Could an Evil God Exist? Thoughts on Classical Theism and Definitions of God

The week before last I reviewed the book An Atheist and a Christian Walk into a Bar, coauthored by theist Randal Rauser and atheist Justin Schieber. Once again I must reiterate that it is really quite an important book, in terms of its unique approach to dialoguing such matters. I do highly recommend giving it a read.

In the book, both Rauser and Schieber give several arguments each for their respective positions, which they then proceed to discuss together. Both focus on evidential arguments that are fairly representative of typical contemporary philosophy of religion. In this post, I want to discuss one part of their discussion that I found problematic. Continue reading

Reading Aristotle: Physics 1.8: Essential and Accidental Change

In Physics 1.7, Aristotle determined the “number and nature” of the principles of nature. In chapter eight, the penultimate chapter of book one, he discusses the “error” of previous thinkers in denying the reality of change.

“We will no proceed to show that the difficulty of the early thinkers, as well as our own, is solved in this way alone. The first of those who studied science were misled in their search for the truth and the nature of things by their inexperience, which as it were thrust them into another path. So they say that none of the things that are either comes to be or passes out of existence, because what comes to be must do so either from what is or from what is not, both of which are impossible. For what is cannot come to be (because it is already), and from what is not nothing could have come to be (because something must be present as a substratum). So too they exaggerated the consequence of this, and went so far as to deny even the existence of a plurality of things, maintaining that only Being itself is. Such then was their opinion, and such the reason for its adoption” (Physics 1.8, 191a23-33) [1]

I find the history of philosophical/intellectual development fascinating, almost as fascinating as the philosophical content on its own. The emergence of early Greek philosophy is quite unprecedented in history, and unsurpassable in its significance and influence. The early Greek philosophers were attempting to understand the natural world in which they found themselves, and they were doing so by searching for the “principles” of nature, the explanation of why things were/happened the way they did. This led some of them to adopt quite radical positions. Aristotle, throughout much of the Physics and the rest of his works, takes a sharp and definitive stand of disagreement against these prior philosophers, but here he at least admits a sympathetic understanding of how they went astray. They were, he suggests, “misled . . . by their inexperience”, which is not surprising, considering that they were literally the trail blazers of all western science and philosophy. But, whether or not their error is understandable or not, it still remains error, and it is to this that Aristotle offers his response. Continue reading

Outlined Version of the Degrees of Perfection Argument

Here is an outlined version of Aquinas’s Argument from Degrees of Perfection for the existence of God, also known as the Fourth Way. This is just an outline. The full series of articles can be found here, here, here and here. Refer to those for the whole, in depth explanations and defenses of the various premises.

The argument itself:

  1. In each class of existing things, there is a possible hierarchy of degrees of perfection in terms of transcendental qualities such as being, goodness, and perfection.
  2. The entire set of all classes of all existing things likewise creates a hierarchy of all being in terms of those same transcendental qualities.
  3. Every being that has these transcendental qualities (being, goodness, perfection) has them as either intrinsic to/identical with their essence, or else derives them from some external source.
  4. The fact that there is such a hierarchy of being, with each level of qualitative existence containing a higher or lower gradation of degrees of perfection, makes it impossible that these beings could have the transcendental qualities as intrinsic to or identical with their essence.
  5. Thus, each finite being must have their transcendental qualities by participation, meaning that they derive them from some external source.
  6. Either the finite being will derive its transcendental qualities directly from a being which has these qualities essentially, or else it will derive them from a being which likewise has them only be participation
  7. To derive transcendental qualities from an external source constitutes an essentially ordered causal series.
  8. Hence, if a finite being derives its transcendental qualities externally from another being which has the qualities only by participation, there will be an essentially ordered causal series.
  9. Essentially ordered causal series cannot have an infinite or circular regress, and must terminate in some first cause.
  10. Therefore, there must be some first cause of all finite beings (beings which have their transcendental qualities only by participation), and this first cause must have the transcendental qualities essentially.
  11. A being which has the transcendental causes essentially will be identical to the transcendental qualities, i.e. will be Being Itself, Goodness Itself, Perfection Itself, etc.
  12. This Being will also be One, and will be Pure Act, thus making it immaterial, timeless, eternal, immutable, and personal (having intellect and will).
  13. This Being we can rightly call God.

Review: An Atheist and a Christian Walk into a Bar

Note: This review will also be posted on Amazon. I was given this book by the publishers as a review copy.

If you’ve ever attempted any sort of discussion concerning a “serious” subject (politics, religion, ethics, etc.), you’re probably aware of how frustrating such an endeavor tends to be. Sure, the conversation can usually start out politely enough, but as things get on they (seem) to almost always rapidly deteriorate to heated emotionalism, unchecked biases, ungrounded assertions, flagrant name-calling, unwillingness to actually engage, etc., etc., with the result that both participants go home feeling a good deal more self-superior, and a good deal more dismissive of the other, but nowhere nearer to the actual truth.

The human propensity for rational inquiry is quite astounding. So, however, is its corollary: the human propensity for disagreement. Part of the whole dilemma of the process of human reasoning is how to come to grips with the fact that very often, very many people disagree with us about topics which are extremely significant. Even more, very often the people who do disagree with us are people who are very intelligent in their own right, and seem to have very good reasons for disagreeing with us. Is rationality thus futile, if it leads us to such wildly disparate conclusions?

This, it seems to me, is really the central question of An Atheist and a Christian Walk into a Bar, Continue reading

Aquinas’s Argument from Degrees of Perfection Part 4: Conclusion

This is the fourth and final post in our series examining Aquinas’s Fourth Way, or the Argument from Degrees of Perfection for the existence of God. In the previous part, we looked at a common Platonic misinterpretation of the argument; then we delved into the argument itself. Here we shall more fully explain what was presented before, as well as conclude the argument and answer a few lingering questions.

To begin, I think it will be useful to examine certain objections that might arise, since doing so will prepare us to grasp a fuller understanding of the argument itself. Surprisingly, despite its relative obscurity and philosophical technicality, the argument is treated in Richard Dawkins’s infamous The God Delusion. By “treated”, I mean that it receives one entire paragraph. First Dawkins presents his “interpretation” of the argument:

“The Argument from Degree. We notice that things in the world differ. There are degrees of, say, goodness or perfection. But we judge these degrees only by comparison with a maximum. Humans can be both good and bad, so the maximum goodness cannot rest in us. Therefore there must be some other maximum to set the standard for perfection, and we call that maximum God” [1].

In all honesty, I’m not really sure from where Dawkins contrived this bastardization of the Fourth Way, but it certainly wasn’t from St. Thomas himself, or any serious commenter/defender that I’m aware of. What’s much worse, however, is his attempt to “answer” the admittedly horrendous caricature Continue reading

Reading Aristotle: Physics 1.7: The Principles of Nature

In Physics 1.6, Aristotle established that the number of fundamental principles of nature must be three. He begins 1.7:

“We will now give our own account, approaching the question first with reference to becoming in its widest sense: for we shall be following the natural order of inquiry if we speak first of common characteristics, and then investigate the characteristics of special cases” (Physics 1.7, 189b30-32) [1].

Since he is searching for the underlying principles of nature, and since “nature” itself to Aristotle is the principle of motion of things–“a source or cause of being moved and of being at rest in that to which it belongs primarily” (2.1, 192b22-23) [2]–then to understand the underlying principles themselves we must examine the motion of things. And so here he states that he will consider “becoming in its widest sense”, as it applies to all things commonly, before then investigating individual cases. Continue reading

Aquinas’s Argument from Degrees of Perfection Part 3: Hierarchy of Being

In the first post in this series on Aquinas’s Fourth Way, we compared his Argument from Degrees of Perfection to modern moral arguments, showing that the latter are based on the assumption of a “fact/value” distinction in nature, which is completely antithetical to Aquinas’s own view. In the second, we explored the classical understanding of “the good” as being based objectively in the very structure of reality itself; and then introduced the doctrine of “the Transcendentals”, which argues that there are certain transcending properties of all existing things that are over and above all categories, classes, aspects, and individuals. These are being, goodness, truth, and unity. In this post, we will present the argument itself. Continue reading