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Proper Function and Religious Pluralism

AlvinPlantingaPhilosopher Alvin Plantinga has put forth notable ideas in both epistemology and philosophy of religion. Plantinga’s epistemology is foundationalist but it is novel by the fact that it relies on what he calls proper functionalism. His primary work in epistemology can be seen in his books Warrant: The Current Debate (WCD), and Warrant and Proper Function (WPF). However, in his book Warranted Christian Belief (WCB), he examines the intersection between philosophy of religion and epistemology. In this third book, Plantinga argues that a person can have belief in God without argument or evidence and still have rational grounds in their belief. Many objections are raised against Plantinga’s proper functionalism, the most notable being the issue of religious diversity. In this paper I will be explaining the de facto and de jure objections to religious belief, Plantinga’s arguments against classic epistemic positions, the role of warrant and proper function, and what Plantinga calls the Aquinas-Calvin model. All of this will provide a backdrop to the issue of disagreement and its relation to religion. Using the tools Plantinga offers, I will be arguing against religious pluralism and showing why this view does not affect Christian exclusivism.

There are two types of criticisms that are aimed at religious belief. The first is to show that God does in fact not exist. This is the de facto objection to belief in God. Typically atheists or agnostics have appealed to arguments such as the problem of evil to show a logical incompatibility between God’s attributes and the existence of evil. By contrast, the second type of criticism is to show that belief in God is irrational. This is the de jure objection. This objection does not seek to show that God does not exist – maybe it’s impossible to show that God does not exist – nevertheless is seeks to show that belief in God is irrational and is not up to intellectual standards (WCB 15). Plantinga’s goal is to defeat the de jure objection by showing that one can believe in God without argument or evidence. But what would a de jure objection look like? Plantinga considers possible de jure objections from classical views in epistemology and possible objections from Freud and Marx.

In chapter 3 of Warranted Christian Belief Plantinga discusses three classical views within epistemology that have dominated much of the history of philosophy and have caused a lot of confusion as to what counts as knowledge and what counts as justification. These views are classical foundationalism, deontologism, and evidentialism. These all rely on similar principles and have similar assumptions in common. Could a proper de jure objection be found amongst these? Is belief in God justified? Plantinga first considers classical evidentialism. John Locke is the main proponent of this view. Under this view, belief in God is justified if and only if there are good arguments, reasons, or evidence in favor of His existence (WCB 73-4). This view is connected to both classical foundationalism and deontologism. Foundationalism sees knowledge as a structure similar to a house. There are beliefs we hold which are dependent on other propositions within our noetic structure. Consider much of our knowledge about mathematical truths. Beliefs about geometry or trigonometry depend on beliefs about basic arithmetic. Beliefs such as these would not be fundamental or foundational to our belief structure. These beliefs would be perhaps the walls of the belief structure but definitely not the foundation. They require other beliefs or propositions in order to be held. Fundamental beliefs are known as basic beliefs. You can think of these beliefs as being at the foundation of the structure not relying on propositions or arguments for it to be held. One could hold a belief about a sense perception in a basic way. When I look outside I believe it to be dark. But, I do not believe this on the basis of argument. I take my sense perception as a starting point for my belief structure. Plantinga says that “if A is nonbasic for me, then I believe it on the basis of some other proposition B, which I believe on the basis of some other proposition C, and so on down to a foundational proposition or propositions.” This is a broad explanation of what foundationalism is (WCB 73-5). What distinguishes classical foundationalism? Classical foundationalism will regard properly basic beliefs as requiring certainty. Descartes thought these beliefs had to be self-evident or incorrigible. Locke admitted that properly basic beliefs had to be evident to the senses (WCB 75). Under this view, belief is God is rational and justified if and only if it is properly basic (as defined by Descartes and Locke) or if it has proper evidence to support it. This is classical deontologism. We are not meeting our epistemic duties if our beliefs do not meet the standard of classical foundationalism. A de jure question based off this epistemology would show that belief in God is not properly basic (it’s not self-evident or incorrigible that God exists) and it would also show that there can never be good evidence for belief in God (WCB 77-9). All three of these views are dubbed the “classical package” or CP for short. Plantinga argues that this standard of justification is self-defeating. The CP cannot be believed by its own standards of justification. The classical package itself would not be self-evident, incorrigible, or evident to the senses. Thus, it cannot be properly basic. Can an argument be given for the belief in the classical package? Plantinga doesn’t see any arguments or evidence given to justifiably believe in CP (WCB 84-6). A second problem with this view is that under it most of our beliefs would not fit its standard. We can see radical skepticism through the history of modern philosophy up until the Enlightenment. It seems that most of our beliefs would not be justified because they are neither properly basic nor are they believed with proper evidence or argument. This gives us reasons to abandon this view because of its incoherence (WCB 87). Hence, a proper de jure question cannot be found here.

Plantinga considers complaints from Sigmund Freud and Karl Marx. He thinks that these complaints from Freud and Marx can generate a proper de jure question. Freud contends that religious belief comes from wish fulfillment. Belief in God is just an illusion that fulfills our desires. According to Freud, this illusion can be disbelieved (WCB 119-20). Karl Marx on the other hand thinks that theistic belief is the result of a cognitive defect resulting from the capitalistic structure. Theism is an “opiate of the masses” and a false ideology. Marx considers religious people mentally defective and insane (WCB 120-1). Both Freud and Marx are giving naturalistic explanations of how theistic belief rises. They are not critiquing the truth of theism (WCB 124). The core of the complaint is that theistic belief is the result of malfunctioning cognitive faculties not aimed at truth. It is either from wish fulfillment or capitalistic brainwashing. Plantinga considers this a viable de jure question. They are complaining that theism lacks warrant (WCB 128-30).

Warrant is a key idea in Plantinga’s epistemology. This word is similar to justification. If a belief is warranted then that belief is held in the proper way. It is acceptable to hold a belief if it is warranted (WCD 3). There are two ways to understand warrant. The first way is internalism. Warrant is dependent on internal states in a person’s epistemic functions. It relies on properties that are internal to the individual. There is a type of special access that is required for warrant. Warrant can be determined by reflection and consideration (WCD 5). Externalism would reject that warrant is dependent on this internal special access. Warrant depends on things outside of the individual’s control. For a belief to be warranted, it would have to arrive by a properly functioning mechanism (WCD 6). Plantinga takes an externalist position on warrant to address how belief in God is rationally acceptable.

Before we can see how Plantinga models Christian belief, we need to understand what proper function means in the context of warrant. Minimally, a belief has warrant if the cognitive faculties are working properly. There are other considerations that also fit into the definition of a properly functioning cognitive faculty. They are dysfunction, design, function, normality, damage, and purpose (WPF 4). The externalist sees our epistemic system in a similar way to how we see other bodily organs. Cataracts, for example, cause fogginess in the lenses of the eye and thus the eye does not function properly. Illegal drugs damage the brain and cause it to malfunction and sometimes create false beliefs which result in hallucinations (WPF 5). Warrant with respect to proper function also requires a proper environment. A cognitive faculty might be functioning properly yet the environment could cause false beliefs. A properly functioning mechanism must be in the correct environment that fits its design (WPF 7). There are two more characteristics to proper function: design plan and reliability of producing true beliefs. What Plantinga means by design is not necessarily a teleological definition. If naturalism is true, then the design plan of our faculties would be for the purpose of survival and natural selection. The same holds true for other organs of the body such as the heart. The heart’s purpose is to pump blood and keep the organism alive. A good design plan is one that is aimed at truth. The faculties might not deliver true beliefs every time, but, the probability that it will is high (WPF 13-20). It is with this externalist explanation of warrant with respect to proper function that we can understand the epistemic model that Plantinga puts forth to overcome Freud and Marx’s de jure question.

It is helpful to note that Plantinga’s overall aim in Warranted Christian Belief is to give Christians a defense of their faith. Chapter 6 is devoted to laying out the Aquinas/Calvin model of religious belief. This model is meant to address the Freud and Marx complaint. This model is based in the thought of Thomas Aquinas and John Calvin. Both of these thinkers thought that people have an innate knowledge of God of some sort. Our cognitive mechanism has this natural divine sense. Calvin calls this the sensus divinitatis. Beliefs about God are triggered in us in the appropriate circumstances we find ourselves in (WCB 142-4). We can find ourselves looking at the earth and all its beauty, the fine-tuning of the universe and its complexities, or maybe looking at cloud structures. Belief in God can be triggered by this wonder of the design and complexity of the universe (WCB 145). Theologians call this general revelation. General revelation is God revealing Himself through nature. In the letter to the Romans, Saint Paul says that God’s invisible attributes are seen through nature and it is there so we are without excuse (WCB 143). The fingerprints of God are on the created order. General revelation is contrasted with special revelation. Special revelation is God’s revelation through the Biblical canon and testimony of His apostles in the Gospels. Knowledge about God through the sensus divinitatis is basic and not arrived by argument or evidence. Plantinga, while quoting Psalm 19, says that “the heavens declare the glory of God and the skies proclaim the work of his hands: but not by way of serving as premises for an argument” (WCB 146). Beliefs produced by the sensus divinitatis are similar to beliefs about sense perception, memory, and a priori belief. We hold beliefs about sense perception in a basic way. I take sense perception to be generally reliable (but not with the standards of absolute certainty as Locke did) and I do not have arguments or evidence for my sense perceptions. I arrive at beliefs about memory in the same basic way and the same goes for a priori beliefs. These things, sense perception, memory, and a priori beliefs, are starting points for the foundation of our noetic structure (WCB 147). Plantinga contends that under this model belief in God is properly basic with respect to justification. Here he means subjective justification. The believer is not violating her epistemic rights by holding this belief in God in a basic way. The believer might consider Freud and Marx and maybe other atheist complaints against religion. Furthermore, they might have taken a course in philosophy of religion and studied objections against God’s existence yet still be convinced that God is real. Likewise, this knowledge of God is properly basic with respect to warrant. The cognitive faculties are functioning properly in the right environment according to their design and are aimed at truth. “The purpose of the sensus divinitatis is to enable us to have true beliefs about God; when it functions properly, it ordinarily does produce true beliefs about God. These beliefs therefore meet the conditions for warrant” (WCB 149).

From this model Plantinga draws three entailments. The first is that if God does not exist then theists are probably not warranted in their belief. If God does not exist then a sensus divinitatis does not exist. It would be hard to see how theism could be warranted if God did in fact not exist. The second entailment is that if God does exist then theistic belief is warranted. God would have given us the sensus divinitatis so we could know Him and worship Him. Finally, Plantinga shows that a proper de jure question is not independent of a de facto question. In order to criticize the rationality of theism, one would need to show theism to be false. The A/C model stands or falls ultimately on the de facto question (WCB 155-60).

A common objection to Plantinga’s Reformed epistemology is the problem of religious pluralism. How can someone such as Plantinga hold an exclusivist view in Christianity? John Hick argues for religious pluralism. He does not consider all religions to be true, but rather than all religions are false. Hick argues that there is an ultimate reality to which he calls The Real and that all religions are grasping for The Real but get it wrong. The Jew, Muslim, and Christian are all trying to describe The Real based on their own interpretation (Stairs 253-4). It seems pompous to claim to one religion when there are so many other religions. After all, are not all these other believers in other religions rational in believing what they believe? How could Plantinga respond to such a charge? Christians believe that people are born with original sin and that sin has damaged every facet of the person. One facet would be the cognitive faculties. God restores these faculties by the work of the Holy Spirit. Thus, non-Christians are not warranted because their cognitive mechanism is not functioning properly and is not aimed at truth. This is not necessarily their fault; the fact of sin is outside of their control. Sin also affects our affections and desires. Plantinga says that “the condition of sin involves damage to the sensus divinitatis, but not obliteration; it remains partially functional in most of us. We therefore typically have some grasp of God’s presence and properties and demands, but this knowledge is covered over, impeded, suppressed” (WCB 166-75). This could be one way to explain why there are so many religious convictions without retreating into pluralism. Isn’t The Real also a religious conviction? Does Hick consider his own view false? If he considers it true, would not he be an exclusivist? He considers every religious view other than his own to be false. There seems to be a self-defeating element to this view. The defender of proper functionalism would also charge Hick as misunderstanding the objectivity of Christian belief. He relies on internalist principles for religious experience that could be construed as subjective experience (Stairs 259). But, Plantinga’s epistemology is not subjective. The rationality of Christianity is not independent of the truth of Christianity. The pluralist misunderstands this and views all religion as a matter of interpretation.

I have sketched out Plantinga’s Reformed epistemology and the Aquinas-Calvin model. I have shown that given the noetic effects of sin that religious pluralism does not defeat Christian exclusivism. The empirical fact of sin should not cause pride but rather cause one to realize that it is because of God’s grace that one believes. Exclusivism should not be seen as prideful from a Christian worldview.


 Works Cited

Plantinga, Alvin. Warrant and Proper Function. N.p.: Oxford UP, 1993. Print.

Plantinga, Alvin. Warrant: The Current Debate. New York: Oxford UP, 1993. Print.

Plantinga, Alvin. Warranted Christian Belief. New York: Oxford UP, 2000. Print.

Stairs, Allen, and Christopher Bernard. “Religious Diversity.” A Thinker’s Guide to the Philosophy of Religion. New York: Pearson Longman, 2007. 251-70. Print.



The Good grounded in God: A Response to the Euthyphro Dilemma

The nature of goodness has concerned human beings for millennia. In philosophy, the questions over what is goodness, what it is grounded in, and how it relates to humans are metaethical questions. Metaethics is wholly distinct from normative ethics, which prescribes how we should morally behave. The former is descriptive and the latter is prescriptive. The ancient Greeks, specifically Socrates, discussed and argued over the nature of goodness. In the Euthyphro, Socrates and Euthyphro discuss the nature of piety – or goodness – and how it relates to the gods. In the dialogue Socrates incessantly questions Euthyphro about what the pious is. He wants to know the nature of piety because he is about to be put on trial. Socrates’ philosophical method is based around dialoguing with others and trying to establish definitions. He poses the dilemma to Euthyphro: “is the pious loved by the gods because it’s pious? Or is it pious because it is loved?” (Euthyphro 9e 11-12) This dilemma is not only problematic for the polytheist but it is also problematic for the Christian. This dilemma is applicable to monotheism. John 1:1-3 states that, “[I]n the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.” This is my ontological commitment and will be the principle when analyzing the horns of the Euthyphro Dilemma. I want to present my view that is theologically consistent with what the Bible says. For this argument I will be defining God as He has been defined in classical Christian theism: a wholly good, all knowing, all loving, necessary being. By saying that God is a necessary being, I mean that God exists in all possible worlds. God must exist and He cannot not exist. These attributes of God along with His divine aseity are the assumptions I will be working with when discussing the dilemma. My presupposition is that there are grounds for objective moral values. Moral relativism or moral nihilism is something that the Christian is unable to affirm. In this paper I will argue that the Euthyphro dilemma is not a problem for the Christian theist because there is a third option – that God’s moral commands are determined by His good nature. The dilemma is extremely important in philosophy of religion because it can shape one’s metaethics.

In the dialogue, Euthyphro explains to Socrates that he is going to prosecute his own father for murder. Euthyphro explains to Socrates that his action is pious and he appeals to the Greek gods as his proof to support his concept of piety. Socrates presses him on his knowledge of the definition. Euthyphro tells Socrates that “what’s pious is precisely what I am doing now: prosecuting those who commit an injustice, such as murder…” and that “not prosecuting them, on the other hand, is what’s impious” (Euthyphro 5d9-5e3). Again, Euthyphro appeals to the divine and Socrates exposes a contradiction because the Greek gods do not all agree on what is pious. The problem arises because the gods love what is pious and impious at the same time. Socrates wants to get to a pure definition of piety (Euthyphro 6a8-9e10). He asks two questions: “is the pious loved by the gods because it’s pious? Or is it pious because it’s loved?” (Euthyphro 10a2-3). The first question makes piety outside of the gods’ opinion. Piety is a standard of morality that the gods adhere to and hence they love it. Piety in this sense is outside of the gods. It is the Platonic form of piety. The Platonic forms are immaterial, unchangeable, and eternal. They are also universals. The second question of the dilemma has the gods determine what is pious. The mere love the gods have with certain moral actions makes them pious. The gods are the creators of piety under the second question. We can call both of these the horns of the dilemma. This dilemma applies not only to monotheism in general but more specifically it applies to Christian theism. We can restate the horns this way: The good is loved by God because it is good or the good is good because God loves it. The problem that applied to the Greeks still applies to believers today

The first horn of the dilemma is that the good is loved by God because it is good. Goodness is outside of God. The goodness as described by this horn is objective. It is outside of all opinion including God’s opinion. This objective goodness is typically thought of as being an abstract object. We can think of goodness as an immaterial substance that is separate from God. Goodness is just as necessary as God is and is at least the source of some moral obligations. In his book The Coherence of Theism, Oxford philosopher of religion Richard Swinburne argues for why he thinks the first horn – at least in most respects – is correct. He explains that this horn “seems to place a restriction on God’s power.” He says that God cannot do what is logically impossible (203). If it is necessary that a certain action is wrong then God cannot change the ethical status of that action. Swinburne says that this horn limits what God can command us to do. Goodness is independent of God’s will. Swinburne thinks that the Christian could “take different horns for different actions” (204). If God commands an action, then that action would be morally obligatory. The reason for this is that God is the creator and we depend on Him for our existence. Swinburne uses parents as an example to demonstrate this point. Our parents brought us into this world, raised us, and sustained us. We have a moral duty to obey them. God is far greater than our parents and has done much more to keep humanity alive. Thus, we have an even greater obligation to Him. A second reason would be that God created not just humans but the whole universe itself out of nothing. The obligation we owe Him is infinitely more than our parents. But Swinburne still thinks that it would be impossible for God to remove our obligation to keep a promise or to not torture the innocent. Therefore, Swinburne argues that there are some necessary ethical obligations that we must follow even if God did not command them. His “argument suggests that commands sometimes make acts right or wrong and make acts which are right or wrong anyway right or wrong in a new respect” (Swinburne 208-9). Swinburne is motivated to hold to necessary moral propositions. He grounds the necessary propositions outside of God’s commands. Is Swinburne’s argument satisfactory for the Christian when thinking about this dilemma? I think it falls short of the ontological commitment. To say that there are necessary ethical obligations that exist whether or not God commands them seems to make them outside of God. But the Apostle John says that all things came through God. God is the Logos, or Word, and the creator of everything other than Himself. If these ethical obligations necessarily hold whether God commands them or not, it seems to contradict this verse. The Christian is justified in rejecting this horn as a metaethical alternative. Let’s look to the second horn to see if the Christian can accept that one.

The second horn of the dilemma is that the good is good because God loves it. This horn falls under what we call divine command theory which many philosophers and theologians accept. Under this view, our moral obligations stem from what God commands. Goodness is grounded in God’s commands. God determines what is good and our moral obligations. Rene Descartes was a proponent of this horn. John J. Blom writes that Descartes thought that God is “the first principle of created truths, including the ‘necessities’ of mathematics and substance” (74). In Descartes’ view everything is created by God including “necessary” truths. This seems baffling since God could have created a different set of these pseudo-necessary truths. Necessary moral propositions would also fall under this category. God could have willed that murder or theft is objectively good. Descartes writes, “You ask me by what kind of causality God established the eternal truths. I reply: by the same kind of causality as he created all things, that is to say, as their efficient and total cause” (Cunning). God has created any and all types of eternal, necessary, and objective truths by Descartes’ belief. This puts him on the second horn of the dilemma. These truths are not necessary though. Descartes affirms a logical contradiction. These moral truths are contingent since they are dependent. God can easily change them in Descartes view. William of Ockham also accepts the second horn of the dilemma. Michael W. Austin, writer for Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy says that, “William of Ockham states that the actions which we call ‘theft’ and ‘adultery’ would be obligatory for us if God commanded us to do them.” Ockham grounds the goodness of a moral obligation in God’s commands. It seems that Descartes and Ockham are grounding goodness in God’s commands because they see God as being all-powerful and as being our moral lawgiver. Are either of these views about the Euthyphro dilemma presented by Ockham and Descartes true and can the Christian theist comfortably hold to this horn of the dilemma without facing any tension? One advantage to the divine command theory is that we don’t have to appeal to something outside of God. There is no abstract goodness outside of God since God commands what is good. Divine command theory is consistent with my ontological commitment from the Gospel of John. This horn does have a major disadvantage. The biggest disadvantage is that it makes morality completely arbitrary on God’s will, or commands. It seems morally obvious that one ought not to murder, which is objectively true and not arbitrary. This is true in all possible worlds with at least two moral agents. God cannot do the logically impossible. God cannot create a married bachelor or a round square. Since God is the Logos, He also cannot violate an objective grounding of morality. He cannot make murder good. It is impossible. I do agree with Swinburne here that there are objective non-arbitrary moral propositions and obligations. The second horn must be abandoned since it is impossible for morality to be arbitrary. I do not want to hold to any type of relative or contingent morality.

A clear understanding of the second horn of the dilemma evaporates the dilemma completely. It is true biblically speaking that God commands what is good. He does give us laws and moral standards to live by. A basic example is God’s giving of the Ten Commandments to Moses. He is the moral lawgiver. As I have stated above, I think both horns of the dilemma are problematic and uncomfortable. I think there is a way out of this dilemma. God commands what is good, but why does He command what is good? This is because He is good. God’s nature is goodness itself. This moral goodness is instantiated through His commands. This instantiation is contingent – He did not have to actualize a world with moral agents. An analogy is similar to Plato’s theory of Forms and the way they’re instantiated. Plato thought, for example, that the property of red is a universal that is instantiated in objects. Redness is the Form and red is the property. The property participates in the Form of redness. Similarly, our moral duties and obligations participate in the “Form” of goodness. The “Form” allows for the moral proposition to be intelligible (Melchert 130). A moral proposition such as “one ought to not murder” is an instantiation of goodness but not the complete definition of what goodness is. This analogy with the Platonic Forms is only analogous in the relationship. The relationship a Form has with the particular is the same relationship God’s goodness has with a moral command. The ontological goodness is similar to the universal, and the command and obligation are similar to the particulars. The analogy is not completely analogous. Neither God nor any of His attributes are abstract. God is a concrete person. He can enter into causal relations with other things since He is a person. Platonic Forms have no personhood and are abstract entities. They cannot enter into causal relations. Moral propositions come in the form of commands precisely because they come from a person with a will. In the following paragraphs we will look at what other philosophers have said about God being the ontological grounding of goodness.

Robert Adams, a philosopher of religion, states in his book Finite and Infinite Goods: A Framework for Ethics that, “if God is the Good itself, then the Good is not an abstract object but a concrete (though not a physical) individual. Indeed it is a person, or importantly like a person” (14). When Adams talks about the Good, he means it to be transcendent and absolute. He does not mean this in the same way how we would call our friend a good person. Adams wants to say that this is much greater than a general meaning of the word good when used to apply to human action or nature (A Modified Divine Command Theory for Ethical Wrongness” 472-3). “The Good is transcendent in the sense that it vastly surpasses all other good things, and all our conceptions of the good. They are profoundly imperfect in comparison with the Good itself” (“Finite and Infinite Goods” 50). The Good is completely valuable and that is what makes it transcendent. Adams does think that divine command theory is still a viable theory; it just needs to have the considerations he poses. It needs to be modified (“Finite and Infinite Goods” 249-250). “Roughly, Divine Command Theory is the view that morality is somehow dependent upon God, and that moral obligation consists in obedience to God’s commands” (Austin). God’s commands are still completely relevant for the metaethical theory. Adams goes on to say the following:

A main advantage of a divine command theory of the nature of moral obligation is that it satisfies the demand for the objectivity of moral requirement. Being commanded and forbidden by God are properties that actions have independently of whether we think they do, or want them to. Divine commands are more unqualifiedly objective than human social requirements, inasmuch as their factuality is independent of socially established as well as individual opinions and preferences (“Finite and Infinite Goods” 256).

God’s commanding our moral obligations gives us objective grounds because God Himself is good. We do not have to necessarily appeal to human reason or relativism for any type of ethical behavior. Reason does help us understand normative ethics but it’s problematic because the ethical theories are not as cut or dry. There seems to be validity to most ethical theories based in reason alone. If God commands morality, then we have an obligation to follow them as Swinburne proved earlier. We also cannot be agnostic as to what is moral or immoral if God commands our obligations. Adams’ modified divine command theory as a response to the second horn of the dilemma gives the Christian a way out of the dilemma. A clear understanding of what the second horn means in relation to God makes the dilemma dissolve completely.

Thomas Aquinas also argues that God is good. In the Summa Theologica, Aquinas makes clear statements about the nature of God. He says that, “God is good essentially” (Aquinas 29). This supports Adams’ theory. When Aquinas uses the word essentially he is using it in the same way that contemporary analytic philosophers use the word necessarily. A thing is good according to its perfection. He lays out three aspects of perfection. Perfection of a thing is according to its own being, in respect to any accidents being added as necessary for its perfect operation, and consists in the attaining to something else as the end. “This triple perfection belongs to no creature by its own essence; it belongs to God only, in Whom there are no accidents; since whatever belongs to others accidentally belongs to Him essentially…” (Aquinas 29). Aquinas’ insights into the nature of God further the point of God being wholly good and necessarily good. God’s good nature allows the moral facts to be instantiated for humanity. The commands flow from His necessary ontological good nature. Thomas’ view of God allows the Christian to escape the problems of the second horn. His view is consistent with objective morality and my ontological commitment.

There could be a few objections raised against the view I have presented. The first could be that God’s good nature is in need of an explanation. The objector could ask why God’s nature is good, or what makes God’s nature good. This would seem to miss the point of my thesis. God’s nature cannot be explained by an outside explanation. The explanation exists in God Himself and nothing prior to Himself. To understand His being as necessary is to understand that He needs no explanation. Another objection could be raised on epistemic grounds. I know God is good on the basis of Biblical authority. It is impossible to know the fullness of God’s nature by reason alone. Theologians divide two types of revelation from God. The first of which is general revelation. General revelation encompasses revelation about God in nature and in reason. Natural theology works with general revelation to prove God’s existence. For example, the teleological argument shows that the design of the universe points to a designer. This would be an argument based in reason and appealing to the order of nature. Special revelation, on the other hand, is the kind of revelation that is revealed specifically about God. It is special because it is revealed through the Bible which is His word. Both of these objections do not stand with these considerations in mind.

God’s nature is wholly good and allows for objective morality to be grounded in God Himself. In this paper I have shown the dilemma posed by Socrates and its relevance to philosophy of religion today. The first horn must be denied in order to avoid metaphysical Platonism. The dilemma is only problematic if one does not understand the second horn. At face value the second horn makes the divine command theory arbitrary. I have argued that the second horn is not a problem at all. The ground for goodness is in God, not His commands. The structure of God is good, and He gives humans moral obligations. God allows us to see the full scope of morality. In my view, this full scope also shows us God’s plan of salvation for humanity through the person of Jesus Christ. It also shows us our intrinsic moral value and our human nature against the backdrop of God’s goodness. The modified divine command theory is not only theologically adequate but also philosophically plausible if God exists. I have shown both to be the case. Robert M. Adams’ view is the same view I hold to. Aquinas also would hold to the same view. It is interesting how a dilemma thousands of years old is still prevalent today. The discussion between God’s nature, His commands, and human moral obligations will always be an area of debate in philosophy and theology.

Works Cited

Adams, Robert M. “A Modified Divine Command Theory of Ethical Wrongness.” (n.d.): n. pag. A Modified Divine Command Theory of Ethical Wrongness. Web. 12 Nov. 2014. <;.

Adams, Robert Merrihew. Finite and Infinite Goods: A Framework for Ethics. New York: Oxford UP, 1999. Print.

Aquinas, Thomas. “Of Goodness in General and The Goodness of God.” Summa Theologica Vol. I. New York: Benzinger Brothers, n.d. 23-30. Print.

Austin, Michael W. “Divine Command Theory.” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Nov. 2014. <;.

Cunning, David. “Descartes’ Modal Metaphysics.” Stanford University. Stanford University, 15 Apr. 2002. Web. 11 Nov. 2014. <;.

Descartes, René, and John J. Blom. “All Other Knowledge Depends on the Knowledge of God.” Descartes, His Moral Philosophy and Psychology. New York: New York UP, 1978. 73-75. Print.

John. “Gospel of John.” The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2008. N. pag. Print.

Melchert, Norman. “Plato: Knowing the Real and the Good.” The Great Conversation: A Historical Introduction to Philosophy. New York: Oxford UP, 2011. 128-30. Print.

Reeve, C. D. C., and Patrick L. Miller. “Euthyphro.” Introductory Readings in Ancient Greek and Roman Philosophy. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Pub., 2006. N. pag. Print.

Swinburne, Richard. “A Source of Moral Obligation.” The Coherence of Theism. Oxford: Clarendon, 1977. 203-09. Print.

Thomas Aquinas and Natural Theology

Natural theology has been used throughout history to prove the existence of God, mainly the Christian God. Natural theology appeals to reason and logic in order to prove God’s existence while staying within the theological boundaries of Scripture. It takes a more evidential approach to apologetics rather than a presuppositional approach. Also, it does not necessarily have to appeal to the Bible for arguments or authority. There have been many medieval philosophers that have developed and used natural theology in their apologetic of the Christian faith. Saint Thomas Aquinas is one of the more prominent of the medieval philosophers. Born in 1225 and growing up in Italy, Aquinas was heavily influenced by the Greek philosopher Aristotle and borrows many ideas from him to harmonize with Christianity. He borrows Aristotelian concepts such as potentially and actuality, and the doctrine of causes, and uses them to defend the concept of God (Saint). This paper will focus on and analyze Aquinas’ five proofs for God’s existence which are all taken from Summa Theologica. The five proofs can be summed up in the following categories: first mover argument, impossibility of an actual infinite, argument from contingency, God‘s ontology, and the teleological argument.

The first proof Aquinas presents is the first mover argument. Aquinas took this argument directly from Aristotle. He first starts off by presupposing that motion actually exists and is not an illusion as Parmenides and Zeno thought. His first premise to this argument is “whatever is in motion is put in motion by another, for nothing can be in motion except it is in potentiality to that towards which it is in motion; whereas a thing moves inasmuch as it is in act.” He explains this by saying that motion is basically just potentiality becoming actuality. Motion actualizes things which were potential. His second premise is, “it is therefore impossible that in the same respect and in the same way a thing should be both mover and moved, i.e. that it should move itself.” He says it is impossible for something to move itself because in order for something to be moved an outside movement must move it and this would be his third premise. His fourth premise explains that “this cannot go on to infinity, because then there would be no first mover, and, consequently, no other mover; seeing that subsequent movers move only inasmuch as they are put in motion by the first mover; as the staff moves only because it is put in motion by the hand.” This premise is an entire argument altogether which he will explain in further detail in his second proof for God’s existence. This premise is basically a debate between potential and actual infinites within time and how causes work. Because an infinite amount of motions cannot occur in a finite amount of time one must concede that there must be a finite amount of motions. Aquinas concludes this argument that God must be this unmoved mover of the universe.

This argument really hinges on the fourth premise. When Aquinas was alive, people believed that the universe was eternal and that it had no cause. They never conceded a beginning to the universe in any way. This makes this premise extremely difficult for Aquinas to really prove. In the second proof, he will show that this premise is true based on how efficient causes work and the properties of causes.

The second proof is an argument devoted to proving that fourth premise of Aquinas’ first mover argument. He talks about efficient causes and how they work exactly within time. Efficient causes cannot be infinite according to Aquinas. The first cause must produce the intermediate cause which will then produce the ultimate cause. If one takes away the cause then one would have to take away the effect as well. Aquinas continues by saying that if one takes the first of the efficient causes away, the intermediate and ultimate causes would not exist. He then says one has to concede that God is the first efficient cause of the universe. This argument though somewhat rests on the assumption that a first cause is really needed rather than an infinite regress of causes. But he shows the infinite regress to be absurd because no starting cause means no effects exist. Aquinas does know that the effect does exist though. The universe exists rather than nothingness. This question “why is there something rather than nothing?” is answered in the next proof Aquinas postulates for God’s existence.

In his third proof, Aquinas presents the argument from contingency. For his first premise he says that in nature humans find things which are contingent — things which could possibly be and possibly not be. If everything is possible not to be, then at one time nothing would have existed. But Aquinas knows this is utterly impossible not only because nothing cannot exist, but rather because out of nothing, nothing comes. He knows it is impossible to get something out of nothing without some type of cause. He says that there must be something that exists which exists necessarily, that is to say, not everything can exist contingently. Since he already proved that an infinite amount of efficient causes is impossible, the necessary cause must have caused the universe sometime in the finite past. This necessary cause is the explanation for the rest of existence and this cause must be God. Aquinas goes into further detail of the definition of this cause in his next proof.

The fourth proof is based on God‘s ontology. This fourth proof is simple and easy to understand. Aquinas says that God, by definition, must be the most maximally greatest being. This maximally great being must be completely perfect and is the explanation of everything in existence. God is also the source of all good, love, and any perfection. This argument is different from Saint Anselm’s because Aquinas never talks about conceiving of God existing in reality but rather he takes a more basic route and proves God by definition. This fourth proof is more of a support to the third proof and gives more of a definition to the necessary cause that he postulated.

The last proof Aquinas presents in his Summa Theologica is the teleological argument. He says in his first premise that humans see things that have a lack of intelligence act intelligently and get the best result. These things which lack inherent intelligence could be things of biological nature such as plants and animals. Such things do not necessarily have a will nor a mind yet they still work with a supernatural intelligence that is built into them. Aquinas talks about the final causes of such things — their purpose and end in life. He says that these non-intelligent things in the world have purposes which seem to come about intelligently. He makes an extremely interesting point when he says, “now whatever lacks intelligence cannot move towards an end, unless it be directed by some being endowed with knowledge and intelligence; as the arrow is shot to its mark by the archer.” This is really interesting because on a naturalistic worldview, where did intelligence even come from? He concludes by saying that this supreme intelligence directs the telos of everything in existence. It gives purpose and meaning to life. And he concludes that this intelligence must be God.

Aquinas’ five arguments are good and well constructed. Since all of these arguments are deductive rather than inductive arguments, it makes the arguments much harder to avoid if all the premises are true. His arguments are sound in their reasoning and logic. Thomas commits no fallacies in his reasoning. His arguments are good for showing the atheist or agnostic that a god does exist. Again, these five proofs were not as convincing at the time he was alive because of the worldview people held before the big bang theory emerged. People have always thought the universe to be eternal and uncaused and would thus make it harder for these arguments to really convince people regardless of the good rhetoric and true premises found in the proofs. Aquinas had to really appeal to an eternal universe rather than a finite one. Today, much better arguments have been formulated and built upon the groundwork that the Christian medieval philosophers created. For example, philosopher William Lane Craig has recently breathed new life into the kalam cosmological argument for God’s existence. This argument works much better under current modern astronomy which implies a beginning to the universe rather than a beginning less one. Also, Alvin Plantinga has formulated a much better version of the ontological argument than the one Aquinas presents as a proof. There’s a huge glaring problem in how Aquinas has argued for God’s existence. He never explained which God or gods should be accepted. This leaves a lot of his conclusions extremely open for more questions from the skeptic reading these arguments. It leaves the reader with a lot of questions that are not answered by Thomas. The aim of Christianity is not to prove the existence of some undefined being of the universe but rather the aim is to prove that the true God is the triune God found in scripture. Aquinas never shows arguments for the Christian God or the historicity of Jesus Christ. If Christianity is true, then people need to accept Christ as their Savior and not this deistic god Aquinas seems to imply at the conclusion of his arguments. Although this is a huge problem, Thomas Aquinas did help Christian philosophy, theology, and did prove the existence of some supernatural god. Both Catholics and Protestants have benefited from the proofs Thomas presented in the thirteenth century.

Works Cited

“Cosmological Argument.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Web. 02 Dec. 2009. <;.

Craig, William Lane. The Kalam Cosmological Argument. New York: Wipf & Stock, 2000. Print.

“Ontological Arguments.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Web. 02 Dec. 2009. <;.

“Saint Thomas Aquinas.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Web. 02 Dec. 2009.     <;.

“Summa Theologica.” Welcome to the Christian Classics Ethereal Library! | Christian     Classics Ethereal Library. Web. 12 Feb. 2010.     <;.