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Posts Tagged ‘St. Thomas Aquinas’

Anything but God

by Steven Schultz

The “enlightened” atheist camp recently made the headlines again with Stephen Hawking’s claim in his latest book, The Grand Design, that the universe was not created by an outside force, but instead created itself.  This is an interesting hypothesis considering we have yet to find a single material thing which created itself out of nothingness.  Instead, every material object ever encountered in known human history has something else as the author of its existence.  In fact, according to St. Thomas Aquinas, the changing nature of the created world itself demands an unchanging cause outside of time and the material world for its existence – the “uncaused cause.”  However, according to intellectual atheists, such as Hawking, we’re to buy their nonsense based solely on their word as “academics,” since they can offer us not a single shred of evidence as proof of their claims that the universe somehow created itself from nothing.

Hawking claims the laws of gravity are responsible for the creation of the universe.  As with most atheist theories which claim “anything but God” for the creation of the universe, he fails to tell us what caused the laws of gravity.  We’re to believe they just happened and then poof (or bang), the universe came to be.  Stephen, no matter how you slice it, my friend, you eventually reach a point where you are forced to admit, if you’re intellectually honest, that an immaterial cause caused material existence to come into being.  Even if we go with Richard Dawkins’ explanation that “intelligent alien design” (i.e. extraterrestrials – little green men) are responsible for creating life on earth, a “theory” which he describes to Ben Stein in the documentary Expelled, Dawkins must still eventually account for the existence of the space aliens.  To do anything other than this leaves us with a “poof, there it is” explanation for the creation of the universe.  We’ll come back to this point shortly.

Yet another chink in the armor of the atheist’s “it all just happened by random chance” theory is the fact the universe obeys certain natural laws (including the laws of gravity which Hawking cites).  Not only does the universe obey certain natural laws, man is able to use his reason to discover and explain these laws.  If it’s all random chance, why is there such natural order?  If it’s all random chance, why did man just happen to receive the reasoning ability to discover, understand and explain these natural laws?  Are we honestly to believe the universe not only randomly formed, but randomly formed with ordered laws and human beings who just happen to posses the right kind of minds to discover these laws instead of believing a Creator caused the existence of an ordered universe and created man in His image with the capacity to discover these natural laws and thereby come to know something more about his Creator?  As we consider these facts, we come to see just who is actually making an incredible leap of faith to hold onto his belief system.

The Catholic Church has never held that Genesis is a factual account of creation.  Instead, the Church has always taught that Genesis is an allegorical story and its main point is not to explain the how of creation, but to explain the why of creation: an infinite, all-powerful, all-loving God who created as an act of His own free will; not out of necessity, but because He chose to do so.  Belief in the “Big Bang” theory is not at all inconsistent with Catholic theology.  It becomes inconsistent though when one claims the Big Bang created itself.

Atheists reject creationism (here meaning a fundamentalist interpretation of Genesis as a “blow-by-blow” account of creation – again, this is not the position on Genesis held by the Catholic Church) as nonsense, but then cling to their own version of creationism.  There’s no difference in believing God made everything “magically” appear in the form it’s in now and believing the universe “magically” created itself out of nothing.  Both “theories,” for anyone who takes the time to look at the facts, are nonsense.  The theist position is the only one which accounts for all the facts of the universe’s existence in a consistent manner.

Seeing that the atheist position is such nonsense, we must ask why so many believe in anything but God.  For the vast majority of non-academic, secularized people (including those who nominally claim to be religious, but live their lives as agnostics or practical atheists), I believe they like the idea of there being no God (or at least not one which has any real impact on reality) since it frees them to rationalize every sort of deviant, self-destructive behavior in which they chose to participate.  If there’s no God, there’s no ultimate Truth – and certainly no ultimate judgment; everything’s relative, so let’s party!

What about the academic and intellectual atheists?  For most of these people, I believe it comes down to simply vanity.  They believe they are the most educated, most important people on the face of the planet.  They see themselves as gods on earth – the power holders, the deal makers.  To admit God exists it to admit the existence of a power higher (and more intelligent) than themselves.  Such a notion is anathema to these people.  Such a notion would mean they are not the ultimate judges of right and wrong, life and death.  I honestly believe most of these people are so full of themselves, they simply cannot fathom such an “outlandish” and “quaint” notion as God.

Either way, it doesn’t really matter since the preponderance of evidence, which can be arrived at by the use of natural reason alone (as so superbly demonstrated by St. Thomas Aquinas), overwhelmingly points to the existence of a Creator who stands outside of time as a non-material being and the uncaused cause.  But take heart, atheists, as Antony Flew demonstrated, God continues to offer Himself to you; all you need to do is accept His invitation.

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©2010 By Steven Schultz. All Rights Reserved. May Not be Reproduced or Reposted in Any Form without Permission.

     For centuries, faith and reason enjoyed a close, complimentary, mutually supportive relationship.  However, the rise of modern philosophy, with its bad metaphysics, resulted in a growing rift in this relationship.  Pope John Paul II, in his encyclical Fides et Ratio, called for a return to unity in the relationship between faith and reason, and offered his thoughts on how this reunion might be achieved.

     Early Christianity found a ready ally in ancient Greek philosophy, particularly the thought of Plato.  The reason for this alliance rested on the commons goals of Christianity and ancient Greek philosophy, namely a quest for understanding of being.  Both sought to understand ultimate purposes.  Because man’s ultimate purpose is fulfilled in God’s plan of salvation, both streams flowed toward the same final source.  The Greeks did not have perfect answers; however their quest for ultimate understanding and truth at least guided them in the right direction.  The Greek focus on seeking truth allowed early Christians to adopt Greek thought in giving fuller understanding to the message of Jesus and the salvation of mankind.[i]

     This unity of faith and reason reached its zenith with St. Thomas Aquinas.  St. Thomas synthesized the philosophy of Aristotle into Christian theology, providing the best demonstration before or since of the great unity between faith and reason.  As Pope Benedict XVI recently put it:

            In short, Thomas Aquinas showed there is a natural harmony between Christian faith and reason. And this was the great work of Thomas, who in that moment of encounter between two cultures — that moment in which it seemed that faith should surrender before reason — showed that they go together, that what seemed to be reason incompatible with faith was not reason, and what seemed to be faith was not faith, in so far as it was opposed to true rationality; thus he created a new synthesis, which shaped   the culture of the following centuries.[ii]

For a brief, shining moment, thanks to St. Thomas’s insightful demonstration of unity between faith and reason, harmony between theology and philosophy reigned supreme.  Unfortunately, this was not to last.

     The upheaval brought about by the Protestant Reformation introduced a spark of doubt which steadily grew into the full-fledged conflagration of modern thought.  René Descartes, with his institutionalization of doubt, became the father of modern philosophy.  Descartes began with the notion that certitude does not come from knowledge obtained through sense data, but only through innate ideas.  Cogito Ergo Sum – the only thing we know with certitude is our own thought.  This “turn to the subject” led to greater skepticism and deconstructionism and has permeated all modern philosophy since.[iii]

     Immanuel Kant developed idealism in an attempt to save natural science and the validity of human reason.  As a spiritualist, he claimed that while we cannot know the material world through sense data, we can form hypotheses which meet our experiences.  In other words, Kant argued truth is merely the consistency of the model of reality which our mind creates.  Our sense experience tells us nothing about absolute truth, so “truth” becomes more about consistency and is therefore completely subjective.[iv]

     Likewise building on Descartes, David Hume adopted an extreme empiricist position.  Hume’s radical skepticism reduced knowledge to nothing more than sense description.  His extreme position even rejected the notion of causality as understood in natural scenes.  Hume claimed we only know one thing happens after the other, which, according to Hume, does not mean one thing caused the other.[v]

     As modern philosophy stopped concentrating on being and instead focused on human knowing, a growing rift developed between theology and philosophy.  Instead of pondering the human capacity for knowing, modern philosophy has emphasized the ways in which it is limited and conditioned.  Modern philosophy’s rejection of meaningfulness of being has led to a general conception of nihilism and a rejection of all objective truth.  Theology’s insistence on the existence of the greatest absolute Truth places it in direct conflict with modern philosophy.[vi]

     However, Pope John Paul II tells us faith and reason cannot be separated without diminishing the capacity of man to know himself, the world and God in an appropriate way.  Since theology engages philosophy to help man know the truth, the study of philosophy is fundamental and indispensable to the study of theology.  While there should be no barriers to dialogue, there should also not be indiscriminate acceptance of any kind of philosophy.  Consequently, the Magisterium has a right and a duty to discern and promote philosophy not at odds with the faith.[vii]

     In Fides et Ratio, the Pope outlines three requirements.  First, to be consonant with the Word of God, philosophy must return to its classical roots as a method of searching for the ultimate and overarching meaning of life.  Second, philosophy must “verify the human capacity to know the truth, to come to a knowledge which can reach objective truth by means of that adaequatio rei et intellectus to which the Scholastic Doctors referred.”  Consequently, radically phenomenologist or relativist philosophies are ill-adapted to help with deeper exploration of the riches found in the Word of God.  Third, philosophy needs a “genuinely metaphysical range, capable…of transcending empirical data in order to attain something absolute, ultimate and foundational in its search for the truth.”[viii]

      Through this method, philosophy, as “the mirror which reflects the culture of a people,” can serve the new evangelization in its ability “to explore more comprehensively the dimensions of the true, the good and the beautiful to which the word of God gives access…Reflecting in the light of reason and in keeping with its rules, guided always by the deeper understanding given them by the word of God, Christian philosophers can develop a reflection which will be both comprehensible and appealing to those who do not yet grasp the full truth which divine revelation declares;” thereby returning unity to faith and reason.[ix]


Endnotes

[i] P. De Letter, “Theology, Influence of Greek Philosophy On,” New Catholic Encyclopedia, 2nd Edition, Volume 13 (Farmington Hills, MI: Gale, 2003), 918.

[ii] Pope Benedict XVI, On St. Thomas Aquinas, Zenit.org, http://www.zenit.org/article-29447?l=english, accessed 3 July 2010.

[iii] Benedict M. Ashley, OP, “Lecture 3: Why Theology Has Difficulty with Modern Philosophy,” Philosophy for Theologians, DVD, International Catholic University, 2005; Benedict M. Ashley, OP, “Lesson 3: The Intellectual Ambiguities of Contemporary Culture,” Philosophy for Theologians, Lecture Notes, International Catholic University, http://home.comcast.net/~icuweb/c02803.htm, accessed 10 May 2010.

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] Pope John Paul II, Fides et Ratio (Boston, MA: Pauline, 1998), 14, 111.

[vii] Ibid., 30, 49, 81, 82.

[viii] Ibid., 102-104.

[ix] Ibid., 125-126.

Bibliography

Ashley, Benedict M.  “Lecture 3: Why Theology Has Difficulty with Modern Philosophy,” Philosophy for Theologians, DVD, International Catholic University, 2005.

——.  “Lesson 3: The Intellectual Ambiguities of Contemporary Culture,” Philosophy for Theologians, Lecture Notes, International Catholic University, http://home.comcast.net/~icuweb/c02803.htm, accessed 10 May 2010.

Benedict XVI, On St. Thomas Aquinas, Zenit.org, http://www.zenit.org/article-29447?l=english, accessed 2 June 2010.

De Letter, P.  “Theology, Influence of Greek Philosophy On.”  New Catholic Encyclopedia, 2nd Edition, Volume 13.  Farmington Hills, MI: Gale, 2003.

John Paul II.  Fides et Ratio.  Boston, MA: Pauline, 1998.

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