Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Can God Make A Rock So Big He Can't Lift It?

My friend Anne asked me this question regarding Thomas Aquinas' ideas on the law of non-contradiction,
"What do you think of his ideas on the law of non-contradiction? He believes that it is reasonable to believe that God is incapable of doing anything contrary to reason or his own personality (i.e. a square circle)...I can see some logic in this, but it seems to remove God's omnipotence."

Well I think what he means.. for instance.. to answer that argument "Can God make a rock so big he can't lift it?" It's just silly.. people may say "God can do anything." But then one might ask, "Can God sin?" of course not! Therefore, he can't possibly do anything that contradicts his nature or character.

Aquinas uses the term "natural law" to refer to morality, or the moral law. He sees law as a rational attempt to guide action. A law is a prescription that we act or not act; it may also exist in us as an inclination to act in certain ways. Sin is only born thru man--a violation of God's law. God has the supreme authority above all things--an omnipotent being. He is the rule maker and infinite being.

The first principles of natural law are self-evident truths. In this they resemble the first principles of speculative reason (such as the law of non-contradiction).

Law requires that we act in accord with reason. The first principles of the natural law are "Good is what all things seek after" and "Good is to be done and promoted, and evil is to be avoided." So whatever practical reason naturally apprehends as our good (or evil) is to be done (or avoided).

Aristotle says that without the principle of non-contradiction we could not know anything that we do know. Presumably, we could not distinctly separate the subject matter of any of the special sciences, for example, biology or mathematics, and we would not be able to distinguish between what something is, for example a human being or a rabbit, and what it is like, for example pale or white. Aristotle's own distinction between essence and accident would be impossible to draw, and the inability to draw distinctions in general would make rational discussion impossible. According to Aristotle, the principle of non-contradiction is a principle of scientific inquiry, reasoning and communication that we cannot do without.

John 1:1, "In the beginning was logos (Greek logic), and the logic was with God, and the logic was God." God is logic. He is why we are able to reason with each other and have logical conclusions. God is incapable of doing what is against himself. This doesn't take away from his omnipotence, because it's not part of his character. God has never lied and never broken a promise. He would not break a promise because it would be against his character. What I mean by this is that he can't do wrong.. he can't go against his own will and character. Doing wrong is not part of him. It therefore cannot be removed from him because it never existed with him. Sin exists only with man. God can't even be in presence of what is wrong. He is good. He is what is right. We are the only ones capable of doing wrong.

It is not possible that something be both true and not true at the same time and in the same context. I think the notion of time is more inherent in the Law as we normally understand it, but that the notion of context is equally important. God cannot be both good and evil. Therefore, God is above contradiction.

It's difficult for me to grasp the idea of how mighty God is. To understand His supremeness and authority is beyond what we know. But we are capable of knowing just enough about his omnipotence that we understand man's place in the universe.

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

What Kind of Works Qualify?

A week ago I read a comment on YouTube that said,
"I feel I'm just studying and studying the Word but not doing enough works.

What kind of works would qualify?""

My reply was,
"I know how you feel. But God may be working in you.. this may be a moment where you need to study and really understand His Word. Although, we should always be growing in His wisdom, we show our compassion to the unsaved. Not because it is necessary, but because it is out of our love for the unsaved. It becomes important to us to serve as Jesus did for His glory.

My advice is to speak the gospel to them, love them, serve them, show compassion, be meek. Show them Jesus through your life.

You are an ambassador for Christ. (2 Corinthians 5:20)

hehe (I chuckled).. well the fact is.. we're never doing enough.. there is no sufficiency in what we do. Do what you do.. do what God has called you to do.. you can't do everything. Remember you are one member of a whole body. An eye doesn't speak, an ear doesn't walk. You do what God has put in your heart. Maybe it's feeding the poor at the local mustard seed, or starting a bible study with a group at church, or writing a blog. Just do something!"

We sometimes worry that we are not doing enough works for the Lord. But in all seriousness, we can never do enough because we think that there is some certain task we must do in order to make God happy, and if we don't do it we will upset Him. This is not true. Of course, we are unworthy of His grace. But since we have been redeemed by His grace, we are striving to do His will. We want to do everything in our lives to glorify Him and Him alone. That is true love for the Lord. We do it not for self esteem but for our love for Him. He did it all for us. Now we are here to praise and worship Him. We want to give thanks to Him and glorify His name on earth in whatever we do. God may call you to do something. He will ask you do things that you don't want to. And at times when we choose our own path, He will still use us even though we have turned from Him by weak faith. We will do this because we are weak. If you are confused if you are doing His will. Read the Bible and listen to what he asks us to do. He asks us to love one another as He loved the Church. Keep the commandments. And most of all, love the Lord with all your soul, mind and strength. You will know what His will is for you. Find out what you love to do, what God has put in your heart, you will know what to do.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Christian Worldview

Everyone has a worldview whether one realizes it or not and even it one cannot clearly explain it. All the big decisions in life flow from one's worldview.

Worldviews answer three fundamental questions:

  • Origin: How did it all begin? Where did we come from?
  • Predicament: What went wrong? What is the source of evil and suffering?
  • Resolution: What can be done about it? How can the world be set aright?

The Christian Worldview

According to the Christian worldview, God freely created the world. Because we are created, there is a purpose for our existence, for the family, for work, for sex, and how we ought to live. Creation by a loving God is our origin.

Freedom comes from knowing our purpose and living consistently with it. In the fall, humans rebelled against God and brought evil into the world—not just personal evil, but natural evil that has corrupted all of God's creation. That is our predicament.

Redemption is found in Jesus Christ. In Jesus, God becomes human, takes the sin of the world on Himself at the cross, and in His resurrection restores the life of the world. One day the world will recover its original truth, goodness, and beauty, and we will be united with God, able to see Him face-to-face. That is the resolution to our predicament.

Resource: Understanding Intelligent Design: Everything You Need to Know in Plain Language, p. 18-19.

Alice Cooper Banned From Gig For Anti-Christian Values

Alice Cooper, of ‘School’s Out for Summer’ and ‘I’m 18’ fame, was told that his show can’t go on in Finland. Cooper and his band were booked to perform at Tampere Areena Oy, an arena in Tampere, Finland Dec. 11. However, the owners of the arena cancelled the event when the supposedly dark nature of Cooper’s ‘Theatre of Death’ show came to light.

Harri Wiherkoski, managing director of the arena said that ‘‘artists who express suspicious values from Christianity’s point of view cannot be allowed to perform at the venue.’’ He also told reporters that his venue doesn’t ‘‘arrange concerts where Satanism or non-god-worshipping occurs.’’

"The [Lutheran-based charismatic revivalist] group Nokia Mission and others use Tampere Arena for their events, so the venue's management did not want Alice Cooper appearing in the same hall. The contract which we received from Tampere Arena specifies that no artists may perform there who 'incite evil and the power of darkness'," promoter Kalle Keskinen told YLE.

Concert promoter Kalle Keskinen, said ‘‘We never imagined that a rock veteran who has performed in Finland in four separate decades without any problems and who has spoken in public of his own religious convictions would not be allowed to perform at Tampere Areena in 2009.’’

Cooper, who is a practicing Christian, told Cross Rhythms magazine last year that he reconciles his stage persona with his personal faith without problem. ‘‘As a Christian, I don’t declare myself as a ‘Christian rock star.’ I’m a rock performer who’s a Christian. Alice Cooper is the guy who wants to entertain the audience – it happens that he’s a Christian. Alice (the character I play on stage) began life as a villain and he remains one. There’s a villain and a hero in every Shakespeare play,’’ he said.

Uncaring God

Life is full of circumstances that can test one's belief in a loving God. Sometimes it might be those very circumstances, however, that God works through to show His love the most.

Friday, 18 December 2009

Second-Grader Sent Home Over Drawing of Jesus

By Gerry Tuoti, GateHouse News Service | December 14, 2009

A Taunton father is outraged after his 8-year-old son was sent home from school and required to undergo a psychological evaluation after drawing a stick-figure picture of Jesus Christ on the cross.

The father said he got a call earlier this month from Maxham Elementary School informing him that his son, a second-grade student, had created a violent drawing. The image in question depicted a crucified Jesus with Xs covering his eyes to signify that he had died on the cross. The boy wrote his name above the cross.

Read More

Resource: Tauntan Gazette

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Calgary Transit Buses Have the Right Message

By Craig Murray, Calgary Herald | December 12, 2009

Kudos to Calgary Transit for openly displaying the message "Merry Christmas" on its buses.

It is sad that one even has to make this observation at this special time of year, but at least they have the guts to tell it like it is.

It is Christmas, celebrating Christ's birth -- that is the reason for the season and nothing else. Merry Christmas, everyone!

Resource: The Calgary Herald

Censoring Christmas

"The Gap is censoring the word Christmas, pure and simple. Yet the company wants all the people who celebrate Christmas to do their shopping at its stores?" AFA says. "Until Gap proves it recognizes Christmas by using it in their newspaper, radio, television advertising or in-store signage, the boycott will be promoted."

However, a recent ad by Gap mentions Christmas along with Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and Solstice. Technically, this should be enough to break the boycott. So, the AFA is conducting a poll asking whether the boycott should continue now that the Gap has a commercial with "a cavalier approach to Christmas" that "compares Christmas to the pagan holiday called 'Solstice' … celebrated by Wiccans who practice witchcraft!"

Yeah, I bet Christians are lining up to the doors now!

Resource: ChristianityToday

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

The Burden of Proof

ID vs DE
(Intelligent Design) vs (Darwinian Evolution)

Here is a question worth pondering: If a creature looks like a dog, barks like a dog, smells like a dog, feels like a dog, and pants like a dog, doesn't the burden of proof lie with the person who insists the creature isn't a dog? Generally speaking, the burden of proof lies with those who deny our natural intuitions about the world.

Still, as strong as our intuitions may be, they are not themselves enough to help people withstand the pressure in our culture from Darwinian naturalism. We must also advance a scientific case for design.

The intelligent design movement describes, "Life is too complicated to have arisen from natural forces, so it must have been designed." Nature exhibits patterns that are best explained as the products of an intelligent cause (design) rather than an undirected material process (chance and necessity).

Consider this, when archaeologists find an oddly shaped rock, they have two basic options: Is it a tool, or arrowhead(design)? Or is it merely an odd-shaped rock (chance and necessity)? Similarly, ripple marks in the sand can be explained by the fortuitous motion of waves, whereas "John loves Mary" written in the sand clearly indicates design.

Resource: Understanding Intelligent Design: Everything You Need to Know in Plain Language by William A. Dembski and Sean McDowell, p. 25-26

Friday, 11 December 2009

How Can We Know God Exists?

Thomas Aquinas says that the truth of the proposition God exists is knowable in itself, because the predicate is included in the essence of the subject. But it is not knowable to us, because the essence of God is unknowable to us. He also says that the essence of God is His existence, that he is ipsum esse subsistens, and yet that we cannot know His essence. How is any of this coherent? Mustn't one know what one is talking about to deny anything of it, in particular to deny that it is knowable to us? How can he simultaneously assert what the essence of God is and deny that we know it?

What of the claims that the essence of God is not just unknown to us, but unknowable to us, that the essence of God is His existence, and that He is ipsum esse subsistens? Don't these remain jointly inconsistent and thus incoherent, even if the underlying distinction is not. No. In claiming that the essence of God is not knowable to us, Aquinas is talking about its accessibility to philosophical inquiry. The human mind of itself is proportioned to knowing material things. It can only know immaterial things insofar as causal arguments can be made to posit the existence of such things as necessary to the explanation of material things--causes that are only appealed to when one has excluded the possibility of a material explanation of the phenomenon. But we've already seen that to claim that something is immaterial is not to know any property of it, much less its essence. Still, it remains available to Aquinas to claim that while the knowledge of the essence of God is unknowable to philosophy, it is known to us by Revelation. Indeed, he appeals to God's revelation to Moses on Sinai to establish the claim that God's essence is ipsum esse subsistens. And Christians believe that God further discloses His essence as consisting of three divine persons who are one being. Here, in knowing the essence of God we have an example of something that is known only through Revelation. It is not something that can be known by both Revelation and Philosophy. So the essence of God is knowable in itself, and also to the learned. But the learned are not the philosophers. Rather they are all those who know it by faith in God's revelation.

So, can the existence of God be philosophically demonstrated? If God's essence is His existence, and His essence remains in principle philosophically unknowable to us, how could it be demonstrated? In fact, Aquinas claims that it can be demonstrated that there is a god, and that there is only one god. That God's essence remains in principle philosophically unknowable to us is the basis for Aquinas' denial that the existence of God can be demonstrated a priori. And any reliance upon knowledge of the essence that is only known to us by faith would by that fact cease to be properly philosophical. However, we have seen that Aquinas relies upon the distinction between nominal definitions of terms and essential definitions of the subjects referred to by those terms. To demonstrate the existence of a god one may use nominal definitions that appeal to a god as the cause of various phenomena. This is to argue a posteriori. The appeal to these nominal definitions forms the basis for Aquinas' Five Ways (Summa Theologiae, Ia.2.3) all of which end with some claim about how the term ‘god’ is used.

Again, some will claim that Aquinas isn't really interested in proving the existence of God in these Five Ways. After all, he already knows the existence of God by faith, and he is writing a theological work for beginners. What need is there of proving the existence of something he already knows exists? The Ways are very sketchy, and don't even necessarily conclude to a single being, much less God or the Christian God. In addition, Aquinas claims that God's essence is his existence and that we cannot know His essence, so we cannot know His existence. Aquinas must really intend the Five Ways as less than proofs; they are more like incomplete propaedeutic considerations for thinking adequately about God in Sacred Theology. In effect, Aquinas doesn't think philosophy can in fact demonstrate the existence of God.

But as elsewhere these claims are ambiguous and suffer at the hands of Aquinas' own texts. In the first place, the objection that he already knows by faith that God exists has some merit in it, if we understand it as directed at a reading of Aquinas that would have him attempting a foundational enterprise of grounding religious faith in what is rationally demonstrable by philosophy. But that reading is anachronistic, and does not attend to the context of Summa Theologiae. There is no reason to think that Aquinas thinks the proofs are necessary for the rationality of religious faith. They are part of the enterprise of showing that Sacra Doctrina meets the condition of a science as described by Aristotle in the Posterior Analytics, an issue that is different from the question of the broad rationality of religious faith.

In addition, the objections end up denying what Aquinas writes immediately before the Five Ways—that the existence of a god is “demonstrable.” (Summa Theologiae, Ia.2.2) And his introduction of the Five Ways begins by saying that the existence of a god can be “proved” in Five Ways. To counter the objection that he must mean something informal here by [special character:ldquo]demonstrate” and “prove”, one need only recognize the explicit use of Aristotle's Posterior Analytics to sort through the question. He cites Aristotle's distinction between demonstrating the existence of some subject, and going on to demonstrate properties of that subject by appeal to the essence of the subject as cause of those properties. The first kind of demonstration is called demonstration quia, the second demonstration propter quid. In order to have any science at all, the subject matter must exist. So demonstration quia must precede demonstration propter quid. If you want to have a science of unicorns, you have to show me that there is at least one unicorn to be studied. There is no science of what does not exist. So there are two demonstrative stages in any science, the demonstration of the existence of the subject (quia), and the demonstration of the properties of the subject through its essence (propter quid). Aquinas' denial that the essence of God can be known philosophically is a denial that one can have propter quid scientific understanding of God through philosophy. It is not a denial that there can be demonstration quia of the existence of a god. There is no reason to deny that Aquinas thinks the Five Ways are proofs or demonstrations in the most robust sense, namely that which he appeals to as set out by Aristotle in the Posterior Analytics.

Notice however the back and forth between the use of ‘God’ as a proper name and the use of ‘god’ as a common noun. One source of the ambiguity in the objections come about because it is claimed that Aquinas does not think one can demonstrate the existence of God. But in terms of the Posterior Analytics one cannot demonstrate the existence of anything under a proper name. One can point at Socrates, and say “see, Socrates is alive.” One cannot do that with God. In addition, one cannot give a formal argument for Socrates existence using ‘Socrates’. One can only demonstrate in the relevant sense using common nouns, since such nouns are the only ones that have definitions, either nominal or essential. So strictly speaking it is true that Aquinas doesn't think one can demonstrate the existence of God in the Five Ways. But he doesn't claim that one can. He recognizes the difference between ‘God’ used as a proper noun, and ‘god’ used as a common noun. (Summa Theologiae Ia.13.9) The ambiguity is pronounced in Latin which lacks the indefinite article ‘a’, where in English we can disambiguate between ‘God’ and ‘a god’. The situation is exacerbated by translations that simply translate ‘deus’ in the Ways as ‘God’ in English. In the Five Ways, he does not use ‘god’as a proper name, but as a common noun having five different nominal definitions. So each of the ways concludes that there is “a god.” So it is also true that the Five Ways do not as such prove that there is only one god. But it is for that reason that Aquinas himself thinks one must actually argue additionally that a god must be utterly unique, and thus that there can be only one, which he does several questions after the Five Ways(Summa Theologiae Ia.11). Of course, once the utter uniqueness of a god has been shown, one can begin to use “God” as a proper name to refer to that utterly unique being.

It is the utter uniqueness and singularity of a god that undermines the objection that whatever the philosophical arguments terminate in, it is not the god of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, who is only known by faith. That is simply to deny Aquinas claim that the god Jews, Christians, and Muslims believe in can be known, but only partially by philosophical analysis. If the demonstrations work, as Aquinas thinks they do, what other god would the Jew, Christians, and Muslims believe in?

Finally, the sketchy character of the Ways reflects the fact that they are directed at beginning students. However the audience of beginners that Aquinas has in mind are not beginners in Philosophy. They are beginners in Sacra Doctrina. As we have seen, in the medieval educational setting such beginners would be thoroughly steeped in the philosophical disciplines before ever being allowed to study Sacra Doctrina. So Aquinas could expect his readers to know the much more extensive and complete arguments he was gesturing at with the Five Ways, arguments to be found in detail in other figures like Aristotle, Avicenna, and so on, as well as in other works of his own, the Summa Contra Gentiles for example. In short, even if the Five Ways are judged to be unsound demonstrations, a judgment that requires close analysis and examination of the filled out arguments, there is no reason to suggest that Thomas took them any less seriously as demonstrations or proofs in the fullest sense.

Now, even though there can be no demonstration propter quid of God's properties, this does not mean that philosophical theology is left with a bare knowledge of the existence of God, and nothing more. The second stage of science will go on, but it will go on in a mode deeply indebted to Pseudo-Dionysias and Neoplatonism with the approach often called the “via negativa.” Instead of arguing positively from the essence of God to His properties, one will argue from God's effects, particularly the perfections of creatures that do not of necessity involve material embodiment, to the affirmation that God possesses these perfections. However, recognizing that the way in which God possesses these perfections must be different from the way in which creatures possess them, one must deny that God has them in the creaturely mode. Instead He must possess them in a “super eminent” fashion that we cannot comprehend. So, while on the basis of effect to cause arguments we can say that God is just, wise, good, perfect, and so on, we do not know what it is for God to be just, wise, good, and perfect. We end up denying of God the creaturely mode of these perfections. In this way God is approached negatively by denying things of Him rather than by directly knowing what God is. This account relies heavily upon the use of analogous names in talking about God and creatures.

Reference: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Thomas Aquinas

Philosophy and Theology

For Thomas theological discourse begins with what God has revealed about Himself and His action in creating and redeeming the world, and the world is understood in that light. Philosophical discourse begins with knowledge of the world, and if it speaks of God, what it says is conditioned by what is known of the world. But even given the distinction between the two, Aquinas suggests here that there are in fact elements of what God has revealed that are formally speaking philosophical and subject to philosophical discussion--though revealed they can be known and investigated without the precondition of faith. In other words, even something as a matter of fact revealed is subject to philosophical analysis, if religious faith is not necessary to know it and accept it as true. So it may happen that concerning certain subjects, as for example the nature of God, the nature of the human person, what is necessary for a human being to be good and to fulfill his or her destiny, and so on, there can be both a theological and a philosophical discussion of those subjects, providing for a fruitful engagement between the theological and the philosophical. And for this reason, Thomas' theological works are very often paradigms of that engagement between theological and philosophical reflection, and provide some of his very best philosophical reflection.

How did Thomas distinguish between philosophy and theology?

Sometimes Thomas puts the difference this way: “… the believer and the philosopher consider creatures differently. The philosopher considers what belongs to their proper natures, while the believer considers only what is true of creatures insofar as they are related to God, for example, that they are created by God and are subject to him, and the like.” (Summa contra gentiles, bk II, chap. 4) Since the philosopher too, according to Thomas, considers things as they relate to God, this statement does not put the difference in a formal light.

The first and major formal difference between philosophy and theology is found in their principles, that is, starting points. The presuppositions of the philosopher, that to which his discussions and arguments are ultimately driven back, are in the public domain. They are things that everyone can know upon reflection; they are where disagreement between us must come to an end. These principles are not themselves the products of proof—which does not of course mean that they are immune to rational analysis and inquiry—and thus they are said to be known by themselves (per se, as opposed to per alia). This is proportionately true of each of the sciences, where the most common principles just alluded to are in the background and the proper principles or starting points of the particular science function regionally as the common principles do across the whole terrain of thought and being.

Christian Philosophy

It will be observed that the formal distinction between philosophical and theological discourse leaves untouched what has often been the mark of one who is at once a believer and a philosopher. It is not simply that he might on one occasion produce an argument that is philosophical and at another time one that is theological; his religious beliefs are clearly not put in escrow but are very much in evidence when he functions as a philosopher. Many of the questions that can be raised philosophically are such that the believer already has answers to them -- from his religious faith. How then can he be thought to be ready to follow the argument whither it listeth, as an objector might put it? Furthermore, the inquiries in which the believer who philosophizes engages will often indicate his religious interests.

When such observations turn into objections, perhaps into the accusation that a believer cannot be a proper philosopher, there is often an unexamined notion of what a proper philosopher looks like. The proper philosopher may be thought to be someone—perhaps merely some mind—without antecedents or history who first comes to consciousness posing a philosophical question the answer to which is pursued without prejudice. But of course no human being and thus no philosopher is pure reason, mind alone, without previous history as he embarks on the task of philosophizing. One has necessarily knocked about in the world for a long time before he signs up for Philosophy 101. He has at hand or rattling around in his mind all kinds of ready responses to situations and questions. He very likely engaged in some kind of inquiry about whether or not to begin the formal study of philosophy in the first place. This may be acknowledged, but with the proviso that step one in the pursuit of philosophy is to rid the mind of all such antecedents. They must be put in the dock, put in brackets, placed in doubt, regarded with suspicion. Only after appropriate epistemological cleansing is the mind equipped to make its first warranted knowledge claim. Knowledge thus becomes a deliverance of philosophy, a product of philosophizing. Outside of philosophy there is no knowledge.

The preceding paragraph has been meant to capture the salient note of much modern philosophy since Descartes. Philosophy is first of all a search for defensible knowledge claims, and for the method according to which it will be found. As opposed to what?

As opposed to the view of philosophy described in paragraph 2, Thomas understands philosophizing to depend upon antecedent knowledge, to proceed from it, and to be unintelligible unless, in its sophisticated modes, it can be traced back to the common truths known to all. But this tracing back will pass through very different terrains, depending on the upbringing, culture and other vagaries and accidents of a given person's experience. The pre-philosophical—I refer to the formal study of philosophy—outlook of the believer will be characterizable in a given way, a way suggested above. It is more difficult to characterize the pre-philosophical attitudes and beliefs out of which the non-believer philosophizes. Let us imagine that he holds in a more or less unexamined way that all events, including thinking, are physical events. If he should, as a philosopher, take up the question of the immortality of the soul, he is going to regard with suspicion those classical proofs which rely on an analysis of thinking as a non-physical process. The Christian, on the other hand, will be well-disposed towards efforts to prove the immortality of the human soul and will accordingly approach descriptions of thinking as non-physical sympathetically. He is unlikely to view with equanimity any claim that for human beings death is the utter end.

The importance of this is that a believer runs the risk of accepting bad proofs of the immateriality of thinking and thus of the human soul. On the other hand, a committed materialist may be too quick to accept a bad proof that thinking is just a material process. Such antecedent stances are often the reason why philosophical agreement is so hard to reach. Does it make it impossible? Do such considerations destroy any hope of philosophical objectivity on either side? Surely not, in principle. Believers and non-believers should be able to agree on what counts as a good proof in a given area even if they expect different results from such a proof. Thinking either is or is not merely a physical process and antecedent expectations do not settle the question, however they influence the pursuit of that objective resolution. But the important point is that antecedent dispositions and expectations are the common condition of philosophers, believers and unbelievers alike. Of course, believers hold that they have an advantage here, since the antecedents that influence them are revealed truths, not just hearsay, received opinion, the zeitgeist or prejudice.

Moral Doctrine

When Aristotle sought to isolate the human good, he employed the so-called function argument. If one knows what a carpenter is or does he has the criteria for recognizing a good carpenter. So too with bank-tellers, golfers, brain surgeons and locksmiths. If then man as such has a function, we will have a basis for deciding whether someone is a good human being. But what could this function be? Just as we do not appraise carpenters on the basis of their golf game or golfers on the basis of their being able to pick locks, we will not want to appraise the human agent on an incidental basis. So too we do not appraise the carpenter in terms of his weight, the condition of his lungs or his taste buds. No more would we appraise a human being on the basis of activities similar to those engaged in by non-human animals. The activity that sets the human agent apart from all others is rational activity. The human agent acts knowingly and willingly. If this is the human function, the human being who performs it well will be a good person and be happy.

Now Aquinas distinguishes in the Summa Theologiae between the imperfect happiness of this life and the perfect happiness of the next life in beatitude or union with God. And on the basis of this distinction some will argue that Aquinas ultimately finds Aristotle's function argument unsatisfying, insofar as the result of the function argument is supposed to be the claim that happiness consists in a complete life lived in accord with reason and virtue. And here again it will be claimed that Aquinas in some sense rejects the fundamentals of the Aristotelian account. Insofar as he describes the life in accord with reason and virtue in this life as imperfect, he must be suggesting that is is in some sense faulty, not true or real happiness. Real happiness is something other.

But such an interpretation fails on a number of counts. In the first place it misunderstands Aquinas' use of ‘imperfect’ which does not mean “faulty” or “false”. It can mean “not as great” by comparison, as in the claim that human beings are imperfect with regard to the angels. This claim is not meant to suggest that human beings are faulty or false angels; it simply means that their perfection is not as great in the scale of being as that of the angels. It can also mean incomplete in the constitution of some overall good. So the pursuit of some limited good, say education, is imperfect because not the complete human good, even though it is partially constitutive of the human good. But it is certainly not a faulty or false human good.

In the second place, such a claim about Aquinas has to confront his own understanding of Aristotle. Aquinas claims that Aristotle understood that a complete life in accord with reason and virtue in this life is incomplete or imperfect happiness. (See his commentary on the Nichomachean Ethics, Book 1, lect. 16, #200–202). Indeed, Aristotle himself says that perfect happiness is to be associated with the divine. (Nichomachean Ethics, 1099b9–13) Thus Aquinas does not claim for himself the distinction between imperfect and perfect happiness, but attributes it to Aristotle. And so his use of it in the Summa Theologiae cannot be taken to be a rejection of the analysis Aristotle provides of the formal characteristics of happiness.

Obviously, one may fault Aquinas for his understanding of Aristotle. But the claim that he misinterprets Aristotle is no argument that he rejects Aristotle. In fact, his interpretation of Aristotle on imperfect and perfect happiness embodies the thesis he expresses in the Summa Theologiae that we saw above. The philosophers are capable of grasping some of the things that are constitutive of or necessary for perfect happiness in beatitude. Revelation concerning even those matters they can grasp is necessary, because what they have grasped takes a long time, is very difficult, and may be filled with errors. God in his mercy makes these things known in revelation in order that perfect happiness may be attained. And yet, Aquinas never abandons the fundamental affirmation of the human capacity to understand apart from revelation the nature of happiness in formal terms and what constitutes its imperfect status in this life, even as its perfect embodiment in the next remains unattainable to philosophy without the resources of faith.

Many have come to this point, pulse quickened by the possibilities of the function-argument, only to be gripped with doubt at this final application of it. Rational activity seems too unmanageable a description to permit a function-analysis of it. Of course Aristotle agrees, having made the point himself. Rational activity is said in many ways or, as Thomas would put it, it is an analogous term. It covers an ordered set of instances. There is the activity of reason as such, there is the activity of reason in its directive or practical capacity, and there are bodily movements and the like which are rational insofar as rational provides the adequate formal description of them. If the virtue of a function is to perform it well, the analogy of “rational activity” makes clear that there is a plurality of virtues. Moral virtues are habits of appetite brought about by the direction of reason. Temperance is to seek pleasure rationally, courage is to react to the threat of harm rationally. The virtues of practical intellect are art and prudence; the virtues of theoretical intellect are insight, science and wisdom.

All this and much more enters into Thomas's moral teaching. Thomas will distinguish acts of a man from human acts, the former being activities truly found in human agents but also found in other non-human agents too. For example, the act of a man might be as important as the beating of his heart or or as trivial as the nervous tapping of his fingers. The human act is one which proceeds from reason and will. Since the human act by definition is the pursuit of a known good, the question arises as to the relationship between the objects of the myriad acts that humans perform. Is there some over-all good sought by human agents? Is there an ultimate end of human action?

In commenting on chapter two of Book One of the Nicomachean Ethics where Aristotle argues for there being an ultimate end, Thomas points out that the argument is actually a series of reductiones ad absurdum. That is, the denial of an ultimate end of human action reduces to the claim that there is no end to human seeking at all, that it is pointless. This analysis has not gotten the attention it deserves: the implication is that it is self-evident that there is an ultimate end which is why denials of it must flounder in incoherence. The argument for an ultimate end that Thomas puts forth in the Summa theologiae is somewhat different. Any action aims at some good. A particular good by definition shares in and is not identical with goodness itself. What binds together all the acts that humans perform is the overarching goodness they seek in this, that and the other thing. That over arching goodness, what Thomas calls the ratio bonitatis, is the ultimate end. It follows that anything a human agent does is done for the sake of the ultimate end.

This dissatisfies because we feel we are owed a richer account of goodness. After all, human agents differ insofar as they have different notions of what goodness is. Fame, wealth, pleasure, power, and so on seem to function as the dominant purpose of different persons. Thomas could scarcely overlook this, let alone deny it. Can his earlier position on the unity of the ultimate end still stand? The fact that there are false or inadequate identifications of goodness does not mean that there is not a true and adequate account of what is perfecting or fulfilling of human agents. Everyone acts on the supposition that what he does will contribute to his overall good; one's overall good is the ultimate reason for doing anything. But not everything one does under this aegis actually contributes to one's overall good. Thus in one sense there is one and the same ultimate end for every human agent—the integral human good—and there are correct and mistaken notions of what actually constitutes this integral good.

This may seem like an empty claim, but it provides a basis on which to proceed. If indeed every human agent acts for the sake of his overall good, the discussion can turn to whether or not what he here and now pursues, or his general theory of what constitutes the overall good, can withstand scrutiny. It is not necessary to persuade anyone that he ought to pursue the ultimate end in the sense of his overall good. What else would he pursue? But if one is persuaded that what he pursues does not contribute to his overall good, he already has reasons for changing his ways.

Natural Law

Thomas's reading of Aristotle's argument for the ultimate end as a reductio and his own claim that in one sense of it everyone pursues the ultimate end since one chooses whatever he chooses sub ratione boni and as conducive to or a constituent of his fulfillment and perfection, tell us something important about Thomas's mode of procedure. We said earlier that philosophy begins from pre-philosophical principles already had by everyone. In the moral order, it is essential that one uncover the starting point, the latent presupposition of any action, clarify it and proceed from there. This procedure is equally manifest in Thomas's treatment of what he calls natural law.

What is natural law? One description of it is: the peculiarly human participation in the eternal law, in providence. All creatures are ordered to an end, have natures whose fulfillment is what it is because of those natures. It is not peculiar to man that he is fashioned so as to find his good in the fulfillment of his nature. That is true of anything. But other things are ordered to ends of which they themselves are not conscious. It is peculiar to man that he becomes aware of the good and freely directs himself to it. Of course man is not free to choose the good—any choice is a choice of the good. As to what is really as opposed to only apparently his good, he is not free to make that what it is. He is free to direct himself or not to his true end, however.

A second description of natural law is: the first principles or starting points of practical reasoning. To indicate what he means by this, Thomas invokes the analogy of the starting points of reasoning as such. We have already mentioned the distinction between knowledge of the simple and knowledge of the complex. The former is a concept and is expressed in a definition or description. The latter is an affirmation or negation of one thing of another. There is something which is first in each of these orders. That is, Thomas holds that there is a conception which is prior to and presupposed by all other conceptions and a judgment that is prior to and presupposed by all other judgments. Since knowledge is expressed by language, this seems to come down to the assertion that there is a first word that everyone utters and a first statement that would appear in everyone's baby book on the appropriate page. But surely that is false. So what does Thomas mean?

He says that our first conception is of being, of that which is, and our first judgment is that you cannot affirm and deny the same thing in the same sense simultaneously. Since few if any humans first utter ‘being’ or its equivalent and no one fashions as his first enunciation the principle of contradiction, facts as known to Thomas as ourselves, his meaning must be more subtle. It is this. Whatever concept one first forms and expresses verbally—Mama, hot, whatever‘being’ is a specification or an instance of that which is. Aristotle has observed that children at first call all men father and all women mother. The terms then function as generic for any male or female. Even more basically, each presupposes that what is generically grasped is an instance of being. Being is prior not because it is grasped absolutely, without reference to this being or that. It is some particular being that is first of all grasped and however it is named it will mean minimally something that is.

So too with regard to the first judgment. Children express their recognition of this principle when they disagree over the location of some quite specific thing, say a baseball mitt. One accuses the other of taking it. You did. I didn't. You did. I didn't. A fundamental disagreement. But what they are agreed on is that if it were true that one did it could not simultaneously and in the same sense be true that he did not. The principle is latent in, implicit in, any concrete judgment just as being is involved in any other conception.

It is on an analogy with these starting points of thinking as such that Thomas develops what he means by natural law. In the practical order there is a first concept analogous to being in the theoretical order and it is the good. The good means what is sought as fulfilling of the seeker. The first practical judgment is: the good should be done and pursued and evil avoided. Any other practical judgment is a specification of this one and thus includes it. Natural Law consists of this first judgment and other most general ones that are beyond contest. These will be fashioned with reference to constituents of our complete good—existence, food, drink, sex and family, society, desire to know. We have natural inclinations to such goods. Natural law precepts concerning them refer the objects of natural inclinations to our overall or integral good, which they specify.

Most moral judgments are true, if true, only by and large. They express means to achieve our overall good. But because there is not a necessary connection between the means and end, they can hold only for the most part. Thus there are innumerable ways in which men lead their lives in keeping with the ultimate end. Not all means are necessarily related to the end. Moral philosophy reposes on natural law precepts as common presuppositions, but its advice will be true only in the main.

It might be noted that when Thomas, following Aristotle, says that man is by nature a social or political animal, he does not mean that each of us has a tendency to enter into social contracts or the like. The natural in this sense is what is not chosen, but given, and what is given about human life is that we are in the first place born into the community of the family, are dependent on it for years in order to survive, and that we flourish as human beings within various larger social and political communities. The moral consists in behaving well in these given settings.

Reference: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Morality: Part Two

Every civilization relies on a consistent moral framework to provide stability and justice within society. For some time now, the moral fabric which undergirds our society has been under attack by the secular elite. Rather than seeing immoral acts as wrong and calling them that with intentional clarity, the psychiatric class has attempted to take responsibility off of the individual and place it on their past conditioning. The Christian worldview does not try to diagnose and fix our problems. Rather it offers one gospel that saves imperfect people form their sins.

Friday, April 07, 2000
The Truth About The Truth
Ravi Zacharias

With all of the religions in the world vying for credence, how does one really know what to believe?

Our discussion today will unavoidably take a bit of philosophical turn, but surely we have all felt the emotions this question evokes. Let us consider, then, three tests that you can apply to a system or statement to verify its claim to truth. The first is logical consistency: Is there a logical consistency in what is being stated, or are there obvious contradictions? Many religions are actually systemically contradictory and therefore cannot be true.

The second test is empirical adequacy: Is there evidence that supports what is being asserted? The last test is experiential relevance: Does it apply meaningfully to my life? These are minimal tests for truth and should be in concert.

Some philosophers add a couple more that I think are worthy of note: The undeniability test and the unaffirmability test. What do they mean?

Take, for example, the issue of my existence. While my own existence cannot be logically proven, it is nevertheless undeniable. Have you heard the interaction between the philosophy student and her professor? "How do I know I exist?" demanded the student. "And whom shall I say is asking?" came the professor's reply. You can't help but chuckle, can you? Because you realize that at the moment that you deny your existence, you affirm it at the same time, for it is you denying that you are here to deny anything! Some things cannot be logically proven but yet cannot be denied without affirmation and therefore establish themselves as truth.

The unaffirmability test works differently. It is a test for falsehood. This simply means that just because something can be stated, it doesn't necessarily mean that it is true. "I cannot speak a word of English," may be stated emphatically, but it cannot be affirmed. For while saying, "I cannot speak a word of English," I am actually speaking seven words of English! Therefore, my statement is false. In one or two major eastern religions, for example, the self is denied, but reality exists. It is an unaffirmable position and can therefore be demonstrated to be false.

These tests can help us determine what is true. Many false claims are easily dealt with if we pause and apply some basic tools. The reassuring thing about the Gospel of Jesus Christ is that He asked us to test claims and not just to blindly follow.

Moral Relativism Self-Destructs

Moral relativists—those who deny objective morality—are vulnerable to practical suicide. For example, whenever a relativist says, "You shouldn't force your morality on other people," you could ask, "Why not?"

What will he be able to say? He certainly can't respond by saying, "It's wrong." That option is no longer open to him. It is a contradiction, like saying, "There are no moral rules; here's one." This response commits suicide.

If a relativist does say it's wrong, you may ask, "If you think it's wrong then why are you doing it yourself? Why are you pushing your morality on me right now?"

The only consistent response for a relativist is, "Pushing morality is wrong for me, but that's just my personal opinion and has nothing to do with you. Please ignore me."

C.S. Lewis observes:
Whenever you find a man who says he does not believe in a real Right and Wrong, you will find the same man going back on this a moment later. He may break his promise to you, but if you try breaking one to him he will be complaining "It's not fair".... A nation may say treaties do not matter; but then, next minute, they spoil their case by saying that the particular treaty they want to break was an unfair one. But if ... there is no such thing as Right and Wrong ... what is the difference between a fair treaty and an unfair one?

As Greg Koukl said,
A person can wax eloquent with you in a discussion on moral relativism, but he will complain when somebody cuts in front of him in line. He'll object to the unfair treatment he gets at work and denounce injustice in the legal system. He'll criticize crooked politicians who betray the public trust and condemn intolerant fundamentalists who force their moral views on others.

Greg points out that this was Paul's point in Romans 2:1 when he wrote, "You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things." Paul argued that those who set up their own morality are still faulted by their own code. Their "excuse" commits suicide.

The Quarrel

Those who are quick to object that God isn't doing enough about evil in the world ("A good God wouldn't let that happen") are often equally quick to complain when God puts his foot down ("A loving God would never send anyone to Hell").

If God appears indifferent to wickedness, his goodness is challenged. Yet if he acts to punish sin, his love is in question. These objections compete with each other in most cases. They are siblings in rivalry. One or the other needs to be surrendered. Both can't be held simultaneously.

The Matter of it all

If moral laws are the product of chance, why obey them? What—or who—establishes how things are supposed to be?

In the movie The Quarrel, Rabbi Hersh challenges the secularist Chaim on this very point:
If there's nothing in the universe that's higher than human beings, then what's morality? Well, it's a matter of opinion. I like milk; you like meat. Hitler likes to kill people; I like to save them. Who's to say which is better? Do you begin to see the horror of this? If there is no Master of the universe, then who's to say that Hitler did anything wrong? If there is no God, then the people that murdered your wife and kids did nothing wrong.

A morally perfect God is the only adequate standard for the system of scoring that makes sense of the existence of evil to begin with. Since God must exist to make evil intelligible, evil cannot be evidence against God. The complaint commits infanticide.

Ironically, evil does not prove atheism. It proves just the opposite. There can only be a problem of evil if God exists. It is a problem only a theist can raise, not an atheist. When an atheist voices the concern, he gets caught in a suicidal dilemma.

Atheism is a physicalist system that does not have the resources to explain a universe thick with nonphysical things like moral obligations. Neither can Eastern religions, by the way. If reality is an illusion, as classical Hinduism holds, then the distinction between good and evil is meaningless.

Someone like the Judeo-Christian God must exist in order to adequately account for moral laws. Theism solves the grounding problem for morality. This explains how even an atheist is capable of noble conduct: He still lives in God's world.

Freedom, Reason, and Knowledge

Determinists claim that freedom is an illusion. Each of our choices if fixed, predetermined by the circumstances that precede it. All of our "choices" are inevitable results of blind physical forces beyond our control.

The problem with this view is that without freedom, rationality would have no room to operate. Arguments would not matter, since no one would be able to base beliefs on adequate reasons. One could never judge between a good idea and a bad one. One would only hold beliefs because he had been predetermined to do so.

That's why it is odd when someone tries to argue for determinism. If determinism were true, the person would have been "determined" to believe in it (with others just as "determined" to disagree). He would have to admit that reasons don't matter and that trying to think the issue through is a waste of time.

Although it is theoretically possible that determinism is true—there is no internal contradiction, as far as I can tell—no one could ever know it if it were. Every one of our thoughts, dispositions, and opinions would have been decided for us by factors completely out of our control. Therefore, in practice, arguments for determinism are self-defeating.

The Conscience: Free Will

The reason we have free will is so that we may know what to do what is right. Not what we want to do, but what is contrary to our sinful nature. Sin is present so that we know what is good. God is the one who considers us to do good. God is good. And without sin He cannot demonstrate his goodness.

Galatians 5:17 (NIV)
For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.

Resources: Tactics by Greg Koukl, chapter 8 & 9;

The Manhattan Declaration: Why didn’t you sign it, R.C.?

from R.C. Sproul

On November 20, 2009, a document called the Manhattan Declaration was presented to the public by a coalition of cobelligerents. The document is concerned primarily with three very important biblical and cultural issues: the sanctity of life, the meaning of marriage, and the nature of religious liberty. Without question, these issues are up for grabs in our nation.

As anyone familiar with my ministry will know, I share the document’s concern for defending the unborn, defining heterosexual marriage biblically, and preserving a proper relationship between church and state. However, when the document was sent to me and my signature was requested a few weeks ago, I declined to sign it.

In answer to the question, “R.C., why didn’t you sign the Manhattan Declaration?” I offer the following answer: The Manhattan Declaration confuses common grace and special grace by combining them. While I would march with the bishop of Rome and an Orthodox prelate to resist the slaughter of innocents in the womb, I could never ground that cobelligerency on the assumption that we share a common faith and a unified understanding of the gospel.

The framers of the Manhattan Declaration seem to have calculated this objection into the language of the document itself. Likewise, some signers have stated that this is not a theological document. However, to make that statement accurate requires a redefinition of “theology” and serious equivocation on the biblical meaning of “the gospel” (2 Cor. 11:4).

The drafters of the document, Charles Colson, Robert George, and Timothy George, used deliberate language that is on par with the ecumenical language of the Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT) movement that began in the 1990s. The Manhattan Declaration states, “Christians are heirs of a 2,000-year tradition of proclaiming God’s Word,” and it identifies “Orthodox, Catholic, and Evangelicals” as “Christians.” The document calls Christians to unite in “the Gospel,” “the Gospel of costly grace,” and “the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in its fullness.” Moreover, the document says, “it is our duty to proclaim the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in its fullness, both in season and out of season.”

Without question, biblical truth must be proclaimed and the gospel preached prophetically to our nation. But how could I sign something that confuses the gospel and obscures the very definition of who is and who is not a Christian? I have made this point again and again since the days of ECT. Though the framers of the Manhattan Declaration declaim any connection to ECT, it appears to me that the Manhattan Declaration is inescapably linked to that initiative, which I have strenuously resisted. More than that, this new document practically assumes the victory of ECT in using the term “the gospel” in reference to that which Roman Catholics are said to “proclaim” (Phil. 1:27).

The Roman Catholic Church has a long history of using studied ambiguity in order to win over opponents. Let me be unambiguous: Without a clear understanding of sola fide and the doctrine of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, you do not have the gospel or gospel unity (1 Cor. 1:17; 2 Cor. 5:21). The ECT initiative repeatedly avowed that the signatories had a unity of faith in the gospel. This included Roman Catholic signers who affirm the canons and decrees of the sixteenth-century Council of Trent, which anathematizes sola fide. I believe there are true and sincere Christians within the Roman Catholic and the Orthodox churches. But these people are Christians in spite of their church’s official doctrinal positions.

At least one of the document’s framers, Mr. Colson, sees the Manhattan Declaration as a way to revitalize the church in America. In his commentary on November 25, Mr. Colson said the Manhattan Declaration is “a form of catechism for the foundational truths of the faith.” He suggests that the Manhattan Declaration is an antidote to “biblical and doctrinal ignorance” within the church. However, true reformation and revival within the church and the winning of our culture to Christ will come only through the power of the Holy Spirit and our clear, bold proclamation of the biblical gospel, not through joint ecumenical statements that equivocate on the most precious truths given to us. There is no other gospel than that which has already been given (Gal. 1:6–8).

The Manhattan Declaration puts evangelical Christians in a tight spot. I have dear friends in the ministry who have signed this document, and my soul plummeted when I saw their names. I think my friends were misled and that they made a mistake, and I want to carefully assert that I have spoken with some of them personally about their error and have expressed my hope that they will remove their signatures from this document. Nevertheless, I remain in fellowship with them at this time and believe they are men of integrity who affirm the biblical gospel and the biblical doctrines articulated in the Protestant Reformation.

Lastly, I stand with the sentiments expressed by my friends Alistair Begg, Michael Horton, and John MacArthur, and I appreciate their willingness to say “no” to the call to get aboard this bandwagon as they continue to stand firm in their proclamation of the gospel and the whole counsel of God as it pertains to all matters of faith and life, including the sanctity of life, the meaning of marriage, and the nature of religious liberty. It is only in our united proclamation of the one, true gospel of Jesus Christ that any heart, any mind, or any nation will truly change, by God’s sovereign grace and for His glory alone.


Friday, 4 December 2009

Notes from Ravi Zacharias: In Conversation

1 in 25 Canadians are Atheists

If there is no reference point of absolute then we come to relativism.

It is possible for one person to lead millions to untold evil... because most people don't know how to think anymore.

The worldview that which gives Richard Dawkins the freedom to believe or not is the worldview he attacks.

How do you define evil in naturalism?

Google search: A.N. Wilson testimony.

When God asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac... God said he himself would provide. He provided us with his Son.

There are many children being sacrificed to idols, but God provided a sacrifice.

We are sacrificing our sons and daughters on the battlefield. Ideas have consequences.

Since we bit the fruit, then we act as God.

Crossroads Church, Red Deer, AB. Dec. 3, 2009.