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What God Is and Isn’t

Experience of God

The most signal contribution of David Bentley Hart's new book, The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, and Bliss (Yale University Press, 2013), is to clarify that serious theists and atheists, though they debate frequently concerning the reality of God, are hardly ever using the word "God" in the same way. This fundamental equivocation contributes massively to the pointlessness and meanness of many of these discussions.

It is not so much that Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins disagree with Thomas Aquinas on the existence of God; it is that neither Hitchens nor Dawkins display any real grasp of what Aquinas even means when he speaks of God.

To a person, the new atheists hold that God is some being in the world, the maximum instance, if you want, of the category of "being." But this is precisely what Aquinas and serious thinkers in all of the great theistic traditions hold that God is not. Thomas explicitly states that God is not in any genus, including that most generic genus of all, namely being. He is not one thing or individual—however supreme—among many. Rather, God is, in Aquinas's pithy Latin phrase, esse ipsum subsistens, the sheer act of being itself.

It might be helpful here to distinguish God from the gods. For the ancient Greeks and Romans, for example, the gods were exalted, immortal, and especially powerful versions of ordinary human beings. They were, if you will, quantitatively but not qualitatively different from regular people. They were impressive denizens of the natural world, but they were not, strictly speaking, supernatural. But God is not a supreme item within the universe or alongside of it; rather, God is the sheer ocean of being from whose fullness the universe in its entirety exists.

It is absolutely right to say that the advance of the modern physical sciences has eliminated the gods. Having explored the depths of the oceans and the tops of the mountains and even the skies that surround the planet, we have not encountered any of these supreme beings. Furthermore, the myriad natural causes, uncovered by physics, chemistry, biology, etc. are more than sufficient to explain any of the phenomena within the natural realm. But the physical sciences, no matter how advanced they might become, can never eliminate God, for God is not a being within the natural order. Instead, he is the reason why there is that nexus of conditioned causes that we call nature—at all.

The Russian cosmonaut from the 1950's who, having pierced the heavens, confidently asserted, "I have found no God," was speaking so much nonsense, though he would have been right had he changed the "G" from upper case to lower. This is why the New Atheists and their many disciples are committing a category mistake when they confidently assert that scientific advances cause religion to retreat onto ever-shrinking intellectual turf or when they stridently challenge religious people to produce "evidence" for God.

So how do we get at the true God? Hart clarifies that real religion begins with a particular type of wonder, namely, the puzzle that things should be at all. We are surrounded on all sides by things that exist but that don't have to exist. The computer on which I am typing these words indeed exists, but its existence is not self-explanatory, for it depends on a whole range of causes, both extrinsic and intrinsic. It exists only because an army of manufacturers, designers, technicians, etc. put it together and only because its molecular, atomic, and sub-atomic structure sustains it. Furthermore, it is situated in an environment that conditions it in numberless ways. The technical philosophical term for this caused and conditioned existence is "contingency."

Now a moment's meditation reveals that all of the conditioning elements that I mentioned are themselves, in similar ways, contingent. They don't explain their existence any more than the computer does. Therefore, unless we permanently postpone the explanation, we have to come, by logical deduction, to some reality which is not contingent and whose very nature is to exist. This power of Being itself, which explains and determines all the contingent things or our ordinary experience, is what serious theists of all of the great religious traditions mean by the word "God." I fully realize, of course, that the vast majority of religious believers wouldn't say that their faith in God is a function of this sort of philosophical demonstration. Nevertheless, they are intuiting what the argument makes explicit.

When I engage the critics of religion who take pride in the rigor of their rationalism, I often tell them that, though they are willing to ask and answer all sorts of questions about reality, they become radically uncurious, irrational even, just when the most interesting question of all is posed: why is there something rather than nothing? Why should the universe exist at all?

David Bentley Hart's book helps us to see that the question of God—the true God—remains the most beguiling of all.

Bishop Robert Barron

Written by

Bishop Robert Barron is Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. He is an acclaimed author, speaker, and theologian. He’s America’s first podcasting priest and one of the world’s most innovative teachers of Catholicism. His global, non-profit media ministry called Word On Fire reaches millions of people by utilizing new media to draw people into or back to the Faith. Bishop Barron is also the creator and host of CATHOLICISM, a groundbreaking, 10-part documentary series and study program about the Catholic Faith. He is the author of several books including Thomas Aquinas: Spiritual Master (Crossroad, 2008); The Strangest Way: Walking the Christian Path (Orbis, 2002); and Catholicism: A Journey to the Heart of the Faith (Image, 2011). Find more of his writing and videos at WordOnFire.org.

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  • Sqrat

    God is the sheer ocean of being from whose fullness the universe in its entirety exists.

    I have no idea what this means, but whatever it means, wouldn't it make sense to call it "the sheer ocean of being from whose fullness the universe in its entirety exists" rather than "God," and to stop referring to it as "he"?

    Why should the universe exist at all?

    I would ask Father Barron whether he thinks the question, "How did the universe come to be?" is the same question he asks, or a different one.

    • "I would ask Father Barron whether he thinks the question, "How did the universe come to be?" is the same question he asks, or a different one."

      I can't respond for him, but I can offer my own reply: these are two very different questions. "How" and "why" questions are distinct even in our own day-to-day experience.

      For example, wouldn't you agree that asking "How did you kill that man?" is a very different question than "Why did you kill that man?"

      • Sqrat

        That is my reading also. Of course, to ask "Why does the universe exist?" is to assume that there's some kind of teleology behind it. It seems to me that it would be better,methodologically, not to make such an assumption.

        • Assuming that the universe doesn't have a reason for its existence is to either 1) believe it was created without cause or 2) believe that we shouldn't concern ourselves with the universe's existence.

          Which do you embrace and why?

          • Brandon, I see where your (1) comes from, but don't see how (2) fits in. Could you explain or rephrase? Thanks.

          • Sure. Perhaps I can rephrase my question in the form of two separate questions:

            1) Does the universe *have* to exist (i.e. is it impossible for it *not* exist)?

            2) If you think it *has* to exist, what reasons do you have to support this? If you think it *doesn't* have to exist, then you must answer (or at least be concerned with) the question which naturally follows: why does the universe exist?

          • thanks

          • Tim Dacey

            Brandon watch this interview of W.V.O Quine and you will see a strong case that questions like 'why does the universe exist?" are pseudo questions.

            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1iZvycU3I9w

            I'd be interested in seeing how you would respond to Quine who thinks that most (all?) metaphysical questions are meaningless and should be abandoned all together. I thought he was right at one time, but (as a Christian) I now think he is wrong. Ironically, Quine's view that 'most (all?) metaphysical questions are meaningless and should be abandoned all together" seems to be itself a metaphysical view.

            Sqrat:

            "I have no idea what this means, but whatever it means, wouldn't it make sense to call it "the sheer ocean of being from whose fullness the universe in its entirety exists" rather than "God," and to stop referring to it as "he"?"

            I have no idea what you mean. You're still referring to some sort of transcendent being but you resist on calling that being God(?)

          • Danny Getchell

            I now think he is wrong.

            I think that Quine is wrong to the extent that metaphysical questions are not meaningless when one is talking about intangible concepts. However, when talking about the physical world, only materialist analysis is appropriate.

            Ironically, Quine's view that 'most (all?) metaphysical questions are meaningless and should be abandoned all together" seems to be itself a metaphysical view.

            This is known in apologetics circles as the "Road Runner tactic" (a term popularized by Frank Turek). See a brief discussion here: http://www.thinkatheist.com/forum/topics/the-road-runner-tactic

            You're still referring to some sort of transcendent being but you resist on calling that being God(?)

            In my personal case, I refrain from calling the universe's cause "God" because it would be tiring to have to repeatedly type

            "GodbutbynomeansneccessarilythepersonaltriuneGod-oftheChristianscriptures".

          • English Catholic

            "I think that Quine is wrong to the extent that metaphysical questions are not meaningless when one is talking about intangible concepts. However, when talking about the physical world..."

            You seem to set up a dichotomy between 'intangible concepts' and 'the physical world'. Are you working from the assumption that intangible things exist purely as concepts, and not in reality? (and that therefore all reality is entirely physical?) If so, this would seem to beg the question. But it's possible I've misunderstood.

            "However, when talking about the physical world, only materialist analysis is appropriate."

            Do you mean:-

            1) We must restrict analysis of the physical world to its material aspects;

            2) The physical world is entirely material, so all analysis will necessarily be materialist;

            or something else?

            "This is known in apologetics circles as the "Road Runner tactic" (a term
            popularized by Frank Turek). See a brief discussion here: http://www.thinkatheist.com/fo..."

            I checked the link, but the 'Road Runner' response still seems logically sound to me. I didn't see any arguments against the argument; only a complaint that it's a 'play on words', without any further explanation.

          • Danny Getchell

            (1) Let me use an example I have used here before. I love my wife. Can I measure "love" or store it in a retort? Or even thoroughly define it? Of course not. But if I lovingly collect a bouquet of wildflowers to present her, there are snipped stems in the garden to attest to love's presence.

            In the same way, as long as God does not act within the physical universe, we may discuss his nature and attributes without any appearance of absurdity. But if it is proposed that God interacts with the universe, then the standards of tangible evidence apply.

            (2) The Road Runner tactic succeeds when the skeptic either: unwittingly accepts the apologists assumption (i.e. that there is a knowable absolute truth), or when he fails to take his argument where it leads (for example, Quine might well respond that his statement about meaninglessness itself lacks meaning).

            (3) I guess you see my point on this one??

          • Sqrat

            My understanding is that the "sheer ocean of being" is not "a being", so I would resist calling it "God" for that reason. If, on the other hand, it is a being, but that being is supposedly not a god, then I would resist calling it "God" for that reason.

          • Sqrat

            The universe may or may not have been created, but if it was not created, it certainly does not follow that it does not have a cause.

      • Susan

        For example, wouldn't you agree that asking "How did you kill that man?" is a very different question than "Why did you kill that man?"

        What does human psychology have to do with the existence of a universe?

        • Hegesippus

          Purpose

    • MichaelNewsham

      And don't forget, "the sheer ocean of being from whose fullness the universe in its entirety exists" is really really concerned about you using a condom or two guys getting married.

    • Daniel Maldonado

      The very concept of being, though hard to grasp empirically, is entirely knowable and I think you understand that this concept of being extended to its maximum capacity must necessarily lead to being as an ultimate source.

      God is being, not just the concept, but the source from which all being exists because God is being itself.

    • kuroisekai

      "I have no idea what this means, but whatever it means, wouldn't it make sense to call it "the sheer ocean of being from whose fullness the universe in its entirety exists" rather than "God," and to stop referring to it as "he"?"

      But God is by definition the "the sheer ocean of being from whose fullness the universe in its entirety exists" (regardless whether or not He exists. Just saying that this is the theistic claim). I can rephrase your question to say "I have no idea what this means, but whatever it means, wouldn't it make sense to call it "the fertilized drupe of the plant Cocos nucifera ripened to maturity" rather than "coconut", and stop referring to it as "fruit"?"

  • How is this different from pantheism? Each being is presumably an instance of Being itself, existing for a time in some local space. How can Being Itself not include the universe?

    • Danny Getchell

      Exactly. I really do not have any problem with "God is the sheer ocean of being from whose fullness the universe in its entirety exists." My essentially deist point of view is quite in harmony with this.

      It's when theists try to derive from that defintion God's relationship to human beings, that they have to tighten up the scope quite a bit to where God invariably becomes a Guy in the Sky. That's where they lose me.

    • "How is this different from pantheism?"

      Pantheists believe that everything is God. But Catholics reject this, believing that God is not everything but the pure being on which everything depends for existence. Unlike pantheistic gods, the true God is distinct from his creation.

      • Loreen Lee

        Does that mean that (He)'s also distinct from an Omnibenevolent, Creative Will?

      • What property separates God and the universe? If this property is a property of God, then it's a property of Being itself, and so shouldn't it be instantiated in each being?

        • Hey Paul - I think this is where Aquinas' analogy of being is so crucial, which doesn't limit God to immanence or transcendence, but approaches Him by way of participation, and reflection.

          What you're saying is that if God is Being itself, and has some characteristic that makes him transcendent, shouldn't that characteristic apply to beings as well? But notice that this treats the "Being itself" of God and the being of beings in the world as univocal - the first is the sum or peak of the second, so whatever applies to the first must apply in equal measure to the second. Aquinas doesn't see it this way: instead, we relate to God's Being by way of analogy: we are like him, but we are not equivalent to Him or even on his "plane."

          So I think the answer would be that God's transcendence is not a quality we can possess, any more than his infinite knowledge - but the world and its creatures, especially man, reflect it and participate in it, albeit in a finite, changing way. (See the Catechism, 39-43 for a far better explanation.)

          • What is the difference between using analogies and being vague? It's one thing if Dawkins hasn't done his research and isn't defining God properly. It's another thing if Catholics or other theists have a definition that's so vague it can mean whatever is most convenient for any given situation.

            I'd prefer Richard Dawkins' definition over Robert Barron's and yours. "Being itself, but only by analogy" doesn't seem to be much of a definition at all.

          • Hegesippus

            Concepts, which are difficult to comprehend from our very human, thus limited, experience, are not as simple to explain concretely as very obvious examples.

            It is easier to attack and break down difficult concepts than to explain them. Nevertheless, difficulty in explaining is not an arbiter of truth and reality.

            Rejecting definitions simply because the clear conclusion does not agree with your world-view/philosophical stance is a tactic which will not necessarily lead to said truth and reality but may be more entertaining.

            The reason for rational debate is arguably either reinforcing one's position or seeking greater truth, no matter how personally unpalatable. The latter is surely the correct one.

          • This is a good point. Maybe vague is the best theists can do. The problem then is that further questions become less and less interesting. They cease to get at any meaningful truth.

            If I define God in a way that's also consistent with a turnip, then I can answer "Does God exist?" with "Yes, and he tastes terrible!" But we've not learned any more about truth or reality than before I asked the question.

            In my opinion, if theists want to explore questions of truth or reality and God, they need to provide better definitions than Robert Barron did above. If they can't, then they are already so far from truth or reality that the questions won't help us get any closer.

            In cases such as this, it may be better if we stop wasting our time thinking about whether God exists, and instead start thinking about what the word "God" means, or else to spend our time on something different.

          • Hey Paul - The presumption there is that, in principle, we should be able to make God a Cartesian "clear and distinct" idea, something framed in purely human concepts. I think that's folly and frankly goeth before a fall. This doesn't mean that God is "vague" and means whatever we want God to mean - it simply means reason only gets us so far, and that to an extent, we all stand in darkness together. See my article here on Thursday for a deeper exploration of this strange notion.

          • Hegesippus

            Indeed, Matthew. If God exists, then, by definition, we are the ones who are vague. But it is too easy for us humans to try to pigeon-hole according to our limited abilities and end up looking down the wrong end of the telescope.

      • Sqrat

        Let me see if I can translate that: "But Catholics reject this, believing that pure being is not everything, but is that on which everything that exists depends for its existence. Unlike pantheistic gods, that on which everything depends for existence is distinct from the things whose existence depend on it."

  • Ben Posin

    I saw a lot of similar talk in Joe H's posts on morality. I'm with Sqrat: to the extent that this definition is coherent, it sure does not sound like a conventional God such as Christians seem to worship in practice: one that has a mind, takes part in events, incarnated as Jesus, appeared as a burning bush, cares about the fate of particular people or nations. Why should I attribute wisdom or morality to "the sheer ocean of being from whos fullness the universe in its entirety exists?" Why should I worship it any more than a fish worships the ocean?

    And this seems to directly contradict Genesis. That doesn't read to like God being an "ocean of being," it reads like *a* being which decided to make some stuff, and then was happy with how he did ("saw that it was good").

    Also: loss of 10 points for trying to define God into existence through the "contingency" argument. I can only hope this article was written for some other purpose than this site, as it does not show any familiarity with the fact that the validity of this argument is consistently rejected by the atheists here. We're reaching the point where I think putting articles with such arguments through as if they should be expected to be taken as on their face reasonable by atheists reflects less than favorably on Mr. Vogt .

    • Sqrat

      I saw a lot of similar talk in Joe H's posts on morality.

      As I recall, Joe said something like, "God is not a being, but Being itself," and Father Barron says here, "But God is not a supreme item within the universe or alongside of it."

      Atheism is the general position that "no gods exist," and the particular position that "no supreme being exists." If Father Barron is actually taking the position that no supreme being exists, then it seems to me that he's every bit as much of an atheist as I am.

      • "If Father Barron is actually taking the position that no supreme being exists, then it seems to me that he's every bit as much of an atheist as I am."

        To conclude that Fr. Barron is an atheist when he clearly and explicitly notes that he believes in God is baffling. A theist is someone who believes in God or gods. Fr. Barron obviously fits the bill.

        • Loreen Lee

          I thought someone who believed in gods would be found within the critical censure of the church because this surely would be a kind of pan-theism, or at least multi-theism.

        • Sqrat

          Father Barron presumably doesn't believe in gods. He does believe in God, but he doesn't believe that God is a god, so it's easy to understand why some of his readers might become confused. That's why I suggested that he stop referring to what he believe in as "God". If he did that, wouldn't it be true that he is not "someone who believe in God or gods," hence not a theist?

        • Octavo

          @Brandon Exactly. Additionally, Open Theists and Polytheists don't necessarily think that God is a supreme being, but they're still theists.

        • Danny Getchell

          I think I can agree completely with Father Barron that "God is the sheer ocean of being from whose fullness the universe in its entirety exists."

          So does that make me a theist? I have never thought of myself as one.

        • David Nickol

          To conclude that Fr. Barron is an atheist when he clearly and explicitly notes that he believes in God is baffling.

          It is a little confusing when Fr. Barron says:

          Thomas explicitly states that God is not in any genus, including that most generic genus of all, namely being. . . . But God is not a supreme item within the universe or alongside of it; rather, God is the sheer ocean of being from whose fullness the universe in its entirety exists.

          I am assuming that everyone else was taught, as I was, that God was a "Supreme Being."

          • Sqrat

            I am assuming that everyone else was taught, as I was, that God was a "Supreme Being."

            Yes, I was taught that that's what the word "God" meant. I think I was taught correctly -- I pulled my dictionary down from the shelf and see that it lists as the primary meaning of "God" (capital "G"), "The Supreme Being, the creator and ruler of the universe." It doesn't define God as "the sheer ocean of being from whose fullness the universe in its entirety exists," or anything like that.

          • Raphael

            Use the Catechism in addition to your dictionary.

          • kuroisekai

            Yes, but the dictionary is not a theological document. I can pull down my dictionary, search for "Carbon" and get "The chemical element (symbol C) with an atomic number of 6." but not find that it exists as graphite, diamond, or fullerene in the pure form.

    • Loreen Lee

      Even if I am a contingent being, and it may even be a matter of luck whether or not I make it to the store to buy my groceries, can i still not have it in my mind that it is 'necessary' that I buy some bread, and therefore there is an element of necessary 'being' in my walk to the corner store. As Hegel said: Freedom is the recognition of 'necessity'. I 'believe' it is that aspect of our sapient consciousness that defines us as 'homosapien'. We can 'envision' 'necessity' within our 'being' not just as a logical construct..

    • Danny Getchell

      Why should I worship it any more than a fish worships the ocean?

      Perfect.

      • "Why should I worship it any more than a fish worships the ocean?"

        You do understand analogies, right? Fr. Barron was not equating an ocean with God, he was analogizing.

        • Andre Boillot

          This seems...snarky.

          • It wasn't snarky. I genuinely wonder whether Danny is able to distinguish an analogy from an equality. If not, I'd be open to explaining it. If so, then his comment--"Perfect"--doesn't make sense.

          • Ben Posin

            Maybe he thought that I, also, was making an analogy--or at least was playing off of Fr. Barron's analogy? Maybe he thought my doing so was mildly clever or well spoken("perfect," even), even if it's not to your taste?

          • Danny Getchell

            I guess that us skeptics who post here need to come up with a sort of HTML tag that says "No, I'm not really a moron".

          • Danny Getchell

            Andre, I'm not easily goaded, but thanks anyway.

    • "Also: loss of 10 points for trying to define God into existence through the "contingency" argument. I can only hope this article was written for some other purpose than this site, as it does not show any familiarity with the fact that the validity of this argument is consistently rejected by the atheists here. We're reaching the point where I think putting articles with such arguments through as if they should be expected to be taken as on their face reasonable by atheists reflects less than favorably on Mr. Vogt."

      Thanks for the comment, Ben. A few things in reply.

      First, this whole paragraph is little more than rhetorical posturing. Not once to you engage Fr. Barron's points about contingency, you simply wave them away with a reference to "consistent rejections by the atheists here." However, without any specific citations or examples you do nothing to counter his argument.

      Second, the articles here are not meant to reflect positively or negatively on me. If that's the lens through which you're viewing them, your vision is unfortunately blurred.

      Third, I'll say to you what I said to josh: Your consistent complaints and dismissive rhetoric seem to suggest that the articles and discussions on this site are nearly unbearable. If that's the case, I charitably invite you to comment elsewhere. Nobody is forcing you to read or comment here.

      If you do choose to stay, however, I only ask that you stick to the points and move past the unnecessary dismissiveness.

      • Geena Safire

        I'm actually fond of Barron's articles. He has the ability, generally, to present the Catholic viewpoint non-judgmentally. We disagree, but he doesn't seem puzzled by the very existence of atheists.

        He doesn't, for example, as other recent articles here have done, say that atheists are irrational, or wonder how atheists restrain themselves from mass murder, or make specious or incoherent arguments in order to conclude some version of "Ha! Checkmate, atheists!"

        I know that you likely have a limited budget, and perhaps you can't pay authors much, so you're likely to get a lot of recycled material. However, articles that works on a blog or e-zine with a strong opinion and a primarily Catholic intended audience are often articles that are self-congratulatory (I thank thee that I am not as these atheists) or derisive (They have no basis to explain their (morality / reason / existence /...). When I peruse such sites, I recognize that they are 'preaching to the choir' so I'm wearing my kevlar.

        But at Strange Notions? From the About page, this site is envisioned for a dialogue between Catholics and atheists, with the invitation from the Catholic side. I guess what I'm saying is something like, "I enjoy coming over for dinner, Brandon, except that some of your guests keep spilling hot soup on me."

        • Sorry you feel that way Geena. If you're open to it, I'd love to feature a guest post from you. As I've said to many other atheist commenters, if the content is really that bad or offensive, the best way to correct that is by writing guest posts yourself. Please send any posts to contact@strangenotions.com.

      • Ben Posin

        Brandon: there have been articles on this website explicitly about the unmoved mover and first cause, with many, many comments from atheists discussing why they don't find the arguments convincing or valid. There was just a lot of discussion of this very argument in the recent 8 part morality debate, and Joe H very graciously took part in the discussion. In this very thread--in a post you replied to--Josh explained very well why the argument from contingency seems hollow at its core. So I'm hoping you'll understand why I don't feel the need to raise the atheist arguments against "contingency" again when I express dismay at seeing these same non-arguments trotted out once more, without any acknowledgment that the typical atheist finds this line of thought bankrupt and unpersuasive.

        Perhaps Geena's point about budgetary issues explains why you are putting up articles that in part raise such arguments in this way--you don't have others available to you. So I might be wrong in reading things into your attitude towards discussion with atheists, and your willingness to engage with arguments from a different perspective than yours. But as I just mentioned, some atheist perspectives on contingency and first cause and the like has been made pretty clear in this website, and I find it a little worrisome that your reply to me doesn't show any recognition of that. Maybe it would help clear some things up if you could explain your perspective on this. Are you aware that many atheists on this site have discussed why such arguments are unconvincing to them, and seem to them more like playing with definitions than proving something? If you are, do you think we're just not understanding the arguments, or are you open to the possibility that these arguments are actually not persuasive to one who doesn't already believe in God?

        • " Are you aware that many atheists on this site have discussed why such arguments are unconvincing to them, and seem to them more like playing with definitions than proving something? If you are, do you think we're just not understanding the arguments, or are you open to the possibility that these arguments are actually not persuasive to one who doesn't already believe in God?"

          I'm aware that many atheists reject the classical arguments for God (that is, after all, why they're atheist.) But that doesn't mean the arguments are bad or not worth discussing. Perhaps the theist has proposed it poorly or maybe the atheist misunderstands it. And if that's the case, both parties would *benefit* from discussing the arguments more, not less.

          I guess I just don't buy your point that because certain arguments are unpersuasive, as currently understood, we should stop discussing them. I think we should always seek to distinguish, refine, and better understand arguments concerning the deepest questions of life and not dismiss discussion about them simply because we don't accept them *now*.

          Also, you're right that I have time and budget limitations. I run this site on my own--with the help of some moderators--and I operate on a $0 budget. As I've invited several of the atheist commenters here, instead of complaining about the quality of the articles, I'd love to have you write a guest post yourself. For example, if you think the contingency argument suffers from some fatal flaws, please submit a full-length article detailing one or two of them. That will give us much more space and time to engage the argument. Just send your article to contact@strangenotions.com.

  • The unintended message of this post seems to be that you can accept Thomas' portrait of God or you can accept portrait drawn in the Old Testament. But not both.

    • It's neither unintended nor the message.

      • Ben Posin

        So it's...the intended not-message? You mean he's saying the opposite, on purpose? Because I have the same reaction Rob does, as I expressed in my earlier comment. In what sense is the God of the old testament not a being of some sort? It talks to people, it seems to appear in particular places in particular times, has emotions, opinions...in what sense is it not a being?

    • Sqrat

      Why limit your comment to the Old Testament? Was Jesus a Thomist? Was he "the sheer ocean of being from whose fullness the universe in its entirety exists"?

  • Loreen Lee

    "The experience of God" Being, Consciousness, Bliss. Sound like a 'definition' of what constitutes for the Buddhist Nirvana, (pure being, emptiness, bliss).

  • Andre Boillot

    The most signal contribution of David Bentley Hart's new book, The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, and Bliss (Yale University Press, 2013), is to clarify that serious theists and atheists, though they debate frequently concerning the reality of God, are hardly ever using the word "God" in the same way. This fundamental equivocation contributes massively to the pointlessness and meanness of many of these discussions.

    I'm partial to the sentiment of this statement, though I feel like this cuts both ways. Atheists are often guilty of arguing against straw-man gods (I'm sure I've done so many a time when I wasn't at my most charitable, and knew my debating opponent wouldn't rely on more "nuanced" interpretations of scripture). However, I feel that theists often don't realize just how difficult it is to reconcile their more refined visions of what god is to the source material (I appreciate that this is doubly hard for Catholics who don't rely solely on scripture). The atheist is left wondering why it takes so many hundreds of years of theological work to transform the depictions of the old testament god into what we are presented with by modern Catholicism. As I've said before, it seems like so much ret-conning.

    We should also note that, in addition to the gap between how "serious" atheists and theists view god, there are further gaps between serious theists -- so this isn't just a case of atheist on one side, theists on the other. One of my favorite debates featuring the "new atheists" is one where they actually come across the worst (as bullies really, at least in certain sections), constantly attacking a notion of god that their "opponents" don't believe in. Their opponents are two rabbis, and I found the contrast in how they viewed god (as opposed to Christians/Catholics) to be the most interesting aspect of almost any religious debate I've ever witnessed. I invite everyone to have a listen: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xbzd6ZbCowY&list=WL5E7C1641A634F1E1

    • The atheist is left wondering why it takes so many hundreds of years of theological work to transform the depictions of the old testament god into what we are presented with by modern Catholicism.

      Hey Andre - Can you elaborate on this?

      • Andre Boillot

        Sure thing Matt,

        For example, a few weeks ago, on the topic of the "dark passages" of the Bible, we were informed by Fr. Barron that these passages need be interpreted through the lens of certain passages in the book of Revelations. I invite you to consider the length of time between when the books of Leviticus and Revelation were written (let alone Revelation being formally accepted as part of the Christian Bible).

        • Thanks for clarifying. I thought by saying "modern Catholicism" you were referring to the modern era. But if your point is that hundreds of years passed between the writing of the Torah and the Gospels, I agree - I'm just not sure what that says about the truth value of each or their relationship to each other. Don't philosophical and legal and poetic texts often take hundreds of years to develop, with newer texts acting as lenses in light of newer discoveries and maxims? Should older texts be discarded rather than reviewed simply because they're old?

          • Andre Boillot

            "Thanks for clarifying. I thought by saying "modern Catholicism" you were referring to the modern era."

            I'm not limiting myself to my example...

            "I'm just not sure what that says about the truth value of each or their relationship to each other. "

            Well, at the very least, it seems to many atheists that God might have wanted to include the essential passages by which to interpret his word in the 1st volumes...

            "Don't philosophical and legal and poetic texts often take hundreds of years to develop, with newer texts acting as lenses in light of newer discoveries and maxims?"

            Yes, and importantly - this is what you would expect from humans figuring things out for themselves, painstakingly, over long stretches of time. I think the issue is that many atheists expect better from the word of the lord.

    • Danny Getchell

      I appreciate that this is doubly hard for Catholics who don't rely solely on scripture

      Is it really harder for Catholics? When faced in the Bible with an apparent contradiction or a less-than-benevolent depiction of God they have leave to say "That's been explained by the magisterium, so no worries". I've seen that here a score of times.

      • Rick DeLano

        Well, Danny,apparent contradictions are simply that- apparent.

        Actual contradiction?

        None exist, as the magisterium and Catholic theologians have patiently and thoroughly explained for coming up on two millenia.

        • Danny Getchell

          And that's exactly why believers in sola scriptura have a much more demanding (and more schism-inducing task in front of them. Which was of course my point.

      • Andre Boillot

        Danny,

        I meant that it's harder for Catholics to appreciate how the atheist feels - since they are used to deferring to teachings outside of scripture on these matters.

  • Geena Safire

    Here is how I, as an atheist, have interpreted several of the recent theistic articles referring to the Catholic deity's nature:

    It seems Barron is defining his deity as the "BECAUSE" of our existence. It seems Heschmeyer was defining his deity as the ultimate "BECAUSE" such that there is no possible further "why", the answer to the ultimate "WHY"?

    Heschmeyer also wants it to be assigned all the "GOOD" bits, the ultimate "BECAUSE" of "good". But not for the "bad" bits. Why? Because the ultimate "BECAUSE" could only logically be the "good" bits, else how could we have any hope or meaning given all the *%$_3@ stuff of our lives, or any reason to act "good"?

    So, they say, the deity didn't "want" the bad bits to exist. Yet they exist! What to do? Oh, okay, those bad bits exist because of other beings which have a bit of the deity's "BECAUSE" nature. Let's call it a lower-case "because" nature. In the image and likeness, as Trasancos might say, with some free will and reason and such.

    Why? That way, these other beings can be the kind-of ultimate-ish "because" of some things -- the "bad" bits -- just enough so that none of the blame for them to soak back onto the truly ultimate "BECAUSE." Why? Because it has to be that way or we lose hope and meaning, and the reason to act "good" for which we put the "GOOD" in the "BECAUSE" in the first place.

    But then don't we have to punish the "because" beings for causing all those "bad" bits? Of course. In fact, it must be horrible as imaginable, plus forever.

    But wait! Them is us! If we punish them/us the way they/we deserve then they/we lose the hope and meaning and the reason to be "good" for which we put all the "good" -- the "GOOD" -- into the "BECAUSE" in the first place.

    Wait... Oh, I've got it! We'll have the "BECAUSE" forgive them, because it is also "GOOD" and forgiveness is "GOOD."

    --------------

    Humans like to know the "why" of things -- we are successful in large part because we are pattern-seeking creatures. We can anticipate and avoid future danger if we know the signs from previous dangers. So we study the past to figure things out.

    Humans are also suspicious and anxious about things we don't understand, that don't seem to be able to fit into our patterns -- we tend to assume it is probably bad. Why? Our ancestors were more likely to survive if they thought the sound in the tall grass was a tiger than the wind -- even if it was most often the wind, because it only takes one tiger.

    Humans are motivated to get rid of bad feelings -- that's why our brain makes them feel 'bad': motivation. However, for many things in life, there are no available explanations. What to do? We will feel suspicious and anxious until we know why. How will we then feel hope and imbue meaning and find a reason to be "good"?

    Therefore God.

    • Loreen Lee

      Sounds like the moral proof, which I find is more immediate than the Cosmological proof of either Aquinas or Aristotle.

  • So God is not a being, he is not group of beings, he/it doesn't exist as a thing? He is "the sheer act of being itself". Father B is correct I cannot grasp this, it makes no sense to me. I see no reason to consider "being" an "act". "Being" is a concept. To the extent that it can be said to exist, it exists as a concept in our minds. To me, "being" is material existence. So god is the concept of material existence? I can certainly accept that this exists, but why call this concept a God?

    I certainly don't accept that the "the sheer act of being itself" is also an intelligence, is capable of creating itself and all physical reality and so on.

    Of course this is not all that Christians and Catholics believe in. You also believe that this "the sheer act of being itself" is also a fully human being, in the world. How can you get there?

    If theists said only that the deities they believed in were abstract concepts and do not exist in any material form, and don't make rules for us and require we abridge our desires for no apparent beneficial consequence, we would ignore you.

    We are reacting to the thousands of preachers who say god is a real being in the world and will send you to eternal conscious torture if you don't profess your love him. and that evolution is nonsense. We are reacting to large influential institutions like the Catholic Church that feels it is entitled to proclaim absolute moral truths based on things like contraception and homosexuality. When we criticize you for this, we don't rely on abstractions like the "the sheer act of being itself" as an authority. Please.

  • OppositeAtheist

    Not a single mistake in this article.

    Quinn, in North America

    • BTW, the moderators of the site provide some handy Like/Share/Tweet buttons below articles if you just want to share the goodness. Down here in the comment section is more for discussion, commentary, and debate. :)

  • cminca

    Fr. Barron claims that God is "the sheer act of being itself" and attempts to denigrate earlier civilization's concept of gods for their inherent humanness. "They were, if you will, quantitatively but not qualitatively different from regular people."

    Yet Genesis 1:27 clearly states: "So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them."
    So Aquinas disagrees with the bible.
    So now, if I remember my You Tube videos correctly, is when Fr. Barron goes into the discussion about how to interpret the bible to understand how the CC, with its rich tradition of scholarship, regards certain parts of the bible as saga. certain parts are history, certain part letters, etc. and that it is the layman's ignorance on "how to read" the bible that would lead to the kind of misunderstanding of which I am now obviously guilty.
    In other words--"Catholics can read it however we want. We can make it say whatever we say it says. That isn't cherry picking or illogical. If you don't agree it is because you're stupid."
    And "If you dare to challenge us and point our inaccuracies, our double standards, and our total lack of logic you are being intolerant and persecuting us."
    "Why is there something rather than nothing"?
    As a rational human being I can surely answer that science has not been able to answer the question.
    But no matter what philosophical flights of fancy you may want to go on, Fr. Barron, you will still never be able to PROVE the answer to that question is--"God".

  • OppositeAtheist

    is an acclaimed author, speaker, and theologian.

    Quinn, in North America

  • Aaron Michael Matthias Selinge

    Is the God of Saint Thomas compatible with the conception of God in the Old Testament?

    This is a complicated topic but a few things can be said right away. The first is that it is simply not the case that the Old Testament fails to identify the God of Israel with the God of the Philosophers:

    And God said, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.” Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?” God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.[c] This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” (Exodus 3:12-14)

    Firstly, the Lord completely undermines the entire question. In a certain sense saying “I AM WHO I AM” is a refusal of a name. The God of Israel is not like the other countless national deities – he is not one of the gods. Hence the denial of a name, as would be applied to all other things in the cosmos, is quite in accordance with the doctrine that we can only speak about God through analogy – no univocal terms or designations can possibly apply to him. Secondly, “I AM” is the most proper thing we can say about God because in God there is not a distinction between that he is and what he is. For example, we understand what a red dragon is even though we cannot say that it is. Yet for God, since there is no such distinction in him, we can say that essence and existence are the same in him such that he exists by virtue of his own essence.

    If it is doubted that Exodus 3:14 identifies the God of Israel with the God of the Philosophers, then so long as we keep to the Christian tradition of seeing the Old Testament in light of the New Testament, this identification can be made due to the following passage in the Gospel of John:

    “Jesus said to them: Amen, amen I say to you, before Abraham was made, I am.” (John 8:58)

    Ratzinger in his Introduction to Christianity denies the identification via Exodus 3:14 but affirms it in the case of John 8:58. To this day don’t really know why he does this but on the occasion that the identification of the God of the Philosophers and the Gospel of John is more credible, I include it.

    See:

    http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1013.htm#article11

    • Hi AMMS!

      Thanks for the thoughtful comments on the same topic that many of the atheist commenters have been asking about. I think your choice of texts is sensible. Your interpretations are, I think, compatible with the text, though I'm sure you will agree in light of Ratzinger's contrary interpretation that multiple interpretations are possible and so interpreting the texts as identifying the God of Israel with the God of the Philosophers is an unforced choice.

      Do you think there's an underlying "right" interpretation toward which different interpreters aim? If so, and if that right interpretation is one that doesn't make the GoI=GotP identification, would that have any consequences for your belief that GoI=GotP?

      Or if that right interpretations does identify GoI=GotP, do you think there is notable evidence upon which to believe it? If so, do you think the evidence overcomes the apparent dissimilarity between the anthropomorphized, emotional, actively intervening, sexist, scientifically mistaken, bloodthirsty textual descriptions of GoI versus the abstractions and supposed perfections of the GotP?

  • Aaron Michael Matthias Selinge

    Question: Why do we have to say that this God has anything
    resembling intelligence or personhood?

    Without typing out an essay length response, the simple answer is that since
    all things emanated out of God insofar as they were caused by God, the
    perfections that all things have must be present in Him in a higher way. So if a perfection is found in a corporeal being, then a fortiori will it be found in God. Yet
    personhood and intelligence is found in corporeal beings, hence it must be
    found in God in a higher way. When we consider His simplicity we will see that
    all of these perfections need to be in God simply as one. Now it should not be
    thought that because fire is hot we are saying that God is hot because fire
    ultimately comes from God. The term “fire” not only denotes a perfection but
    also contains a mode of signification that pertains to creatures in its precise
    target of signification. So in God there are the perfections that pertains to fire, but the not anything that is due to a mode of signification that pertains to creatures. Some terms that we can say of God (analogically) do not contain any mode of signification that pertains to creatures, for example like the term “Good, absolute, person, being”. These things can be said of God properly.

    • What is a perfection? You seem to be using this word in a way that is alien to me.

      What is a "fortiori"?

      What makes you think that the properties of B will be reflected in A, just because B emanated from A? Shame is found in corporeal beings does this mean that must be found in God?

      What is a "mode of signification"?

      What are these "perfections that pertain to fire"?

      • Aaron Michael Matthias Selinge

        Hello Brian thanks for the response.

        “What is a perfection? You seem to be using this word in a way that is alien to me.”

        Something is perfect in proportion to its being. So for example, we can imagine what it would be like to own a perfect car. “Perfect” is predicated of this car because it lacks nothing which pertains to what we look for in a car. We would call the “perfect storm” a storm that lacked nothing that pertained to the nature of a storm. “Perfections” are just the positive attributes of something as it moves closer and closer to being “perfect”, that is, lacking nothing that is proper to its nature. There is also a secondary sense of the words “perfect” and “perfection” and these are the positive attributes that are not really proper to the nature of the thing. For example, one does not become a more or less perfect human, in the primary sense, for being in good physical shape, but in the secondary sense we can say that being in good physical shape is a perfection because it is something that has being.

        “What is a "fortiori"?”

        It is Latin. See:

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_fortiori_argument

        “What makes you think that the properties of B will be reflected in A, just because B emanated from A? Shame is found in corporeal beings does this mean that must be found in God?”

        The reason is that something cannot come out of nothing. If something doesn’t exist in itself and doesn’t exist of something else, it really cannot be distinguished from not being anything at all. To attribute existence to what is not anything at all is to say that it is both not existent and existent, which would violate the law of contradiction. Hence via indirect proof we know that whatever doesn’t exist of itself must exist of something else. This is also evident to common sense. Do you really believe it is possible to stomp on the floor with your foot and cause an earthquake?

        So if the properties of B do not exist in virtue of
        what B is, and they don’t come out of nothing, then they must have been given to B by something else. Hence they must be present in some sense in A.

        “Shame is found in corporeal beings does this mean that must be found in God”

        No because God is not a univocal cause but rather an equivocal cause. An example of the former is “Man begets a man”, an example of the latter is how the sun causes plants to grow. The sun doesn’t just make them hot, which is really what is proper to its nature since it is a big ball of fire.

        “What is a mode of signification"?”

        The quick answer is that the way that we come to know things taints the way that we name things. Hence, the way that we often speak cannot be applied to God because our names contain aspects that pertain to cretaures. For example, if we said that "God was a rock of safety" we could only use the term "rock" metaphorically because although the term "rock" designates the existence of a rock which depends on God from moment to moment, the perfection of which must be found more emminently in the cause, it also designates something material, and so it cannot be properly applied to God. So this means that there is a different "mode" to the signification of the word "rock" than say the word "good" because the word "good" doesn't have this problem.

        I don't really have the time to write out a full response. However I have uploaded some notes that Father Lawrence Dewan O.P. (a very well-known scholar of Aquinas) gave me for a class. This issue is talked about in the notes:

        http://speedy.sh/gyCzd/Knowing-and-Naming-the-God-1.doc

        “What are these 'perfections that pertain to fire"?

        The very act of existence of the fire and all of its properties.

        • Okay I get it. Your descriptions of "perfections" seems to be a needless invocation of Platonism, which I see no reason to accept. It doesn't hold up for me. I cannot actually imagine what a "perfect car" would be. I can identify properties which I use to distinguish "cars" from other matter. These are more than 2 wheels, self-propelled, and room for at least one person to sit in it. Anything with these attributes lacks nothing that pertains to "car" (or rather "automobile"). There is no way to have any of these attributes in a "higher way". There are functional and aesthetic differences but these are subjective. I see no reason to use such a term like "perfections", you seem only to be describing "properties".

          I can accept that only things that exist, exist. In my view what we call "intelligence" is an arrangement pre-existing matter in motion of it calls for nothing new. If no matter was arranged in the way that brains and computers are, there would be no "intelligence". When matter is arranged in this way, "intelligence" emerges, there is no need for some invisible perfected intelligence for it to arise.

          Anyway, too bad God needs this kind of philosophical sophistication to be understood. I suppose I may lack the sophistication to grasp what he even is.

          • Rick DeLano

            The poor understand God perfectly without need of philosophy.

            The only time I ever hear "God bless you" in normal day-to-day discourse is when I interact with them.

            So God is simple to understand as a child understands, and infinitely simpler than that.

            God is also deep as the philosophers wish to go into Him, and infinitely deeper than that.

            "For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine; and you say: He hath a devil. [34] The Son of man is come eating and drinking: and you say: Behold a man that is a glutton and a drinker of wine, a friend of publicans and sinners. [35]And wisdom is justified by all her children."

          • Oh some conceptions of gods are easy to understand as a 'beings in the universe', but that is definitely not what god is, according to Fr Barron.

            I can't speak for "the poor", but I imagine that children do not understand God as the "sheer act of being itself" but rather, the man with a white beard.

            Ask a child to describe god and see if you get things like "perfections" based on "modes of significance", and other abstractions.

          • Rick DeLano

            The conception of God in the poor and childlike, as far as I can tell, is "He Who moves us to compassion, to place money in the hands of the ones who need it most".

            Or, maybe, "He Who moves us to love our brother".

          • Rick you are now using such a vague description of a god that you are not really defining it at all. You certainly need more than these descriptions to define a god.

            For example, my brother moves me to love him. Is he god?

            The poor themselves move me to give to the poor.

            I expect what you mean is: he who has created the capacity in us for empathy is god. But then, is this what you think children understand God to be?

          • Rick DeLano

            You will neither dance nor mourn, Brian.

            The philosophers you call too rarefied and intellectual.

            The poor you call insufficiently rarefied and intellectual.

            But wisdom is justified of her children.

            The poor know God as well, perhaps better, than the philosophers.

            But you will hear neither.

          • Take care Rick, I hope you dance.

          • Rick DeLano

            Thanks, Brian. We have finally found something upon which we can agree ;-)

          • Aaron Michael Matthias Selinge

            “I cannot actually imagine what a "perfect car" would be”

            Well then it seems that you would never know if your car is broken or not. What is a broken car but one that lacks something that is proper to its nature?

            “I can identify properties which I use to distinguish "cars" from other matter. These are more than 2 wheels, self-propelled, and room for at least one person to sit in it. Anything with these attributes lacks nothing that pertains to "car" (or rather "automobile").”

            Ok, good, so what you are listing are “specific
            differences”, they distinguish cars from everything else in its genus (vehicles). It is the answer to the question “what makes cars different from other vehicles?” Now I would say that a car is perfect in its primary sense if there is no defect in any of the essential attributes that you have listed. For example, if it could be self-propelled, but not to the extent that it is able to reach the speeds necessary to travel on the freeway, then it would be a fairly imperfect car. As I sad above, you cannot know that a car is broken unless you know how it ideally should work and then judge that it is not living up to this standard.

            “There is no way to have any of these attributes in a "higher way". There are functional and aesthetic differences but these are subjective. I see no reason to use such a term like "perfections", you seem only to be describing "properties".”

            I don’t think you understood me correctly. I am saying that what is in the effect is more eminently in the cause, for the reasons I stated above. The perfections that exist in a “higher way” are the ones that exist in God. We use the term “higher way” because we know that all the perfection that exists in creation must exist in a more eminently in the first cause (God). Yet the only thing we can know about this perfection in God is that it is not of the same kind that we find in corporeal things. It is a consequence of God being radically transcendent – he transcends even being and perfection that is found in corporeal creatures. So since we only know God insofar as he is reflected in his creation, as we come to know an artist by studying his artwork, we really cannot know what this perfection is. We are left with negative theology. We remove the predicate “perfect”, in the sense that it is predicated of corporeal creatures, from God, but we use this term in an analogical sense (by analogy) to refer to the perfection that is in him. To distinguish this from the perfection that is found in corporeal creatures, we say that perfection exists in God in a “higher way”.

            “ I see no reason to use such a term like "perfections", you seem only to be describing "properties".”

            The term “perfections” is not identical to the term “properties”. As if x is a property then x is possessed by some thing y. Yet there is still a distinction between what x is and that it is. We can know what the property “self-propelled” is without saying that it exists. So properties, as well as every other being in our universe, is composed of an act of existence (esse) and some definition (quiddity or essence). The term “perfections” denotes only the “esse” of the property and not its quiddity.

            “In my view what we call "intelligence" is an arrangement pre-existing matter in motion of it calls for nothing new. If no matter was arranged in the way that brains and computers are, there would be no "intelligence". When matter is arranged in this way, "intelligence" emerges, there is no need for some invisible perfected intelligence for it to arise.”

            It is really interesting because this is ultimately the same as the Pythagorean view of the soul that Simmias of Thebes presents in the Phaedo. The soul is an attunement of matter. It seems that you are committed to the idea that the soul or “intelligence” has to have a certain arrangement or tune and if this arrangement falls apart or goes out of tune then person dies. It should be noted that an arrangement itself is not material but an organization of material objects. This also seems to imply that the difference between a live human and a dead human is something quantitative and not something qualitative. Yet an attunement or arrangement always involves the concept of ratio, that is, there is a certain range in which the order is maintained harmoniously. If this were not the case, at the slightest movement of a particle that makes up a person, the person would die because the arrangement would not have been exactly the same as it was before. Yet if there is a range for this arrangement or attunement, it admits of more or less. This flows from what a range is. So it seems you would be committed to the thesis that there are greater and lesser souls. Yet I doubt you are really to believe this. How could you justify holding that all men are equal if some have greater or lesser souls?

            “Anyway, too bad God needs this kind of philosophical sophistication to be understood. I suppose I may lack the sophistication to grasp what he even is.”

            Well part of the reason for faith is that not everyone can come to a proper knowledge of God even in what can be demonstrated by reason.

            See:

            http://dhspriory.org/thomas/ContraGentiles1.htm#4

            If I have been able to convey anything, at least it should be that even though you do not think what I have to say is true, it should be evident that it is not trivially false. Hence, these atheists such as Dawkins and others who think that natural theology is like talking about pink unicorns and invisible dragons really don’t know what they are talking about.

            There is a very general argument for the existence of God that should be able to be understood by everyone. This argument really contains all the other good arguments implicitly. It comes from the Dominican theologian Father Garrigou-Lagrange, O. P:

            “This most general proof may be presented in the following form: The greater does not proceed from the less, the more perfect from the less perfect, but contrariwise; but men, who contingently exist, have being, life, intelligence, morality, and sometimes holiness; therefore there must be a first Cause which possesses, by reason of itself and eternally, these perfections of existence, life, intelligence, and holiness. Otherwise the greater would come from the less, as the proponents of absolute evolutionism are obliged to admit, and it is by recourse to this method of absurdity that God's existence is proved, who
            is absolutely perfect and distinct from the world.” (Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O. P, THE ONE GOD — A Commentary on the First Part of St Thomas' Theological Summa)

            It should be mentioned that “evolutionism” in this case doesn't refer to evolution in the natural sciences but the evolutionism of Hegel and some materialist philosophical positions.

          • Aaron,

            Thanks for your response. But I will not read it. This is too long for a comment section and I feel your posts are going off topic.

            Just because I cannot imagine a perfect car does not mean I do not know when one is broken.

          • josh

            Aaron,
            There is so much wrong here and I'm just not in the mood to spend thousands of words dissecting it right now. It really is trivially false. It kind of makes me angry that this nonsense is still propagated by the vested interests of the church and goes on to infect otherwise inquisitive people like yourself. Let's just take your second to last paragraph, which you say contains all the other good arguments.

            Of course the greater can proceed from the less. A man can make a machine that exerts more force than he can. Or many small things can come together to make a large thing. Or regular biological evolution can produce novel features from the interaction of a population and their environment. Can the more perfect proceed from the less? Sure it can. How do you think we got better precision tools when once we had only rough stones and branches?

            Life, intelligence, a sense or morality: these things developed gradually from earlier stages that didn't have them. They weren't given by some sort of external force. That is just another version of vitalism. And of course none of these are 'perfections'. They are phenomena, they describe experiences we encounter and loosely group together based on perceived similarities. It's neither a binary thing, where something either has intelligence or it doesn't, nor an idealizable thing, where we can define an abstract 'perfect' life. Moreover, even if this kind of 'reasoning' were valid, it wouldn't lead you to some kind of singular, absolute thing, but a whole composed of many platonic parts. And if there was a singular absolute thing, it couldn't be the God of Christianity, or any kind of God. It could never interact with humanity, much less take on a human form.

          • Aaron Michael Matthias Selinge

            "There is so much wrong here and I'm just not in the mood to spend thousands of words dissecting it right now. It really is trivially false. It kind of makes me angry that this nonsense is still propagated by the vested interests of the church and goes on to infect otherwise inquisitive people like yourself. Let's just take your second to last paragraph, which you say contains all the other good arguments."

            "Of course the greater can proceed from the less."

            Speusippus has returned! (In other words, your objection is the same as his and so is your attitude. No wonder Aristotle hated his guts.)

          • Aaron Michael Matthias Selinge

            It is disappointing that you didn’t engage my indirect proof for this principle.

            “A man can make a machine that exerts more force than he can. Or many small things can come together to make a large thing. Or regular biological evolution can produce novel features from the interaction of a population and their environment.”

            “A man can make a machine”, “come together to” “from the interaction of a population and their environment.”

            “A man can make a machine”,

            You have proved yourself that actuality precedes potentiality absolutely. A machine has the active potency (power) to produce more force than a man can but only because it has been planned that way by man’s intelligence. More perfect would only be coming from less if the man as a whole substance created something more perfect than him. It wouldn’t be possible for a man to create an angel for example.

            “come together to”,

            Unlike things do not come together without a cause. This is one of the observations that lead to the beginning of philosophy in the first place. The pre-Socratics correctly concluded that there had to be some kind of cosmic arche or first principle that could explain all things. So it is this unifying principle, either of the cosmos or in a more indeterminate way different sets of particular discrete objects, that cause things to come together. To put it in another way, many does not become one simply due to it being many, but rather many things become one due these many things participating in one. If it did, then it would be many and not many, thus a contradiction.

            “from the interaction of a population and their environment.”

            So the environment has a causal role. How is this a counter-example to the principle? Do you know for certain that there is not something more perfect than these vegetative and sensitive substances moving these substances to higher forms by means of environmental causes? You will and object and say that simply not being able to prove this does not mean that the principle is true; we cannot appeal to ignorance. To which I will respond that I produced an argument for this principle that was ignored.

            “They are phenomena, they describe experiences we encounter and loosely group together based on perceived similarities.”

            Can we have objective knowledge, defined as knowledge of the world as it is, of casual connections? If not, how do we know that the ideas in our mind correspond to what our senses impart us? How do we know the premises in deductive reasoning reach a conclusion?

            “And if there was a singular absolute thing, it couldn't be the God of Christianity, or any kind of God. It could never interact with humanity, much less take on a human form.”

            I do not accept opinions, only arguments.

          • josh

            Aaron, thanks for replying. Your opinion that something cannot come out of nothing doesn't prove any principle I was addressing. Once you recognize a 'thing' you have already distinguished it from nothing, and potentially from other 'things'. Beyond that, how do we know that such a thing exists 'in itself' or 'of something else'. This doesn't say anything about the 'greater' 'proceeding from' 'the lesser', it doesn't say anything about causation. You haven't even defined these terms.

            "You have proved yourself that actuality precedes potentiality absolutely. A machine has the active potency (power) to produce more force than a man can but only because it has been planned that way by man’s intelligence."

            Ha, no. A ramp is a simple machine: it allows you to lift something vertically by an elongated route which you couldn't produce the force to lift directly. You have used one if you've ever climbed a hill, but hills weren't planned by man's intelligence. This doesn't prove anything about the Aristotelian misconceptions of actuality and potentiality. The man, the machine, the work done all actually exist and only proceed each other with respect to a particular perspective in time.

            "More perfect would only be coming from less if the man as a whole substance created something more perfect than him. It wouldn’t be possible for a man to create an angel for example."

            Again, please stick to argument. How do we tell what is more and less perfect? How do you show that one is a 'whole substance' and that, in all possible circumstances, it is or isn't created by the other? I find it funny that your example involves an imaginary creature, in an attempt to refute the actual counter-examples I've given.

            "Unlike things do not come together without a cause." Why would you make an exception for 'like' things? I can tell you that electrons, which are as 'like' to each other as anything we know of, repel each other. I would love to have a unifying principle that explains everything, but you have to show that you actually have one and that it actually explains things. You also seem to be conflating 'explanation' and 'cause'. Are they always the same?

            "To put it in another way, many does not become one simply due to it being many, but rather many things become one due these many things participating in one. If it did, then it would be many and not many, thus a contradiction." A set of individual things is 'many' and 'one'. This is not a contradiction. There are many letters in one alphabet. We group these individual things together because they are related to one another, but this can be expanded or contracted according to our uses. We could also talk about the set of vowels, or the set of numbers and letters, etc. Probably, you are making the mistake of thinking that a collective object, like a desk, requires some attribute of 'deskiness' to be applied to its constituent parts. Rather, the parts are in a relation to each other and the environment which our brain simplifies as 'desk-like', but which is not a fundamental thing, only an approximation.

            "How is this a counter-example to the principle?" Because human intelligence, for example, was not in our ancestors, nor would it make sense to say that it was in the environment. If you take a deterministic view of things you could say that in principle one could predict the emergence of intelligence given a knowledge of the whole prior system at some point. This is just like saying that two approaching billiard balls have a collision inside them because they will collide. But the fact that a collision will happen is a property of the system, not of the balls by themselves and it makes little sense to talk of the balls at some prior time as 'collisionful' as though they must bequeath some hereditary title to the future.

            "Do you know for certain that there is not something more perfect than these vegetative and sensitive substances moving these substances to higher forms by means of environmental causes?" Well, since you haven't elucidated how to tell what is 'more perfect', or what a higher form is, or when one thing unilaterally moves another, I am gonna have to go with 'appeal to ignorance'. But beyond that I'll just point out that I can always take a view that any 'more perfect' thing you care to posit can just be regarded as another part of the system, like the environment itself, and only 'moves' some other part via the rules of the system, so cannot be complete or explanatory in itself.

            "Can we have objective knowledge, defined as knowledge of the world as it is, of casual connections?" Objective in what sense? It is always possible that we are mistaken in our perceptions and models of the world 'as it is'.

            "If not, how do we know that the ideas in our mind correspond to what our senses impart us?" What our senses impart to us are ideas in our minds. What we can try and do is look for a coherent picture of what is going on. For myself, this seems to include the fact that there is an external world of which I am a small part. It is apparently consistent that my senses are an interaction of the part with the larger surroundings, and that the part which is me tries to approximately model the relevant whole. I can check for knowable errors and seek to improve the model, but I can't be guaranteed to be aware of or fix all.

            "How do we know the premises in deductive reasoning reach a conclusion?" A conclusion, or the right conclusion? Assuming you meant the latter, we don't in an absolute sense. It is always in principle possible that we have made a mistake and aren't aware of it. But we can do the best we can do and proceed with a set of working assumptions and conclusions.

            "I do not accept opinions, only arguments." You seem to have accepted more than a few already. But, to spell things out, one thing can't interact with another unless they are part of a whole that includes a description of the interaction. So a singular absolute thing can't interact with anything. Or, to take another tack, an ultimate, terminal, irreducible thing as cosmological-style arguments presume to aim at can't be identified with anything that is conceivably reducible, optional, contingent, etc. Since I can conceive of Jesus Christ and Yahweh never existing; Since I can imagine any particular action or thought allegedly taken by a God as not happening, I can rule them out as candidates for necessary beings.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      AMMS, What is a chunk of prose like that supposed to accomplish?

      • Aaron Michael Matthias Selinge

        It is supposed to respond to an objection that has been made by many atheists in the comment sections of this article by summarizing the position of Aquinas. My intention merely was to present the strongest position possible as briefly as I could. This at the very least would reveal to our atheist interlocutors that Father Barron's position is not so lacking in critical reflection that it has obvious gaping holes. Then, even if they didn't understand all the terminology, they could know that simply dismissing Father Barron's position because the God he is speaking about is not necessarily intelligent would be dismissing a strawman.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          I applaud that!

          However, even a two pound perfectly marbled steak can't be swallowed whole. It needs to be cut up into bite size pieces.

          • Aaron Michael Matthias Selinge

            This is true. It is something I need to work on.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            It is accomplished by becoming more trivial (as in the sense of grammar, logic *and* rhetoric.

  • josh

    Okay, I'm getting real tired of this. The article completely fails to engage with critics, and shows zero introspection. The problem isn't that atheists don't understand his position, the problem is that Fr. Barron and a dozen others refuse to consider the critiques based on his position, instead relying on a juvenile and fact-free deflection that 'famous atheist X', and by extension all atheists, just aren't paying attention. Let's lay out the issues at hand:

    1. No one goes to Church to talk about the prime mover. Nothing in the Bible says anything about God as 'not even a being' or 'pure actuality' or any such abstraction. No one derives the non-ordination of women from 'the ground of all contingency'. Dawkins and other popularizers tend to focus on popular religion, which is Jesus, the Bible, sin, etc. and guess what, this applies to Catholicism as well. No one parading around a relic from some saint is doing so because they are convinced that actual infinities can't exist. This is real religion.

    2. What Barron and others want to do is 'prove' a very different thing and then somehow link it up with the actual religion. We understand: you think that the 'Ground of Being' and Jesus H. Christ are somehow the same thing, or that you can derive the immorality of homosexual acts from the teleology of your undercarriage. These are the parts that always get hand-waved away. This is where a lot of the atheist criticism comes in. You can't talk about God's plans for condoms and then retreat to 'Being Itself' as an escape route. Catholics believe in the God of the Bible and asserting that this God is some ineffable abstraction doesn't get you out of the criticisms. Aquinas doesn't have esse ipsum subsistens in mind, or at least not only in mind, he is thinking of the deity that Christians like himself worship, with all the attendant doctrine and myth and hierarchy and moralizing. He worshiped his God just as the Greeks and pagans worshiped theirs. Dawkins and Hitchens understand this far better than Barron apparently. A 'serious' person can't say that God walked around Jerusalem raising the dead and lecturing on street corners, then turn around and say 'it's a category mistake to ask for evidence'. If you want to talk about 'Being Itself', an atheist is under no obligation to agree with you that this is the same as talking about God. You don't win the argument by asserting that this is the 'true' God.

    3. The 'pure' metaphysics and philosophy is bad on its own. Many atheists have addressed this. To say that "...they become radically uncurious, irrational even, just when the most interesting question of all is posed: why is there something rather than
    nothing? Why should the universe exist at all?" is just a gross slur. It suggests that Barron should not be treated as an honest disputant. Lawrence Krauss has a freaking book titled 'A Universe from Nothing'. Lots of atheists have offered their own views here and elsewhere. Many have pointed out that the question itself has serious problems. You don't have to agree with Krauss or anyone else in particular, but you can't dismiss atheists as though no one has addressed these issues.

    As an example, let's look at the version of the cosmological argument Barron gives.

    "We are surrounded on all sides by things that exist but that don't
    have to exist."

    No one actually knows this. Barron has no proof that anything else could be, all he can do is point to the fact that he can imagine something different, which is about as compelling as imagining that the millionth digit of pi is 7.

    "The computer on which I am typing these words indeed
    exists, but its existence is not self-explanatory, for it depends on a
    whole range of causes, both extrinsic and intrinsic. It exists only
    because an army of manufacturers, designers, technicians, etc. put it
    together and only because its molecular, atomic, and sub-atomic
    structure sustains it. Furthermore, it is situated in an environment
    that conditions it in numberless ways."

    Barron conflates explanation with causation without bothering to define either. Why must we expect anything to 'explain itself' to him? Does it exist because someone manufactured it? Or does it exist because its molecules exist? Or do the molecules exist because it exists and the factories exist because its existence includes a history? These aren't sophistry and you can't begin to make arguments about ultimate being until one sorts these out, and you can't sort them out merely by asserting some schema cribbed from Aristotle.

    "Now a moment's meditation reveals that all of the conditioning
    elements that I mentioned are themselves, in similar ways, contingent.
    They don't explain their existence any more than the computer does."

    Again, we don't know this. This is a statement of Barron's ignorance, we should be very wary of thinking it is a constraint on the universe.

    "Therefore, unless we permanently postpone the explanation, we have to
    come, by logical deduction, to some reality which is not contingent and
    whose very nature is to exist. This power of Being itself, which
    explains and determines all the contingent things or our ordinary
    experience..."

    This is permanently postponing the explanation. Neither Barron nor anyone else understands why the universe is as it appears. So far, so good. It doesn't follow that there is an explanation that would satisfy us. If we suppose that there is, this tells us nothing. The 'power of Being' explains nothing, including itself. It's just your placeholder word for something that would provide an explanation if you actually could describe such a thing. As soon as you pop 'God' into that blank slot, atheists rightly point out that 'God' hasn't explained anything.

    It's like this: suppose I give you a quiz. 'Why is the number pi irrational?' You write down 'The answer to this question'. You get zero credit. Show your work. You complain 'You can't ask why the answer to the question of why pi is irrational answers the question! That's a category mistake.' You get zero credit, and a deduction for misusing the term 'category mistake'. 'I define God as the answer to this question. Since the answer must exist, God exists!' Zero credit. You have failed to answer the question and you have failed to prove the existence of God.

    • josh, there's too much here for a single combox response. If you'd like to isolate one point, I'd be happy to share a dialogue with you.

      That said, your constant groaning and complaining has grown tired. If the site is so bad, we charitably invite you to take a break and comment elsewhere. As I've reminded you several times in the past, nobody is making you visit or comment on this site.

      • MichaelNewsham

        Got to agree with Brandon, Josh- your constantly blowing holes in their argument is making the home team look bad.

      • josh

        Shorter: 'Jeez! Why do you keep trying to reason together with me!'

        • I have no problem with reason. It's the constant complaining and grovelling, which surrounds most of your otherwise interesting points, and the needless sarcasm (evident in your most recent comment) that's become very tired.

          Again, as I've said several times, I genuinely can't discern why someone who thinks the articles and comments on this site are *that* bad continues to hang around. It seems akin to self-torture.

          • josh

            Grovelling?

      • Susan

        That said, your constant groaning and complaining has grown tired.

        Sadly, there is no one to moderate the "snark" out of you.

        Can you show me a point in any of Josh's comment where he is groaning or complaining?

        If there is "too much for a single combox response", pick one of his points and respond. The assertions here are so thick and so often based on unjustified premises that people like Josh when they efficiently respond are often accused of bringing up too many points to respond.

        How about his first point?

        But the claim that reason and faith work together does nothing to show that they do.

        This seems to be a constant assertion on this site. Please define your terms coherently. None of that "Do you have faith in your wife?" business. It doesn't fly.

      • vito

        I'm sorry but Josh is clearly NOT the one who is complaining and groaning here. Josh's lengthy posts was respectful, well-grounded and very on-point as regards Fr. Barron's points.

    • Hey Josh - Not to be curt, but a few quick thoughts:

      1. No one goes to Church to talk about the prime mover.

      I do! I've heard some great homilies related to the notion of a prime mover in recent years. Even lame homilists recite the same liturgy, which is packed with references to God as Creator and Maker of all. It's there for the contemplating!

      Nothing in the Bible says anything about God as 'not even a being' or 'pure actuality' or any such abstraction.

      Exodus 3:14 - "Ehyeh asher ehyeh" ("I Am Who Am.") Sounds pretty abstract and mysterious to me.

      • josh

        Hi Matthew,

        1. I can't speak about your experiences at church with 100% certainty, but one of the things I'm trying to point out here is the distinction between 'Prime Mover' and 'Maker and Creator'. Stripped of the theological baggage, the former is impersonal, mindless, amoral, abstract and unconnected with Jesus or Judaism or an afterlife. It's not an object of devotion. The latter is the King, Father, Artist, Comforter, Judge, Lawgiver, what you pray to, what can forgive you, what can intend anything,etc. I'm aware that you want to identify the two somehow, but my point is that people, including yourself I will bet, are drawn to the religion for the latter. It's the difference between a religion and a philosophical position.

        2. I knew someone would bring up this canard. "Ehyeh asher ehyeh" translates as 'I will be who I wil be". I'm sure it's meant to sound mysterious, but that's not quite the same thing as abstract. Remember, Yahweh is having a conversation with his hand-picked magician through the Cecil B. DeMille special effect of a burning bush. I think it's meant to convey the awe of the all-powerful Judaic creator god, but it's not a treatise on actuality and potentiality. Moses doesn't bow down because he'd been troubled by Zeno's paradoxes, he bows down because the God of Abraham has a tendency to smite. Do you understand the problem with claiming to talk irrefragable philosophy and then pointing to the Bible?

        • Hey Josh - I would respond to both points by emphasizing the Church's living cooperation, harmony, and even mutual dependence of reason and faith, philosophy and religion, explication and revelation. (The best articulation of this I know of is in JPII's "Fides et Ratio.")

          You're absolutely right: a philosophical argument is not the same thing as faith. (Exhibit A: Airtight arguments aren't redemptive.) Likewise, you're absolutely right that many Biblical texts, taken on their own, seem devoid of secondary, nuanced, or broader meaning. So should we then conclude that philosophy and faith are worlds apart, and our only approaches to religion can be fideism or secularism?

          Absolutely not! In the inner life of the Church, faith and reason feed off each other and work together, though they remain distinct entities - like a marriage, or, like two wings of a bird. Reason is not alone, but can actually prove a "thin slice" of God. Scripture is not alone, but is grounded in the broader currents of rational interpretation which constitute the tradition. (And this is not a modern contrivance by the way: the Church Fathers were writing of a figurative interpretation of Genesis long before the science was there to back them up.)

          • Rick DeLano

            "aith and reason feed off each other and work together, though they remain distinct entities - like a marriage, or, like two wings of a bird."

            >> The correct Catholic teaching concerning the relationship of Faith and Reason is taught with the magisterial authority of a solemn ecumenical Council:

            First Vatican Council, canons on Faith and Reason:

            "2. If anyone says that human studies are to be treated with such a degree of liberty that their assertions may be maintained as true even when they are opposed to divine revelation, and that they may not be forbidden by the Church: let him be anathema.

            3. If anyone says that it is possible that at some time, given the advancement of knowledge, a sense may be assigned to the dogmas propounded by the Church which is different from that which the Church has understood and understands: let him be anathema."

          • josh

            But the claim that reason and faith work together does nothing to show that they do. Sorry to pick on you, but this is a perfect example of failing to understand/address the substance of my post. You can't get out of the Scriptural arguments by appeal to philosophy or vice versa. I never said that Biblical texts can't have secondary meanings, it's just that the primary and secondary and contextual and etc. meanings don't jibe with the philosophy in many cases.

            Why not approach religion from a secular perspective? The rational interpretation is that the Bible and interpretations of it are cultural artifacts of a subset of humanity. They have changed over the years due to the influences of society and history, they have taken on different meanings for different people. This is all very interesting from a sociological perspective, but not surprising or unique. Like all such artifacts, adherents have tried to concoct arguments and justifications to prop up the teachings and like most, they fail pretty badly.

            This kind of thing was going on long before any Church Fathers came around. But modern science doesn't 'back up' any Church fathers. They largely presented Genesis as fact, along with the rest of the old and new Testament. A few, like Augustine, wanted to hedge their bets but this tended to be the product of their own idiosyncratic but equally unscientific philosophies. (Augustine favored instantaneous creation if I remember!)

    • English Catholic

      May I ask: have you ever attempted to find a book that might answer your questions?

      • josh

        Which questions? Most of what I wrote above is a critique. The problem with pro-religion books is that they start by making mistakes early on and then just proceed to pile contrivances on top. I've certainly read some books by apologists.

  • Aaron Michael Matthias Selinge

    Question: What connection does this “God of the Philosophers” have to the moral virtue of religion?

    The worship of latria is the veneration due to God alone on account of His supreme
    excellence in order to show our complete dependence on Him. This consists
    principally in the offering of sacrifice. Hence, Augustine writes: “Many tokens
    of Divine worship are employed in doing honor to men, either through excessive
    humility, or through pernicious flattery; yet so that those to whom these
    honors are given are recognized as being men to whom we owe esteem and reverence and even adoration if they be far above us. But who ever thought it his duty to sacrifice to any other than one whom he either knew or deemed or pretended to be a God?" (De Civ. Dei x, 4)

    Why sacrifice though? Again, this has to do with the fact that man is both body and
    spirit. Saint Thomas writes: “Natural reason tells man that he is subject to a
    higher being, on account of the defects which he perceives in himself, and in
    which he needs help and direction from someone above him: and whatever this
    superior being may be, it is known to all under the name of God. Now just as in
    natural things the lower are naturally subject to the higher, so too it is a
    dictate of natural reason in accordance with man's natural inclination that he
    should tender submission and honor, according to his mode, to that which is
    above man. Now the mode befitting to man is that he should employ sensible
    signs in order to signify anything, because he derives his knowledge from
    sensibles. Hence it is a dictate of natural reason that man should use certain
    sensibles, by offering them to God in sign of the subjection and honor due to
    Him, like those who make certain offerings to their lord in recognition of his
    authority. Now this is what we mean by a sacrifice, and consequently the offering
    of sacrifice is of the natural law.”

    Man’s reason tells him that he is subject to God because of the defects that he
    perceives in himself. Thus, it is required by the natural law, which is our
    participation in the order found in the cosmos by our reason, that we stay
    submitted to God and remain in our proper place in creation. To not do this is
    to rebel against the creator like Lucifer, as by not serving God we attempt to
    make gods out of ourselves and upset the natural order.

    Yet the manner in which we offer this submission and adoration has to be done in
    the mode befitting man, that is, we need to offer God worship as the creature
    He created us to be. Since we are made of matter and spirit, we need to use
    sensible signs in order to render God the worship that is due.

    Notice however that the exterior sacrifice leads us to an inward spiritual sacrifice
    in which we offer our souls to God. This is why the psalmist says: "Thou
    hast no mind for sacrifice, burnt-offerings, if I brought them, thou wouldst
    refuse; here, O God, is my sacrifice, a broken spirit; a heart that is humbled
    and contrite thou, O God, wilt never disdain." (Psalm 50:18-20)

    • Howdy AMMS!

      Your comments are consistently more interesting and better constructed than most here. Keep it up!

      The worship of latria is the veneration due to God alone on account of His supreme excellence in order to show our complete dependence on Him. This consists principally in the offering of sacrifice. ... Why sacrifice though? Again, this has to do with the fact that man is both body and spirit.

      I rather suspect there's a strong dialectical similarity between the two topics, God and human spirit, in how the philosophically semi-justified idea is put in one box and the ordinary religious idea is put in another box, and the two are kept carefully separate by most religious writers, and when one box is criticized they declare it a category error because the other box is the "real thing".

      If the high concept of "spirit" is something like the abstraction "the form of the body", then just like "the act of being" for "God", it adds no information beyond what we already knew about bodies. Consequently it can't inform our decisions. For ordinary notions of "spirit" as religious folk usually use the word, we have no spirits, just bodies. Can you suggest some third-way notion of "spirit" that is non-trivial and true?

      Saint Thomas writes: “Natural reason tells man that he is subject to a higher being ... and in which he needs help and direction from someone above him ... in natural things the lower are naturally subject to the higher ... [man] should tender submission and honor, according to his mode, to that which is above man ...

      Ho boy. So full of outrageous feudal assumptions. What if I prefer equal dignity and freedom for all persons?

      "and whatever this superior being may be, it is known to all under the name of God."

      Demonstrably not.

      "Now the mode befitting to man is that he should employ sensible signs in order to signify anything, because he derives his knowledge from sensibles."

      It's an enthymeme. The hidden premise is that beings should employ X-type signs to signify things if they derive knowledge from X-type things. That's a doozy of a premise, so it's no wonder he left it unstated. Is there any reason that premise should be accepted?

      Thus, it is required by the natural law, which is our
      participation in the order found in the cosmos by our reason,

      If that's all natural law is, then it's impossible for humans to disobey the natural law. Our reason has found the the order of the cosmos to be described by physical equations that we have no power to interfere with. Oh, is this another example of the Two Box Trap? It looks like the high notions of natural law are put in one box, and the low notions of, for example, theft being bad and an African AIDS epidemic being preferable to condom use, is put in the other box.

  • James Hartic

    What God Is And Isn't

    Most people seem to equate god with being loving as per the human
    definition of the word....and if he does not treat us as we expect a
    loving god to do, he must not exist, or else this entity is a "monster".
    We are all born into a certain cultural, religious milieu....and hence
    we tend to adopt the religion and philosophical beliefs of said society.
    We just seem to assume that god must have certain attributes. The human
    psyche will sometimes go through all manner of mental contortions,
    rationalizations and "spiritual" gymnastics to cling to the accepted
    norms of the "faith" and it's comforts. Of course that is understandable
    in the face of intense suffering.

    There is one other remote possibility that most do not even consider.
    If one doesn't believe in or accept the Christian God....or other
    monotheistic religion, is it outside the realm of possibility, that at
    death one may encounter the creative force, an entity or intelligence
    who is responsible for creation....one that is like nature...red in
    tooth and claw….but indifferent…not benevolent or malevolent…that sends
    no one to hell...one that is still in the process of creating….and has
    deemed that the end of the physical form of existence, only means
    another step in the cosmic evolutionary ladder...from the physical
    realm...to an ongoing evolution of individual beings, of consciousness,
    of self, of "soul", eventually culminating in the “oneness” of that
    entity from whence the "singularity"(big bang)...from which our universe
    began? I often wonder if the concept of God, from the human
    perspective,
    from the Christian perspective isn't too small. Cannot what we call god
    be that creative intelligence behind the universe....and that this
    entity just does not care about humanity...anymore than the artist cares
    about his discarded sketch,
    because he is not satisfied with it.
    Not because he is mean or evil, or not good...but only because that is
    the way he is. The Christian religion is comforting no doubt in that it
    seems to give some answers, in a round about convoluted manner. I am not
    trying to take that away from anyone....but what if? Those who have no
    Christian god may like some hope as well. We are not all, like drowning
    men, grasping at straws?

    Again....not attempting to deprive anyone of their comfort....but
    those who do not embrace Christianity or any other religion should not
    be deprived of hope either. I admit....that such an entity as I propose
    is remote in the extreme....but no more so than the validity of the
    Christian religion....but there is no way to make sense of a loving god
    entity....with all the suffering in the world of man and nature in
    general. My theory makes about as much sense as any other religious
    theory. Oblivion is the only other option....and may be welcome in the
    face of unmitigated suffering.

    My condolences to the author and all others who have lost
    children....sad to say...it is an age old situation....and very
    difficult to see a loving god involved here.

    On Catholic Answers the other night....the host of the program
    said....that God loves us and has a plan for everyone...and for some
    that plan "may be a lifetime of creative suffering in a bed or in a
    wheelchair". Very nice indeed!

    Most people seem to equate god with being loving as per the human
    definition of the word....and if he does not treat us as we expect a
    loving god to do, he must not exist, or else this entity is a "monster".
    We are all born into a certain cultural, religious milieu....and hence
    we tend to adopt the religion and philosophical beliefs of said society.
    We just seem to assume that god must have certain attributes. The human
    psyche will sometimes go through all manner of mental contortions,
    rationalizations and "spiritual" gymnastics to cling to the accepted
    norms of the "faith" and it's comforts. Of course that is understandable
    in the face of intense suffering.

    There is one other remote possibility that most do not even consider.
    If one doesn't believe in or accept the Christian God....or other
    monotheistic religion, is it outside the realm of possibility, that at
    death one may encounter the creative force, an entity or intelligence
    who is responsible for creation....one that is like nature...red in
    tooth and claw….but indifferent…not benevolent or malevolent…that sends
    no one to hell...one that is still in the process of creating….and has
    deemed that the end of the physical form of existence, only means
    another step in the cosmic evolutionary ladder...from the physical
    realm...to an ongoing evolution of individual beings, of consciousness,
    of self, of "soul", eventually culminating in the “oneness” of that
    entity from whence the "singularity"(big bang)...from which our universe
    began? I often wonder if the concept of God, from the human
    perspective, from the Christian perspective isn't too small. The other
    possibility....is perhaps that there is a creative intelligence behind
    the universe....and that this entity just does not care about
    humanity...anymore than the artist cares about his discarded sketch,
    because he is not satisfied with it. Not because he is mean or evil, or
    not good...but only because that is the way he is. The Christian
    religion is comforting no doubt in that it seems to give some answers,
    in a round about convoluted manner. I am not trying to take that away
    from anyone....but what if? Those who have no Christian god may like
    some hope as well. We are all, like drowning men, grasping at straws are
    we not?

    Again....not attempting to deprive anyone of their comfort....but
    those who do not embrace Christianity or any other religion should not
    be deprived of hope either. I admit....that such an entity as I propose
    is remote in the extreme....but no more so than the validity of the
    Christian religion....but there is no way to make sense of a loving god
    entity....with all the suffering in the world of man and nature in
    general. My theory makes about as much sense as any other religious
    theory. Oblivion is the only other option....and may be welcome in the
    face of unmitigated suffering.

    My condolences to the author and all others who have lost
    children....sad to say...it is an age old situation....and very
    difficult to see a loving god involved here.

    On Catholic Answers the other night....the host of the program
    said....that God loves us and has a plan for everyone...and for some
    that plan "may be a lifetime of creative suffering in a bed or in a
    wheelchair". Very nice indeed!

  • I've never done this before, but I'm going to explicitly request people to read this post. My hope is that it points to a way of improving the discussion on this board.

    Let me offer one atheist's perspective on why we're here (other atheists are free to disagree). We're not here because Strange Notions suddenly made us question God's existence. Rather, we've questioned it for quite some time based on the presentation of God that we've encountered in for decades throughout our lives.

    Now whether we got that presentation from our parents, or Catholic pastors and CCD (as I did), or youtubes of Jimmy Swaggart, for most of us it has nothing to do with God as "the sheer act of being itself." No: whether it's from the Old Testament or the New, we've encountered a different Being altogether (and believe me, God has been presented as a Supreme Being!). Whether it's a Being whose name is "Jealous" (Exodus 34:14) or a Being who sent His Son to forgive every sin except the sin of not loving him enough, which is enough to send us to eternal torment.

    That's the God most of us atheists have rebelled against. And no matter what Thomas said in his syllogisms, it's still the God that American society expects us to grapple with every day.

    So we can talk about God as "the sheer act of being itself" as long as we're here in the secluded hot house of Strange Notions, but when we step away from our computer, we're confronted again and again from many directions (including Catholic pastors!) with a different Being altogether.

    So my question is this: how can we move from Thomas' rarefied intellectual environment to the way God is presented to the laity day in and day out?

    Because I think a lot of us are like Spinoza: If somebody asked us to define God in an abstract heady way, amounting to "All that is, and the way All-that-is works" then a bunch of us would be willing to say, "Sure, if 'god' is the three letter word you want to use for that, why not?" But it seems like organized religion demands so much more, and that's where the reasoning breaks down for us.

    So here's one of two suggestions as a starting point. Instead of pointing the finger at atheists and deriding our conception of what you mean by God, how about looking at the laity's conception of God, and explain where THEY have gone wrong. They would go a long way to making some of these basic issues clear.

    And here's a second suggestion: How about moving past Thomas' conception of God and explaining how that conception of "the sheer act of being itself" turns into something that commands Canaanite genocide or sending bears to kill mischievous children (2 Kings 2:23-24).

    Because that's the intellectual leap and the moral struggle that sends a good many people into atheism.

    • MichaelNewsham

      All the deep theology of Aquinas and Augustine and their successors results from their having to tie themselves into knots to reconcile their Iron Age legends and mythology with more sophisticated levels of thinking that developed later. It happened with the Greeks and Romans dealing with the stories of the Homeric Gods, with Hindus and the tales from the Upanishads, Confucius with the "Shi Jing (Classic of Poetry).

      • Kevin Aldrich

        Have you ever actually read Aquinas and Augustine. They don't tie knots: they untie them.

      • English Catholic

        That's question-begging, unfortunately.

    • Hey Rob - I appreciate the candidness of your comment.

      So my question is this: how can we move from Thomas' rarefied intellectual environment to the way God is presented to the laity day in and day out?

      One of my favorite images of the Church is as a body. A human body has its parts - a head, heart, and hands, or mind, feeling, and will. I like to think of the stodgy theologians as the head, prayer warriors as the heart, and social workers as the hands. People tend to attune to God through a certain channel of their being. That doesn't mean Catholics are all running around worshipping different gods - but their paths might be different. (If false or misleading things are being said or done, that's a different story.)

      So my answer would be: we don't have to make that move at all. God meets us where we are, and invites us there to open ourselves up to grace.

      Now, when you start digging into Pascal's distinction between the "God of the philosophers" and the "God of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob," that's where things get interesting, and where I think Aquinas becomes such an important figure. Aquinas is the peak of that beautiful medieval marriage between the two worlds - faith and reason, Hebraism and Hellenism - a marriage the Church continues to honor. Early Gnostics wanted to expunge the God of the OT - the fatherly God who guides us and changes us from within - and stick to that airy transcendence that keeps its distance. But God remains our Father here and now, not just "being itself" somewhere beyond the stars. The key to the more difficult OT passages, as Fr. Barron likes to point out, is to read them in light of the loving sacrifice of the Lamb of God.

      • Thanks for the thoughtful considered response, Matthew, but I have to confess that when I try to pin down its meaning I find nothing specific that I can work with. If you were to ask me to paraphrase it in my own words I would not know what to say. It's a heartfelt expression of your own faith, but it doesn't give me a lead on how to reconcile Thomas with the Pentateuch.

        • Rob - Reconciling the analogia entis of Aquinas with the smiting/jealous/shellfish OT God that atheists love to lampoon does feel daunting, even impossible. But I think this speaks more to our historical situation than to the reconciliation of these two approaches in principle, which again we find beautifully in the medieval world.

          From the Reformation, through Descartes, to Kant and the Enlightenment, and finally the senility of postmodernism, we see a pattern of reason and faith bitterly parting ways. The two worlds are seen as having less and less to say to each other, let alone business to conduct together. Which is why I think that both people are sometimes shocked (even outraged) to find that Catholics have not changed their approach, and still maintain that Thomas/Aristotle and the Pentateuch speak of the same God. Without the linchpin of the Church's life and teachings, which tie everything together - i.e., seen from without - this feels like bridging the unbridgeable chasm. To me, seen from within, there's no chasm to bridge.

          • MichaelNewsham

            We don't have to lampoon- we just have to quote.

      • Matthew, you use terms like "meets" us and "invites" us, but these things never ever actually happen. Not in any sense of the words that makes sense.

        Do you mean God meets us and invites us by being invisible, inaudible and communicating through vague feelings and ancient, disturbing manuscripts? What do you actually mean?

        • Brian - Check out my article here on Thursday, which I think is an appropriate response.

    • I can say that I don't disagree with you much, but my journey is quite different.

      I am not rebelling against a god of any kind. I have never seen any reason to believe in one.

      I am here because it drives me nuts that good-natured intelligent people, like many of the thiests here seem to think about these issues and suspend reason based on wishful thinking. I worry about the consequences of suspending reason and acting on faith, particularly when it we are talking about ultimate questions. What they believe are the most important issues to humans.

      I am fully with you that this retreat from god as an entity in and transcending the cosmos to the concept of "the sheer act of being" is utterly at odds with what I hear most people believe.

      I think that it is because people like Fr Barron are quite intelligent and recognize that any way of describing a god as something we would otherwise say is "real" falls down at some point. It really annoys me because these vague concepts are used, I think, as place-holders for actually thinking about it.

      We see it in the comments here, because an actual real god that interacts with the world and can be detected simply is not there, god must be the origin of kindness, the act of being, the sum of "perfections" all terms which we would all immediately call BS on in any other context.

      • Kevin Aldrich

        I am here because it drives me nuts that good-natured intelligent people, like many of the theists here seem to think about these issues and suspend reason based on wishful thinking.

        Please be sure to identify and explain when you think reason is being suspended.

        >Esse ipsum subsistens, the sheer act of being itself, is certainly not a suspension of reason but a consequence of very deep reasoning.

        >The same is true of seeing God as having perfectly goods that we share in imperfectly.

        >The same is true of the ideas of contingency and necessity.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      Rob, I'll go out on a limb and say that the conception of God that atheists reject is going to always (?) be a caricature of God and which is rightly to be rejected.

      It's also true that many believers have or have had an imperfect idea of God. After all, if one was taught about God as a child one would have imagined God within the limitations of a child's mind.

    • English Catholic

      Rob, very briefly, and aware this isn't answering all your questions, it seems to me that there are three 'stages' of thought that lead to Catholicism:

      (1) The God of the monotheistic religions exists (hence theism);
      (2) Only then can we consider the question of whether this God came to earth in the form of a man (hence Christianity);
      (3) Only then can we consider the question of whether Christ founded a Church which speaks with authority (hence Catholicism, and all that follows).

      Actually, I suppose you could add a pre-requisite to (1):

      (0) Immaterial things exist (hence non-materialism of whatever stripe); only then can we consider (1).

      At each stage, there would be people who disagree. At (0), it would be materialist atheists of the Dawkins/Dennett stripe; at (1), it would be non-materialist atheists, pantheists and polytheists; at (2) it would be Jews and Muslims, and at (3) it would be Protestants (and in a different way, the Orthodox).

      Now, 0 and 1 are philosophical questions. 2 is a historical question. And by the time we get to 3, we're dealing with an intra-Christian theological question of little interest to anybody here.

      Most people on this board are either atheists or Catholics; in other words, they either accept all of 0 to 3, or they accept none of the propositions, or they accept only 0. For somebody who didn't accept 0, it would be logically impossible to accept 2 or 3; indeed, the very question would seem absurd or laughable.

      Fr Barron's question was discussing (1). If we were able to agree on 1, discussion of 2 would be germane. But as it is, all the non-Catholics on this board seem to be atheists; it therefore seems sensible to stick to stages 0 and 1.

      (Now personally, I would spend most of my time on 0; I would feel uncomfortable using the terms he's using without a great deal of philosophical discussion first. What is cause, for example? Was Aristotle right to posit that there are four 'causes'? What is 'Being Itself'? Is the idea of 'form' a delusion caused by scant scientific knowledge? Etc. It's impossible to understand the Thomist arguments without a basic grounding in Aristotle. The argument is really about whether Aristotle was right or not. But that's by-the-by.)

      • Kevin Aldrich

        English Catholic, I think you've done a brilliant job of mapping out the landscape of these discussions.

        • English Catholic

          Thanks!

      • Geena Safire

        2 [consider the question of whether this God came to earth in the form of a man] is a historical question

        Absolutely not! That a wise, itinerant preacher named Jesus lived in the Levant at that time is likely, historically.

        But that is far, far, far from making him being an avatar a historical question. That is completely a question of faith.

        • English Catholic

          More precisely: whether or not he physically resurrected is a historical question.

          (Not an avatar, an incarnation -- but let's leave that for now.)

        • David Nickol

          Absolutely not! That a wise, itinerant preacher named Jesus lived in the Levant at that time is likely, historically.

          Well, whether there was someone who was God incarnate, was crucified, and rose from the dead is either true or false. If it is true, it is something that occurred in the past, and in that sense is historical. The problem as I see it is that historians, practicing the discipline of history, cannot say whether it is true or false, because historians (like those in the physical sciences) are required to give "naturalistic" explanations of events and their consequences. Otherwise all of history collapses. If a historian claims that the North won the Civil War because slavery was evil and God helped Lincoln win, then of course that opens the door to questioning every explanation of how and why the North won the Civil War and how and why the winners of every war in history won their wars.

          • Geena Safire

            The problem as I see it is that historians, practicing the discipline of history, cannot say whether it is true or false

            That is exactly why Jesus' divinity or resurrection are not historical questions. They are questions of faith.

          • David Nickol

            That is exactly why Jesus' divinity or resurrection are not historical questions. They are questions of faith.

            But by saying something is a question of faith and not a historical question you are not saying—are you?—that it didn't actually happen. While historians can't say Jesus did rise from the dead, they can't say he didn't. They can't say that after his apparent execution, he was not seen by any of his followers. If alleged post-resurrection appearances had very strong historical support (which I certainly don't think is the case), wouldn't historians have to say something like. "His supporters say the execution attempt was successful and Jesus died and came back to life. Whatever the case, there is reliable evidence that he continued to be seen by his followers after he was crucified"?

          • Geena Safire

            Historians can say that people said that he rose from the dead. They cannot say whether or not he did. Since the gospels are a biased source, they cannot be relied upon by themselves, and there is no other contemporary source except more than 70 years later which only comments that a group called Christians exists.

            (Even in the Bible, in the encounter on the road to Emmaus, his own disciples "did not recognize him" for hours as they talked to him about Jesus.)

            It was only in the late 19th century that the field of history settled down to write only what most likely actually happened, given the best evidence available, rather than writing history 'for' a particular purpose/goal or just writing down everything and not discriminating between facts and tales.

            English Catholic wrote: "The resurrection refers to an event that can be."

            According to medical science, a person being dead for three days cannot come back to life.

            The apostles' experience may have been a 'folie à beaucoup,' where they really believed it, but it was not true. Or they could have intentionally made up the story because of the importance to them of Jesus' message. Or it might not have been Jesus who was arrested and crucified but another apostle or disciple, by prearrangement including Judas. Or it might have been another person who claimed he was Jesus resurrected. Or Jesus might not have died (the centurion spear could be a story to beef up their claim) on the cross. Or he could have been an alien who could consciously appear dead (to the people of that time). Or he could have been an android from another planet wandering the cosmos.

            Each of these is a more likely scenarios that Jesus actually having died and risen from the dead.

            So it's not just true or false. It's true or false or false or false or false or false or false, with each 'false' having a higher probability than the 'true' option.

          • English Catholic

            I think this misses the point, though. The Civil War analogy refers to a cause that can't, in principle, be observed or falsified. The resurrection refers to an event that can be.

          • David Nickol

            The resurrection refers to an event that can be.

            I wonder what kind of evidence we would be willing to accept today that someone had been executed and then rose from the dead. Suppose someone on death row is executed at midnight tonight, and three days from now someone claiming to be the executed prisoner shows up. What proof would be sufficient to convince you the prisoner had truly died and truly risen from the dead?

          • Rick DeLano

            How about if he had you put your fingers in the bullet holes?

          • David Nickol

            In the scenario I was imagining, death was by lethal injection. But more importantly, what I wanted to know was what evidence would people be willing to accept who were not directly and personally involved. I think, for example, it would be necessary for there to be definitive proof that the person who is allegedly back from the dead actually had been dead for three days. In Iran recently, a man was hanged and certified dead by medics. Later, he was found to be alive. Does anyone suspect this was a case of resurrection from the dead? I don't think so. I think everyone concludes that the medics made a mistake and that the man was not really dead.

            I am not arguing that if I had been one of Jesus's disciples, and the events reported in the Gospels had taken place around me, I would not have believed Jesus had risen from the dead. I am raising the question what kind of evidence contemporary people at some remove from events would accept as undeniable evidence of resurrection.

          • And as I understand it, the notion of a man being brought back from the dead was not as extraordinary to people in the mideast 2000 years ago as it is to us today. Different eras come with different mindsets.

          • Rick DeLano

            How about if the person in question explicitly told his associates, in advance, that this would occur, that He would establish a Church that would endure until the end of time, and then two thousand years later we were to notice that the Church had become the only universal religion in the history of humanity?

          • David Nickol

            How about if the Person in question explicitly told His associates, in advance, that this would occur . . .

            Of course, we have no proof that Jesus predicted his death and resurrection. What we have are accounts written no earlier than approximately forty years after the crucifixion that attribute to Jesus predictions.

            In any case, are not responding to what I wrote. I am asking what evidence would people find credible today of a claim that a contemporary person had risen from the dead. Or perhaps it should not be a contemporary person, but someone who died and allegedly rose from the dead in the early 1970s. How much of an open mind would Christians who believe the 2000-year-old evidence of the resurrection of Jesus have if there were claims that someone in the early 1970s had risen from the dead? I am suggesting, among other things, that there would have to exist absolutely conclusive proof that the person had truly died. As I pointed out in a previous message, we just had a case in Iran of someone who was executed and pronounced dead who was not, in fact, dead. So something like a death certificate is obviously not enough.

          • Rick DeLano

            "Of course, we have no proof that Jesus predicted his death and resurrection."

            >> Sure we do. Same proof as we have that Caesar crossed the Rubicon. Better, actually.

            What we have are accounts written no earlier than approximately forty years after the crucifixion that attribute to Jesus predictions.

            >> You have no idea when they were written, but you do know that something happened that changed the world more than any other event in history.

            It's really quite simple.

          • David Nickol

            Sure we do. Same proof as we have that Caesar crossed the Rubicon. Better, actually.

            The standard for accepting as a historical fact that someone rose from the dead is much higher than the standard for accepting as a historical fact that a general crossed a river.

            In the overall life and career of Caesar, it is quite unimportant whether he crossed a river named "Rubicon," although it is of significance what we now take the crossing of that river to represent. But if Caesar actually did what the phrase "crossing the Rubicon" has come to represent, then it is of little significance if he actually crossed a river then named "Rubicon" or a river now named "Rubicon."

            You have no idea when they were written, but you do know that something happened that changed the world more than any other event in history.

            Of course we have some idea when the Gospels were written. Assuming for the sake of argument that Christianity has changed the world as dramatically as you claim, it would still be difficult to pinpoint an "event" that was both necessary and sufficient for the change.

            But you are still not addressing what I wrote. Let's accept as a fact that Jesus was God incarnate, that he worked miracles, that he founded the Catholic Church, and that he was crucified, buried, and rose from the dead. That still doesn't answer the question I raised, which is what proof would a reasonable person require to be convinced of such an occurrence today, or an occurrence claimed to have happened forty years ago?

          • Rick DeLano

            "The standard for accepting as a historical fact that someone rose from the dead is much higher than the standard for accepting as a historical fact that a general crossed a river."

            >>Yes, which is why the existence of the Catholic Church, and the non-existence of the Roman Empire, serve to provide us evidence that the much more unlikely Resurrection occurred. The Church has, after all, conquered Rome.

            It is the fulfillment of all prophecies concerning this Church- prophecies manifestly written down centuries and centuries before the historical fulfillment of them- that constitutes the superior motive of credibility of the Catholic Church's claims concerning Her Founder's Resurrection from the dead.

          • David Nickol

            It is the fulfillment of all prophecies concerning this Church . . .

            While the Catholic Church is the largest, and very nearly the oldest continuously operating organizations in the world, it is unclear to me what prophecies you are talking about. It seems fairly clear to me that Jesus anticipated the end of the world within the lifetime of some of those he preached to—a point about which he was wrong—so I don't really believe he predicted the Church would be around in the 21st century. I also don't think it makes a great deal of sense to claim Jesus founded the Catholic Church, although it certainly arose as a continuation of his ministry, which in a great many respects was a failure. Jesus was Jewish and considered his audience to be Jews, and for all practical purposes his following among Jews was minimal and was not sustained.

            It is bizarre to suggest that because the Catholic Church still exists and the Roman Empire does not that the resurrection of Jesus is somehow better substantiated than Caesar's crossing of the Rubicon!

            Of course, once again this has almost nothing to do with what would constitute reasonable proof of a 20th- or 21st-century individual dying and rising from the dead some days later. If it were reported in the news that an Iranian holy man had been dead for three days and rose from the dead, you probably wouldn't even bother to read the reports.

          • Geena Safire

            I wish people would stop with the whole Rubicon fiction. It's so tired and stupid.

            Julius Caesar was known to be in the north of current-day Italy. Then he was later known to be in the city of Rome. Between Ravenna (IIRC) where he was, the only way to get to Rome is to cross the Rubicon River. He crossed the river, and he had to have crossed it within a day or so of the proposed date.

            The important thing about the Rubicon, in any case, was that it was the border of the Republic of Rome -- and a general leading an army was not allowed to enter the Republic on pain of an automatic death sentence.

            So no matter where Julius Caesar had been before and no matter how or by what route he ended up in the city of Rome, he did get to Rome, so he was still condemning himself to death (if they didn't succeed) just by being there, even if he didn't participate in the rebellion. That is the important thing about the Rubicon story.

            OTOH, we have no contemporary written account of even the existence of that itinerant preacher named Jesus.

          • Rick DeLano

            Geena, your argument above actually shows the selective nature of your use of historical sources.

            You say: "Julius Caesar was known to be in the north of current-day Italy."

            How do we know this?

            Because of historical documentation in the form of Caesar's manuscript, the earliest copy of which we possess dates from about eight centuries after the event.

            "OTOH, we have no contemporary written account of even the existence of that itinerant preacher named Jesus."

            Do you see the problem here, Geena? We do have contemporary accounts, from eyewitnesses, and our earliest copies in this case are less than three centuries after the event.

            So our historical evidence for Christ's resurrection is superior to our historical evidence for Caesar's crossing the Rubicon, and the sole basis upon which to reject this is a presuppositional rejection of the possibility that what history tells us- both as to documented eyewitness accounts, and as to subsequent historical events- actually occurred.

          • Geena Safire

            FYI: More details, including listing three contemporary written reports, available in this refutation of Christian apologist Holding's 'Caesar crossing the Rubicon' "argument."

            James Holding claims that we have as much evidence that Jesus rose from his grave as we have that Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon ("Julie's River Run: On Comparing the Rubicon to the Resurrection"). There are numerous errors in his argument. This rebuttal responds briefly to the most important issues. ... [lots of detail] ... [T]hese three letters together represent a contemporary report that Caesar had not crossed more than a few days before January 12, definitely crossed before January 19, and had gotten as far as Arretium by January 27. Cicero also included actual letters from Caesar and Pompey on the further conduct of the war between them down the coast of Italy, and letters from other people fighting against Caesar, confirming his advance all the way to Brundisium, finally chasing Pompey out of Italy altogether.

        • English Catholic

          Thanks for your kind comment by the way, which I overlooked the first time I read your comment!

      • Geena Safire

        I didn't recall this earlier, or I would have included it in my prior comment.

        Sanderson Jones, who is launching communities in 40 cities this fall of the Sunday Assembly, said, "Some people are not happy about the Sunday Assembly idea. Apparently, our way of not believing in God is not the right way not to believe in God."

    • hillclimber

      Hi Rob,

      I think your suggestion is right on the money, and I read in your comments many of the same things I have struggled with. Although I have been nominally Catholic and have attended mass for more than a decade (all for the noble goal of marital harmony), I spent most of that time patiently enduring liturgies that seemed very disconnected from both my philosophical reflections and my native intuitions about the divine. I never heard too much that I found objectionable, but most of what I heard and saw just never resonated for me. Ironically, I always felt quite connected to infinite and abstract God that we might just as well label "Truth/Goodness/Beauty", but the personal God of salvation history and Jesus was completely befuddling to me.

      I no longer feel that way. I now see that my natively felt "Truth/Goodness/Beauty" infinite God is the same God who enters into history in the most finite of ways. In this little post I won't attempt to summarize all of the minor insights and experiences that that led me to this point, but I do want to lend support to your proposal.

      One thing that I think may help is to split up one of the stages enumerated by English Catholic below. As you rightly point out, it is one thing to be a monotheist a la Aquinas, and another thing to embrace the God of scripture. I would therefore let stage 1 simply be "Belief that there is only one true God", and introduce stage 1.5 to be: "Belief that God enters into the messiness of our history in ways that are conveyed in Jewish scripture". To my mind, the population that is struggling to find a connection between 1 and 1.5 is very underserved by most of the videos and blogs out there.

      • Danny Getchell

        Hillclimber,

        I quite agree with your point but suggest a different numbering convention. In my experience, the move from "nothing" to "a cause" is from zero to one. The move from "a cause" to "the God of the Christian scriptures" is from 1 to 10^100.

        • Geena Safire

          I agree with your proposed different numbering convention, adding just a tiny mention of some of the relevant areas for belief:

          Ground of all being, being itself
          Disembodied 'mind,' supreme intelligence/intellect
          Supernatural being, beyond our comprehension or proof of existence
          Creator of the universe, with a specific plan for each of the 10^80 atoms in the observable universe at every moment for billions/trillions of years.

          Triple-omni: omnipotent, omnipresent, omnicient.

          Answers prayers, but only when they align with his eternal plan, cares who we sleep with or think about sleeping with.

          Triple-person trinity.

          The deity gets credit for only the good stuff (which it also "is")
          All the bad stuff in the universe is the fault of us
          humans, including all of our suffering which includes natural disasters, moral evils (murder, genocide, rape, torture...), illness, starvation and death.

          Old Testament: Revelation and covenant with Abraham and Israel
          Noah, Exodus, Amalakite/Caananite genocide...

          Plus New Testament: immaculate conception, divine fertilization, incarnation, miracles, resurrection,
          substitutionary atonement, redemption, salvation, assention, assumption.

          Jesus being personally present for every human at every moment of their lives and aware of every action and every thought.

          Plus humans were at least symbolically good before we were bad, although evolution finds it physically happened the other way.
          Because two of us were bad, the deity made the rest of us worse (original sin) because it wants us to be better.

          Souls operate our brains, perhaps igniting each of the 86,000,000,000 neurons moment to moment like microscopic cannons, but without any known physical force or subatomic particle, and without violating the law of conservation of energy.

          Angels and demons might be optional, but probably not Satan.

          The second coming, heaven and hell.

          Limbo's out but purgatory is still in, including indulgences. Natural law theology.

          Oh, and Mary, the rosary, Fatima, Guadaloupe, Lourdes,...!

          The Saints and intercession and miracles.

          The pope, the Vatican, the magisterium, apostolic succession, ex cathedra papal infallibility, encyclicals, and the catechism.

          The substantial reality of each of the seven sacraments, including transubstantiation, plus they work even if the priest is demonstrably evil because of the supernatural power of annointing.

          Just a tiny start at a list...

        • hillclimber

          Good stuff Danny. I'm on board with your more evocative numbering scheme, but I was actually trying to emphasize the existence of an intermediate step before we get to Christian scripture. I specifically referred to Jewish scripture because it may be easier for some (this was the case for me) to first wrap their heads around the Jewish narrative of a God who speaks though human history, before trying to digest the notion of Jesus as the first fulfillment of that narrative. If I may dice it even further (I'm glad you left plenty of room for intermediate stages), perhaps (feel free to adjust the numbers) :

          10^100 : "belief that the grand narrative of the Old Testament comes to fulfillment in Jesus of Nazareth"
          10^10 : "belief that the Old Testament narrative is in some way THE grand narrative of all of human history"
          10^2 : "belief that all of history might possibly convey the unfolding of some grand narrative."
          10 : "belief that history exists, i.e. that time is unidirectional with a beginning and an end (in contrast to purely cyclical views of time)"

          What renumbering would you suggest for these? What I mean is, between which of those 4 stages do you see the biggest gap?

          • Danny Getchell

            That's an interesting way of putting it. Certainly I accept that there may be a Purpose to all of this, but have yet to see any convincing details of same.

            So I suppose that the gap between steps 2 and 3 should have the biggest number of zeros behind it....

          • hillclimber

            That's fair. I don't know if this helps, but I personally shy away from the word "purpose" in this context because it has a utilitarian connotation. In the same way that I don't think of a great song as a having a purpose, I don't think of THE one-song (the uni-verse) as having a purpose exactly. It's more that I think of it as having a coherence and a beauty that is not static, but rather unfolds in time. In the same way that it is very difficult to convince someone by words alone of the beauty and coherence of a complex piece of music, I suspect it would be hard for me to give you compelling evidence that history conveys a narrative. On the other hand, I wonder if you also have this native intuition to some extent?

          • Danny Getchell

            On reflection, I suppose that it's the lack of a sense of proportion which creates the gulf between #2 and #3.

            I know that I am far from the first to point this out, but to think that the creator of the universe set out to do so that he might participate in working out the destiny of -

            - a small nomadic tribe
            - living on a planet located in the outer spiral arm
            - of a galaxy consisting of millions of planets
            - in a universe containing millions of such galaxies

            - is one of the most credulity-straining concepts I can imagine.

            Really, at that rate the stars and galaxies might just as well have been what the ancients supposed they were: bright dots painted on the inside of an obsidian dome, a few hundred miles up.

          • hillclimber

            Hi Danny,
            I agree with you, it does strain credulity, and I suspect you would agree that it strains credulity even further to think that God might care in particular about your destiny, or my destiny. And yet, I personally can't escape the intuition that, in spite of all the evidence, I matter. My life matters. My story matters. Do you have that same intuition? For me, this intuition is at least as immediate as my intuition that science will not lead us astray, from which follows my belief that cosmologists have accurately characterized the scale of the universe and correctly identified our apparently unremarkable location within it. I am unwilling to abandon either one of these primary intuitions, and I instead feel obliged to reconcile them.

          • Danny Getchell

            I certainly believe that my life matters to my family and friends, as does theirs to me. Whether it matters in some larger sense is something that I occasionally have contemplated but frankly do not find an essential component of my world view.

            I quite agree that the difference between your point of view and mine is one of intuition. Some of us have such an intuition and some do not - I make no claim of intellectual or moral superiority for lack of same, it just is what it is.

          • hillclimber

            OK. I certainly can't tell you what intuitions you do and don't have, but if I may probe a little further: do you come to this website just to find insight into your relationships with your family and friends (it's fine if you do, and actually I think you would find some success there), or do you come here as part of a larger quest for truth? If the latter, is this quest merely a pleasurable diversion, or do you have any sense that it is cosmically important for you to seek truth?

          • Danny Getchell

            You might have a point. If I really think that there are no truths out there for me to discover, this may not be the website for me. I'm contemplating it.

  • Steven Dillon

    I don't think we've defeated polytheism. The gods would be immaterial, though capable of incarnation. So, our failure to observe them would not indicate they don't exist.

    Further, polytheism is not incompatible with classical theism: God and the gods would be deities analogously.

    Finally, the idea that all contingent things are explained by God is notoriously problematic. Let X be whatever it is that explains all contingent things, be it an action, an event or a state of affairs. If X is itself contingent, then it is included in the group of contingent things it's supposed to explain. But, this seems absurd and therefore impossible. However, if causa sui is possible, then it's unclear why X should be thought to involve God. Once you allow for causa sui, pretty much anything goes.

    • bencanuck

      "Once you allow for causa sui, pretty much anything goes."

      Most Catholic philosophers would agree with this. Descartes' causa sui is not the same as the philosophical view of Thomas Aquinas or others. Thomas, for example, does not call God his own cause. The notion IS absurd.

  • niknac

    If God exists, he must have an origin. If he has an origin, he must not be a supreme being.

    • Rick DeLano

      Aquinas replies:

      "We find that certain things either may or may not exist, since they are found to come into being and be destroyed, and in consequence potentially, either existent or non-existent. But it is impossible for all things that are of this character to exist eternally, because what may not exist, at length will not. If, then, all things were merely possible (mere accidents), eventually nothing among things would exist. If this is true, even now there would be nothing, because what does not exist, does not take its beginning except through something that does exist. If then nothing existed, it would be impossible for anything to begin, and there would now be nothing existing, which is admittedly false. Hence not all things are mere accidents, but there must be one necessarily existing being. Now every necessary thing either has a cause of its necessary existence, or has not. In the case of necessary things that have a cause for their necessary existence, the chain of causes cannot go back infinitely, just as not in the case of efficient causes, as proved. Hence there must be presupposed something necessarily existing through its own nature, not having a cause elsewhere but being itself the cause of the necessary existence of other things---which all call God."

      • niknac

        So this God who exists eternally and entirely outside of time and space, created human kind here on Earth, for whatever reason, then spent a lot of time formulating rules applying to our sexual intercourse, which must only occur between one man and one woman, within the unbreakable bond of sacramental marriage, for the purpose of procreation, then raised up an institutional church run primarily by elderly, deeply self loathing, closeted, Gay men to enforce them.

        Very Cool!

        • GregB

          I posted the following comment at another web site:
          *
          There seems to be some confusion as to the spiritual difference between the heterosexual and the homosexual act. The sex act was created by God to model the inner life of the Trinity. The heterosexual union is described as the one flesh union. The intimacy of the one flesh union
          models the intimacy of the union between the Three Persons of the Trinity, an intimacy that is so complete, total, and perfect that They are One in Substance. Eve was made from the rib of Adam so that she would be consubstantial with Adam. From a spiritual perspective this
          universe is incarnational, and the heterosexual union is a form of living iconography. In the one flesh union of the heterosexual act there is an authentic, intimate, physical joining of the husband and the wife, where they form one flesh, and are face to face.

          The relationship between God and the Church is said to be spousal. To be in intimate, spiritual, divine union with God is the way to most fully see God face to face. Only the heterosexual union provides the true image and likeness of this face to face union. Every other way is the way of the iconoclast, destroying the sacred imagery that God gave the heterosexual act.
          *
          A defective understanding of sex leads to a defective understanding of God.

          • "Only the heterosexual union provides the true image and likeness of this face to face union."

            Can you give any reasoning to support this view? It seems to be put forth merely as an assertion in your post.

          • Andre Boillot

            Also, apparently we heteros are doing it wrong if it's not face to face...

            (I'm leaving aside the implication that homosexual sex can't be face to face)

          • I'm deeply hoping that GregB has something more in mind than the notion that gay sex is wrong because it's not face-to-face. I just can't bring myself to believe somebody could be that wrong in this day and age.

          • Geena Safire

            [A]pparently we heteros are doing it wrong if it's not face to face...

            Actually no. Most authorized (impimatur; nihil obstat) authors who write about Catholic sex today say that most forms of sexual activity are allowed within a given 'session' as long as the 'session' includes E with P-in-V without AC between M-W MC. Some even consider 'imperfect sodomy' (i.e., without E there) allowable.

          • Andre Boillot

            Twas a joke ;)

          • Geena Safire

            Yeah, I knew, but what's the harm in letting me show off every once in a while.

          • Andre Boillot

            Mostly I just couldn't figure out the acronyms :)

          • Geena Safire

            Ah, but we wouldn't want to upset Brandon, would we?

          • Danny Getchell

            Ah, now I know what the catechists mean by "the letter of the law".

          • Geena Safire

            Eve was made from the rib of Adam

            Actually, the Hebrew word means a 'structural bone,' of which the rib is one kind. The baculum (penis bone) is another, which essentially all mammals have but humans do not. The following phrase "and then closed up the place with flesh" might refer to the seam along the underside. Also, men and women have the same number of ribs.

        • Andre Boillot

          "then raised up an institutional church run primarily by elderly, deeply self loathing, closeted, Gay men to enforce them."

          I'm not sure how you could begin to support this statement with real evidence.

          • Geena Safire

            Age:
            (1) Very few men are named bishops these days who are not already 45, often older.,
            (2) Overall, active U.S. bishops average 65 years of age, ranging in age from 45 to 80.,
            (3) The average age of cardinals is 78.

            Sexual orientation:
            "Members of the foreign press corps in Rome talk freely among themselves about the orientation of Popes: Pius XII (divided opinion), John XXIII, heterosexual, Paul VI, homosexual, John Paul II, heterosexual, and Benedict XVI, homosexual." (Article contains a table of the sexual orientation of some US bishops.) Richard Sipe: "Repeated studies indicate that 30% of Catholic priests have a homosexual orientation. Informed sources declare that this is true also of bishops in the United States. Several knowledgeable and well respected priests claim that 50% of men in seminaries and novitiates today qualify for this categorization." (Separately, the John Jay report regarding clergy child sex abuse noted that the majority of priests who abused male children had a heterosexual orientation with respect to adults, as is found in the general population.)

            Closeted goes without saying.

            As far as self-loathing, I haven't been able to put my hands on a specific reference. If there's enough interest, I could go suss it out.

          • Andre Boillot

            Geena,

            I suppose that niknac might have been only referring to the hierarchy when saying "run primarily by", for whatever reason, I interpreted it as all clergy. Even taking this more limited scope, there's still the "primarily" element to deal with - even your source for sexual orientation (I haven't taken to the time to read up on Sipe, but he appears to be the only source you cite) doesn't argue that most bishops, cardinals, etc. are gay.

            More importantly is the overall picture niknac paints of the clergy, which even as an atheist with many a bone to pick, I found deeply uncharitable and spiteful.

            Your points re: closeted and self-loathing I find troubling as well. Would you consider a heterosexual priest suppressing his sexuality as closeted? Any evidence for the self-loathing?

          • Geena Safire

            Andre, I agree that niknac's comment was uncharitable and mean.

            You'll note that I just provided information. (Sipe is a highly-regarded source on priest esp wrt clergy celibacy and orientation.)

            My information supported his claim that they are old.

            It did not support the claim that they 'primarily' have a same-sex orientation. OTOH, the ratio is very much higher than most assume -- about ten times the ratio in the general population -- and may be even higher among bishops than priests. It seems difficult to think that, even if not in the majority, that this high a ratio has some effect on the decisions regarding policy on sexuality.

            In this context, the term 'closeted' refers to whether one keeps one's sexual orientation private, known to only a few very close others, as opposed to being 'out of the closet.' In this regard, the vast majority of them are closeted.

            With regard to 'self-loathing,' I'd need to have a definition to go on. Some folks, especially in the gay community, consider a same-sex-attracted person becoming a celibacy-vowing priest is, in itself, an act of self-loathing. That seems drastic to me The mental health community generally eschews 'self-loathing,' preferring 'with low self-esteem,' plus it is considered a symptom rather than a condition/diagnosis in itself, so we'll get little from that quarter.

          • MichaelNewsham

            And, as I said elsewhere, the image is of a Father and Son having sexual intercourse to produce a third being. Now the obvious choice should have been the Father and Mother (Sophia) producing the Son, but the combination of Classical and Hebraic patriarchy was too much to overcome; hence the bizarre associations brought forth.

            The Perfect Family: Father, _______,and Child.

      • Geena Safire

        Aquinas via Rick DeLano: "If this is true, even now there would be nothing, because what does not exist, does not take its beginning except through something that does exist."

        This is a variation of "From nothing, nothing comes." That is a statement made without any evidence. We haven't ever had a 'nothing' to study, so we cannot say what can or cannot come from nothing. Everything we have ever seen form has come from 'something.'

        Physicists, at least those who have some interest in this topic, have no problem imagining several ways in which our universe could have emerged from 'nothing.' Plus they are not convinced that the Big Bang is the 'beginning of the universe' but rather should be considered the 'end of our current understanding.'

        Even if one wants to proceed only from logic rather than science, according to WLC's own logic, it is just as logical that the universe has an eternal material cause as an eternal efficient cause.

        • English Catholic

          "This is a variation of "From nothing, nothing comes." That is a statement made without any evidence. We haven't ever had a 'nothing' to study, so we cannot say what can or cannot come from nothing.Everything we have ever seen form has come from 'something.' "

          It's a logical certainty: nothing, by its very nature, can cause nothing, because nothing is not a thing but the lack of a thing. "A does not exist; A causes B" is self-contradictory. We are never going to discover anything that falsifies St Thomas's statement, because anything that we observed causing something would, by definition, not be nothing.

          "Physicists, atleast those who have some interest in this topic, have no problem imagining several ways in which our
          universe could have emerged from 'nothing.'"

          Physicists are as entitled to philosophical speculation in their spare time as anybody, of course. But generally, these ideas turn out not to involve nothing at all, but a 'field' or 'force' or 'gravity' of some kind. All of these things are things, not nothing.

          As for Krauss, you will find a thorough demolition of his argument here: http://edwardfeser.blogspot.co.uk/2013/02/forgetting-nothing-learning-nothing.html

          • Rick DeLano

            Beat me to it.

            Nicer too.

          • Geena Safire

            With all respect, English Catholic, from what he wrote, Feser appears not to have either read Krauss' book nor even watched the entire one-hour lecture which 'summarizes' the book. At least, he didn't hear it all.

            I'll have to grant him that Krauss is egotistical and crass. But that doesn't mean he is wrong. In addition, Krauss is not speculating philosophically. He is theorizing with respect to the scientific body of knowledge.

            When we didn't know anything about galaxies and so forth, pontificating (if you'll pardon the expression) on their nature was the province of philosophy. Cosmology is now in the purview of science.

            Therefore, physics -- and not philosophy -- is now the field best able to describe the nature of what 'something' is, from the Planck scale to the cosmic scale, especially with the verification of the Higgs field and the WMAP imaging of the cosmic microwave background radiation.

            Particle physicists and cosmologists, especially theoretical ones like Lawrence Krauss and Sean Carroll, based on the body of knowledge in the field, have a good grasp on what 'something' is. Krauss predicted dark energy, btw, and Carroll is co-author of two of the three leading theories for quantum gravity. They both have 'made their bones' in the field. Although Krauss writes some books for the general public, he is also regularly publishing in scientific journals. You wouldn't say Pope Emeritus Benedict was not a theologian just because he also wrote some things for general readers.

            Since physicists are the ones who can tell us what 'something' is -- quarks, electrons, forces, etc. -- based on extremely detailed and accurate experiments, they are also the only ones qualified to tell us what 'nothing' means or can mean, wrt the real world as opposed to just logic and reason.

            Feser wants the term 'nothing' to be defined as 'that from which nothing comes.' But that 'definition' is actually only a philosophical assertion, only an idea about 'nothing.' It has little relevance any more to the actual possible qualities of 'nothing' related to the universe in which we live.

            Krauss, while keeping in mind that the Big Bang may not have been "the" beginning from 'nothing', presents three variants of what 'nothing' could be -- (1) No matter or radiation (energy), (2) No matter, radiation, space or time, (3) No matter, radiation, space, time or laws of physics -- and how our universe could have come into existence from each.

            If Feser has another definition, another element/portion/feature of our known universe that he would like to remove from Krauss' definition in order to get a 'nothing' that is more pleasing to him, he is welcome to propose it.

          • Vasco Gama

            The problem with Krauss is that he is plainly wrong, he is just saying that "nothing" is not "nothing" but "something", and that historically (in the past) "nothing" was really "something" and that considering "nothing" to be "nothing" is wrong.

            I understand that you want to agree with him (and feel free to do so, if you like), but nothing is really nothing (not something).

            Krauss competence comes from being a physicist, not a philosopher. From his concepts and definitions of nothing clearly doesn’t qualify him to do so (as what he meant to be nothing clearly is not nothing). He is completely wrong.

            Of course he can claim that the universe can come from nearly nothing (but then he has do put it in those terms, but he choose not to do it).

          • Geena Safire

            Vasco, with all respect, you didn't read what I wrote.

          • Vasco Gama

            Yes I did. You are defending that cosmologists can tell us “what nothing is” better than philosophers. However many cosmologists defend completely different ideas, refuting each other (even on a basic level). Further in face of everything that is being told to us by specialists we must maintain a critical thinking (at least I do) and prevent from accepting anything that they consider to be reasonable.

            However one is free to accept the claims from the figures of authority we find reasonable to rely. (In my case, the claims of Krauss clearly tell me that he is unreliable)

          • Geena Safire

            Vasco, again, with respect, you haven't provided any argument to what I proposed except to essentially say, "Nuh-uh!" Please provide a specific argument to one or more of the specific arguments that I raised. Then I can reply.

            [I]n face of everything that is being told to us by specialists,...critical thinking...prevent[s us] from accepting anything [we] consider to be [un]reasonable.

            "[Lawrence] Krauss is one of the few living physicists referred to by Scientific American as a "public intellectual", and he is the only physicist to have received awards from all three major U.S. physics societies: the American Physical Society, the American Association of Physics Teachers, and the American Institute of Physics. In 2012 he was awarded the National Science Board's Public Service Medal for his contributions to public education in science and
            engineering in the US."

            Sure, Vasco, let's prevent ourselves from considering any outstanding, highly-reputed, well-regarded, multi-awarded expert in his field (physics and cosmology) on the basis that we don't like that his actual science doesn't fit in with our favorite philosophy.

            [M]any cosmologists defend completely different ideas.

            Names? Credentials? Awards? Reputation?

          • Vasco Gama

            Geena,

            Feel free to accept uncritically any claim from Krauss, in spite of my good will I am not able to the same (he himself willingly provided clear profs of being philosophically unreliable).

            The fact that prestigious entities find reasonable to say whatever they find reasonable to attest in relation to Krauss doesn’t change anything (it just concerns them, my disagreement with Krauss doesn’t concern his scientific claims, but metaphysical and philosophical issues and I am hardly alone in that regard).

            Maybe someone finds reasonable to make shrines of devotion to Krauss (this doesn’t make it rational, at least for me).

            In what concerns to cosmological views please search the internet. Cosmology is an entire field of knowledge (not a minor peculiarity of physics).

          • Geena Safire

            [Sure, let's ignore Krauss] on the basis that we don't like that his actual science doesn't fit in with our favorite philosophy. [/s]

            [M]y disagreement with Krauss doesn’t concern his scientific claims, but metaphysical and philosophical issues

            That's exactly what I said you were doing. Why did you simply repeat it?

            In what concerns to cosmological views please search the internet

            No, Vasco, that's not how it works. When you make a claim, the burden of proof is on you to back it up, not on me.

            So please, let me know which scientists dispute Krauss' scientific claims.

          • Vasco Gama

            No honest scientist would agree with Krauss that nothing is not nothing, but something distinct from nothing.

            But we already add this discussion before (please try to remember).

            I already gave you the reaction of Sean Carroll to Krauss's book, but I can add the reactions of

            Jerry Coyne:
            http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2012/04/02/david-albert-pans-lawrence-krausss-new-book/

            of Massimo Pigliucci:
            http://rationallyspeaking.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/lawrence-krauss-another-physicist-with.html

            and of David Albert:
            http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/25/books/review/a-universe-from-nothing-by-lawrence-m-krauss.html?_r=1&

          • Geena Safire

            As I noted above, with respect to what 'something' is, actually, in our universe, the physicists can tell us what 'something' is, what constitutes 'something' in the real world.

            It is, therefore, no longer the province of armchair philosophers to ponder what 'something' is and what 'nothing' can actually mean.

            In the same way that priests and philosophers no longer use bird blood to cure leprosy nor drain blood from people to remove the bad humors, because medical science has debunked those ideas,...

            ...in the same way that philosophers no longer consider fire to be a result of an element called phlogiston, because chemists discovered that burning is an oxidation / combustion process,...

            ...in the same way that philosophers no longer believe in vitalism, a force or substance that is present in live bodies and absent in dead ones, because biologists understand scientifically what happens at death,...

            ...in the same way that philosophers no longer posit luminferous ether as the universal medium that carries light, because physicists learned about the relationship between electricity and magnetism which propagates light,...

            ...philosophers also no longer get to define what 'something' logically is and what 'nothing' can logically mean, because the science of physics has an increasingly complete understanding of what 'something' is and, because of that, what 'nothing' can actually mean.

            No honest scientist would agree with Krauss that nothing is not nothing, but something distinct from nothing.

            So now Professor Doctor Vasco Gama is the one who decides who is an honest scientist, based on who agrees with Herr Prof. Dr. Gama's philosophical definitions!? /s

            Again, names please and credentials, Vasco, or let it go.

          • Vasco Gama

            Inserted after the reply of Geena Safire in my comment above (although I was not aware of her reply):

            I already gave you the reaction of Sean Carroll to Krauss's book, but I can add the reactions of (quoted from Feser)

            Jerry Coyne:

            http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2012/04/02/david-albert-pans-lawrence-krausss-new-book/

            of Massimo Pigliucci:

            http://rationallyspeaking.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/lawrence-krauss-another-physicist-with.html

            and of David Albert:

            http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/25/books/review/a-universe-from-nothing-by-lawrence-m-krauss.html?_r=1&

            Personally I could not find any particular interest to read Krauss’s book (but I don't doubt that what he says is somehow worthwhile).

            Sorry Geena I wasn't aware of the netiquette (that makes sense), however I didn't saw your reply before adding the links (which aren't a response to to your reply, but to your previous comment).

          • Geena Safire

            No worries, Vasco, regarding netiquette. Everybody learns something new everyday (or, at least, I think it's a good idea).

            I will try to reply regarding these articles within the next few days, but I cannot promise. I will not reply to any article by Feser on this, however. He is a blatant, unabashed Christian apologist, twisting facts and the words of others to bolster his 'arguments.'

            My general reply, at first perusal, is that all of them are mostly taking issue with Krauss' dissing of philosophy. (Krauss, a few months later, at the urging of Daniel Dennett inter alia, wrote a mea culpa, published in Scientific American, apologizing for said dissing.)

            Also, several of them (Albert & Coyne included) erroneously stop at just one of Krauss' three definitions of 'nothing' -- the quantum vacuum, and on that basis alone, critique it as not being philosophically valid a 'nothing.'

            First, if it turns out that the quantum vacuum has existed externally, and it is that from which our universe expanded, then it will be the only valid definition of 'nothing' for our universe, regardless of its unsatisfactory philosophic 'nothingness.' Second, Krauss provided two other possible definitions of 'nothing,' to which they did not reply.

            Carroll's article indicated that he found Krauss' ideas theoretically reasonable.

          • Vasco Gama

            Obviously I have various disagreements with Krauss's ideas (but I am not a cosmologist and also not a physicist, and surely he is much more competent that me to address issues related to his domains of expertise), but the only relevant point for this discussion is the definition of nothing (where Krauss takes as plausible a variety of things that are not nothing, and he shouldn't, and that what Coyne, Albert, Carroll, Feser and Massimo showed a major disagreemnet).

          • Geena Safire

            Ignoring Feser... The others did not show a major disagreement with Krauss' three proposals for 'nothing.' Carroll thought they were reasonable. The others didn't like his first of three proposals, and didn't comment on the other two. Plus, as I said, they didn't like his disparaging tone regarding philosophy, particularly Albert (who is a philosopher), or the book's tone overall. Coyne also, didn't find his writing style easy to read, and didn't think his ideas were particularly new. They all would agree that he's pompous and crass (though they might use other words). Pigliucci felt that Krauss overreached with the book title and such.

            But they do not have a major disagreement with the science of Krauss' ideas. Further, most of the book reviews were quite favorable, which further weakens your contention.

          • Vasco Gama

            Geena,

            Are you trying to argue with me to exhaustion? All of them including Carroll didn’t agree with his definition of nothing (it is really not a minor peculiarity as you suggest, it is a major issue).

            Coyne is philosopher such as Feser, Massimo is a philosopher and a scientist (biology), Carroll is a scientist and Albert is a philosopher (with a PhD degree in physics, I don’t know if he keeps doing science), and all of them criticise his work (although Carroll choose to so in a friendly tone saying that it wasn’t that bad). The publication of Krauss's book was an embarrassment even for an atheists like Coyne (in case you didn't realize it please read the criticism again).

          • Geena Safire

            Three definitions of nothing. Three definitions of nothing. Three definitions of nothing. Three definitions of nothing. Three definitions of nothing. Three definitions of nothing. Three definitions of nothing. Three definitions of nothing. Three definitions of nothing. Three definitions of nothing. Three definitions of nothing. Three definitions of nothing. Three definitions of nothing. Three definitions of nothing. Three definitions of nothing.

            Plus, from his own web site: "Biology professor Jerry Coyne"

            Three definitions of nothing. Three definitions of nothing. Three definitions of nothing. Three definitions of nothing. Three definitions of nothing. Three definitions of nothing. Three definitions of nothing.

            I won't reply until you acknowledge that Krauss proposes Three Definitions of Nothing.

            EDIT: Plus I described what each of them didn't like about the book. Did you even read what I wrote? I didn't say any of these guys liked it. But they did not dislike it completely nor did they dislike it for the reasons you want them to have disliked it.

          • Vasco Gama

            I dislike it (and that is good enough form me).

            Nothing is not very complicated (it just has to be nothing, and it is just not a matter of philosophy, or a philosophical definition), any definition that suggests that nothing is something different from nothing is wrong.

            But in view of your insistence I will try to see the three definitions of nothing (I will let you know if I find something worthwhile).

          • English Catholic

            I will grant, for the sake of argument, that Krauss's qualifications lend him authority on what, if anything, existed 'before' the Big Bang. I will also grant, for the sake of argument, that when he does so, he is acting in his capacity as a professional scientist rather than an amateur philosopher, despite the fact that his claims are not based on observation. I will also grant, for the sake of argument, that something like 'the laws of physics' existed 'before', or even before, the Big Bang; and that this supplants the previous assumption that there was nothing at all before the Big Bang, not even empty space. I will grant all that, but I will not grant that thing that Krauss may posit as existing before the Big Bang is allowed to count as nothing, just because he says so.

            His abilities as a physicist may be considerable, but that does not mean he can state absurdities like 'X existed before the Big Bang, and I'm going to call this nothing'. The laws of logic are immutable (if they are subject to change then why bother with rational discussion? just invent your own logic): and something is not nothing. For you to suggest it could possibly be otherwise, just because a particular physicist says so, is argument from authority of the worst kind. You grant him infinitely more authority to pronounce on reality than I grant the Pope!

            An empirical discovery, in principle, cannot make nothing something. It can show us that a particular thing, that we thought was nothing, is in fact something. It can show us that something existed pre-Big Bang when previously we thought nothing existed. But it can't make nothing something, just as it can't make two plus two equal five. It can't create an absurdity. If you genuinely want to deny the law of non-contrdiction, and argue that the absence of something is actually something and that the laws of logic can be nullified by empirical discoveries, I'm happy to have that discussion. But the results for science aren't pretty.

            Now, on to your more general point about physics and philosophy:

            "When we didn't know anything about galaxies and so forth, pontificating (if you'll pardon the expression) on their nature was the province of philosophy. Cosmology is now in the purview of science. Therefore, physics -- and not philosophy -- is now the field best able to describe the nature of what 'something' is, from the Planck scale to the cosmic scale, especially with the verification of the Higgs field and the WMAP imaging of the cosmic microwave background radiation."

            The 'therefore' in no way holds. You have given some specific empirical discoveries, which rightly fall under the purview of physics. But your statement about physics and philosophy simply does not follow from this. Philosophy (or metaphysics) involves making statements about reality at the most general level on the basis of logic. Physics involves empirical discoveries about the material world around us. Now, you may think philosophy is vague, empty bunk, and that physics and the other natural sciences can give us everything we can know about reality. But you need to make this case, not assume it.

            Further, you can't logically point to particular aspects of reality that physics explains to us -- quarks, galaxies, whatever -- and then, on the basis of our knowledge of those aspects, argue that physics can explain everything to us and philosophy is thereby outmoded. That's a fallacy, Geena: to limit scope, and then, on the basis of the results of that limitation of scope, argue that there is nothing outside that scope. Again, you might say that everything outside that scope is fantasy, but you can't use the results of discoveries made within that scope to make your case. At least, not logically.

            Drop Krauss. His philosophy is the sedevacantism of atheism: even his own side think it's nuts. You can coherently and sensibly argue that the Big Bang is the result of a Big Crunch, itself the result of a Big Bang, and so on backwards to infinity; and in doing so you need not abandon your atheism. But you needn't believe absurdities like 'X can be the absence of X (or X = !X)'.

          • Geena Safire

            Cheers, English Catholic! Thank you, again as always, for a well-considered, well-written reply. (Plus new vocabulary - always fun!)

            You can't ... argue that physics can explain
            everything to us and philosophy is thereby outmoded

            It was not my intention to say that. Philosophy plays and will always play a vital role in all human knowledge. I said, however, that many subjects have, in the past, moved out of the purview of philosophy and into other realms. The definition of 'nothing' is now one of these. That is, logically, the definition of 'nothing' is properly in the realm of physics because it is the science that most fundamentally defines what 'something' is.

            I will not grant that any thing that Krauss may posit as existing before the Big Bang is allowed to count as nothing, just because he says so. ... [Krauss] can[not] state absurdities like 'X existed before the Big Bang, and I'm going to call this nothing'.

            He didn't. And I didn't say he did.

            I provided Krauss' three possible ways to define 'nothing': (1) No matter or radiation (energy),

            (2) No matter, radiation, space or time,

            (3) No matter, radiation, space, time or laws of physics

            (in addition to

            (4) the possibility that there was eternally 'something').

            What less do you want?

            What else do you propose could be removed from the 'something' that is our universe to validly be considered 'nothing'?

          • josh

            "It's a logical certainty: nothing, by its very nature, can cause nothing, because nothing is not a thing but the lack of a thing. "A does not exist; A causes B" is self-contradictory. Anything that we observed causing something would, by definition, not be nothing."

            Nothing can't have a nature, otherwise it would be something. Looks like you need to double check your logic. Also, 'nothing comes from nothing' and 'nothing doesn't cause anything' are two different statements. You are correct that in the end you are just offering a definition, and it is exactly in the form of a No True Scotsman. Any time someone shows you how something could come from nothing, you will declare that it wasn't a 'True' nothing. That may suit your fancy, but it's not telling you anything important metaphysically. Also note that by adopting this stance you would show that God cannot create from nothing.

          • Susan

            Also note that by adopting this stance you would show that God cannot create from nothing.

            Yes. Well, the whole point is this idea of metaphysical nothing is asserted as some legitimate reference point and then Yahweh is exempted from any of the rules and can magically spirit "something" from "metaphysical nothing" Yahweh doesn't count as something because he is beyond physical something. This is how you justify all kinds of other mind-boggling stuff like resurrecting saviours and incoherent trinities.

            (sigh)

            Why is there something rather than nothing?

            What do they mean by "why" and how could there possibly be "nothing"? I don't even know what the question means. I know how it feels like an important question but...

            Watch. This is how they justify Yahweh.

            Great comments Josh. I'm not telling you anything you don't already know and haven't put more articulately.

            But they will use your perfectly good point that that stance would show that "God" can't create from nothing to say but "it PROVES that 'He' can."

            And call that reason.

          • English Catholic

            No, the NTS fallacy involves an arbitrary, unreasoned claim that a particular is not an example of a universal because it appears to provide a counter-example to a claim made about that universal.

            That has nothing to do with this discussion. Nothing is the absence of anything by definition. Therefore, any thing that is a thing (ie anything at all) cannot, by definition, be nothing. Saying that a thing is not nothing is no more an example of the NTS fallacy than stating an apple is not a true banana.

          • josh

            They are more connected than you realize. The thing is, No True Scotsman isn't actually a fallacy. One can formally offer a definition with whatever conditions one wants, even if they are ad hoc, and that's not strictly fallacious. A True Scotsman can be whatever you say it is. But it is poor argument nonetheless. The problem is you haven't actually defined 'nothing' except by a refusal to accept it as an answer to a certain question. Along the same lines, you haven't defined 'a thing'.

            If by definition a cause is 'not nothing,' it doesn't follow that nothing is a lack of a thing. If nothing is a lack of a thing by definition, it doesn't follow that nothing can't be a cause, just that certain causes may not be things. For consistency, you could define nothing as not 'a thing', whatever that is, and a cause as by definition a thing. But it becomes clear that these are just definitions and don't say much about reality.

            This is kind of a minor point since I don't have a big problem adopting definitions like these, but it is crucially important to realize that nature is under no obligation to line up with the definitions you intuitively feel should work. You aren't learning anything by defining your terms as you like, and if you do so, you have to be careful. You will keep running into problems that the word 'nothing' is grammatically and functionally 'something'. That's why you ran into the confusion of saying it had a nature.

            If nothing comes from nothing than God cannot create from nothing. There can be no explanation for existence itself under these terms, since any explanation would itself be an existence. The point is to avoid special pleading, which, if you think about it, is the point of calling No True Scotsman in the first place.

      • MichaelNewsham

        "But it is impossible for all things that are of this character to exist
        eternally, because what may not exist, at length will not. If, then,
        all things were merely possible (mere accidents), eventually nothing
        among things would exist."

        I must be missing something, because this seems obviously wrong. If a rope is made of many threads braided together, it does not mean the rope must end simply because a thread (or all the threads) that are part of the rope at any existing point comes to an end.

        • Geena Safire

          True, Michael. This is an example of the composition fallacy, that what is true of some or even all of the parts is not necessarily true of the whole.

          • Rick DeLano

            It means the rope must end because *all* of the braids will eventually cease to exist.

            Some people call this a fallacy.

            Others call it entropy.

          • Geena Safire

            There is a potential of universal heat death. But that is not an established fact. Philosophically, there is no reason to assume that all of the braids will eventually cease to exist, so it is a logical fallacy.

            By the time trillions of years have passed, we would likely have learned how to link to other universes, making ours essentially immortal, or even to create other linked universes.

          • Rick DeLano

            It won't take trillions of years for the rope to deteriorate because of the deterioration of its braids.

            This is an empirical certainty.

            Philosophy which contradicts this is wrong.

          • Geena Safire

            If you keep adding new strands to the rope every year, the rope won't deteriorate overall.

          • Rick DeLano

            And isn't *that* interesting?

            The rope, therefore, consists in something other than the strands, which can be replaced.

            Almost like the rope is the form of the strands......

    • Only things in the created order have an origin. Outside the scope of time, something either exists or it does not exist. There is no change, because there is no time. If there is no change, there is no origin. Incidentally, this is one of the reasons why we say God cannot change. The eternal state is just that... a state, outside of time and space. This can be seen as far back as Augustine in the 300's who recognized time was part of the created order. Science only caught up 1600 years later.

      • bencanuck

        "Only things in the created order have an origin... If there is no change, there is no origin."

        This, of course, is
        not true for Catholics. The Father is the origin of the Son, for
        example, yet the Son is eternally begotten of the Father within the eternity of the Godhead.

        Just pointing out.

        • Bencanuck said:

          [---
          The Father is the origin of the Son, for
          example, yet the Son is eternally begotten of the Father within the eternity of the Godhead.
          ---]

          Origin implies a beginning. Eternity implies no beginning.

          When we profess that the Son was eternally begotten of the Father, we say "eternally" because the Son did not have a beginning. We are professing a relationship between Father and Son that is NOT a creator / creature relationship. All the persons of the Godhead are uncreated relations in one God. There is no need to talk about origin with reference to God because He is One. The Father is everything the Son is except being Son, and the Son is everything the Father is except being Father.

          • bencanuck

            "Origin implies a beginning."

            No. Catholics legitimately use the word 'origin' or 'principle' to describe the Father in reference to the Son (and Spirit), e.g., CCC 245: "the Church recognizes the Father as "the source and origin of the whole divinity" [quoting the Council of Toledo]."

            This term is related to tragic differences between Greek and Latin regarding the 'filioque' (see CCC 247-248).

          • If you read the question I am responding to, he is using origin to imply a beginning, which is a common usage of the word.

            The word origin is not being used to imply a beginning in your citations. Are you saying it does?

          • bencanuck

            "If you read the statement of niknac that I am responding to, he is using origin to imply a beginning"

            Niknac did not mention 'beginning'. It's quite unclear whether 'beginning' or 'cause' (or a specific kind of cause) or something else is meant. 'Beginning' was your word and interpretation.

            "The word origin is not being used to imply a beginning in your citations."

            Right. That's why Catholics should not say, "Only things in the created order have an origin." It disagrees with the Catechism and is rather inconsiderate of ecumenical issues (re: the 'filioque'). :P

          • [---
            Niknac did not mention 'beginning'.
            ---]
            Merriam Webster did, among other definitions.

            [---
            It's quite unclear whether 'beginning' or 'cause'
            ---]
            It was clear to me and obviously to you since you can only see the alternative definition to how it was being used.

            [---
            'Beginning' was your word and interpretation.
            ---]
            And likely the correct one.

            [---
            That's why Catholics should not say, "Only things in the created order have an origin." It disagrees with the Catechism and is rather inconsiderate of ecumenical issues (re: the 'filioque').
            ---]
            Well, it certainly is correct when by origin a beginning is meant. Yet again, your citations were using a different connotation of the word origin.

            You do understand that words can have more than one meaning? Yes?

            http://laughingsquid.com/someone-is-wrong-on-the-internet/

          • bencanuck

            "Merriam Webster did, among other definitions. "

            Someone spoke and you assumed the most broad and charitable interpretation of their words comes from a dictionary? Or you did not offer the most broad and charitable interpretation of their words? Which is it? :

            "It was clear to me, and obviously to you..."

            I said it is not clear to me (nor do I believe it is clear, full stop). Is there any other sin you would like to infer I have done, aside from lying?

            But if I have (apparently) lied: How is it clear that Niknac means 'beginning' and not, for example, 'cause'? What about those short thoughts makes this so obvious? What have I missed (or refused to see, if I am lying about the clarity)?

            "Well, it certainly is correct when by origin a beginning is meant."

            No. Not even then, according to the Fathers. For example, St. Cyril of Alexandria (Doctor of the Church), whom I just happened to be reading this afternoon and totally unintending to read something related to this conversation: "The Father is spoken of by the saints too as the Beginning of the Son in the sense only of 'whence' [or 'Source', i.e., origin, as he says a few lines earlier]."

            Historically, there is a lot at play in these words. I don't see why one would ever jump to conclusions about someone else's meaning, before enough information is available to make a judgment. That cannot help people see the richness of the Catholic faith!

            "And likely the correct [word and interpretation], in my opinion."

            That may be. Curious why you forced it on Niknac before asking, though.

            "You do understand that words can have more than one meaning?"

            Yes. This is implicit in my replies to you. As Catholics we typically respect all meanings, just like we respect all causes. We don't typically force our interpretations on other people, such as Niknac, so that he/she is even more wrong than he/she has to be. Right? :)

            "I fully understand your position, and concerns"

            It does not seem so. :

  • GregB

    Rabbi David Fohrman has a 27 part series on YouTube titled "Exodus: The Hidden Agenda." He goes through an explanation of the names of God. He says that YHVH in the original language is a composite of the three words for existence. Existing in the past, present, and the future. He places YHVH as existing totally outside of creation. He also compares YHVH to the concept of imaginary numbers. He further says that in the original language that the word that is translated as lower case g god can also be translated as the word power.

  • Great article, translated into Portuguese here:http://logosapologetica.com/deus-nao/#axzz2kfKAAHV6

  • Claim:

    > neither Hitchens nor Dawkins display any real grasp of what Aquinas even means when he speaks of God

    Evidence given: None.

    Not a good start. Fr. Barron might be right about that, but why should anyone just accept his characterization when there's such a strong prima facie reason to presume bias?

    Fr. Barron later offers this as a better grasp of "God":

    > Rather, God is, in Aquinas's pithy Latin phrase, esse ipsum subsistens, the sheer act of being itself.

    That definition is a deepity, obviously. One of the most useful techniques for avoiding getting entangled in pointless and possibly nonsensical semantic arguments is answering this question: What difference does it make in the experiences we expect? If an idea has no consequences for perception or action, or if there's no difference in consequences for perception or action between two ideas, then there's no point to arguing over them.

    Under that rubric, Aquinas' phrase is sterile. The idea of "the act of being" adds no additional information that you didn't already have from the things you'd observed to exist. It can't inform your perceptions or your actions at all.

    An alternate account, "God as commonly thought of by ordinary Catholics", is fertile. From that you would expect to observe people going to Mass, receiving sacraments, adoring the Eucharist, praying to Jesus, showing honor to Mary via statues of her, etc. And we do observe that, as it's ordinary human action. We would also expect to observe the occasional miracle, a history differentially marked by Providence in more faithful regions, greater moral growth among the faithful, etc. We don't observe any of that, as it would require the actual existence of something similar to God as thought of by ordinary Catholics.

    As an atheist and former Catholic, when I encounter smart-set Catholics defending content-free definitions of God as above instead of the God of their religion, it looks to me like they are living in two separate boxes, one at a time. One box is their intellectual rationalizations of theism, and it has no quotidian consequences different from atheism. The other box is the beliefs common in their locale plus the peculiarities of their own personal faith, and that box escapes evidential justification either entirely or almost entirely. When Dawkins, Hitchens, and the like demolish the ideas in the latter box, smart-set Catholics divert to the former box and declare it the "real thing" and the attacks to have been misguided. When philosophers demolish the ideas in the former box, the Catholics pull the equal and opposite trick diverting into the latter box. It's a nice memetic defense mechanism; it makes it impossible for critics to force them to evaluate their own truth claims.

    How best can we help them escape the "box-trick"?

    • Hey Noah - Setting aside the striking condescension of your last sentence, I would respond to your comment very straightforwardly. Those "deepities" (would you accuse Aristotle of "deepities" as well, on whose thought Aquinas' metaphysics depends?) are quite often not an apologetic weapon or "intellectual rationalization," but the very soil from which faith later blooms. This was the case for Jacques Maritain, Edith Stein, GK Chesterton, Thomas Merton, Walker Percy, Dorothy Day, and a whole host of phenomenologists studying under Husserl in the 20th century. It also was true for Fr. Barron, whose vocation to the priesthood was sparked by a study of Aquinas in high school. So much for lacking practical import!

      • Howdy Matthew,

        would you accuse Aristotle of "deepities" as well

        People aren't deepities; sentences are deepities when they have a trivially true sense and a false or meaningless deeper sense. If there's a specific quote from Aristotle you want me to address, I can certainly do so.

        Jacques Maritain, Edith Stein, GK Chesterton, Thomas Merton, Walker Percy, Dorothy Day, and a whole host of phenomenologists ... It also was true for Fr. Barron ... So much for lacking practical import!

        People aren't examples of practical import. Historical or hypothetical differences in what people would perceive or how they would make real-life decisions are examples of practical import. If there are any such specifics you want to bring up as evidence, I'd be interested to see them so please do so.

        I would respond to your comment very straightforwardly

        That'd be great! I look forward to it. Do you think that Aquinas' phrase ("the sheer act of being itself") has non-trivial true content? If so, what is that content and what practical expectations, perceptions, or decisions are changed by recognition of it? Do you ever notice the separation between what we might call the "high theology" and "low theology" of the two boxes? If so, do you think the separation serves some valuable function?

        • Noah - I was offering examples of people for whom the left-brained work of philosophy and theology was a catalyst into a life of active faith. I think that most certainly counts as evidence for the power of ideas. You argued that these concepts are abstract and useless, but in fact they have the power to transform a person's relationship with the Absolute and move them to do great things here and now, in a very practical - and not just academic - sense.

          To your second thought, I think it's important to remember that theology and philosophy don't save a person. If the greatest theologian in the world has no faith or love, he or she is nothing compared to a holy fool that grasps nothing intellectually but loves others and loves God with all their being. To reduce faith to how articulate a person is about God is a grave mistake.

          • Howdy Matthew,

            I was offering examples of people for whom the left-brained work of philosophy and theology was a catalyst into a life of active faith. I think that most certainly counts as evidence for the power of ideas.

            Well sure, but that isn't relevant to our topic. Obviously I agree that some ideas are useful. I doubt anyone seriously disagrees with that. But what about the ideas here and now that I explicitly quoted from Fr. Barron's article and wrote several paragraphs about? Since I asked you direct questions about those (high box) things, as they'd be essential for my understanding, but you diverted to (low box) talk about how

            If the greatest theologian in the world has no faith or love, he or she is nothing compared to a holy fool that grasps nothing intellectually but loves others and loves God with all their being

            , can I take it that you agree the Two Box Trap effect is an obstacle to our communication that we (you and I and other readers) have reason to fix?

          • Noah - I don't think so. I don't see a conflict between what you term "high" and "low" theology. They're simply different depths of intellectual approach to the one and the same God. God is so simple a child can understand him and love him, yet so profound that he is inexhaustible to a brilliant theologian. This doesn't mean there are two different gods - only two different people!

          • Howdy Matthew,

            Noah - I don't think so. I don't see a conflict between what you term "high" and "low" theology.

            Er, OK, that's nice. I didn't claim there was a theoretical conflict between the two. I claimed there was a separation in practice common among some smart-set Catholics, wherein critiques of the content of one box are met, not with defense, but with switching to the other box and declaring it the real thing and the critiques therefore misguided for focusing on the wrong thing.

            They're simply different depths of intellectual approach to the one and the same God.

            That's a key claim that I'd love to see defended. Certainly nothing official on this site has attempted it. I do see in comments below one fellow, Aaron Michael Matthias Selinge, is trying. I'll take your above post as a belated answer to my question, "do you think the separation serves some valuable function?". The answer is appreciated. My questions in this thread are not rhetorical. I'm pushing you to come up with answers, even provisional best-guesses. It's the only way forward toward mutual understanding.

            If, as your post suggests, the two boxes are roughly "a theologian's understanding" and "a child's understanding", would you say that the former includes and expands upon the latter, or that instead the latter relies on common sense and mundane analogies that the former departs from so as to build a more rigorous foundation?

            And back to the original topic again, Do you think that Aquinas' phrase (God is "the sheer act of being itself") has any non-trivial true content? If so, what do you think that content might be, and what practical expectations, observations, or decisions are changed by acceptance of it versus denial of it?

          • Noah - You very well may have encountered people like that. Perhaps I'm like that on a bad day. But I don't think a separation in "smart-set" Catholics' way of living says much about God, do you? People who claim to love and serve God in theory do all kinds of horrible things in practice, and jump around all kinds of boxes to rationalize it. That's certainly a separation. But doesn't that tell you more about the people than about God?

            To answer your question directly, yes, I believe the former expands on the latter intellectually. What else? And yes, I think "the sheer act of being itself" has non-trivial truth content about the ground of the world and our search to find it - although if by "non-trivial" you mean empirically verifiable or logically syllogistic, than no.

          • Howdy Matthew,

            But I don't think a separation in "smart-set" Catholics' way of [talking about God] says much about God, do you?

            (I edited out the word "living" to bring the quoted sentence unambiguously onto the topic at hand.) Heh, I'm an atheist. I don't have a belief that God exists. Consequently, what people say about this "God" idea is indeed, for me, all there seems to be to God until theists can indicate some corresponding reality, something that would make a difference in any of our anticipated experiences. In the meantime, this separation (the Two Box Trap) in discussions about God say that, at best, God has not revealed himself with sufficient clarity for even his bright and well-informed followers to find a logically valid connection between their philosophical abstractions and their religious practice.

            People who claim to love and serve God in theory do all kinds of horrible things in practice ... But doesn't that tell you more about the people than about God?

            More? Yes. Only? No. For example, it tells us that receipt of the sacraments makes no observable difference in people's lives, and therefore that God has less observable effect on moral behavior than a ham sandwich.

            yes, I believe the former ["a theologian's understanding"] expands on the latter ["a child's understanding"] intellectually.

            OK. If that's the relationship between the two, then right emphasis would never require diverting the argument from the former to the latter. So we can safely dismiss your above argument that "I think it's important to remember that theology and philosophy don't save a person" as having been too quickly composed, and based on a false dichotomy between a theologian's understanding and a child/holy fool's understanding. And we can stay in Adult Mode and ask questions to light the path from "the sheer act of being itself" to the crucified Christ without demanding that Child Mode faith in the latter precede having good reasons to think there is any such path.

            yes, I think "the sheer act of being itself" has non-trivial [true] content

            OK. What do you think that content might be? Can you think of any examples of practical expectations, perceptions, observations, or decisions that go one way if that content is accepted versus another way if it is rejected?

          • Geena Safire

            I think that most certainly counts as evidence for the power of ideas.

            Just because our human psychology works in some relatively predictable ways doesn't mean that supernatural forces make them work that way.

            More significantly, just because an idea is useful does not mean that it is thereby true.

      • cminca

        Matthew--
        I'm not going to enter into your argument, but I am going to address the "striking condescension" remark.
        I'd invite you to go to You Tube and look up Fr. Barron's video on "Tolerance" and attempt to count how many times he using a phrase or word that would meet your "striking condescension" criteria.
        Now remember that his topic is "tolerance".

  • Eric Dutton

    I accept that it is common for an atheist to offer arguments against a god that their present opponent does not recognize, but I do not believe it is because serious atheists disbelieve in the wrong kind of god. I suggest that serious atheists disbelieve in any kind of god you care to name, as long as it isn't some other thing called by the wrong name.
    Whether you define God as "love," "the sheer act of being itself," or as "the eternal, all-knowing, all-loving, all-powerful creator of the universe," I would say that you have either named something that doesn't exist or you have named something that is more accurately called something other than "God."
    This disbelief is not evidence of a lack of curiosity but, rather, evidence of that curiosity. The serious atheist does not offer some other answer with confident finality, but says, "We don't know, but we are searching." The truly curious person will not accept as answers to the questions raised by the existence of the universe such a poor and hasty answer as God.

  • bazilmonk

    "For the ancient Greeks and Romans, for example, the gods were exalted, immortal, and especially powerful versions of ordinary human beings. They were, if you will, quantitatively but not qualitatively different from regular people"

    It appears to my reading of the OT the same could be said for the ancient Jews.

  • donsalmon

    I'm sorry, but if by "Gods" you mean something akin to the devas of the Indian tradition, then it is just as much a category mistake to think that scientism has gotten 'rid of" the gods as that it has gotten rid of God.

    Richard Feynman reminded us again and again that we have absolutely no idea what "energy" is. Physicists have never been able to come up with a definition of "physical" other than it's what physicists study.

    There is absolutely no way, within a fundamaterialist dogmatic belief system, to account for the emergence or maintenance of order.

    The "devas' (which "are" nothing more than the infinite manifestations of the One Being, the Infinite Divine, the sheer ocean of being from whose fullness in its entirety exists) are infinitely more sensible as a way of accounting for the emergence and maintenance of order, of the existence of something "physical" or "material", of understanding what we ignorantly call "energy", of understanding the emergence of sentience and consciousness, of understanding and intention, of meaning and purpose - in short, of everything in this or any conceivable universe.

  • Nicholas Arkison

    There's something about that argument of
    Aquinas's that's always puzzled me. Logically, in order for something to be an
    exception to a universal affirmative, it has to belong to the class about which
    the affirmation is made, yes? (Thus, to use the example I once saw in a
    logic-puzzle book, a rhino can't be an exception to the rule "All polar
    bears like cherries", no matter what its dietary preferences are.)

    Well, 1 Corinthians 15:27, as I daresay you recall, tells us that God the
    Father is an exception to the rule "All things are put under Christ".
    So my question is, if God doesn't belong to any genus, what exactly is the
    logical status of that term "all things" (πάντα)?