Sunday, 17 April 2011

St. Thomas' Five Ways To Prove The Existence of God

The nice thing about organized religion as opposed to disorganized religion is that the former at least tries to be objective and rational, whereas the latter is unashamedly biased and uninterested in rational and empirical proofs. Indeed, they prefer emotional proofs; a crude mysticism appeals to what we might call the ‘disordered religious mind.’ 

            St. Thomas comes to the front during the High Middle Ages, doing much to eradicate excessive forms of mysticism and rationalism, via Aristotle’s logic, but also his empiricism. It was a huge task; it was upon him to synthesize the entire Christian religion through the Aristotelian philosophy. Prior to St. Thomas of Aquino, no one had really fielded a sound theological theory based on Aristotle. The Church was still meddling with various forms of Platonism and Augustinian philosophy.

            St. Thomas, wasn’t so much innovating anything new, rather he was taking very old concepts from the Greeks and hackneying them out for Parisian scholasticists, on the field of Catholic theology. The concept of a necessary being goes back to the pre- Socratics. However, this old game gets a second wind with St. Thomas.

            Using the Aristotle’s organon and his philosophy of causes, St. Thomas crafts an argument which is popularly called ‘The Five Ways.’ It seems to be a single argument, one of causation; however, it’s five ways to prove that God exists, i.e. that God is a necessary being. Again, it proves ‘that God is’ not ‘what God is;’ these arguments do nothing to prove the existence of the Christian God, beyond that God is a single being as opposed to multiple gods, which Christianity professes to be the case. 

            The ‘first way’ to prove the necessary existence of God is the argument from motion. We know empirically that some things are in motion, and according to Aristotle things move when ‘potentiality’ of movement becomes ‘actuality.’ That is to say, wherever [X] causes [Y] to be f, it is because [X] is actually f and [Y] has the potentiality to be f. So, as the scholasticists would say, only something which is motion in the ‘act’ can cause something potentially in motion to be actually in motion. Further, nothing can be both in potentiality and actuality in the same instant, in the same way, and because of this nothing can move itself. Therefore, anything that is in motion was put into motion, or moved, by something else. That pattern of moving, or more specifically the pattern of ‘being caused to move’ can’t go on infinitely; that is an impossibility for obvious reasons. These premises, if true, necessitate an ‘unmoved mover,’ as I believe Aristotle termed it, a being that was not put into motion by anything and yet causes all things to be in motion. This necessary being St. Thomas asserts is understood by everyone to be God. 

            The ‘second way’ is constructed in a nearly identical fashion to that of the ‘first way’ and deals with efficient causes. However, because of the similitude of the arguments it is superfluous to demonstrate the argument. So, I will simply proceed to the Dumb Ox’s (St. Thomas) ‘third way.’

            The ‘third way’ to prove that God is a ‘necessary being’ is said to be a reductio argument. The argument begins by pointing out that ‘contingent beings’ are evident in nature, i.e. such beings as do not necessarily exist. In point of fact, this would include all beings that we are empirically aware of, and St. Thomas asserts this fact. Now, for each contingent being that exists, there is a time in which it does not exist (which is better to say than a time in which it did not exist). So, it is impossible for these contingent beings to always exist. For instance, we can look at the extinction and destruction of individual and particular contingent things, and discern the possibility of the same for all contingent things. Therefore, it is plausible that there was a time when no contingent things existed. Hence, there would have been nothing to bring contingent things into existence and if that were the case, then nothing would exist. However, this is absurd and a contradiction, the argument has been reduced to its most absurd point. So, it cannot be that every being is a contingent being, because it leads to a contradiction. In this we see, and St. Thomas would say that we know, that there is such a being that exists which is necessary, that is not caused to be by anything, but causes all things to be. This necessary being, St. Thomas asserts is God. 

            The ‘fourth way’ to prove the necessary existence of God is an argument of gradation. It is perhaps the simplest of the arguments which might be called ‘convincing,’ and it starts off by simply pointing out that some things are better and worse than others. In order to denote degrees of ‘better’ and ‘worse’ when talking about beings, with any validity, it is necessary to have a concept of the most extreme example. The most extreme case is the teleological cause of things which are the same. Apply this principle to ‘perfection’ and ‘being,’ and it follows necessarily that there is a primary cause of all things perfect, and all things that have being. This necessary being, St. Thomas’ asserts, is called God.

            The ‘fifth’ way is the least convincing argument and most subjective, or at least I find it to be so, and it does not interest me in the slightest. So, I will not hazard an explanation of the fifth argument, other than that it is an argument from design.      

"Every art and every inquiry, and similarly every action and choice, is thought to aim at some good; and for this reason the good has rightly been declared to be that at which all things aim." ~Aristotle~

Saturday, 9 April 2011

On Atheism

I rather admire a certain kind of atheism. The atheism I admire is dissimilar to this 'fad-atheism' you see so many people claiming nowadays. The fad atheist is usually a stupid person, to be sure; they become atheists simply because they are impudent by nature and don't like being told what to do by anyone or anything. Or they become atheists because it is a way to rebel, or they think it will convince everyone that they are smart. This sort of person is lead about by their mediocrity, and seize upon with dull minds the genuine thoughts and sound questions philosophized by people of greater intellect. They have a terrible flaw, that most people would argue afflicts all people; they very willing and are even wont to accept and state as fact that which is not proven, or that which proves nothing, and even in some case willing to do the same for things which are quite simply false.

The famous logician Bertrand Russell, who was one of the greatest minds of the 20th century even had this flaw. In his history of western philosophy he stated that the Ephesians transformed 'Diana of the Ephesians' into the Virgin Mary, citing that Ephesus was the very place in which the title "Mother of God" was ratified by the Church. This a man who transformed philosophy and logic, a brilliant mathematician, and a historian, no less. Yet here he makes the most flippant and obvious of mistakes. Had he stated that Mary replaced Diana he would have been correct, in point of fact. The goddess Diana was completely done away with and another female took her place in the attention of the Ephesians, one who was not divine, one who did not require or demand worship, indeed one who was not to be adored. So dissimilar are the two cults and their objects and functions that there can be no confusion on the matter. The one was a cult of adoration addressed to a nature goddess, and the other was a cult of imitation, that of perfect obedience to God, whose object was a mortal woman.

Even further, what were the Ephesians doing? Were they indeed transforming Diana? Or were they not doing what they expressly stated they were doing and intended to do? Namely, to eradicate Diana, and divert their attention to a real and different object, a more pious example? Even if the Christian religion is as much myth as the Greek religion, we certainly know the latter to be the case; and the former is patently false, even defamatory. Aside from all this, it is no small thing to note that it was in Ephesus that Mary lived for a time, and the place can still be visited today. Yet, in spite of all this, and in spite of the considerable powers of intellect which were Bertrand's and his proficiencies in history, he makes a comment with such 'matter of fact' certitude that one must conclude he prefers what he desires to be true so strongly that he abandons fact. Even the atheist can see that what he says is not the case; and yet while I strain to think of another man in our own time who was or is as brilliant as Bertrand was, here he is with his back turned on truth.

And there are other such cases, especially when atheists try to debunk various pious stories. For instance, I saw one man try to replicate the miracle of St. Anthony where he went from reading scripture at the lectern and then instantly was in the choir loft singing. This man tried over and over to say that St. Anthony ran so fast that no one saw him and jumped to his station in the choir loft perhaps 18 ft. above the congregation, and then proceeded to try himself repeatedly. Complete stupidity, that man's idea and his actions. Can you imagine the stammering, bald, bespectacled man, running from the lectern trying to just 18 ft. in the air, until he was disheveled and sweat, his comb-over a muck. Either what was is said to have happened actually happened or it didn't happen at all. Both the atheist and the theist alike can point and laugh at these sort of fellows.

This flaw I was speaking of is all too common amongst fad atheists, and even sincere one's are susceptible to it. Perhaps, though, more ridiculous is the common insistence of fad atheists that you cannot disprove a negative. These atheist cocktail party philosophers readily offer this when asked to prove that God doesn't exist. Further, they state that the burden of proof is on the theist to show a God. But this is a stupid argument, because if that were the case then the atheist is stating that the fiduciary void of space cannot be proved. Further, the burden would certainly be upon them to prove that the void cannot be proved under the same set of rules if anyone asked them. That's a ridiculous proposition. And sincere informed atheists do nothing to correct their counterparts, their disciples if you will, when they employ this argument, because they don't mind if the waters are muddied, or the opposition stymied, for the very reason that the confusion might hide any inadequacies in their own, more genuine beliefs.

Also, there is that atheists demand a species of empirical proofs concerning God's existence which do not follow from the description of God. They want something measurable, in a word. But the definition of God is that he is infinite and therefore immeasurable. To demand a quantifiable proof for the existence of God is like demanding to be shown deer toes or chicken lips, otherwise you won't believe in chickens and deer. On this point, I too am an atheist. I am an atheist in so far as I do not believe that there is any quantifiable evidence for the existence of God that comes from His substance, nor for the existence of non-gods. You cannot say," Here is a measurable energy that is God. Here a finger of God. etc..." I do not believe in the existence of a God who is a sum of parts.

And this is the sort of atheism I fancy, namely that I am an atheist insofar that I do not believe in gods that are not God. Similarly, I do not believe in anything 'y' that is not 'y.' The Greeks had these sorts of atheists, if you can call them atheist. Modern atheists like to put their unjust hands all over certain historical figures and claim them for their own camp. A prime example being Epicurus and his Epicureans, the later cult. Only Epicurus wasn't an atheist. In fact, the existence of gods was very instrumental, even concomitant, in conveying his concepts of 'hedonai' (pleasure) and 'ataraxia' (tranquility). Epicurus simply believed that if gods did exist, they didn't have anything to do with us, because they lived in a perfect state beyond anything that can detract from perfect hedonai, one which we can strive to achieve through a pious sort of hedonism. His hedonism focused on higher forms of pleasure such as virtue, sobriety, health, wisdom, etc. By no means did Epicurus devise a philosophy that stated," There are no gods, therefore all morals are subjective. The highest good is whatever makes you feel good." Epicurus wasn't encouraging anyone to slake their thirst for pleasure with sex, gluttony, power, and wine. In fact, Epicurus was a vegetarian who was most amicable and mild in disposition, who believed that prudence was the source of all virtue, and therefore lived by a strict rule of moderation, abstinence from bodily pleasures, and deep friendship. This prompted him to devise his 'hedonistic calculus' which is similar to the 'approach-avoidance' conflict we see used in modern psychology today. I won't tarry too long on Epicurus, for the reason that this letter isn't about Epicurus.

However, Epicurus' philosophy was so similar to Christianity, that all the Epicureans converted to Christianity. They were very good ones, too. In fact, they played a role, I am told by an atheist analytic philosopher, in the establishment and popularity of monasticism, employing their commune style of life in their obedience to the Gospel. Not much survives of Epicurus' works, but even a cursory reading of his works will reveal to the inquirer numerous and undeniable parallels to Christianity. Epicurus and many of his fellow countrymen took up this form of atheism; we shall call it atheism since the atheists are so keen to call them atheists. They denied the Greek gods because there was nothing divine in them beyond their immortality, strengths and skills. They were bereft of any unwavering sort of virtue and displayed a horrendous vicissitude in character. It was obvious to any self respecting and educated Greek that these myths were myths in fact. And so, many of them devoted themselves to philosophy and the sciences, which at the time were mostly one and the same. It was an easy thing to do with Aristotle available to those who valued more highly the empirical proofs, if they could not be bothered with deities at all. And for those who simply could not be bothered with myths and valued reason, yet retained their piety, Plato was available to them as well. And there were many others as well, to whom the Greek could resort to in lieu of patronizing these inadequate Greek gods, so-called.

As time went on, a highly defined concept of what 'the good' must be was formed by the Greeks, by atheists and theists alike. They determined what God must look like, if he does exist, what characteristics would be necessary. Greek philosophers articulated vast and concise works on virtue and ethics, metaphysics and the like. Hereby, the Greeks made themselves ready to recognize God at his first appearance, should He appear. So, these toga clad philosophers and their rich boy patrons went on honing their powers of perceptive intellect. As a rule, these men knew they were worshiping something other than the thing which was named, and were content to observe holidays and various feast and other pieties.                

It's not that they gave up on the notion of God, rather they gave up on the notion of gods which are necessarily false... or tried to in one fashion or another. Then, from the east came the Christ cult and the Hebrew God, who fit their ideas almost perfectly, like carts to horses. And these atheists were suddenly atheists no more. How could they deny this God who so resembled what they had through science, logic, and philosophy become aware of, when they had unto death defended their ideas concerning the same? The old gods could no more remain than darkness can remain when light is cast.

That's the big disconnect between the men atheists call their fathers and the atheists themselves. Generation after generation of Greek philosophers and intellectuals held fast to philosophies propounded by the greatest amongst them: Aristotle, Socrates, Plato and many others. They had every reason to reject the superstitions of their countrymen, but none to reject God himself. In a strange species of silence, they held their peace for a long time waiting for 'The Perfect' to appear. Yet, modern atheists, especially fad atheists, reject all notions of God. However, because of the philosophical nature of Christianity, it is known as the most logical of all religions. This, perhaps, is why atheists spend such great amount of time refuting Christianity as opposed to other forms of religious belief. And to be perfectly frank, it is why atheists bait and debate Protestant fearmongers who are afraid of philosophy and science... instead of debating Catholics and Orthodox who are well armed with philosophy. A very childish and cheap tactic aimed at soothing themselves.

In fact, Christianity itself is the sole continuance of philosophy, or at least western philosophy. The point of all this is that there is an impudent and juvenile form of atheism, and there is a truly preparatory and enlightened version of atheism; one that makes the soul ready. One cannot divorce theology from philosophy. It is something that remains till this day. There exists therefore a sort of rational atheism, short lived, which is ever ready to embrace God. However, these 'pure empiricists' as they call themselves are completely irrational, and wouldn't countenance a proof for the number two if you asked them to, if they really knew the implications of their professed beliefs.

"Every art and every inquiry, and similarly every action and choice, is thought to aim at some good; and for this reason the good has rightly been declared to be that at which all things aim." ~Aristotle~

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

St. Anselm's Ontological Argument

The buzz on the interwebs these days amongst lay people in religion forums where theists and atheists clash is what many people are calling "The Ontological Argument" which is in fact 'The Cosmological Argument.' It states that creation exists and therefore something caused it to exist, that 'cause' would be reasonably defined as God, i.e. an uncreated creator who is not temporally or spatially conditioned, and who is all powerful over creation (omnipotent and omnipresent). They are right to call this an ontological argument because, it deals with the existence of creation and God; and ontology is the study of being.

The great irony here is that the theist is taking up the side of rationalism and the atheist is taking up the side of empiricism. That's ironic, of course, because the claim leveled against theists by atheists is that they are irrational. The atheist is denying the existence of 'The Cause' because there is no empirical evidence of that 'Cause,' whereas the theist approaches the issue rationally like an algebraic equation where P= 1. The atheist's view states that all knowledge must come from experiencing what is, and the theist's view is quite the opposite and states that it isn't necessary to import any information about the universe in order to know something. For instance, if we say that 1=1 we know it to be true, and if we say 1<1 we know it to be false because it must be itself. But if we say 1<?, then we know that the latter two propositions cannot be the case and we know that any number less that 1 cannot be the case, and so by making an assumption, proving a contradiction, and ejecting it we know that there is such a number that is at least greater than one: 1<2. This is how we know that there are an infinite amount of numbers without having counted them all, because we can assume, show a contradiction and eject using the rational approach which doesn't import any premise found in the empirical universe. And further proof of that is, we can conceive of a number that is larger than any amount of anything in the universe, which exceeds tangible proofs.    

However, the ontological argument that stands out in philosophical circles is St. Anselm's Ontological Argument for the existence of God, or 'The Perfect.' Instead of using something which may be reasonably perceived as caused (creation itself) as a proof for God's existence, it offers a rational proof for the existence of God after the same manner of mathematics, and it goes like this (df means same as):

1.) The Perfect = df Something other than which nothing greater can be conceived.
2.) The Perfect = The Perfect = df (X=X)
 /.: 3.) The Perfect cannot be conceived not to be.

Now, the average person will say," That is a load of crap. I could replace God or 'The Perfect' with a Unicorn and prove the existence of unicorns, square circles, a number which is both greater and less than one, and I can prove the existence of men who are women." Not so. This is because 'The Perfect' necessarily exists according to the definition of 'The Perfect' and is therefore a necessary being, whereas unicorns and the other things are contingent. I'll show you what I mean.

The above argument, the three premises, are predicated by the description of 'The Perfect' in St. Anselm's 'Proslogion II." It states that:

1.) 'The Perfect' has all positive properties. (This is because evil is a lack of something and not the presence of anything. Therefore, to have negative qualities would delimit anything perfect, even in a mathematical sense, but to be sure, also in an ethical, moral, and substantial sense. Thus, 'The Perfect' would not be perfect if it had negative qualities. So it's necessary for 'The Perfect' to have all positive qualities.)
2.) Existence is one such property.
/.: 3.) 'The Perfect' exists.

We cannot conceive of a thing such as 'The Perfect' that does not exist, because existence itself is necessary to formulating the concept of 'The Perfect.' Such a necessary being might represent X. Now, if we conceive of the selfsame being that is contingent, and say it is also X, then we have a contradiction, and the conception is necessarily false, because a thing cannot exist as a necessary being and a contingent being at once. This is because a contingent being can fail to exist, but a necessary being cannot fail to exist. It must be one or the other.

So, we can certainly conceive of such a unicorn that exists and we can conceive one that does not exist, because it is not necessary that unicorns exist for us to conceive of them accurately. But in order to accurately conceive of 'The Perfect' it is necessary to conceive of it existing, otherwise it is not itself. This is because 'The Perfect' is something other than which none greater can be conceived, and that being the case if we conceived of something other than which none greater can be conceived that did not exist, it would be less than something other than which none greater can be conceived that does exist. So, it is impossible to conceive of God not existing and have an accurate conception of Him because (X =X). That is not the case with unicorns, men who are women, square circles or the like.

Human beings are rational creatures, and one of the things that predicates reason in a being is its ability to distinguish between true statements and contradictions. Every person knows that (p=/=p) is a contradiction precisely because they have reason. However, the atheist thinks that he can conceive of 'The Perfect' not existing, which is a contradiction and necessarily false; it's unintelligible to even say. It only becomes intelligible if his conception is not identical to 'The Perfect,' in which case he still hasn't dismissed God but a non-God, and therefore the assertion is still nonsense and unintelligible. Again, this is because a being that must exist is greater than a being that can exist and not exist.

The most immediate and common atheistic reply to this argument comes from 'Positivism' which is basically empiricism. The atheist would reply," Very clever, but it's an empty concept. You have no empirical evidence of such a being and even if you could make contact with such a being you would have no way to prove it to be what it is because it is infinite, and likewise we atheists would have no way of disproving it because it is immeasurable."

However, this approach is problematic, because of two little words: good and bad. If you take this approach that states 'only that which is empirical has meaning', it follows necessarily that good and bad are also rejected, or at least diminished to a merely emotional value.

At that point the whole subject of ethics disappears. Saying that rape, murder, or genocide are bad, or that philanthropy, volunteering, and nurture are good becomes a mere expression of emotions, with absolutely no substance. Subjects aren't good or bad, they don't have positive or negative properties, you are merely projecting your emotions (which mean nothing) onto things which themselves have no intrinsic value (everything is worthless). So, ethics and morals become meaningless subjective nonsense under the lens of 'Positivism,' because 'Positivism' is empirical and excludes reason; and a 'do what thou whilt' attitude sets in. Rationalism is diametrically opposed to 'Positivism' because, rationalism states that sentient beings do have intrinsic value, and that because of this there are concrete morals and ethics, and an attitude of 'lawfulness' takes root.   

So, the atheist empiricist comes off rather badly from this argument, because he is a fool for thinking he can conceive of what cannot be conceived and insists on a contradiction that is necessarily false, while admitting that he does not believe in morals or ethics, and that he believes nothing has any meaning and everything is worthless. On the other hand, the theist rationalist comes off rather well. He asserts what is necessarily so, gives assent to ethics and morals, and states that sentient beings do have intrinsic value.

This argument really pulls the atheist's pants down, and shows him to be in fact the opposite of what he wants to seem. He desires to seem a courageous, hyper-rational stoic who is brave enough to face the nothing that the theist is so afraid of he goes and makes 'an imaginary friend in the sky'. Because of this he would have people think that he is the moral and intellectual superior of the theist, because he makes himself seem braver and more rational. When in fact the atheist doesn't believe in any kind of real courage, because he doesn't believe in virtues, ethics or morals; and beyond this, he isn't the intellectual superior in any case because he gives assent to that which cannot be logically admitted... which of course makes him seem rather stupid.

Anyway, that's St. Anselm's Ontological Argument.              

"Every art and every inquiry, and similarly every action and choice, is thought to aim at some good; and for this reason the good has rightly been declared to be that at which all things aim." ~Aristotle~

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Augustine vs. Messianics

"The trouble was that I knew nothing else; I did not recognize the other, true reality. I was being subtly maneuvered into accepting the views of those stupid deceivers by the questions they constantly asked me about the origins of evil, and whether God was confined to material form with hair and nails, and whether people who practiced polygamy. killed human beings, and offered animal sacrifices could be counted as righteous. Being ignorant of these matters I was very disturbed by the questions, and supposed that I was approaching the truth when in fact I was moving away from it. I did not know that evil is the diminishment of good to the point where nothing at all is left. How could I see that, I whose power of sight was restricted to seeing material shapes with my eyes and imaginary forms with my mind?...." (This is exactly what Messianic are do through their proselytization, except in reverse, because they call into question Christian liberty through the application of the Law of Moses.)

"... I did not know either that true inward righteousness takes as its criterion not customs but the most righteous law of God, by which the morality of countries and times was formed as appropriate to those countries and times, while God's law itself has remained unchanged everywhere and always, not one thing in one place and something different elsewhere. By this norm Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David and all those of whom God spoke approvingly were indeed righteous; they are accounted guilt only by persons of limited experience who judge by some day of human reckoning and measure the conduct of the human race at large by the standard that befits their own. They are like someone who knows nothing about armor, or which piece belongs where, and tries to cover his head with the greaves and his feet with the helmet, and then grumbles because they do not fit properly. Or again, they are like a man who on a certain day which is appointed a public holiday from noon onward is indignant because he is not allowed to set out his goods for sale in the afternoon, although this was allowed in the morning; or like a person who in one and the same house sees something being handled by one servant which another one, who serves drinks, is not allowed to touch, or something being done behind the stables which is not properly done at table, and gets angry about this, complaining because, while there is one house and one staff of servants, the same actions are not permitted to everybody in all places." (This is the great disconnect between Messianics and the rest of Christendom. They struggle with reconciling the vicissitude (changing) of laws, rules, and statutes throughout the ages with the constancy of God's nature. They are missing the philosophical and theological links)

"Equally foolish are people who grow indignant on hearing that some practice was allowed to righteous people in earlier ages which is forbidden to the righteous of our own day, and that God laid down one rule for the former and a different one for the latter, as the difference between the two periods of time demands; whereas in fact both sets of people have been subject to the same norm of righteousness. This attitude is just as stupid as being upset because, with regard to a single man or a single day or a single house, one perceives different pieces of armour to be designed for different limbs, and an activity to be lawful to a certain hour but not afterward, and something to be permitted or even ordered in a corner but forbidden and punished elsewhere. Does this mean that justice is fickle and changeable? No, but the epochs over which she rules do not all unfold in the same way, precisely because times change. Human beings live on earth for a brief span only, and they lack the discernment to bring the conditions of earlier ages, of which they have no experience, into the same frame of reference with those they know well; but they can easily perceive in one body or one day or one house what is appropriate for each limb, each time, and all persons and places. Thus while they may be scandalized by the one, they readily submit to the other." (This is exactly what the Messianics are doing, only in reverse, because they are trying to live in the past.)   

"Every art and every inquiry, and similarly every action and choice, is thought to aim at some good; and for this reason the good has rightly been declared to be that at which all things aim." ~Aristotle~