Unnatural Relations II

From a certain perspective, modernity can be seen as an untidy patchwork of contradictions which are held together by the combined powers of media, pop culture, and the managerial state of which we are all subjects. One of the more glaring contradictions we are supposed to unquestionably hold is the idea that man is a mere animal, a result of biological evolution like any other beast, but, nevertheless, he should be liberal in his politics. The word 'liberal' in this sense is applicable to most political philosophies forged from the 17th century onward.

I can think of nothing more opposed to the life of brutish animals than egalitarianism, pacifism, or multiculturalism. If the world of the animals is anything it is hierarchical, war-like, and utterly tribal. What modern liberalism diagnoses as the world's worst maladies, I see as nothing more than animals simply behaving as such. It cannot possibly be that liberalism is the politics of a people who study man scientifically.


Time Apart

Aquinas tells us that there is no contradiction in affirming that something was created and that it was never non-existent. The reason that this might appear to be counter-intuitive to the modern reader is that many misunderstand what it means to say that something is created in the strict sense. All things which are composites of act and potency, essence and existence, etc. by definition require God to perpetually maintain their existence. This is not to say that all things necessarily have a beginning in time, they need not have one, but it is to say that there is a hierarchy of existential dependence that is separate from the temporal order. That there was or wasn't a Big Bang is irrelevant to the question of whether man, the world, and the entire universe are created things. Here's a good rule of thumb to tell whether or not something is a created thing: If it is God, no. If it is anything else: yes.


Metaphysical Considerations Necessitate God

A very popular contemporary debate between theists and atheists concerns morality. The theist argues that human morality must rely upon some transcendent and therefore divine source in order to carry any weight; anything less results in a purely subjective ethics that is too relative to ascribe objective goodness and badness to man's actions. Atheists argue that morality relies upon evolutionary biology and sociology which require no such transcendent or religious authority.

Part of the reason why this debate is so popular is because we have forgotten our philosophical ancestry, which had its culmination in the medieval ages but began with the ancient Greeks. The existence of God is not some hypothesis employed in order to explain certain phenomena, it is a conclusion that is reached after the long, arduous, and sometimes tedious exploration of reality as a whole. Aristotle arrives at God in the twelfth book of the Metaphysics, and it is no simple task to follow him through from beginning to end.

But if you do follow the ancient way to God, you will discover that God is an absolute necessity to the existence of the world. Once you understand the distinction between act and potency, form and matter, essence and existence, etc., you understand that all things that are not God need God in order to exist. It is a question of science, not faith. God is the explanation for reality when considered at its most general level. He is a type of scientific explanation. It is not as if we can ponder what things would be like without Him, His existence is at every moment doing explanatory work.

So the interesting question is not whether we can be moral without God, the essential question is and always will be "How can we be without God?" Act an potency are real, essence and existence are real, and form and matter are real. All of the metaphysical distinctions are real. It does no good to deny God's existence as if His being is inconsequential. If He does not exist, you have left an infinitely wide explanatory gap that simply cannot be filled by any empirical science.


Special Effects

If an atheist says that he does not believe in God because he does not see any evidence of his existence, then there is a sense in which we can agree with him. If the best evidence for a stone's existence is the actual stone lying on the ground for all to see, no theist or scientist will ever be able to provide such evidence for the existence of God.

It is a good thing, then, that Aquinas does not offer any arguments of this type in order to prove God's existence. In fact, his method is quite congenial to a modern audience since he always begins with what his eyes, ears, nose, mouth, and hands tell him. It is perhaps easy to be fooled when reading proofs for God's existence and descriptions of His nature; how could these lofty things possibly be concluded from examples like hands holding sticks pushing rocks!?

Aquinas' reasoning is a movement that begins with effects and progresses towards what is ultimately a first cause. Notice, God is first known as a cause. It is through the relations that God has with his creations that we know He exists. Now this is the crucial point: It is what we know about the material world that necessitates God's existence. The theist does not see anything the atheist does not, they both touch, see, smell, hear, and taste the same reality.

The central difference, then, between the atheist and the theist is not what each has to say about God; it is what they have to say about the stone lying on the floor, or the hand holding the stick pushing the rock. And what they say, exactly, will depend upon their modes of consideration. The atheist refuses to consider the objects in the material world in a way that the theist does not. It does not matter whether you call this mode of consideration metaphysics, ontology, or first philosophy. What matters is that the atheist qua atheist is positively limiting the use of his reason and so cannot see what makes God absolutely necessary to a coherent image of reality.

Aquinas is more scientific than Richard Dawkins.


To Be Wise, Unlearn

For the modern mind, perhaps even more than any mind that came before, the first step to authentic understanding and learning is to absolutely empty one's mind of all supposed knowledge. We are filled with so many prejudices about the past that we are, unless serious effort is made, positively unable to see what came before us. Do not say "I will read the thoughts of men who lived in a dark age of unenlightened dogmatism and uncritical gullibility," say rather, "I will read the thoughts of men who lived upon this earth as I have lived upon this earth, and I will seek to understand what they are saying as they would have me understand it." This is the beginning of the path to Truth.

What's The Matter?

If materialism is the belief that only material things exist, I do not see how this can be proved rationally. The materialist must be committed to saying that if something is, then it is material. In other words, there is something in the very concept of being and existence which entails matter. This is an unacceptably arbitrary limitation upon the word "is."