can be so conducted, although ultimately it cannot be tested except by faith.”

      Several points are in order.

      First, if theology is a science, then its practitioners should be able to show that its flagship concept, namely, God, has objective validity. But they’re unable to do so. Now if I’m mistaken, please show me how your particular god-concept (of which there are many) accurately reflects reality.

      Second, faith, in my view, is maintaining the truth of proposition p when its content is fundamentally arational, that is, we can neither confirm nor deny the truth of p. It’s beyond appeals to evidence and reason. But rational inquiry doesn’t proceed by means of faith. It proceeds by means of reasoned belief and argument.

      Third (and this is really important and deserves a lot of attention, more than I can possibly give here), I make a distinction between theology and religion. Whereas theology claims to extend our knowledge of reality (God exists, He’s a person, He gave his only begotten son, etc.) but actually engages in wholesale confabulation, religion, on the other hand, especially at its very best, a “religion of healthy-mindedness,“ to quote W. James, engages in a kind of literary criticism that is entirely commendable. Through fables, allegories, parables, and other stories, scriptures communicate words, images, ideas, and feelings that profoundly affect experience at the most basic level by encouraging self-clarification and self-understanding. As wonderful as these allegorical accounts are, we would be profoundly mistaken to regard them as literally true, just as we would be mistaken to think, on the basis of reading Dante, that there really are nine circles of hell. So. While theology is bankrupt (it pretends to do something it doesn’t do) religion, in its allegorical form, is not.

      “[B]ut can human reason infer or know something of the divine?”

      Yes, I think we can infer a thing or two. But we have to engage in metaphysics, not theology. According to astrophysicists, the Big Bang occurred roughly 13-14 billion years ago. So we know that the world has a beginning. In addition, we know that:

      (a) Something doesn’t come from nothing, i.e., for every effect there’s a cause.

      (b) In order for an effect to follow from a cause, it must have something in common with it, i.e., a cause is never outside the sequence of effects of which it is the cause.

      We can safely infer that the Big Bang was caused, and that its cause, however we conceive of it, whether we personify it or not, is part of a closed causal system. Beyond that, however, we know precious little about the nature of this cause. We simply have no clue.

      Moving on, and almost at the end of this unusually long reply, sorry, indeed…

      You write, “We cannot know where an atomic particle is at any given time, nor can we know both position and velocity, nor can we even know for sure that they are particles–and yet we do not see in this essential unprovability any problem.”

      H’s uncertainty principle has nothing to do with “unprovability.” In fact, it’s a striking reminder that our epistemic limitations are based on the fact that we know something, in this case either the speed or position of a particle.

      “Why is theoretical physics so much more a science when very little regarding it can be proven.”

      Because gluons, quarks, and other particles in fields of force really do exist, and their concepts model the universe, on an infinitesimally small scale, and generate hypotheses that can be tested to yield insights into how reality works. Although it’s terribly unlikely, I hope a theoretical physicist will chime in, as I find the discipline very complicated, and am reluctant to say anything about it, beyond what a high school student might know.

      “Why is the subject matter so poorly defined. It is very clearly defined in my mind–what is poor about its definition. It is only poorly defined if one does not believe in a God, otherwise, it is perfectly clear…”

      Please don’t assume that I don’t believe in the divine. The only thing I’ve rejected so far are god-concepts as deployed by theologians. Spinoza and Whitman, now, they’re a different matter entire! Anyhow. If things are so clear to you, perhaps you can explain how you know that God is a triune person who entered history in the form of Jesus to redeem our sins.

      Best regards,
      Kevin

  8. Dear Kevin,

    What exactly is “reasoned belief”?

    Secondly, I never implied that the uncertainty principle had to do with unprovability. What I said specificallynwas that you could not know both at the same time. Moreover, I would say that the particle-wave theory of matter has all the non-validity of your postulated concept of the validity of God here.

    Finally I would point out that much of the argumentnyou make is mere assertion. You say theology is X. But I would point out that even the Saint we are celebratingnwould point out that theology is invalid outside a certain system of postulates. You reject the first postulate and say, therefore the entire system is invalid. But I would point out that reimannian geometry does not in any way invalidate Euclidean geometry. I would say that theology does require that you accept certain axioms, the ones you accept depend upon the system. But in every theology I have seen, certain remarkable and repeated observations regarding the nature of being and of event emerge and certainly appear valid. This, of course proves nothing. But if I can start with buddhist theology on one had and Taoist on thebother and work both ends toward the middle and fine certain ground of identity, then I would suggest that underlying each is somethingnwith validity, whether or not either group is completely correct.

    Finally, I would point out that the sciences as we know them today require acceptance of certain rationalist and logical positivist suppositions that are philosophically not necessarily validated or tenable. For example Darwinist reasonig requires a supposition of randomness, and yet bit Chaos and game theory strongly indicate that randomness is more likely than not, not a valid operatingmprinciple in the natural world, as nearly every event is proximally conigent upon other events. Hence, mass extinctions may be driven by either chaotic vagaries of the logistical difference equation orbother ecological simulators, or upon a causative event (meteor impact, worldwide vulcanism, etc.)

    Finally, please forgive the likely deplorable condition of tis text. it was typed on a iPad. I would love to have the opportunity to speak with you in person. I tend not to be the best reasoner in the world, finding that I work better by going synaptically and working my way back. And so I have some frustration with this mode of communication, because I can’t get enough answers rapidly enough to change the system. And what was a line of thought becomes a train wreck.

    Shalom

    Steven

    • Hi Steven, let’s see…

      “What exactly is ‘reasoned belief‘?”

      A reasoned belief is a belief that is supported by good reasons. Smoking causes cancer is a reasoned belief. God created the world ex nihilo is not.

      “Moreover, I would say that the particle-wave theory of matter has all the non-validity of your postulated concept of the validity of God here.”

      I don’t know enough about theoretical physics to engage you on this point. But I do know this: whether speculative physics is a science or not has no bearing on the credentials of theology.

      “Finally I would point out that much of the argumentn you make is mere assertion. You say theology is X.”

      Yes, but it’s not mere assertion. Theologians claim to know the origin of the world. But since they cannot defend their claim in accordance with the canons of rational inquiry, their failure *is* my reason for asserting the vacuity of their discipline. If I hadn’t provided a reason, then I’d be engaged in mere assertion. Which I’m not.

      “But I would point out that even the Saint we are celebratingnwould point out that theology is invalid outside a certain system of postulates.”

      Please provide a quote where Aquinas says that “God exists” is only valid in this or that system of thought.

      “But in every theology I have seen, certain remarkable and repeated observations regarding the nature of being and of event emerge and certainly appear valid. This, of course proves nothing.”

      You’re right, this proves nothing except that the world’s theologies and religions share a common archetype, i.e., the human mind, questing as it does to clothe mystery in stories.

      “But if I can start with buddhist theology on one had and Taoist on the other and work both ends toward the middle and fine certain ground of identity, then I would suggest that underlying each is something with validity, whether or not either group is completely correct.”

      It depends on what that “something” is. Many Buddhists and Taoists, for instance, deny the existence of a personal God. Not sure how you’ll square that with the Christian belief that there is a personal God. Anyhow. I agree with you above: when we attend closely to the allegories, parables, and fables of religious thought, it doesn’t prove anything about the world except our ability to tell stories, glorious and wonderful as they are.

      “Finally, I would point out that the sciences as we know them today require acceptance of certain rationalist and logical positivist suppositions that are philosophically not necessarily validated or tenable.”

      Please provide one example of a presupposition of rational inquiry that’s “not necessarily validated or tenable.”

      “For example Darwinist reasonig requires a supposition of randomness, and yet bit Chaos and game theory strongly indicate that randomness is more likely than not, not a valid operatingmprinciple in the natural world, as nearly every event is proximally conigent upon other events.”

      No need to pit evolutionary biology against Chaos theory. As you know, a gene mutation is random, not because it’s uncaused, but because it occurs without a purpose, without a guiding teleology.

      “Finally, please forgive the likely deplorable condition of tis text. it was typed on a iPad.”

      No worries, not at all. As always, take your time, there’s no rush. We’re likely to revisit these ideas, again and again, especially when I post on Whitman and O’Connor.

      • Kevin,

        We need to converse. Eier because of my hurry, inadequate expression, or difference between what is in my head and what is written, I keep seeing evidence that you are interpreting my statements out of their proper context.

        Most particularly you completely miss my point on randomness and chaos theorynwhich is not directed toward mutation but to transmission.

        Further your assumption that the mutation is “random” because it is not guided is an axiom of e system. Any number of contingent events and actors could be the root cause. Also, you have a very peculiar definition of random–random because of teleology not event.? That doesn’t make zees to me. Random is random not because uncaused but because the cause doesn’t choose or single put an element to act on. So it can act on all or none.

        The assumption of randomness is exactly that, unproven, and likely unprovable, and no more valid than proposing that all events are proximally comtinget.

        Smoking causes cancer would not qualify for a belief in my estimation, just as evolution is not. Belief, because the preponderance of the evidence supports the hypothesis. I. My terminology a reasoned belief is an oxymoron. A belief can be reasoned from, but I’m not entirely certain it can be reasoned to. I would call such q belief an opinion, and therefore not a fact, so reason has little point.

        Finally, youmtar with too thick ambrish hem you say that”theologians claim to know e origin of the world.” all the.ogians, at all times and in all places. Most theologians I know eiher personally or through their writingsmadvance no opinion on the matter, some accepting as axiomatic whatnis present I. Revealed books, other, like St. Robert Bellaemi e, having no interest I. Question, (The Church proposes to tell us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go.”

        Theology is in it’s essence the study of e person and being of God. Fro this and fro revealed writings, some claim to understand things about the natural world, but theologians smeary asmSt Augustine clearly points out that we are nit commended to a literal I terpretation of the genesis story.

        A great many theologians of my acquaintance have stated categorically tat revealed scripture is not to be read either as cosmology, nor as a compendium of natural history. “you try sitting ten thousand nomadic people I the desert and lecturing them one origin of the world.” I. Addition Orthodox rabbinical interpretation of the Hebrew Bible shows the thorough understanding of scripture as having a multiplicitous metaphorical interpretation.

        Again, I’d like to co ti ue the discussion, and likely will try to respond, but with progressively increasing frustration at e inadequacy ofmthis medium.

        My apologies. Also, whi,e e iPad is amaZingly convenient I. Some ways, it makes both typing and proofing extremely diffixult. Ah well the price we pay for lovely tech,

        Shalom,

        Stevem

        Steven

  9. Because gluons, quarks, and other particles in fields of force really do exist, and their concepts model the universe, on an infinitesimally small scale, and generate hypotheses that can be tested to yield insights into how reality works. Although it’s terribly unlikely, I hope a theoretical physicist will chime in, as I find the discipline very complicated, and am reluctant to say anything about it, beyond what a high school student might know.

    But this is mere assertion. Show me a gluon. This was my point in introducing the question. I can guarantee you that you cannot nor can anyone else, and yet we”know” they exists by their effects. Even the best scantling tunneling escope can only show me vaguest sense of an atom. Theoretical physics is every bit as iffy as theology as shown by the constantly proliferatingnchains of string theory and other contingencies to explain what is presently unexplained. There are several flavors of theology in physics alone. That is whynI purposefully chose this area. We sayvwe know the structure of matter, and yet all we really know are some aspectsbof how matter interferes with matter. And yet, you regard the matter ad proven. I regard it ad merely the best explanation of the moment, likely no better than the theory of ether in the not-so-distant past. The explanation has some predictive utility–enough to get us to the moon and back, but are atoms real? Has anyone ever seen one? Are covalent bonds really about “shared” electrons? Or am I accepting certain axioms of the system even as I say that?

    And then what do we make of Godel who I forms us that within any closed system there are theorems that can be proposed that vpcannot be proven with the system? Does that invalidate all systems?

    More later, perhaps, if I dom’t unduly embotherate you.

    Shalom,

    Steven

    • Shoot, I didn’t see this one.

      Very quickly…

      Yes, our knowledge of particles in fields of force is based on indirect evidence. By their effects shall their causes be characterized, etc.

      Hence, it’s not mere assertion.

      Cheers,
      Kevin

      • Kevin,

        I must disagree our “knowledge is based on indirect effects that could have causes other ran those states. You assert the existence of gluons in the absence of direct evidence. Something you chide theologians for.

        Steven

  10. Looks like our conversation is winding down.

    Do you believe that matter consists of fundamental constituents?

    I presume you’ll say yes.

    I do, too.

    Now, whether these fundamental consitutuents are described as gluons or quarks or whatever is a matter of complete indifference to me.

    I’m not a physicist; I don’t really care.

    But what does matter is that a physicist can explain in laymen’s terms key concepts and how they apply to the world.

    If I press a physicist to explain the nature of the evidence, indirect or otherwise, that supports his belief in the existence of sub-atomic particles, the phyisicst will oblige me.

    But.

    If I press a theologian to explain the nature of the evidence, indirect or otherwise, that supports his belief in the existence of God (conceived as a person who redeems our sins), the theologian will not oblige me except to say that we must first have faith before we can see, which strikes me as a very odd way to discover facts about reality.

    Enough from me.

    Time to move on to a new post….

    Cheers,
    Kevin

    • Dear Kevin,

      That is the crux (pardon the pun) of the issue.

      First, I do not “believe” that matter is composed of fundamental particles. The preponderance of the evidence suggests that this is the best possible workable hypothesis for what we observe. No faith is required. Secondly, it is for this reason that it does matter intrinsicallynand fundamentally as to whether we’ve arrived at the right combination. It matters because it is the constitution of natural reality, and therefore, as a person who does believe in God, a key to understanding Him. Just as the particles are inferred by indirect evidence, to the believer, all known, explained, natural, physical phenomena are indirect evidence of God.

      You make the logical-positivist error/assumption that only what can been seen, measured or inferred from observations or measurements is real. In other words there is no supernatural world, because otherwise you could not say that a statementnto the effect that faithnis the begging of knowledge is an odd way to discover facts about the real world.

      And indeed, it was the faith that God is real and at least partially known through his creation whichnis the foundation of Western Science from the time of the fall of Rome. And so, in a vet real way, this fundamental faith and belief has been the foundation of all of the understandingbwe presently have of the world.

      More’s the pity we are not in closer proximity, for these are the fascinating matters that make for conversation to accompany the beverage of one’s choice. (just in case it should happen, my favorite libation is any flavor of Roiboos or limeade.)

      Thank you for being so agreeable and courteous a host.

      Shalom

      Steven

      • “First, I do not ‘believe’ that matter is composed of fundamental particles. The preponderance of the evidence suggests that this is the best possible workable hypothesis for what we observe. No faith is required.”

        Do you believe that the evidence suggests that this is…, etc.? No need to equate belief with faith. Some beliefs are more reasonable than others.

        “ Just as the particles are inferred by indirect evidence, to the believer, all known, explained, natural, physical phenomena are indirect evidence of God.”

        But rational inquiry doesn’t proceed this way, with qualifications like “to the believer.” Imagine a wildlife biologist claiming that indirect evidence, to the believer, points to the existence of a 4-dimensional cuttlefish.

        “You make the logical-positivist error/assumption that only what can been seen, measured or inferred from observations or measurements is real.”

        I make no such error. But I do think that knowledge claims which go beyond any possible experience, i.e., what can be seen, measured, or inferred, etc., bear a heavy burden of proof. You claim there’s a supernatural world. I’d like to see you argue the point.

        “Thank you for being so agreeable and courteous a host.”

        You’re very welcome.

  11. Dear Kevin,

    First, part of our disagreement is that you and I do not use even the basics of the language in the same way. For me, if it requires belief, something beyond what can be verified by experimental or obsrvational data it is not science. Science domes not need to believe, it needs to observe and to reason to explain observations. So, no, I do not believe that the evidence suggests etc. I know that. Know is the knowledge that comes from reasoning and believe is the knowledge that comes fro faith. I believe nothing about science. It is either proven or supported by evidence or it is not proven. It does not require belief.

    Your final point makes the common mistake that Gould tried (unsuccessfully to some) to separate in his working model of non-overlapping magisterial. You say to me that I must reason you to a proof of the existence of a supernatural world. My answer to you, which you must have inferred from my points above, is that if I could prove or demonstrate it, it would be science and therefore belong to the natural world.

    There are two realms of knowledge–empirical and belief. If it is one, it is not the other. If you reject the validity of the central axiom, there are things beyond the natural world that can be known, then no proof I can summon from read on can bringnyour there. If I recall correctly, this was, in fact one of thebtriumphsbof st. Thomas Aquinad. He was the one to show that whole read on could take you so far, you could go no further without belief, faith.

    You ask me to reason you to a proof of the supernatural, andbi would say thatbwith the mindset of an empiricist it is not possible.

    If you reject the Euclidean postulate that through a point outside of a straight line there is one and only one line that can be drawn parallel to it, you do not end up with no geometry, you wind up with Reimannian or Lobachevskian geometry. Geometry does not vanish. If you reject that faith is a way of knowledge, neither faith, nor the knowledge that comes from it cease to exist, but you will not be able to see them through the axiomatic optics you’ve chosen to afoot. (please understandbi do not intend the second person personally, merely as shorthand. Euclidean geometry does not cease to be valued in it’s realm because you’ve chosen the geometry of a hyperboloid.

    But back to the centrality–the contention that belief has a place in science it was gives rise to things like climate-gate and other (I hope) anomalous representations of the scientific method. To my mind, the only belief that is reasonable is belief in things that cannot be shown to be true. If it can be demonstrated, one need not believe it in any meaningful sense of the word. Belief, like theory, holds a particular meaning that requires some aspect of what is believed cannot be derived from reasoning from fact. Otherwise, why’d you nee to believe.

    In sum, no, I can’t use the methods of science to prove a theorem that is beyond science–I refer you once again to Godel’s theorem. However, if younstartbwith accepting the central axiom, and follow read on from there, then theology has nits place and meaning. That is to say, you needn’t accept it personally nor believe it to be true to follow and accept the conclusions. However, for you to believe, or even in any teasonable sense understand the conclusions, acceptance of the central axiom is necessary.

    Again thank you.

    Shalom

    Steven

    • “If you reject the validity of the central axiom, that there are things beyond the natural world that can be known, then no proof I can summon from read on can bring you there.”

      Remember, I’m a mystic in rationalistic clothing. I haven’t rejected anything. But I have asked you to provide an argument, not a “proof,” just a good, old-fashioned reason, to support your belief in the existence of God.

      “My answer to you, which you must have inferred from my points above, is that if I could prove or demonstrate it, it would be science and therefore belong to the natural world.”

      Looks like we agree: theology isn’t a science. That’s all I care to establish.

      I propose that we bring this thread to an end, and resume it later when I argue, vis-à-vis A Good Man is Hard to Find, that morality can dispense with god-concepts.

      Cheers,
      Kevin

      • Dear Kevin,

        I have granted that it is not Science as we practice it now. But I have not granted that it is not a science nor can I grant that because, as I pointed out, we do not use the words to mean the same thing.

        When you argued against theology as a Science you were arguing contra Aquinas and therefore, you are within his world of definitions. If you are arguing otherwise, you simply knocking down a straw man and there’s really no point to the whole thing.

        To argue that theology is not a science in the way that Aquinas maintained that it was, you must engage on Aquinas’s terms, not modern terms to which he had no access.

        Further, what is the point of saying that it is not a Science? What does it prove and what does it mean? It certainly does not mean that it isn’t a way of knowing reality.

        And as to your latter argument that morality can dispense with god-concepts–I don’t see what the point of that is either. Aristotle and Socrates are sufficient to make that point. It’s another straw-man battle. The real question is whether or not any morality that dispense with god-concepts is sustainable and is transmissable with “sticking power.” I have no problem saying that “natural law” and our perceptions of the world give us a basis for morality. In fact they give us the basis for all sorts of moralities depending upon how you apply the lessons. This is no different from god-based systems in which some Christians (to take the example I am most capable of arguing) think that it is perfectly acceptable to persecute each other over a point of doctrine so refined as to elude most people’s understanding–case in point “filoque.”

        So to say that morality can dispense with God concepts is neither new, radical, nor particularly controversial amongst people versed in the question. When Dostoevsky argued against this point, I do not think he as so much arguing that a system cannot be built up, but that in the absence of some perspective point, it is difficult or impossible to maintain. That is a different matter and one on which I think considerable time and discussion could be spent more fruitfully and one wherein I think you and I might have more pronounced differences.

        One final point, you ask me to give you a reason for God, and I would point out that the laws of physics themselves are sufficient evidence for me. I go with the argument that if the laws of Physics hold true, then there comes a point at which even the special combination of what we call nothing that eventually resulted in the big bang must have had an origin. Without this origin there remains nothing. I have seen no satisfactory physical explanation for this that doesn’t fall all over itself with special pleading. That would be my rational reason. The real reason is not one that a rationalist could accept because it is anecdotal–as all faith experiences must me.

        But then, I would say, is it reasonable to assume that the majority of people throughout the ages have been able to understand and be in touch with this aspect of reality and only recently have we grown to a place where we are “above” that sort of thing. That strikes me as a bit of hubris in which I would not care to indulge. In the same way that I do not reject the wisdom of the ages just because it comes from a Greek Philosopher or an Egyptian cleric.

        But, let us continue with Flannery. Although, I suspect that our interaction there will likely be less provocative or interesting if you intend to pursue the path you have outlined. I look forward to it nonetheless.

        shalom,

        Steven

  12. “To argue that theology is not a science in the way that Aquinas maintained that it was, you must engage on Aquinas’s terms, not modern terms to which he had no access.”

    Hi Steven, I accept Aquinas’ terms. He claims that theology is a science, a “sacred” or “divine” science, that can demonstrate the existence of God, that is, provide a justification for belief in God, in other words, know God. Aquinas is mistaken, on his own terms, not mine. He is mistaken because his arguments for the existence of God don’t work. How can you have a science of X when you don’t even know if X exists? Or how can you have “a way of knowing” (your phrase, not his) X when you don’t know if X exists?

    “Further, what is the point of saying that it is not a Science? What does it prove and what does it mean? It certainly does not mean that it isn’t a way of knowing reality.”

    The point is intellectual humility. And it’s a way of knowing iff God exists.

    “One final point, you ask me to give you a reason for God, and I would point out that the laws of physics themselves are sufficient evidence for me. I go with the argument that if the laws of Physics hold true, then there comes a point at which even the special combination of what we call nothing that eventually resulted in the big bang must have had an origin. Without this origin there remains nothing. I have seen no satisfactory physical explanation for this that doesn’t fall all over itself with special pleading. That would be my rational reason. The real reason is not one that a rationalist could accept because it is anecdotal–as all faith experiences must me.”

    Ok, thanks for your argument. I’d like to restate it and confirm that I understand you. I grasp your point thusly:

    1. Something doesn’t come from nothing.
    2. The universe is something.
    3. Ergo, it didn’t come from nothing.

    Is this your argument?

    Kevin

    • Dear Kevin,

      I would say you do not engage on Aquinas’s terms because you continue to use the rationalist explanation of science. It is a divine “science” that is Knowledge of God–not a demonstration. That knowledge is dependent first upon faith. He readily admits that the person without faith who encounters any of his proofs is unlikely to be swayed or convinced. But, it seems to me that you are insisting upon science meaning something quite different than it did to Aquinas. If we accept him on his terms then science=knowledge, knowledge is dependent on faith, faith then is axiomatic to the entrance into the science before it can “demonstrate” anything. Without faith, none of Aquinas can make sense. So contra Interpolations and pro Aquinas–his statement makes perfect sense and is accurate on his own terms–but not with any sort of modern spin. His science does not demonstrate to anyone who is not already there. What is assumes is faith as the threshhold–but it is divine science–that is knowledge of science dependent upon the first step of faith and then following through with reason.

      I would say that theology is not a way of knowing God exists. It is the work that begins with the assumption that he does. Some theologians attempt proofs of the existence of God, but nearly all of them admit the faults of the proofs. Including the uncaused cause “proof” I included as my example. I’m well aware of its deficiencies as a proof, but it has an existential quality that is, to be, undeniable.

      So, you’ve summarized the point I made–but you asked for a reason, not a proof, and so I wouldn’t say that what I proposed even amounts to an argument, but anecdotal evidence. There is no real chain of reasoning except that if I must confess the laws of Physics, there is a place at which they break down, and at that place I find God.

      shalom,

      Steven

      • “I would say you do not engage on Aquinas’s terms because you continue to use the rationalist explanation of science.”

        I’m using Aq’s terms. You may want to consult Part I, Q1-2.

        “It is a divine “science” that is Knowledge of God–not a demonstration.”

        Except that Aq offers many demonstrations. See Q2.

        “That knowledge is dependent first upon faith.”

        Like most philosophers, Aq divides the world up into the smart and the not so smart, the few and the many. According to Aq, the vast majority of people don’t have the brain power to understand arguments. For them, faith must suffice. (See Article I.) But for folks with a properly intellectual cast of mind, knowledge of God can be won through demonstration, which is why Aq writes, “The existence of God and other like truths which can be known by natural reason are not articles of faith…. There is nothing to prevent a man who cannot grasp a proof accepting, as a matter of faith, something which in itself is capable of being known and demonstrated.” Known and demonstrated through argument.

        “He readily admits that the person without faith who encounters any of his proofs is unlikely to be swayed or convinced.”

        He doesn’t say this anywhere. Have you read the Summa? If he “readily admits” this, you’ll have no trouble directing me to a relevant quote.

        “I would say that theology is not a way of knowing God exists.“

        I agree with you. Notice that we both side against Aquinas who argues that we can know God through divine science.

        “Some theologians attempt proofs of the existence of God, but nearly all of them admit the faults of the proofs. Including the uncaused cause “proof” I included as my example.”

        Why offer an argument you know is faulty?

        “I’m well aware of its deficiencies as a proof, but it has an existential quality that is, to be, undeniable.”

        Its existential quality is its deficiency.

        “There is no real chain of reasoning except that if I must confess the laws of Physics, there is a place at which they break down, and at that place I find God.”

        I agree, there is no real chain of reasoning that leads to God, including the argument you provided, which you knew to be deficient.

        Rgds,
        K

  13. Dear Kevin,

    I’ve read not only ST, but SCG, and CA, and a great many other works by Aquinas, and I could easily be misremembering, but, there is no question that I could be citing a secondary source or some amalgam of reading in the area. If so, then I am in error. But I will see if I can find everything.

    Secondly,

    “Remember, I’m a mystic in rationalistic clothing. I haven’t rejected anything. But I have asked you to provide an argument, not a “proof,” just a good, old-fashioned reason, to support your belief in the existence of God.”

    I offered you a reason–a reason I believe. You asked for a reason, and that is what you got–please note the exact wording: “One final point, you ask me to give you a reason for God, and I would point out that the laws of physics themselves are sufficient evidence for me.” So apparently we just miscommunicated there. You wanted an argument and conflated argument and a reason (not reason) and I offered the latter. My apologies. That is why I was drawn up short when you attacked it as my “argument” for the existence of God. I made the opposite error because I tend to be mathematically inclined and conflated argument and proof. When I say there is no proof, I mean there is no argument–I do not believe that any argument can be made on purely empirical grounds that supports the existence of God. And here I use the word “believe” in the sense that I define it–I have not examined every conceivable argument nor have I analyzed them, nor, frankly I am up to the task, and so, I can only believe because I have insufficient evidence to form a reasonable conclusion. As is everyone who has not examined every conceivable argument from reason. The contention that none exists is a belief.

    shalom,

    Steven

    • “You wanted an argument and conflated argument and a reason (not reason) and I offered the latter.”

      Ay, by argument I understand a claim supported by a reason, be it a good one or a bad one, and so we may have been talking over each other, which is easy enough to do, especially when discussing challenging topics, and so on.

      Cheers,
      K

  14. Dear Kevin,

    I’m certain this is not the source, but it is similar to source, so it was not Aquinas, but his admirers

    http://www.saintaquinas.com/philosophy.html

    I believe the conclusion, but like this exchange it is not science.

    Shalom

    Steven

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