Tough Questions Answered

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  • How Do Theology and Philosophy Interact?

    Posted By on September 1, 2014

    Post Author: Bill Pratt 

    St+Thomas+Aquinas How Do Theology and Philosophy Interact?In my opinion, the greatest Christian thinker of all time, after the apostles died, was Thomas Aquinas. Etienne Gilson, in his work The Christian Philosophy Of St Thomas Aquinas How Do Theology and Philosophy Interact?, takes on the task of defining what distinguished theology from philosophy for Aquinas.

    This issue comes up again and again when I hear cultists and even Christians claim that Christian teaching was hijacked by philosophy during the Middle Ages. We’re told that Plato and Aristotle took center stage and that biblical revelation was shoved aside.

    Is it true that men like Aquinas did not take the Bible seriously, that they placed the philosophies of Plato and Arsitotle in judgment over revealed theological truths?

    Gilson explains that in the case of Aquinas, nothing could be further from the truth. So how did Aquinas distinguish between theology and philosophy?

    It has become customary to label “theological” any conclusion whose premises presuppose faith in a divinely revealed truth, and to label “philosophical” any conclusion whose premises are purely rational , that is, known by the light of natural reason alone. This is not the point of view stated by St. Thomas himself at the beginning of his Prologue to the Second Book of his commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard. According to him, the philosopher considers the nature of things as they are in themselves, whereas the theologian considers them in their relation to God conceived as being both their origin and their end.

    From this point of view, every conclusion concerning God himself, or the relations of being to God, is theological in its own right. Some of these conclusions presuppose an act of faith in the divine revelation, but some of them do not. All of them are theological; those, among them, which are purely rational, belong to theology no less than the others. The only difference is that, since these do not presuppose faith , they can be extracted from their theological context and judged, from the point of view of natural reason, as purely philosophical conclusions.

    To repeat, philosophy considers the “nature of things as they are in themselves” whereas theology considers the nature of things “in their relation to God conceived as being both their origin and their end.” Thus every conclusion about God or about the world in relation to God is theological first and foremost. Any theological conclusion which does not presuppose faith (is purely rational) is also a philosophical conclusion.

    Gilson explains why this distinction is important:

    This is an extremely important point in that it enables us to understand how strictly metaphysical knowledge can be included within a theological structure without losing its purely philosophical nature. Everything in the Summa [Theologiae, Aquinas's most famous work,] is theological, yet, elements of genuinely philosophical nature are part and parcel of Thomistic theology precisely because, according to St. Thomas himself, the distinction between theology and philosophy does not adequately answer the distinction between faith and reason.

    Now we come to Aquinas’s concerns with mixing philosophy and theology. Gilson writes that critics of Aquinas often misunderstand what Aquinas was trying to do.

    According to some of his modern interpreters, St. Thomas thought of himself as a philosopher who was not anxious to compromise the purity of his philosophy by admitting into it the slightest mixture of theology. But as a matter of fact , the real St. Thomas was afraid of doing just the reverse. In the Summa Theologiae, his problem was not how to introduce philosophy into theology without corrupting the essence of philosophy; it was rather how to introduce philosophy into theology without corrupting the essence of theology (emphasis added).

    Not only the hostility of the “Biblicists” of his time warned him of the problem , but he was himself quite as much aware of it as they were. And the more freely he made use of philosophy, the more was he aware of the problem. As he himself understands it, theology must be conceived as a science of Revelation. Its source is the word of God. Its basis is faith in the truth of this word. . . . For theologians who were not in the least worried about philosophy, no problem actually arose. Persuaded that they should add nothing human to the bare deposit of revelation, they could rest assured that they were respecting the integrity and the unity of the Sacred Science. They proceeded from faith to faith, by faith.

    For St. Thomas Aquinas the problem was rather different. It was a question of how to integrate philosophy into sacred science, not only without allowing either the one or the other to suffer essentially thereby, but to the greater benefit of both. In order to achieve this result, he had to integrate a science of reason with a science of revelation without corrupting at the same time both the purity of reason and the purity of revelation.

    Thus Aquinas was eminently aware of the dangers of mixing theology and philosophy. Rather than placing philosophy above theology, he did just the opposite.  One can argue about how successful he was, but there can be no argument that Aquinas allowed philosophical considerations to knowingly trump revealed biblical truth.

    What Did Ancient Israel’s Neighbors Think about the Origins of the World?

    Posted By on August 29, 2014

    Post Author: Bill Pratt 

    index egyptians large3 What Did Ancient Israels Neighbors Think about the Origins of the World?Ancient Israel was immersed in two dominant cultures, that of the Egyptians and that of the Mesopotamians. The Hebrew accounts of the origins of the universe stand in contrast to these ancient cultures, so it would be interesting to see a summary of what these other cultures believed.

    Jim Adams provides a helpful summary of their views on the cosmogony (origins of universe) and theogony (origins of gods) in the New Mormon Challenge What Did Ancient Israels Neighbors Think about the Origins of the World?

    First, the people of both Egypt and Mesopotamia were polytheistic (accepted many gods). Although at times each religion acknowledged a superior or high god such as Marduk or Amun-Rê, that did not constitute the dismissal of other gods from their respective pantheons.

    Second, each cosmogony contains a theogony that presents the origin and genealogy of the gods with the primary purpose of specifying the hierarchical role of each god in their respective pantheon. In fact, any god in the pantheon could be proclaimed supreme over the others when that god was addressed or called upon for help.

    Third, the gods are constituent with the matter of the universe, and in fact the gods are typically depicted as a personification of a particular natural phenomenon (e.g., sun, sky, water). Hence, the gods do not transcend the material world and are limited to the power of the phenomena they personify.

    Fourth, the gods are engendered beings and are often depicted as creating other gods by begetting them.

    Fifth, fundamental to each of the cosmogonies is a preexisting primordial realm represented by the primeval waters of chaos wherefrom the gods, humanity, and nature find their ultimate origin.

    Sixth, this primordial realm transcends the gods. It limits their power, and its fundamental laws of operation are laws to which the gods are subject.

    Adams cites the Jewish biblical scholar Yehezkel Kaufmann who believes that the fifth and sixth features above are the fundamental marks of ancient paganism. Kaufmann describes it as

    the idea that there exists a realm of being prior to the gods and above them, upon which the gods depend, and whose decrees they must obey. Deity belongs to, and is derived from, a primordial realm. This realm is conceived of variously—as darkness, water, spirit, earth, sky, and so forth—but always as the womb in which the seeds of all being are contained.

    Alternatively, this idea appears as a belief in a primordial realm beside the gods, as independent and primary as the gods themselves. Not being subject to the gods, it necessarily limits them. The first conception, however, is the fundamental one. This is to say that in the pagan view, the gods are not the source of all that is, nor do they transcend the universe. They are, rather, part of a realm precedent to and independent of them. They are rooted in this realm, are bound by its nature, are subservient to its laws.

    To be sure, paganism has personal gods who create and govern the world of men. But a divine will, sovereign and absolute, which governs all and is the cause of all being—such a conception is unknown. There are heads of pantheons, there are creators and maintainers of the cosmos; but transcending them is the primordial realm, with its pre-existent, autonomous forces.

    It is against this pagan background that the Hebrews presented quite a different version of cosmogony and theogony. The Hebrew God had always existed, and was responsible for creating everything that exists in the universe. Therefore, the Hebrew God was not in any way limited by a pre-existing realm.

    Did the Israelites Cross a Reed Sea or Red Sea?

    Posted By on August 27, 2014

    Post Author: Bill Pratt 

    partingredsea08 Did the Israelites Cross a Reed Sea or Red Sea?Many Hebrew scholars have noted the words for “Red Sea” (yam suph) can also be translated as “sea of reed” or “reed sea.” This leads to the question of whether the Israelites merely crossed a marsh rather than a deep body of water. A marsh of reeds, after all, would cause the Egyptian chariot wheels to get stuck, and maybe this is how the Israelites escaped.

    By looking at the rest of the Old Testament, we can see what other biblical authors thought. Robert Bergen, in the Apologetics Study Bible Did the Israelites Cross a Reed Sea or Red Sea?, notes that the

    biblical text states that the waters were deep (Is 63: 13), but that God split them and made them stand “like a wall” (Ps 78: 13) on either side of the fleeing Israelites (Ex 14: 22, 29). When the waters returned to their original position they covered the Egyptians’ chariots, horses, and soldiers (v. 27; 15: 1; Dt 11: 4; Jos 24: 7; Ne 9: 11; Ps 78: 53), thereby killing all the enemy (Ex 14: 27-28, 30; Ps 106: 11).

    Bergen also notes that in the NT, “three times the body of water is referred to as a sea (Ac 7: 36; 1 Co 10: 1; Heb 11: 29).”

    The bottom line is that regardless of whether it is translated “Red Sea” or “Reed Sea,” all of the biblical authors understand it to be a deep body of water east of Egypt and adjacent to the Sinai Peninsula.

    Commentary on Exodus 14 (Parting of the Red Sea)

    Posted By on August 25, 2014

    Post Author: Bill Pratt 

    Parting%20of%20the%20Red%20Sea Commentary on Exodus 14 (Parting of the Red Sea)In chapters 12 and 13, the Israelites escaped from Egypt due to the mighty hand of God, and have traveled some distance to the southeast, but not out of Egyptian territory. Chapter 14 begins the account of one of the most famous miracles performed by God for the Israelites, the parting of the Red (or Reed) Sea.

    In verses 1-4, God tells Moses to stop their progress and turn back. They are to park themselves right on the coast of a sea. The purpose for their turning around, traveling back the way they had come, and then stopping, is to make Pharaoh believe that they are confused and unwilling to travel into the desert (which is the only way for them to escape Egyptian territory). This will cause Pharaoh to pursue them with his army.

    The exact location of the Israelite encampment by the sea is unknown. The very northern tip of the Gulf of Suez, which is part of the Red Sea, could be where the Israelites camped and crossed, or the other options are Lake Balah or Lake Timsah, which are two larger bodies of water further north. In any case, from the text it is clear that it is a body of water that is deep enough to drown men.

    God’s purpose is to invite Pharaoh to attack Israel so that, once again, God can demonstrate his power over Pharaoh and the Egyptian gods. “The Egyptians will know that I am the Lord.” The Egyptian gods don’t exist, and the Egyptians must come to understand that the God of the Hebrews is the only true God.

    In verses 5-9, Pharaoh does exactly what God said he would do. Pharaoh and his officials regret the fact that they have lost the Hebrew slaves, and so they decide to dispatch chariots to bring the Israelites back to Egypt. At least 600 chariots are sent and this hastily gathered army quickly catches up to the Israelites who have stopped their progress by the sea.

    Why would Pharaoh chase after the Israelites after witnessing the ten plagues brought on by God? Is he crazy? Douglas Stuart, in his Exodus: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture (New American Commentary) Commentary on Exodus 14 (Parting of the Red Sea), explains:

    The answer requires appreciating Egyptian religion in its ancient Near Eastern context. To all the ancients (except those Israelites who were beginning to understand the only true God) the gods and goddesses that controlled the world were arbitrary and capricious, quick to change their actions and attitudes, constantly vying with one another for power, not omnipresent but manifesting themselves at given locations and then leaving those locations unpredictably. . . . Likewise, the Egyptians’ gods were considered beings who might not always be present among their people. Accordingly, Yahweh knew that it would be natural for Pharaoh to think that he, Yahweh, after having expended great effort to demonstrate his power to the Egyptians, might now no longer be directly involved in helping the Israelites so that he, Pharaoh, could once again assert his power over them unhindered.

    Seeing the Egyptian army advancing upon them, the Israelites, in verses 10-12, cry out to Moses that he should have never brought them out of Egypt to die at the hands of Pharaoh’s chariots. They were better off as slaves. Douglas Stuart notes that

    this was the first of the postexodus declarations by Israelites that they should have stayed where they came from. The others (e.g., Num 14:1–4; Josh 7:6–9) share considerably the theme of this one: when hardship is encountered, the miserable past suddenly looks like the good old days.

    Moses, however, is confident that God will save them. God tells Moses, in verses 15-18, “Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground.” God promises that the Egyptians will follow them so that God “will gain glory through Pharaoh and all his army.”

    In order to give the Israelites time to break camp and prepare themselves for crossing the sea (the remainder of the day and almost the entire evening were used in the process of getting the Israelites out of their camp and across the sea), the angel of God, who was in the form of a pillar of cloud, moved from the front of the Israelites to the rear, as a barrier between the Egyptian army and the Israelite camp. The Egyptians cannot attack with the angel of the Lord protecting the Israelites.

    When Moses held out his staff, God caused a strong east wind to blow back the waters and clear a dry path for the Israelites to cross the body of water. There were walls of water on the right and left of the people as they advanced.

    In verses 23-28, as God predicted, the Egyptian chariots, with the angel of God no longer impeding their progress, followed the Hebrews into the sea. God, however, caused the chariot wheels of the Egyptians to get stuck and come off, throwing their drivers into confusion and chaos.

    Douglas Stuart elaborates on the problems with the chariot wheels:

    The sea floor was soft and sandy/silty so that even though it was dry, it was not a suitable surface for narrow, metal-bound chariot wheels bearing the weight of a chariot and two or three armed men. The horses pulling the chariots, like the Israelite goats and sheep, would have been able to get through satisfactorily; the chariot wheels, however, effectively sliced deep into the soft ground and bound so that the horses could not pull their own weight and that of the fully loaded chariots.

    Once the army of chariots had advanced far enough into the sea, God instructed Moses to stretch out his hand over the sea, and the walls of water collapsed and drowned the army of Pharaoh. Not one of them survived.

    Verses 30-31 summarize the lesson the Israelites learned that day: “That day the Lord saved Israel from the hands of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians lying dead on the shore. And when the Israelites saw the great power the Lord displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant.”

    Will You Wait for a Long Answer to Your Short Question?

    Posted By on August 18, 2014

    Post Author: Bill Pratt 

    121197933 Will You Wait for a Long Answer to Your Short Question?Questions can be really short. Why is there so much evil in the world? Who is God? Why did Jesus have to die? Why do you think Christianity is true? What is the meaning of life?

    Most of the time, though, answers are a heck of a lot longer. On this blog, I answer a question on almost every post with a 500-word answer. The question might be 10 words long, so my answer is 50 times longer than the question.

    Most non-fiction books are written to answer a single question that the author poses. An author may use 70,000 words to answer a single short question.

    My point is that there is an asymmetry between questions and answers. Answers are often far more complex than the question they are answering.

    It seems that many skeptics of Christianity (actually most people in general) forget about this asymmetry when they demand short, pithy answers to their short, pithy questions. Well, here is my challenge to skeptics of Christianity. Are you willing to wait for the long answer to your short question?

    I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been talking to a skeptic and something like the following happens:

    Skeptic: “If God is all-powerful and all-good, then why is there evil?”

    Me: “Well, let’s start by defining what evil is. Evil is …”

    Skeptic (cutting me off): “Let’s face it. You don’t have an answer to this. You’re probably going to mention free will, but that just leads me to another question. Christians can’t really believe in free will because they believe God knows everything. How do you answer that?”

    Me: “OK, so you want to discuss God’s sovereignty and man’s free will now. Maybe we’ll come back to evil. Just because God knows what I will do doesn’t mean that I’m not free to do it. Here’s an analogy….”

    Skeptic (cutting me off): “Free will can’t exist because physics basically determines everything we say and do. We are a product of natural laws and the more we discover in science, the less we need God to explain anything. Aren’t you concerned that every time you assume we need God for something, that science will eventually provide the answer?”

    Me: “Umm, so now we’re on to the God of the Gaps argument? I’m getting exhausted. Can we stick to one thing for a minute?”

    Skeptic: “It’s not my fault you don’t have answers for these questions.”

    This kind of conversation is one of the things that originally drove me to start writing a blog. I could finally answer questions without getting constantly interrupted!

    So skeptics, when you’re talking to a Christian, are you willing to actually wait for an answer? Or are you just going to pepper him with question after question and never let him get an answer out of his mouth?

    When I’m dealing with a skeptic who won’t wait for an answer, that’s usually a pretty good sign that the skeptic does not want answers. They just want to fight. As fun as fighting is (I used to do a lot more of it years ago), I just don’t have time for it any more. There are skeptics out there who actually will wait for the answers, and those are the ones I want to talk to.

    How Long Did the Israelites Live in Egypt?

    Posted By on August 15, 2014

    Post Author: Bill Pratt 

    Verse 40 in chapter 12 of Exodus looks like it’s saying that from the time Jacob brought his family to Egypt to live with Joseph in Gen 46, to the time of the Exodus, 430 years passed. In fact, this is the traditional view, but it may not be correct.

    There are three ancient texts from which scholars translate the Book of Exodus into English: the Masoretic Hebrew text, the Samaritan Pentateuch, and the Septuagint. These three texts appear to contradict each other when it comes to verse 40 in Exodus 12.

    According to Robert Bergen in the Apologetics Study Bible How Long Did the Israelites Live in Egypt?, the

    Hebrew text used as the basis for English translations of this verse states literally that ‘the dwelling of the sons of Israel which they dwelt in Egypt was four hundred and thirty years.’ The Samaritan Pentateuch, on the other hand, states that the Israelites spent 215 years in Egypt. . . . The Septuagint . . . expands the reading found in the Hebrew text, stating that ‘the dwelling of the sons of Israel, and of their fathers, which they dwelt in the land of Canaan, and in the land of Egypt, was four hundred and thirty years.’

    What are we to make of these different readings? Is it 215 or 430 years? It seems that the answer depends on when you start counting the Israelites as being in Egypt. The Septuagint and Samaritan Pentateuch start the clock when Abraham first journeys to Egypt in Gen 12 (not when Jacob brings his family to Egypt in Gen 46), whereas the Hebrew text is ambiguous.

    Bergen, however, claims that the New Testament supports starting the clock with Abraham in Gen 12. Bergen writes,

    The NT provides conclusive evidence that the chronological clarifications in the Samaritan Pentateuch and Septuagint are accurate. In Gal 3:17 the apostle Paul noted that the Law was given to Israel 430 years after God’s covenantal promise had been delivered to Abraham. The first-century Jewish historian Josephus (Antiquities 2:15:2) accepted this number, as did many significant voices in Christian history prior to the twentieth century (e.g., Tertullian, Origen, Augustine, Bishop James Ussher). When the NT evidence is considered together with that of the OT, it seems clear that 430 years elapsed from the time of Israel’s first entrance into Egypt, and that the reckoning began with Abraham’s dealings with Pharaoh (Gen 12: 10-20).

    Commentary on Exodus 12 (The Passover)

    Posted By on August 13, 2014

    Post Author: Bill Pratt 

    doorpost blood Commentary on Exodus 12 (The Passover)In chapter 12 of the Book of Exodus, we come to the final plague that God will visit upon Egypt. Unlike the other plagues, this one requires preparation by the Israelites, and that preparation will be memorialized by the Israelites forever. Chapter 12 combines the instructions to the Israelites on how to memorialize the events surrounding their salvation from the final plague and God’s rescuing them from Egypt, along with the narrative explaining what actually occurred.

    In verses 1-11, God tells Moses and Aaron how the nation of Israel is to commemorate the Passover in the future. We have a break in the narrative and won’t pick it back up again until verses 12-13, and then again at verse 21. The instructions are simple:

    1. On the tenth day of the first month of the religious calendar (Nisan or March/April) each man is to select a lamb or goat for his family. The animal must be a year-old male without defect.
    2. Four days later, all the people of Israel must slaughter the animals at twilight.
    3. Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses where they eat.
    4. That same night they are to eat the meat roasted over the fire, along with bitter herbs, and bread made without yeast. Anything left over must be burned by morning.
    5. They are to eat with traveling clothes on.

    In verses 12-13, God explains what will happen the night of Passover. “On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn—both men and animals—and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the Lord. The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt.”

    Notice that the blood of the lambs who were sacrificed and placed on the doorframes will save the Israelites from God’s judgment. In like manner, Jesus Christ’s sacrifice saves those who believe in him from God’s judgment. This is why the New Testament writers refer to Jesus as the Passover Lamb (see 1 Cor 5:7-8; 1 Pet 1:19-20; Rev 5:12).

    Additionally, the biblical authors remind us several times that key events occur during subsequent Passover celebrations. In Num 9, the Israelites celebrate the Passover in the wilderness. Joshua celebrates Passover after bringing the Israelites into the Promised Land (Josh 5). Passover celebrations are recorded during the reigns of reformers King Hezekiah and King Josiah in 2 Chron 30 and 35. When Israel returns from Babylonian captivity, the Passover is celebrated in Ezra 6. And finally, Jesus shared the Passover meal with his disciples before being arrested and crucified.

    In verses 14-20, God commands the Israelites to also celebrate the week after the Passover. This is known as the Feast of Unleavened Bread. “For seven days you are to eat bread made without yeast.” On the first day and seventh of this Feast there is to be an assembly of all Israel. The penalty for eating anything with yeast during this seven days is death or banishment. God explains the importance of the Feast of Unleavened Bread: “It was on this very day that I brought your divisions out of Egypt.”

    To recap, two new ordinances are commanded by God in chapter 12: the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. The Passover is to commemorate God’s passing over the Israelites for judgment, and the Feast of Unleavened Bread is to commemorate God’s rescuing the Israelites from Egypt. God saves and God redeems his people.

    In verses 21-23, the narrative picks up again with explicit instructions to the Israelites for the night of the final plague – the killing of the firstborns of Egypt. The elders of Israel are told to select and slaughter the animals for Passover sacrifice and then use hyssop (a plant) to spread blood around the doorframes of their homes. If the Israelites obey God, “he will not permit the destroyer to enter [their] houses and strike [them] down.”

    In verses 24-28, God reminds the Israelites of the significance of the Passover and the author notes that on the occasion of the first Passover night, the “Israelites did just what the Lord commanded Moses and Aaron.”

    The narrative continues through verse 40 and describes the events of the evening, next morning, and days following. First, God does indeed strike the firstborn of Egypt, including Pharaoh’s own son. The Egyptians are so devastated that Pharaoh calls Moses and Aaron to him during the night and commands them to leave Egypt, no strings attached. In verses 33-36, the Egyptians are so eager to get rid of the Israelites that they willingly turn over gold, silver, and clothing to them. Everything happens just as God had foretold.

    The Israelites leave the area of Goshen where they had lived for generations, and they journey to the southeast to a city named Succoth. We note that the Israelites number many thousands, and that foreigners also left Egypt with them, possibly due to seeing the power of the Hebrew God.

    Finally, in verses 40-42, the author reminds us that the Israelites had lived in Egypt for 430 years, but that God brought them out of Egypt, just as he had promised.

    Why Would You Expect to See a Painter in His Painting?

    Posted By on August 11, 2014

    Post Author: Bill Pratt 

    painter painting Why Would You Expect to See a Painter in His Painting?A common complaint of religious skeptics is that they don’t have enough evidence that God exists. If God created the world, then we should be able to see him clearly and unequivocally with our eyes, and hear him with our ears, and touch him with our hands, etc.

    This demand has never made sense to me, given who the God of Christianity is. Philosopher Ed Feser gives an apt analogy of the situation in this blog post:

    Suppose you’re looking at a painting of a crowd of people, and you remark upon the painter’s intentions in producing the work. Someone standing next to you looking at the same painting — let’s call him Skeptic — begins to scoff. “Painter? Oh please, there’s no evidence of any painter! I’ve been studying this canvas for years. I’ve gone over every square inch. I’ve studied each figure in detail — facial expressions, posture, clothing, etc. I’ve found plumbers, doctors, dancers, hot dog vendors, dogs, cats, birds, lamp posts, and all kinds of other things. But I’ve never found this painter of yours anywhere in it. No doubt you’ll tell me that I need to look again until I find him. But really, how long do we have to keep looking without success until people like you finally admit that there just is no painter?”

    Feser then comments on why Skeptic has completely missed the boat:

    Needless to say, Skeptic, despite his brash confidence, will have entirely misunderstood the nature of the dispute between you and him. He would be making the crudest of category mistakes. He fundamentally misunderstands both what it means to say that there is a painter, and fundamentally misunderstands the reasons for saying there is one.

    What are the mistakes that Skeptic is making?

    [H]e’s treating the painter as if he were essentially some part of the picture, albeit a part that is hard to see directly. . . . [H]e’s supposing that settling the question of whether the painter exists has something to do with focusing on unusual or complex or hard-to-see elements of the painting — when, of course, that has nothing essentially to do with it at all.

    In fact, of course, even the most trivial, plain, and simple painting would require a painter just as much as a complicated picture of a crowd of people would.  And in fact, the painter is not himself a part of the picture, and therefore, looking obsessively within the picture itself at various minute details of it is precisely where you won’t find him.

    Why can’t we definitively find God with scientific observation? Why can’t we settle the question of God once and for all with our scientific instruments and methods?

    Although scientific observation can certainly point us toward God, and even strongly toward a very powerful and intelligent Creator, at the end of the day, one has to do metaphysics to close the deal. Feser summarizes:

    It is not a question of natural science — which, given the methods that define it in the modern period, can in principle only ever get you from one part of the world to another part of it, and never outside the world — but rather a question for metaphysics, which is not limited by its methods to the this-worldly.

    This is why I have explained to my skeptical friends over and over and over again that their skepticism is usually rooted in their metaphysics, and they need to start there before bothering with anything else.

    What Is the Argument from Desire?

    Posted By on August 8, 2014

    Post Author: Bill Pratt 

    Kreeft200 What Is the Argument from Desire?I don’t expect this argument will work with a science-worshiping atheist, but I do think it will work for people who are into the New Age or  Buddhism, or who otherwise are aware of the transcendent qualities of the world around them. I just finished the Steve Jobs biography, and I actually believe that Jobs may have resonated with this argument.

    So what is the argument from desire? Nobody explains it better than philosopher Peter Kreeft. Here is Kreeft from his blog post on the argument from desire, first giving the two premises and conclusion of the argument:

    1. Every natural, innate desire in us corresponds to some real object that can satisfy that desire.

    2. But there exists in us a desire which nothing in time, nothing on earth, no creature can satisfy.

    3. Therefore there must exist something more than time, earth and creatures, which can satisfy this desire.

    Kreeft then defends the first premise:

    The first premise implies a distinction of desires into two kinds: innate and externally conditioned, or natural and artificial. We naturally desire things like food, drink, sex, sleep, knowledge, friendship and beauty; and we naturally shun things like starvation, loneliness, ignorance and ugliness. We also desire (but not innately or naturally) things like sports cars, political office, flying through the air like Superman, the land of Oz and a Red Sox world championship.

    Now there are differences between these two kinds of desires. We do not, for example, for the most part, recognize corresponding states of deprivation for the second, the artificial, desires, as we do for the first. There is no word like “Ozlessness” parallel to “sleeplessness.” But more importantly, the natural desires come from within, from our nature, while the artificial ones come from without, from society, advertising or fiction. This second difference is the reason for a third difference: the natural desires are found in all of us, but the artificial ones vary from person to person.

    The existence of the artificial desires does not necessarily mean that the desired objects exist. Some do; some don’t. Sports cars do; Oz does not. But the existence of natural desires does, in every discoverable case, mean that the objects desired exist. No one has ever found one case of an innate desire for a nonexistent object.

    Kreeft defends the second premise:

    The second premise requires only honest introspection. If someone defies it and says, “I am perfectly happy playing with mud pies, or sports cars, or money, or sex, or power,” we can only ask, “Are you, really?”

    But we can only appeal, we cannot compel. And we can refer such a person to the nearly universal testimony of human history in all its great literature. Even the atheist Jean-Paul Sartre admitted that “there comes a time when one asks, even of Shakespeare, even of Beethoven, ‘Is that all there is?’”

    Finally, the conclusion:

    The conclusion of the argument is not that everything the Bible tells us about God and life with God is really so. What it proves is an unknown X, but an unknown whose direction, so to speak, is known. This X is more: more beauty, more desirability, more awesomeness, more joy. This X is to great beauty as, for example, great beauty is to small beauty or to a mixture of beauty and ugliness. And the same is true of other perfections.

    But the “more” is infinitely more, for we are not satisfied with the finite and partial. Thus the analogy (X is to great beauty as great beauty is to small beauty) is not proportionate. Twenty is to ten as ten is to five, but infinity is not to twenty as twenty is to ten. The argument points down an infinite corridor in a definite direction. Its conclusion is not “God” as already conceived or defined, but a moving and mysterious X which pulls us to itself and pulls all our images and concepts out of themselves.

    In other words, the only concept of God in this argument is the concept of that which transcends concepts, something “no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived” (1 Cor 2:9). In other words, this is the real God.

    As usual, C. S Lewis summarizes in a way only he can:

    Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for these desires exists. A baby feels hunger; well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim; well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire; well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. (Mere Christianity, Bk. III, chap. 10, “Hope”)

    Can Atheists Avoid a Cause of the Universe?

    Posted By on August 6, 2014

    Post Author: Bill Pratt 

    20conv articleInline Can Atheists Avoid a Cause of the Universe?That is exactly what Sean Carroll attempted to do in his recent debate with William Lane Craig. Here is what Carroll said:

    Why should we expect that there are causes or explanations or a reason why in the universe in which we live? It’s because the physical world inside of which we’re embedded has two important features.

    There are unbreakable patterns, laws of physics — things don’t just happen, they obey the laws — and there is an arrow of time stretching from the past to the future. The entropy was lower in the past and increases towards the future. Therefore, when you find some event or state of affairs B today, we can very often trace it back in time to one or a couple of possible predecessor events that we therefore call the cause of that, which leads to B according to the laws of physics.

    But crucially, both of these features of the universe that allow us to speak the language of causes and effects are completely absent when we talk about the universe as a whole.  We don’t think that our universe is part of a bigger ensemble that obeys laws.  Even if it’s part of the multiverse, the multiverse is not part of a bigger ensemble that obeys laws.  Therefore, nothing gives us the right to demand some kind of external cause.

    If Carroll’s argument works, then atheists have discovered a clever way to avoid any form of the cosmological argument for God’s existence. But does his argument really work? According to philosopher Ed Feser (in this blog post), it does not, at least not if Carroll is arguing against classical Christian theology.

    Feser takes up Carroll’s argument:

    Now in fact it is Carroll who has said absolutely nothing to establish his right to dismiss the demand for a cause as confidently as he does. For he has simply begged all the important questions and completely missed the point of the main traditional classical theistic arguments . . . .

    One problem here is that, like so many physicists, Carroll has taken what is really just one species of causation (the sort which involves a causal relation between temporally separated events) and identified it with causation as such. But in fact, the Aristotelian argues, event causation is not only not the only kind of causation but is parasitic on substance causation.

    Feser continues:

    But put that aside, because the deeper problem is that Carroll supposes that causation is to be explained in terms of laws of nature, whereas the Aristotelian view is that this has things precisely backwards. Since a “law of nature” is just a shorthand description of the ways a thing will operate — that is to say, what sorts of effects it will tend to have — given its nature or substantial form, in fact the notion of “laws of nature” metaphysically presupposes causation.

    So what does causation look like if it is not essentially about tracing a series of events backwards in time?

    On the Aristotelian-Scholastic analysis, questions about causation are raised wherever we have potentialities that need actualization, or a thing’s being metaphysically composite and thus in need of a principle that accounts for the composition of its parts, or there being a distinction in a thing between its essence or nature on the one and its existence on the other, or a thing’s being contingent.

    The universe, however physics and scientific cosmology end up describing it — even if it turned out to be a universe without a temporal beginning, even if it is a four-dimensional block universe, even if Hawking’s closed universe model turned out to be correct, even if we should really think in terms of a multiverse rather than a single universe — will, the Aristotelian argues, necessarily exhibit just these features (potentialities needing actualization, composition, contingency, etc.). And thus it will, as a matter of metaphysical necessity, require a cause outside it.

    Thus the universe requires a cause outside it. As Feser explains, only that

    which is pure actuality devoid of potentiality, only what is utterly simple or non-composite, only something whose essence or nature just is existence itself, only what is therefore in no way contingent but utterly necessary — only that, the classical theist maintains, could in principle be the ultimate terminus of explanation, whatever the specific scientific details turn out to be.

    In the end, Carroll has simply not addressed the arguments from classical Christian theology and philosophy. He has not, therefore, successfully avoided the need for the universe to have a cause.

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