Friday, January 29, 2010

Don't Be Shallow, Read Aquinas.

I know this blog's been a frivolous mix of aliens, guns, boots and horses recently, so here's a bit on St. Thomas Aquinas to even things out. It's from the Chicago Daily Observer and argues against the widespread notion that God is a superstitious idea that's been explained away by 'science'. I've never understood how physics, chemistry and assorted technics could disprove a necessary being, and it seems strange to me that Dawkins & Co. would get so worked up about something they see as so absurd. Surely they're not threatened in any way? Regardless, I think Fr. Barron's take on Thomas is good:

"Secondly, Thomas knew that the Creator God of the Bible is the only finally satisfying explanation for the existence of the contingent things of the world. He was deeply impressed by the actual existence of those things that do not contain within themselves the reason for their being. Clouds, trees, plants, animals, human beings, buildings, planets, and stars certainly exist, but they don’t have to exist. This means, he saw, that their being is not self-explanatory, that it depends, finally, on some primordial reality which does exist through the power of its own essence. This “necessary” being is what Thomas called “God.” He was moved by the correspondence between this philosophical sense of God and the self-designation that God gives in Exodus 3:14: “I am who I am.” How significant this is in our time when “new” atheists have raised their voices to dismiss belief in God as a holdover from a pre-scientific time. Thomas would remind the Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins of the world that no scientific advance could ever, even in principle, eliminate the properly metaphysical question to which God is the only satisfying answer. God is not a superstitious projection of human need; rather, God is the reason why there is something rather than nothing.

Thirdly, Thomas Aquinas was a deep humanist, precisely because he was a Christian. He saw that since God became human in Christ, the destiny of the human being is divinization, participation in the inner life of God. No other religion or philosophy or social theory has ever held out so exalted a sense of human dignity and purpose. And this is why, Aquinas intuited, there is something inviolable about the human person. How indispensably important that teaching is in our era of stem-cell research, euthanasia, legalized abortion, and pre-emptive war, practices that turn persons into means." You can read the whole thing here.

"How indispensably important..." well said, Barron.

Just heard that one of my old friends from England has been made a Bishop. Quite remarkable.

God bless,



Teresa said...

Great Post!! My husband is a philosopher and ascribes to Thomist philosophy. What's funny is, I have never been a fan of philosophy but my husband's philosophy or Aquinas's philosophy is rubbing off on me. Much of his philosophy can be applied today. I will have to send my husband over here to see the article.

LSP said...

Thanks Teresa - I've always been a fan of St. Thomas; you might enjoy Chesterton's biography, "The Dumb Ox" (Thomas' nickname at school). I think it's a great intro to his work and life. Hope your husband enjoys the article!

Borepatch said...

I find Aquinas to be a hard intellectual nut to crack, but I always was a lazy student.

Having been trained in the hard sciences (engineering, actually), I find the "science vs. religion" debate to be pretty empty.

Never mind that science doesn't know remotely as much as people thing; a wag once said that the Scientific Method was not the process of replacing a falsehood with a truth - rather, it was replacing a falsehood with a more subtle falsehood.

Science has nothing to say on matters of Faith, and especially Grace. Nothing. Nobody expects to learn Geometry from the Bible, so why do people expect to learn Grace from Origin Of Species?

The Catholic answer, of course, is "it's a mystery." ;-)

None of this, of course, contradicts anything that you said in your excellent post. And that picture is simply superb.

LSP said...

Borepatch - glad you liked the interesting pic of Dawkins. Have you read his critique of Aquinas in 'The God Delusion'? Facile at best. Who was it that wrote 'The Dawkins Delusion'? Amusing.

Anyway, grace, what a mystery but a strangely reasonable one with it...


Anonymous said...

I'm with Borepatch. I even had a hard time understanding Kreeft's excellent book, Summa of the Summa.

What wears me out about these intellectual atheists is their misuse of logic.

We don't have all of the "pieces" of God that we need to construct a logical picture. He is mysterious and we are His creatures so it stands to reason we shall never comprehend His mind.

This drives some people nuts; they want to squeeze every last drop of mystery from life. Impossible, and what kind of twisted mind would long for a world with no wonder?

“Man has such a predilection for systems and abstract deductions that he is ready to distort the truth intentionally, he is ready to deny the evidence of his senses only to justify his logic”
--Fyodor Dostoyevsky

“Pure logic is the ruin of the spirit.”
-- Antoine de Saint-Exupery

“Nature cares nothing for logic, our human logic: she has her own, which we do not recognize and do not acknowledge until we are crushed under its wheel”
-- Ivan Turgenev

Great post, Parson!

LSP said...

Great quotes Silverfiddle - there's surely a mystery to the perfect being of God, who is at 'infinite rest and infinite expansion' (E. Gilson).

St. Thomas takes us some way up the mountain - if you'll forgive the phrase!

Anonymous said...

Yes. Men of truly great intellect like Aquinas and Descartes showed us what proper use of logic and the light of reason really looks like!

ProudHillbilly said...

As a person with a math/science background and a long history of scepticism, I see math and science as languages. They explain what we see at any given moment as best we know how, but they aren't an answer per se. I'm old enough to have seen great changes in our understanding of the universe. I'm also old enough to understand that a great deal of what we accept as fact is just one more theory that will be replaced when we know more. It's sad that so many can't see that - they are missing one heck of a fun ride through a complex universe.

Third News said...

Ignoring those who straddle the fence, the God or, no god choices, ignores the reality with most people, and why I think churches are emptying – I suspect, yours inclusive.

Both religion and science compel faith, the latter disproved often, and yet the commonality of time will judge both.

Pistologically, yes God could have been factitive in creating the earth but your premise doesn’t argue his necessity for our continued existence. Shockingly arrogant? First, atheism proves that religion, and God are not absolute in living a happy life –as for death, who knows? I do think that I’m one of many who don’t believe that we need to have sacerdotalism relationship, but personally, I’d go futher.

I guess I don’t understand Fr. Barron's point with respect to today’s atheist but what Thomas Aquinas knew in his time, Is just that. If he did not see an independent purpose for -let’s say- butterflies, proves only the limit of his scientific understanding but not whether one should have faith in God –nor lack of.

…the destiny of the human being is divinization, participation in the inner life of God
Yes, perhaps with respect to theopsychism but If the human being is the soul, and he was culpable of evil, then he cannot be sacrosanct too.

LSP said...

Thomas' thinking on contingency and necessity isn't dependent on the physical sciences, except insofar as they reveal contingency in things and an existent world. Aquinas argues, interestingly, that even if the world were everlasting and without beginning or end, it would demand a necessary cause.

"Divinisation", or participation in the divine life of Christ, is the goal of orthodox Christianity, achieved imperfectly on earth and perfectly in heaven.

Third News said...

If your religion promises all of our souls live perfectly in heaven, then how can your life have any real meaning? Is it not your telos to have a physical death? After-all, life is imperfect and death is divinisation.

It isn't that I believe in pancosmism, but I sure don't want to spend eternity with some that I've spent my adult life avoiding. I've always thought heaven was 'oversold' for lack of a better term.

Curiously, Is your church one that is emptying?

LSP said...

My mission churches are growing in a mildly encouraging way. Trad Anglicanism is too, mostly in Africa.

Telos? Be careful where you end up...