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January 5, 2022 12:01 am
Can we know the existence of God simply by studying nature? Thomas Aquinas thought so. Today, R.C. Sproul explores the contribution Aquinas made to the development of natural theology.
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Thomas Aquinas should there are two sources of truth, so you get certain rooms for those that don't contradict special revelation.
You don't find that content in the Bible you find other truths. According to Aquinas, to reveal to us only in the Bible that you can't discover with the microscope or with a telescope Renewing Your Mind on this Wednesday. You know the great degrees of the past and wrangled over big ideas. Thomas Aquinas was one of those philosophers.
He claimed that God could be discovered through the natural order of the universe.
Let's look at how he came to that conclusion and why it matters is Dr. RC Sproul from his series, the consequences of ideas return attention today is certainly one of the most prodigious and formidable thinkers that the world has ever known and thinking of course of St. Thomas Aquinas, Thomas, was born in the 13th century. In the year 1224 presumably were not exactly sure of that year they died in the year 1274 before his 50th birthday so that he was 49 years old at the time of his death, and that in itself is astonishing when you think of the prodigious work that came from this Titan of philosophical and theological thought affectionately within the Roman Catholic Church.
St. Thomas is called the Dr. Angelica's the angelic doctrine and no single individual has done more to shape theology of the Roman Catholic Church than Thomas. Although many Protestants also claim him as one of the fathers of the face because so much of what he wrote and did happen before the disputes that arose in the 16th century, but the normal evangelical wrap against St. Thomas Aquinas is that he was guilty of separating nature and grace. In fact, in the work of Francis Schaeffer when he gave his overview big picture analysis of the breakdown of thinking. In modern times. He saw Aquinas is the chief culprit for dividing the spheres of knowledge and making an unnatural disjunction between nature and grace by separating them, and I was a personal friend of Francis Schaeffer and a great admirer and respecter of him, but on this point, I strongly disagreed with him and I think you understand Thomas Aquinas, we have to understand the issues he was facing in his day, and the problems he was seeking to solve one of the things that were not all that familiar with in the West is the development of Eastern thought and particularly Arabic thought we tend to think of the Renaissance is basically a Western phenomenon that began in Florence in the 13th century with the rediscovery of the ancient Greeks, and so on. But that was already going on in Islamic philosophy, the great Islamic philosophers had already rediscovered the ancients and at the time of Aquinas. The great thinkers of the Arab philosophers people like Averroes and Avicenna's had sought to construct a synthesis between Muslim theology and Aristotelian philosophy. And that's a study in and of itself, but one of the things that they came up with in their synthesis was called the double truth theory, the double truth theory. This is a very important idea in the history of theoretical thought. The double truth theory basically said this that something can be true in philosophy and false in religion at the same time, or it can be true by faith but false in science.
At the same time.
Now let's translate that idea to contemporary categories. We see the raging controversy that goes on about human origins are we as human beings.
The product of a propulsive act of divine creation or are we merely fortuitous cosmic accidents, grown-up germs that have spontaneously come out of a chance collision of atoms, and so one.
Obviously, we cannot both be purposefully created by self existent and eternal God and at the same time be cosmic accidents. Those two concepts cannot be reconciled, but a double true thinker would say this well I'm a religious person but I'm also a scientist and so on Monday, Wednesdays and Fridays. I will believe in creation and on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays believe in man is a cosmic accident and on Sunday I'll rest from the controversy do we see what's going on here is a separation or a disjunction between faith and reason between philosophy and religion, between theology and science where the two don't meet or ever overlap. That is precisely against that kind of thinking that St. Thomas Aquinas, who had been the illustrious student of Albert the great and would been called by his student classmates. While he was in school.
The dumb ox of the Queen. No, to which Albert the great replied this dumb ox is going to astonish the world with his brilliance. But in any case, it was against this kind of thinking that Aquinas was responding because he realized that if you had that kind of disjunction between faith and reason and antithesis between science and religion, you would end up as an intellectual, schizophrenic, and it would make truths impossible to reconcile.
And so what he did was he said that there are certain truths that we learn from nature and other truths that we learn from grace. What he means by that is something like this. If you study nature. You can learn something about the circulatory system of the human body which you can read the Bible all you want and the Bible will not reveal to you the intricacies of the circulatory system of the human body or the molecular structure of a leaf that you have to apply natural science and so on to empirical investigation to discover that sort of thing so you get certain truths truths that don't contradict the Scriptures or contradict special revelation, but you don't find that content in the Bible you find other truths.
According to Aquinas then revealed to us only in the Bible that you can't discover with the microscope or with a telescope. For example, God's plan of salvation.
You can't study that in a laboratory. You get that through the revelation of Scripture. So you have to sources of truth, grace and nature. Maybe the distinction the words of the uses are little bit unfortunate and misleading because one thing that Thomas did not believe in was that nature functions or exists independent from God.
But what he has in view here is more like the distinction we make in theology between special revelation and general revelation.
Special revelation is that revelation comes to us in Scripture and general revelation is that which comes through nature through the created order the heavens declare the glory of God. The foreman shows its handiwork, and so on. But both of those are truths that come from God.
Paul, for example, in the first chapter of Romans where he is engaged in the writing of special revelation says that in addition to that revelation comes in Scripture, there is the revelation that God gives of himself in and through nature or the things that are made so that the Bible itself says there's another source of revelation, namely nature that is also God's revelation. Now the point is this Thomas Aquinas distinguished between nature and grace, he distinguished between faith and reason between philosophy and science and so but as I try to teach my students in the seminary. One of the most important distinctions you will ever learn and keep in mind that if it's the prerogative of the woman to change your mind.
It is the prerogative of the theologian to make fine distinctions. That's our stock in trade among the most important distinctions you will ever learn is the distinction between a distinction and a separation.
If I distinguish your body from your soul. I bring no harm to you if I separate your body from your soul. I've killed you, so that there is a huge difference between distinguishing and separate. Now Thomas certainly distinguish between nature and grace, but not for the purpose of separating but for the purpose of showing their ultimate unity because even as Augustine had said earlier that the Christian ought to learn about as many things as he possibly can because he was convinced that all truth is God's truth and all truth that is truly true meets at the top so Aquinas believed that what God reveals in nature will never contradict what he reveals in Scripture so that there is a fundamental harmony between these two sources of knowledge well so far so good with Aquinas. The men in addition to these two sources. He then added another category in the category he called the articular's mixed us and will put that in English. The mixed articles and the mixed articles. According to Aquinas, are those truths that can be learned either from Scripture or from nature is where the controversy comes in Christians is not argued that the Bible teaches the existence of God. That's clear and you can learn the premise that God exists. By reading the Bible, but the issue is can you learn of the existence of God simply by studying nature. That is, is there such a thing as natural theology. Natural theology has been a bugbear among 20th-century theologians and has been great antipathy expressed against natural theology.
Now natural revelation refers to God's self-disclosure in the realm of nature.
Natural revelation is something God does. He's the revealer.
Natural theology is something we do, namely the question is this. If nature reveals God do we learn anything from that revelation. If we learn anything that revelation if we gain any knowledge of God from that natural revelation than what we have we have natural theology because all the work. Theology means is the knowledge of God, that you may argue forever about the scope of that knowledge. The extent of that knowledge, the accuracy of that knowledge and all the other debates that the focus on this question, but that there is natural knowledge of God. I think couldn't be any more manifest than what Paul teaches in the first chapter of Romans, and when Thomas Aquinas was talking about his concept of natural theology. He did it, not simply on the speculative basis of reasoning, but he did exegetical way. He turned the attention of his readers to Paul's teaching in the first chapter of Romans to justify this but that of course what is most known for in the Western world is not his exposition of the Bible, but for his rational arguments for the existence of God is trying to say. Well if nature reveals that God is. How does that happen.
How do we understand a knowledge of God simply by looking at creation and he set forth five proofs for the existence of God wherein he was reasoning from the created world back to the first cause, or the creator. Now again, many of his critics say that to argue for God cosmologically, that is, from the cosmos back to the creator of the cosmos is to get you no further than Aristotle's first causes uncaused cause I always say to those critics be careful here because that meant, and of the accident. These people disable the God of the philosophers is not the God of Christianity because our God is so much more than a first causes a yes he is so much more than the first cause he is not less, than the first cause and the big philosophical issue of our time is the question of what is the first cause, and if we roll over and play dead to the skeptic or the critic of historic Judeo Christianity and are willing to negotiate God's being the creator and God's being the first cause were in serious trouble. That's one of the reasons. Incidentally, why even in secular universities that are hostile toward historic Christianity today academic integrity demands that Thomas Aquinas be studied. Nobody can study the history of philosophy without taking this man very, very seriously, and the chief reason for that is because of his formidable arguing for the existence of God and his arguments created the classical synthesis and dominated the intellectual scene for hundreds and hundreds of years, so that even secular scientists and philosophers hardly dared to question the existence of God, because to do so would be to make themselves look as if they weren't very intelligent because St. Thomas had done such a job on them previously. Now understand how that fell apart. We have to wait until we get to the critical philosophy of Immanuel Kant, but again one of the important things that Aquinas developed in his arguments for God from motion from matter and all these other things. Was this concept that we've already encountered briefly in St. Anselm. The idea of necessary be way to translate this in the modern terms and do it as quickly as down and dirty as I possibly can to make it as simple as I possibly can. The simple argument is this.
If anything exists, something somehow must have the power of being with interest because if nothing has self existent being nothing could possibly be.
If put it another way, if there ever was a time when there was nothing. What could there possibly be now accept nothing and so if there is something there must be something that has the power of being or nothing would be in that which has the power of being ultimately can't be dependent or derived contingent being because if my being is caused by something other than myself are outside of myself and then it is caused by something other than itself, and not with another another another and you go on to what's called the infinite regress. That's manifest absurdity. Now that are very thought was manifested thoroughly in our day. Bertrand Russell, a public debate with Frederick Campos in the great Roman Catholic philosopher and cops to try to show Russell that the concept of an infinite regress is irrational and inconceivable and Russell kept insisting that he could conceive of it than the course. The problem with the infinite regress is that it takes the problem of self creation which we've already looked at and compounds the air infinitely.
You don't just have a little bit of nonsense. You have infinite nonsense, but in the case. St. Thomas Aquinas was getting at the idea that if anything exists, something must have necessary being now. Again, there's a little bit of tricking us here because the word necessary is used two different ways necessary being can mean logical necessity, meaning that if we are rational.
If we are logical logic necessitates that we postulate the idea of a self existent eternal being.
To deny that is to end in ill logical absurdity. So one could say that the idea of God is a logically necessary idea. That's the kind of thing. Anselm was trying to do, but perhaps even more importantly is the idea that Thomas is talking about when he talks about necessary being, meaning that God's being is ontologically necessary.
That is were talking about being that cannot not be if God is eternal and he has the power of being within himself. It means that he exists, not by some kind of external logical necessity, but by the necessity of his own being, because that's what being is the pure being, which has no potentiality. According to Aristotle's pure form pure actuality does not have the power to stop being because it's eternally self existent and self sufficient.
That's why we proliferate attributes about God in terms of his immutability is a turn malady is infinity and all the rest. So it's that kind of thing that St. Thomas talked about the other thing that's important for Thomas is the importance he put on what's called the antelope Villa and tiffs or the analogy of VA we are human beings.
God is the supreme being that the difference between the supreme being and the human being is being I don't have the power of being in and of myself.
There's no logical necessity for anybody to believe that I exist or that I would exist on her years ago that when my birth was not unnecessary concept. People could conceive of my never being born right now on the other hand, I don't have necessary being. If I'm a creature, only the supreme being. Has that human beings are dependent derived contingent depending on something that does have eternal bank. But even though I am not the supreme being, and I'm a human bank. There is some analogy of being that exists between God and us. The Bible talks about are being created in the image of God. There is some point of similarity and this becomes, as we will see later on absolutely vital to the whole question of whether any meaningful statement can be made about God by creatures such as because if there is no point of similarity between God and us. We would have no grounds for any meaningful discussion about Thomas who become more and more important with respect to that issue later and we will continue our study of Thomas Aquinas tomorrow here on Renewing Your Mind were learning about the big thinkers this week as we highlight Dr. RC Sproul series. The consequences of ideas.
Our hope is that is you get to know these philosophers and their ideas.
You'll begin to see how our own culture has been influenced by them. There are 35 messages in the series and when you requested today with a donation of any amount will sit it to you as our way of saying thank you, you learned about ancient Greek thinkers like Socrates and Plato Christian philosophers like Augustine and Anselm and other men who shaped modern thought like Hume and Kant. This is a special edition nine DVD set that includes 35 video lessons plus the MP3 audio files of each session and the digital study guide for the series. You can reach us by phone at 800-435-4343 or if you prefer you can go online to Renewing Your Mind.org when you give your donation the video lessons will be added to your online learning library so you can begin watching right away while you wait for the DVDs to arrive you'll have access on both your computer and the free link in your app the theology of Thomas Aquinas has had a profound impact on the church has that influence been positive or negative will find out tomorrow as Dr. Scull continues his series. The consequences of ideas