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Thomism

This tag is associated with 5 posts

Book Review: “The Analogy of Faith” by Archie J. Spencer

af-spencer

A question which we don’t often stop to think about in theological discussions is whether or not it is, in principle, possible to speak of the divine. Archie Spencer’s book, The Analogy of Faith, asks just this question and offers an in-depth analysis of various approaches alongside proposing a model for speaking about God.

The book is split, roughly, between analysis of various proposed models for speaking about God and a development of a Christocentric model for speaking of the divine.

The analysis of Aristotle’s analogy of being in the first chapter is particularly interesting. Spencer notes that because Aristotle’s analogy depends upon the interrelatedness of things through cause, and because God is the ultimate relation of causation as the unmoved mover, his concept of analogy is ultimately almost useless. The reason is because it becomes too broad: effectively anything can be related to anything else through an analogy of relation, and then this tells us nothing about the things being related themselves. Yet even here Spencer argues that Aristotle’s concept of analogy–itself reliant upon Plato in many relevant ways–can be useful in that it relates causality and the divine ideas, thus preparing the way for Neoplatonist thinking.

Following on the heals of this analysis are some fantastic insights into Augustinian and Thomistic thought about analogy as well. Thomas Aquinas is perhaps the most important thinker regarding the use of analogy in speaking about God of all time. As Spencer notes, it is impossible to adequately deal with the topic without spending significant time on Aquinas’s view of analogy. However, Spencer’s ultimate analysis is that Aquinas did not have a well-developed theory of analogy of his own. Instead, he asserts, it has been the followers and interpreters of Aquinas who made a “Thomistic” theory of analogy, based around the analogy of being. Because these theories ultimately depend on an Aristotelian foundation, they, too, are found to be ultimately inadequate. After all, if we are unable to reference God’s being in any direct way, then it is difficult to see how creatures totally unlike the divine can have an analogue of that divine. Spencer’s analysis in this section is thorough and fairly convincing.

Karl Barth and Eberhard Jungel are the next thinkers addressed, and they provide a basis for Spencer’s own theory of analogy, which is Christological. I’m summarizing an extraordinarily detailed theory here, so I’m sure I’m not adequately outlining it, but the basic thought is that because God has come to us, that allows us through divine revelation of Christ to refer to God. Thus, analogy is the analogy of faith rather than an analogy of being–one in which God has condescended to allow reference to the divine being in human language, rather than one in which we are able to, by our own thinking, come to language which speaks of God.

Upon reading Spencer’s analysis and arguments, I am fairly convinced that he is correct in his notion that the analogy of being is insufficient to capture the possibility of talk about God. What I do wonder, however, is whether Spencer (and most others) too quickly dismiss the possibility of univocal language about God. It seems to me that if we are to say “God is love” then we must have some sense in which that actually relates to God. To be fair, Spencer could respond by pointing to such a statement as exactly in concord with his theory, which would assert that it does relate to God because God has revealed the divine nature to us in Christ and God’s Word, thus allowing us to rightly say “God is love.” However, I think that a deeper treatment of the possibility of univocal language related to God talk would have been appreciated in a book like this. Though, admittedly, the book is already lengthy and is specifically focused on analogy, not the possibility of univocity or equivocal language.

One minor complaint I have is that in the thoroughness of the book, it seems that Spencer is sometimes repetitive. He hits the same point from several different angles in the same chapter, to the point that the book can become quite dry at times. However, the subject matter itself is deeply intriguing, and his full treatment of the topic makes it hard to fault him for stating a few things more than once.

Those interested in reading a dense book of philosophical theology should look no further than The Analogy of Faith by Archie Spencer. It is a deep work that demands much reflection and consideration. It is the kind of seminal writing to which one will constantly return as one thinks about the topic discussed. I can say that I learned a great deal from the book, and had my mind stretched as it hasn’t been stretched in some time. I recommend it highly.

The Good

+Deep analysis of key concepts related to analogy
+Many avenues for further research
+Workable theory which offers some resolution

The Bad

-A bit too verbose at times
-Dismisses univocity a bit too quickly

Disclaimer: I received a review copy of the book from the publisher. I was not required to provide any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

Source

Archie Spencer, The Analogy of Faith(Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2015).

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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Book Review: “Aborting Aristotle” by Dave Sterrett

aborting-aristotle-seterrettAborting Aristotle by Dave Sterrett explores some of the metaphysical background needed to discuss the morality of abortion. It is a brief book best seen as a primer on issues related to abortion in philosophy.

The book proceeds in a logical fashion from showing that inconsistency doesn’t undermine the good things that people like Aristotle or Thomas Jefferson said, then arguing that metaphysics is necessary, and moving on through examination of some of the primary grounds for believing abortion is permissible: uncertainty and materialism. Then, arguments are put forward showing that natural law can be a basis for rule of law, that distinctions related to substance are important to the debate, that all humans are persons, and that we are persons not based on what we do but rather on who we are. The book ends wit ha chapter showing some ares of agreement or disagreement between pro-life and pro-choice advocates.

Weighing in at 120 pages, the book is quite brief on these various topics. Again, it functions as a primer, not an exhaustive overview of any of these issues. That limits its usefulness in some ways, as there are other books which provide groundwork on philosophy before diving into the abortion debate with greater depth. Where Sterrett’s work excels is in its focus on the concept of “substance” and its importance for understanding personhood. He demonstrates that much of the debate boils down to one’s philosophical background, and advocates one which sees humans as substances.

Aborting Aristotle is a great read for someone looking to ground themselves in the abortion debate. It is the kind of book that one should read before delving into some of the meatier works on ethics and bioethics related to abortion.

The Good

+Provides much-needed background knowledge of the abortion debate
+Builds a framework for discussing various arguments about abortion

The Bad

-Extremely brief
-Relies a bit too much on quotes

Book Review: “Renewing Moral Theology” by Daniel Westberg

rmt-westbergHow might we integrate the study of ethics and theology? In Renewing Moral Theology, Daniel Westberg takes this project head-on. He approaches it from the perspective of Thomism, the philosophical-theological framework of Saint Thomas Aquinas which is itself influenced by Aristotle. The book therefore provides a strong introduction to the Thomistic view of moral theology.

The book is not, like many, a handbook for discussing various moral issues. Some hot-button topics are raised, but they are not the focus. Westberg’s focus is, instead, much broader. He provides here a metaphysical basis for ethical reasoning, while addressing some of the main questions that come up regarding that framework. Thus, this is a book that encourages further reasoning and research rather than trying to answer some laundry list of moral questions (such as questions of sexuality, abortion, capital punishment, and the like). The focus is on giving an overarching metaphysical basis for using one’s reasoning in ethical situations, not handing the answers to such questions to the readers. This alone makes it valuable because many books on ethical reasoning unfortunately do not address the pressing metaphysical or metaethical questions that come up in thinking about morality.

Thomism has much to offer when it comes to moral theology. The system gives a framework for analyzing things like “being,” “right and wrong,” motivations, emotions, and more.

Westberg provides valuable insights into a number of key issues for ethics from a Christian perspective. Incorporating the holistic approach of Thomism into ethics, he notes that emotions do play a vital role in our practical reasoning and the way we approach moral questions. Emotions are often ignored or treated as frivolous in treatments of objective morality, and to have them incorporated into the study was a much-needed corrective.

He also gives excellent illustrations of and counters objections to the “double-effect” principle, which is the notion that moral actions can have two outcomes, one intended and one not, which allows for right action to be taken even if a wrong outcome will occur or is known to occur. Thus, for example, he treats the notion of a surgery which would kill an unborn child but save the mother. The intent of the surgery is to save the mother, not kill the child, but both are “effects” (hence double-effect) of the procedure. There are some key objections to using this principle to allow for certain moral actions, such as the apparent parsing down of moral choices into separate spheres of decision and intent, but Westberg counters them deftly. In doing so, he provides a strong defense of this critical ethical principle.

Examples are abundant throughout the book, and they constantly are used in ways that helpfully illustrate the point at hand. Some of the more obscure-seeming aspects of how an Aristotelian-Thomistic metaphysics might impact ethics are made much more clear by Westberg’s clarifying examples.

This is inherently a work of moral theology and so Westberg spends a good amount of time outlining how theology might impact one’s moral outlook. Aquinas had much to contribute here, and again the Thomistic system is incorporated into the discussion, allowing for a robust metaphysics to back up the ethical reasoning placed herein.

Renewing Moral Theology is a great read for those who want to explore the interconnectedness of theology and morality. It provides a firm foundation to explore further issues of Thomistic ethics. For those who are not inclined towards Thomism, it can serve as a springboard for discussion and interaction with the view. It comes recommended.

The Good

+Strong Thomistic look at ethics
+Good use of examples to illustrate principles
+Excellent analysis of “double-effect” principle
+Rightly emphasizes some key areas of moral decision-making

The Bad

-At times it skips too quickly to conclusions

Disclaimer: I was provided with a review copy of the book from the publisher. I was not asked to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

Source

Daniel Westberg, Renewing Moral Theology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2015).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Is Middle Knowledge Uncontroversial?

luis-de-molina-2I was reading a recent blog post at one of the sites from which I read every post–the Pastor Matt blog–and discovered a point of some importance for those interested in the debate over omniscience and divine foreknowledge. His post “Middle Knowledge Misunderstood” is a brief introduction to the concept of middle knowledge. My focus is not going to be on that topic so much as on a claim made in the article: that middle knowledge is uncontroversial. Simply put, this claim is mistaken. Middle knowledge is the subject of much debate to this day.

Middle knowledge is God’s knowledge of counterfactuals of creaturely freedom: specifically, God’s knowledge of “If x, then y” in regards to human and other created beings’ freedom. It is more than that, and yes I am simplifying this quite a bit.

Middle knowledge has been the subject of no little amount of my efforts in studying, and when I read the claim that it is uncontroversial, I was taken aback. Frankly, to say that middle knowledge is not controversial is just entirely mistaken. I shall now demonstrate that point.

First, middle knowledge is controversial among those who deny that God has absolute knowledge of the future, namely, open theists. William Hasker, John Sanders, Clark Pinnock, and other open theists each explicitly deny the existence of these counterfactuals that make up middle knowledge. Greg Boyd, another prominent open theist, argues in multiple places that the “would” counterfactuals of middle knowledge (i.e. in situation x, person would do y) should instead be “might” counterfactuals because “would” counterfactuals can have no truth value (see, for example, his response to William Lane Craig in Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity, 2001).

Second, middle knowledge is controversial among Calvinists. Paul Helm, a noted Calvinist philosopher, writes:

Since the Reformed held that all that occurs is unconditionally decreed by God and that men and women are responsible for their actions, they saw no need for a third kind of divine knowledge, a middle knowledge, which depended upon God foreseeing what possible people would freely do in certain circumstances.

In other words, middle knowledge is superfluous. Helm goes on to state as much:

Not only is middle knowledge unnecessary to an all-knowing, all-decreeing God, but the Molinists’ conception of free will makes it impossible for God to exercise providential control over his creation. Why? Because men and women would be free to resist His decree.

I would contend that most any theological determinist should hold to a similar belief regarding middle knowledge. On such a position, middle knowledge is unnecessary and indeed contrary to their entire system. Certainly Calvinists in general would deny that middle knowledge is necessary or uncontroversial.

Third, Thomists, I believe, would also reject middle knowledge–and historically have–for a number of reasons, including the notion that it entails potentiality in God. The reason it would do so is because of the whole structure of modality–including possible worlds–which advocates of middle knowledge tend to put forward as well. If the assertion is that there is a different way that things God could have created, then that implies that there is a potential there–something that any Thomistic view of the world would deny. I believe the same point would go for Scholastic thinkers in general, but I’m not familiar enough with the range of scholasticism to say that is for sure.

All of this is not even delving into things like whether those who hold to simple foreknowledge would endorse middle knowledge. David Hunt, for example, in the aforementioned Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views, also argues that counterfactuals of freedom required for foreknowledge are illogical. Frankly, I think any position of simple foreknowledge would have to deny middle knowledge because on simple foreknowledge the whole concept is just as superfluous and contrary as it is for theological determinists. After all, if we contend that God just knows the future, then there is little room for things like God’s knowledge of what creatures would do in varied situations: God just knows what the future is going to be. Again, I don’t know the range of thought within the simple foreknowledge position to say for sure, but I suspect the majority position would be to deny middle knowledge.

Now when I shared some of these thoughts with Pastor Matt, his response was to grant that open theists deny middle knowledge, but then later he also granted that some Calvinists do. My point is that even were these the only ones who denied middle knowledge, that would not qualify as being “uncontroversial.” But now, having demonstrated that it is theological determinists, Calvinists, some who hold to simple foreknowledge, open theists, and Thomists (and possibly others?) who would deny middle knowledge, I think that the point has carried: middle knowledge is not uncontroversial.

I say all of this as someone who thinks middle knowledge does exist. But I think that we need to confront the reality that Molinism–the position which most closely endorses middle knowledge–is itself highly controversial and hardly above criticism.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Middle Knowledge Misunderstood– Pastor Matt’s post on middle knowledge.

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Sunday Quote!- The Failure of Scientism

scholastic-metaphysics-feserEvery Sunday, I will share a quote from something I’ve been reading. The hope is for you, dear reader, to share your thoughts on the quote and related issues and perhaps pick up some reading material along the way!

The Failure of Scientism

Edward Feser is a profoundly brilliant scholar. Every time I read something he writes–even if I disagree–I realize I must contend with his argument. In his latest book, Scholastic Metaphysics: A Contemporary Introduction, he provides a robust look at the ways in which Scholastic philosophy and Thomism may be applied to the modern day. He touches on any number of important and interesting topics, including scientism–the notion that the physical sciences are the only way to know anything. But he doesn’t have much nice to say about scientism:

[T]he glib self-confidence of its advocates notwithstanding, there are in fact no good arguments whatsoever for scientism, and decisive arguments against it… First, scientism is self defeating… Second, the scientific method cannot even in principle provide us with a complete description of reality. Third, the ‘laws of nature’ in terms of which science explains phenomena cannot in principle provide us with a complete explanation of reality. Fourth, what is probably the main argument in favor of scientism–the argument from the predictive and technological successes of modern physics and the other sciences–has no force. (10)

Now of course this is quite a bit to swallow, and Feser expands on these points over the next several pages, arguing that each of these points demonstrates the failure of scientism.

I’m still going through the book, but it has been a fantastic read so far.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Sunday Quote– If you want to read more Sunday Quotes and join the discussion, check them out! (Scroll down for more)

Source

Edward Feser, Scholastic Metaphysics: A Contemporary Introduction (Piscataway, NJ: Transaction Books; Editiones Scholasticae, 2014).

SDG.

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