Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Terminology Tuesday: Thomism

Thomism: Philosophical views inspired by Thomas Aquinas, who synthesized Christian thought with Aristotelian philosophy. Thomism is strongest among Roman Catholic thinkers and is characterized by a confidence in natural theology, though it also includes a strong affirmation that some Christian truths can only be believed on the basis of faith in a special revelation. In general the Thomistic tradition believes that "grace presupposes nature and perfects it."1

1. C.Stephen Evans, Pocket Dictionary of Apologetics & Philosophy of Religion (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002), p. 115.

12 comments :

Ex N1hilo said...

Aquinas was a brilliant man, and no doubt much of what he has written is useful to Christians. But he was also a slave to the spirit of his age, which was Aristotelianism, an infection he and other scholastics caught from the Muslim philosophers, particularly those of Spain.

This is not to say that Aristotle has nothing to offer Christian thinkers. He certainly does. But we must view Aristotle and interpet him and pick and choose what is useful in his works through the lens of biblical revelation.

When you view Christian theology and biblical revelation through the lens of Aristotle, as Aquinas did, you end up with doctrines such as transubstantiation and apologetic arguments like the cosmological argument, which, imo, is a poor argument. It is certainly not a biblical argument. Jesus and the Apostles never used it.

Chad said...

Hello ExN1hilo,

Hope you are well.

You wrote arguments like the cosmological argument, which, imo, is a poor argument. It is certainly not a biblical argument. Jesus and the Apostles never used it

Am I to understand that the apologist is only permitted, on your view, to use the exact arguments that Jesus and the Apostles used?

Further, it would seem to me that Paul did appeal to creation as evidence for God's existence (Acts 17:24). Isn't the cosmological argument simply a more formal appeal to creation?

Thank you and I appreciate your thoughts

Ex N1hilo said...

Chad,

I'm good; thank you. Hope you are well also.

I think "permitted" is too strong a word. I would say it is wise to pattern our evangelistic and apologetic approaches on scriptural patterns.

There is far too much emphasis among some apologists on approaches that are not derived from scripture, for example, on the traditional theistic proofs.

As I read the Gospels and Acts, I don't see Jesus or the Apostles ever presenting arguments for the existence of God. There's a good reason for that. Paul, in Romans 1 tells us that all men know God as Creator and Judge because God has revealed Himself to them.

Now, I would not say arguments for God's existence should never be used. There might be cases where a particular objection from a particular unbeliever might be overcome by the Teleological Argument, for example.

But the approach that says, as R. C. Sproul has said, that we should start our apologetic presentations by "establishing God's existence" and that "after that the rest is easy," simply ignores the biblical pattern and wastes time and effort presenting ideas that, while interesting, are not the gospel. It is the gospel that is the power of God unto salvation, not the idea of an "unmoved mover."

Now, please don't get the idea that I do not appreciate much of the work of men like Sproul. He has a lot of great teaching. I've listened to hours of it. But in this area, he, and many other apologists have a blind spot, in my view.

And, I agree, Paul did point to creation as revealing God. This is Paul's axiom. He did not present it as an argument. It is something everyone knows because God revealed it to them. It's innate. Not something established by argumentation.

As to the Cosmological Argument, it has a number of problems including equivocation on the term "begins to exist" and reliance on an implicit assumption of uniformitarianism.

bossmanham said...

Hey, Ex Nihilo. Don't take this as total disagreement, but you say we should model our apologetic on scripture. I agree, but I'm not sure scripture lays down a specific boundary that constrains us to just use the arguments of Paul and Jesus. Scripture says to be ready to give a defense. If natural theology gives a well reasoned and cogent defense without contradicting divine revelation, why not feel free to use it?

This appeal to scripture alone as an apologetic guide also faces the issue of how we know that scripture itself should be the only guide to apologetics, or whether it's authoritative at all. I would say we need a good philosophical argument to justify that assertion.

Chad said...

Hello Ex N1hilo,

Thank you for your thoughts.

I would say it is wise to pattern our evangelistic and apologetic approaches on scriptural patterns.

Well said and I agree. However, we must also remember that we have some arguments at our disposal that Paul, for example, did not.

There is far too much emphasis among some apologists on approaches that are not derived from scripture, for example, on the traditional theistic proofs.

I concur here as well. It bothers me when someone spends a significant amount of time arguing for the existence of God and then doesn't bother to explain "who" the God is they are arguing for.

ignores the biblical pattern and wastes time and effort presenting ideas that, while interesting, are not the gospel.

In understand what you mean here as well; however, sometimes, and you seem to agree here, you must tear down a barrier before the unbeliever or skeptic is willing to hear the gospel. I believe this is where an argument from natural theology or the reliability of scripture could prove most valuable. Ultimately though, your goal should be to share the gospel.

I believe I better understand where you are coming from.

Thank you for taking the time to explain!

Godspeed

pds said...

Hi,

Just a few comments from myself:

The Biblical pattern seems to be: 'find common ground' or, in other words, use arguments that your audience can relate to. Since Atheism was not common, Paul or Peter did not need to present evidence for the existance of God, but rather argued against the polytheism that was popular. They used common beliefs as a starting point.

We should probably deduce this principle from the bible not a more narrow 'if this argument is not used, we shouldn't use it'.

Paul's axiom seems to point to belief in one God NOT polytheism. In which case Paul seems to break his own axiom in Acts by arguing for a idea that should be innate.

Paul

Chad said...

Paul,

Well said and thank you for sharing!

Godspeed

Marc said...

Ex N1hilo:

Hello. I hope you (and the others) don't mind my late entrance into the discussion, and my making a brief remark or two.

. . . and apologetic arguments like the cosmological argument, which, imo, is a poor argument. It is certainly not a biblical argument. Jesus and the Apostles never used it.

Although you don't appear to be raising a specific objection to cosmological arguments in general, it seems to me that the consideration you're advancing might itself be self-defeating. To my knowledge, Scripture doesn't suggest--either explicitly or implicitly--that for any argument A, if A isn't found in or taught by Scripture, then A isn't to be employed (for example) on behalf of apologetic efforts. Thus, the consideration expressed by "It is certainly not a biblical argument" and "Jesus and the Apostles never used it" doesn't itself seem to be a biblical consideration.

Peace,

-- Marc

David said...

Is there a biblical prescription that tells us how to breath? To be blunt this is why people become annoyed with Christians and are not inspired by them. You have to relate to people where they are at. Didn’t Paul say something about becoming all things to all men that he win them to Christ?

Martin said...

ExNihilo, an interesting response well worth your consideration:


http://vereloqui.blogspot.com/2009/08/politically-incorrect-guide-to-reality.html


http://vereloqui.blogspot.com/2009/01/where-francis-shaeffer-goes-wrong-is.html

christandcosmos said...

Exn1hilo,

So, it appears I am coming to this conversation over 3 years late, but I noticed that you said the Cosmological Argument equivocates on "begins to exist" and assumes uniformitarianism.

However, the Thomistic cosmological arguments do not rely on the premise that the universe began to exist; Aquinas's arguments can work even given the (incorrect) assumption that the universe is past-eternal. You have in mind the Kalam Cosmological Argument, which Aquinas did not endorse, since he did not believe that the temporal beginning of the universe could be known apart from divine revelation.

In any event, the Kalam Cosmological Argument, at least as it is defended by William Lane Craig, is guilty of no equivocation on the term "begins to exist."

Also, I am curious what uniformitarianism you think is assumed by the cosmological argument.

Tim Shelton said...

I understand the reasons of any concern of relying on cosmology to argue God's existence as that argument isn't the gospel. But, I find the argument a valid reason to establish a premise for e reliability of Scripture when speaking with unbelievers. When people deny the authority of Scripture, the reason behind it is a denial of God. A Christian may rightly appeal to cosmology to reason that "without Him, nothing was made that was made". And, if there is a God who creates, He must be personal. We can then take any number--the fewer the better-- of steps to explain the authority of Scripture. In my understanding, if God is and if morality/right/wrong/justice exist, then we are "near the kingdom" in reasoning with the unbeliever. The unbeliever is forced in a sense to at least see the dolly in a blanket rejection of God and the Bible as mythology.

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