Posts Tagged ‘Aquinas’

Book Plunge: Aborting Aristotle

January 28, 2015

Dave Sterrett has a new book coming out from St. Augustine Press called Aborting Aristotle and do you want to know my thoughts of it? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Aborting Aristotle

Abortion is always a controversial issue in this country and one aspect of it I find interesting is that the science has often been neglected. We know much more about the science of life than the ancients did back then. Oh they knew the basics fully well. They knew exactly what it took to make a baby, but what exactly was going on in the whole process and when it was that life began was not a question they could answer definitively. For this, we can be grateful to modern science showing us that life does begin at conception.

What the ancients did have an advantage in is metaphysics. The ancients knew less than we do today, but in all honesty, they thought more. Did that mean they were right about everything? Of course not. That would be ridiculous. But it meant they looked at the world around them and looked a lot deeper than just the surface level. Unfortunately, our scientific age has often become so fascinated with the science that we haven’t looked past it to deeper truths.

One such thinker that looked deep in the past was Aristotle and he was a tremendous influence on our civilization and still is. I’d agree with thinkers like Feser that where we went off the bend was when we started moving away from Aristotle. To go to Aristotle also does not mean we jettison modern science. We can still have the metaphysics of Aristotle and still keep modern science, and that metaphysics could help with the abortion debate.

In fact, that’s what Dave Sterrett argues. He argues that our aborting of the thought of Aristotle is causing us to not think properly on the abortion debate and we have to return to metaphysics. Pro-Life organizations have realized this as well, hence a question that you’d get from someone like Greg Koukl or Scott Klusendorf. That would be the question of “What is it?” That is the first question to ask in the abortion debate. What is it we are aborting?

Sterrett argues that a return to the metaphysics of Aristotle can answer that question and throughout the book, there is no doubt that he has done his homework as he profusely quotes the other side throughout. Sterrett will guide you through Aristotelian thought on this issue and help you see how it works out and also expose the fallacies that go on the other side where metaphysics is often ignored. (Indeed, too many in our society think that anything that has to do with metaphysics is automatically bunk.)

Also, this book is fairly short. I read it over Christmas break visiting my in-laws. If you want to get a good book on metaphysical issues that will help you out in the abortion debate, then Sterrett’s book is an excellent one to get, and hopefully you will be one to help us stop the abortion of Aristotle in today’s society. Who knows how much could be improved if the metaphysics of Aristotle were allowed to be reborn today?

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: The Last Superstition

July 23, 2014

What do I think of this book by Edward Feser? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.


As I finished this book, I must say I was disappointed.

I was thoroughly disappointed since I knew that when I went on Amazon I could only give it five stars. Just five! If only I could have somehow doubled that number!

Now that doesn’t mean I agree with everything Feser says. I don’t think he would even want me to after just a read of his book, but I do think he argues his case very well and quite humorously. As a Protestant Thomist, there are differences, but with much of his philosophy and metaphysics I am right there on his side.

Feser is quite angry in this volume, and he has all right to be. The new atheists are a symptom of the way that our thinking is going downhill. It is not because we are becoming more scientific. No no no. That is all well and good. There is no problem with that. It is because we are becoming more and more anti-philosophical.

This despite the fact that there are some philosophers amongst the new atheists. Yet when they do any philosophy, the results are atrocious. It would have been interesting to see what Feser would have written had “The Grand Design” come out already and there had been a response to Hawking saying “Philosophy is dead.”

With this anti-philosophical bias coming in, we are rapidly losing our ability to think well and becoming a more and more immoral people. Feser also ties this in with the cultural acceptance of redefining marriage and also about how he considers abortion one of the most wicked of all evils.

Feser also brings in some strong polemics to this. Why? He is responding to the new atheists with what they have been dishing out and it adds a nice punch to the work. It’s hard to not be amused when you read that Richard Dawkins would not know metaphysics from Metamucil or that Daniel Dennett should have realized that anyone walking around saying “I’m a bright!” looks like an idiot. Also noteworthy is being told that the sophists are still with us today except they’re called lawyers, professors of literary criticism, and Michael Moore.

Surprising to most atheists will be the bare interaction with Scripture or church tradition that Feser has. The only place I recall Scripture being used is in a section talking about the resurrection. This is really the only place in the book that emphasizes Christ as well. Why is there so little mention of Christ and Scripture? Because Feser is showing that if all you have is just the tools of reason, you still have more than enough reason to hold to the existence of God and deal with the new atheism. It could be that Christianity is false and the new atheists are still wrong after all.

Readers of this book will also see a sustained argument that gives you a brief history of philosophy and why people like Parmenides, Heraclitus, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and Aquinas matter. Feser throughout the work shows that the arguments of the new atheism do not hold water and also lack explanatory scope.

Feser also argues that the teleology that Aristotle says exists in reality is inescapable and the more we deny it, the more and more absurd that we become, including describing a couple known as the Churchlands. This is a pair of philosophers who are husband and wife and wish to speak of us as material beings entirely and I mean entirely.

““She said, ‘Paul, don’t speak to me, my serotonin levels have hit bottom, my brain is awash in glucocorticoids, my blood vessels are full of adrenaline, and if it weren’t for my endogenous opiates I’d have driven the car into a tree on the way home. My dopamine levels need lifting. Pour me a Chardonnay, and I’ll be down in a minute.’ ”

Feser does point out that as the article says, the Churchlands claim to have shared a lot of Oxytocin over the years, yet I’m guessing this is a claim that doesn’t exactly scream romance. Although, it is humorous to imagine being in a singles bar and going up to a lady and saying “Hey babe. How would you like to have a little Oxytocin tonight?

Feser says that this will be the end result of the thinking of the new atheists. In the end, we will lose morality, we will lose free-will, and in fact, we will lose science itself.

If the new atheists have been looking for a powerful opponent, they have found one in Feser and one who can roll with the punches just as good as they do, if not better. Feser’s sharp wit and powerful argumentation provide a powerful counter to the new atheist movement.

If you want to read the best response I have seen to the new atheists, do yourself a favor and pick up this book. You won’t regret it.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

The Apostle’s Creed: In God

March 10, 2014

What should we think about when we think about God? Let’s talk about it on the Deeper Waters Podcast.

God. The word can evokes a number of attitudes and emotions. For some people, it means to mind a pristine holiness. They are filled with love and awe when they think about God. For another crowd, there is thought about the cosmic energy of the universe. They look within and think about what they see there. They seek to be one with the world around them. For yet another group, there can almost be a hatred. The thought of anything to do with God is automatically absurd and if this God exists, they’d rather go to Hell than be with Him.

Let’s be clear at the start of the discussion about God. The question matters. If you look at the question of God’s existence and think it doesn’t make any difference whatsoever to the nature of the world or how you view it, you’re not taking it seriously. This in fact is the problem with Bertrand Russell’s teapot illustration or with comparing God to unicorns, fairies, leprechauns, etc.

And if you think there is a God, knowing what He is like is extremely important as well. Is He a pantheistic concept that is all of us? Is He a distant deistic being who is off playing a round of cosmic golf while we toil away on this Earth? Is He Allah and is inspiring Muslims to do acts of terror all around the world? Or is He the one who has revealed Himself in Jesus Christ?

C.S. Lewis in his “A Grief Observed” said in there that it wasn’t his fear that God did not exist in his grief. He was sure of the existence of the divine being. It was a worse fear for him. It was the fear of “He exists and this is what He’s really like!”

But why would the Apostles’ Creed start with belief in God? Isn’t that a given? Doesn’t everyone know Christians believe in God?

Well, no. Not really.

Okay. Okay. Maybe there is some postmodern stuff in our world today that allows you to have a definition of God and believe in Him and somehow still be an atheist, but surely the charge of atheism like that is new. (And no, I can’t even think of how someone would be able to pull off a claim like that, but in our postmodern age, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone has or someone will.)

But no, the charge of atheism is in fact an old one. The early Christians were accused of being atheists.


The early church lived in a world where polytheism was the norm. In this world, everyone believed in multiple gods, with the exception being the Jews. Yet Christians show up on the scene and say “Not only are we not going to worship pagan gods, those gods don’t even exist.” This was a charge to not only the pantheon of the time, but to Caesar as well who was seen as a god. I agree with Crossan who says that Mark 1:1 which tells us about the beginning of the good news of Jesus, the Son of God, could be read as saying “In your face, Caesar.” This was a direct challenge since Caesars could have their own reigns described this way.

The Christians refused to buckle under pressure and let Jesus be included in a pantheon of gods. They were monotheists to the core. Now how that fits in with Jesus and the Trinity will be discussed later on in this look at the creed, so if that is your concern for now, hold on to it.

The God question then matters and always has. If you are a theist reading this, think about how much your worldview would change if you found God did not exist. If it wouldn’t make much of a difference to you, perhaps you should ask yourself if God makes much of a difference to you now.

On the other hand, if you are an atheist, what would it mean to you if you found undeniable proof that God existed? Would it seriously change your worldview? If it would not, then perhaps you are not taking the question seriously right now.

And if you are a theist, really think about what you are saying. Last week, my wife was watching the Science Channel with the “Are We Alone?” week on there discussing aliens. For you as a theist, the answer is “No. We are not alone.”

Depending on your view of theism, you also have to ask how it is that God has interacted with the world of if He has. Do you hold that miracles are possible? Do you hold that everything around you is existing because of the existence of this one being? Do you hold that this being entered the world in the person of Jesus and died on a cross and rose again somehow?

Now I realize some readers will say I have not presented an argument for theism. True. In this blog post, I have not, but that has been done elsewhere. I will point the reader to some looks I have given in other posts on my favorite arguments, the Thomistic arguments, those from the great theologian Thomas Aquinas.

Aquinas had five ways to demonstrate that God exists. The first can be found here, followed by the second, third, fourth, and fifth. In fact, you can also listen to a debate I did on the Razor Swift podcast on the First way of Aquinas here.

In closing, I just want my readers to think about the question of God and realize it matters. If you had to make a case for theism, could you do it? If you disagree with theism and had to make a case for atheism, could you do that?

And what difference would it make if either of you were wrong?

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Can We Study God Without Scripture?

May 10, 2011

Hello everyone and welcome back to Deeper Waters where we are diving into the ocean of truth. I’ve been looking at the topic of presuppositionalism lately and tonight, I’d like to look more at the topic of natural theology in this area and see if we can truly study God without special revelation.

Theology is the study of God. God can be studied either through special revelation or general revelation. Suppose you have a new neighbor move in. How can you know this person? You could know them by studying humanity in general and that would give you some information about the person, or you could get to know them simply by ringing the doorbell and letting them tell you about themselves.

Can we know God by only the first way? To an extent. You will get some true beliefs if you do natural theology right, but your certainty of them can be lacking and it will not be as efficient as God revealing Himself. However, let us not be too quick to throw out natural theology as useless.

The way we study God in natural theology involves what is called metaphysics. Now metaphysics is one of those terms that’s often tossed around in philosophical circles, but it is not really defined. However, if you use it, you can get the impression of being an intellectual and sound really cool while just using the term as a catch-all.

Let’s go ahead and explain metaphysics then. Metaphysics is the study of being as being. Physics is the study of material being in motion. Angelology is the study of angelic being. Zoology is the study of animal being. Botany is the study of plant being. You get the idea of where this is going.

Metaphysics has that contrast because while the other sciences study a particular type of being, this science studies being as it is. There is no doubt that a physicist could very well, and likely does know very well, more about matter in motion than the metaphysician, but the physicist likely will not know as much about that matter in motion as being. (Particularly if he’s a new atheist.)

Note that metaphysics is NOT the study of God. However, God is included in the subject of metaphysics. How? Let’s go back to your neighbor again. Studying anthropology will involve having your neighbor be a subject of that study, but your neighbor is not the particular object of that study. Anthropology does not exist to tell you about your neighbor in particular but your neighbor as a human being. Metaphysics tells you about God based on His relationship to being.

For Aquinas, God’s very essence IS being. Whatever it means to be is to be found in God and so studying being as being will give information about God. All being is true, good, and beautiful, for instance. From these, Aquinas did develop numerous doctrines of God, though of course not original with him. The main one after existence was simplicity. God’s existence IS his essence.

Note that in looking at natural theology, Aquinas does not cover concepts like the Trinity, although he believes in them. These cannot be known through natural theology. Consider for a parallel studying history. By history, you could know that Jesus was crucified on a cross even without the New Testament. You need revelation however to know that Jesus died for the sins of the world. A simple study of history apart from the revelation of God being read directly or communicated through others would not reveal that.

So can God be studied without Scripture? Yes. Will it be as good? No. Still, it is important and we must remember our reason is not antithetical or opposed to Scripture, but a tool God gave to help us understand Him and His revelation better.

Bahnsen on Aquinas

May 8, 2011

Hello everyone and welcome back to Deeper Waters where we are diving into the ocean of truth. I’d like to continue tonight examining the position of presuppositionalism. I have before me Greg Bahnsen’s book which I have read called “Van Til’s Apologetic.” In looking at natural theology, Bahnsen has a few criticisms of Aquinas, but upon looking at the criticisms, it seems that Bahnsen is not really familiar with the works of Aquinas. For one thing, not one of Aquinas’s writings is ever directly cited that I know of. That having been said, let’s look at those points to be examined.

On page 557, Bahnsen says that Aquinas and Joseph Butler, who I will not be talking about, both say a great deal about what man is and what reality is before discussing the existence of God or the truth of Christianity.


I simply ask anyone to go to the Summa Theologica. Here in order are the main sections.

Sacred Doctrine.

The One God.

The Blessed Trinity.


The Angels (Spirit).

The Six Days (Matter).

Man (Spirit and Matter).

In fact, the very first question raised about man directly is question 75.

Yes. Aquinas obviously spent a great deal on man before getting to God. Had the Summa simply been picked up and looked through, this statement would not have been made.

Much of the condemnation of natural theology is the belief that man can know God as He is by reason alone. At least, that is what we are often accused of saying. However, let’s see what Aquinas himself really says about the importance of sacred doctrine in the very first question of the Summa.

I answer that, It was necessary for man’s salvation that there should be a knowledge revealed by God besides philosophical science built up by human reason. Firstly, indeed, because man is directed to God, as to an end that surpasses the grasp of his reason: “The eye hath not seen, O God, besides Thee, what things Thou hast prepared for them that wait for Thee” (Isaiah 64:4). But the end must first be known by men who are to direct their thoughts and actions to the end. Hence it was necessary for the salvation of man that certain truths which exceed human reason should be made known to him by divine revelation. Even as regards those truths about God which human reason could have discovered, it was necessary that man should be taught by a divine revelation; because the truth about God such as reason could discover, would only be known by a few, and that after a long time, and with the admixture of many errors. Whereas man’s whole salvation, which is in God, depends upon the knowledge of this truth. Therefore, in order that the salvation of men might be brought about more fitly and more surely, it was necessary that they should be taught divine truths by divine revelation. It was therefore necessary that besides philosophical science built up by reason, there should be a sacred science learned through revelation.

Note that God is seen as one who surpasses the grasp of the reason of man. Aquinas says that there are truths that exceed human reason which God Himself must have revealed if they are to be known.

Second, Aquinas does say there are truths about God that can be discovered by reason unaided by special revelation, however, these would only be found by a few, because only a few would be intellectually capable, it would be after much time, because it would take a long time to work out the doctrine, and it would contain many errors, due to the difficulty of the subject.

Third, the reason these were revealed was that it was necessary for our salvation. Note that Aquinas says that if all you have is reason, you will not reach salvation. This is a far cry from the way that traditionalism is usually presented as having a low view of Scripture.

On page 629, Bahnsen tells us that if Aquinas wants to say he knows God exists, he is obligated to tell us everything about God. Why? Note that Aquinas does say there are several aspects of the nature of God that can be known. However, there are several that cannot be known.

Bahnsen tells us on the same page that if Thomas the theologian hears that God created the universe out of nothing and tells this to Thomas the philosopher, that the philosopher will say that this cannot be known.

Bahnsen is not treating Aquinas fairly here again. Let’s see what Aquinas says in Question 46 of the Prima Pars of the Summa in the second article.

On the contrary, The articles of faith cannot be proved demonstratively, because faith is of things “that appear not” (Hebrews 11:1). But that God is the Creator of the world: hence that the world began, is an article of faith; for we say, “I believe in one God,” etc. And again, Gregory says (Hom. i in Ezech.), that Moses prophesied of the past, saying, “In the beginning God created heaven and earth”: in which words the newness of the world is stated. Therefore the newness of the world is known only by revelation; and therefore it cannot be proved demonstratively.

Note here what Aquinas says. Aquinas does not say that the truth that God created the world cannot be known. He says it cannot be proven by demonstration. There is nothing wrong with such a statement. Consider what he says right after that:

I answer that, By faith alone do we hold, and by no demonstration can it be proved, that the world did not always exist, as was said above of the mystery of the Trinity (32, 1). The reason of this is that the newness of the world cannot be demonstrated on the part of the world itself. For the principle of demonstration is the essence of a thing. Now everything according to its species is abstracted from “here” and “now”; whence it is said that universals are everywhere and always. Hence it cannot be demonstrated that man, or heaven, or a stone were not always. Likewise neither can it be demonstrated on the part of the efficient cause, which acts by will. For the will of God cannot be investigated by reason, except as regards those things which God must will of necessity; and what He wills about creatures is not among these, as was said above (Question 19, Article 3). But the divine will can be manifested by revelation, on which faith rests. Hence that the world began to exist is an object of faith, but not of demonstration or science. And it is useful to consider this, lest anyone, presuming to demonstrate what is of faith, should bring forward reasons that are not cogent, so as to give occasion to unbelievers to laugh, thinking that on such grounds we believe things that are of faith.

The very first sentence is of utmost importance. He states that the knowledge that the world was created cannot be known by reason alone much like the Trinity. Philosophy cannot prove that Christianity is true. If you disagree, use nothing but reason alone and prove that God is triune and that he sent his Son to die for our sins and that the Son rose on the third day.

At the end, Aquinas also says the reason that we do know that this happened is because of revelation. Aquinas does not downplay Scripture at all. He sees it as essential to having a more than just cognitive knowledge of God. It is essential to having a salvific knowledge of God.

Now what does that mean for philosophy. Is it totally useless? Far from it. Philosophy is the handmaiden to the knowledge of God. Philosophy cannot prove the Trinity or Christianity, but once we have had those truths revealed, they can be defended by philosophy. So, Thomas AS a theologian can know that God created the world, but Thomas AS a philosopher would say, “Using reason alone, I cannot demonstrate that God created the world.” Precisely.

You would think that for those who are making a deal about man supposedly following autonomous human reason that they would want to embrace such a position. It is one that admits that man by reason alone cannot reach to a saving knowledge of God. This is not the view usually presented and when listening to them or reading them, I urge the reader to consider checking on the people that they criticize in the traditionalist camp.

Now it could be Aquinas is wrong in all that he said. However, what is important tonight is that Bahnsen is wrong in what he says about Aquinas.