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Showing posts with label Aquinas. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Aquinas. Show all posts

Friday, November 06, 2015

Nature, Desire, and the Purpose of Marriage

Why is it important that natural laws be considered when passing legislation? In his book, Written on the Heart: The Case for Natural Law, J. Budziszewski outlines Thomas Aquinas' approach to natural law and how it should anchor our civil laws. Budziszewski first points out that natural laws function kind of like primary colors. They are foundational and all other colors can be developed by the mixing of red, blue, and yellow.

One confusing aspect of natural law is how Aquinas believed that all natural inclinations are good and should be pursued while seeking after unnatural inclinations should be avoided. Budzeszewski notes it sounds like Aquinas is teaching that whatever one's desire is, that should be fulfilled. However, that isn't what is meant. He then draw the distinction between any inclination, including those that may have resulted from our fallen nature, and natural inclinations. The difference is found in the teleology, that is the end purpose or design of the thing being discussed. Budziszewski explains:
In drawing the two sexes together, for instance, sexual desire serves two purposes, one called procreative and the other unitive. Why not a third: pleasure? Has Thomas got something against having a good time? No, but he follows Aristotle in viewing pleasure as a result of our activities rather than the purpose for which we do them—as a crowning grace, not a goal. The problem is that pleasure can result from doing wrong as well as from doing right. Therefore pleasure cannot be used as a criterion for judging between good and bad inclinations; rather the purposes of the inclinations must be used to judge between good and bad pleasures.

Now the procreative purpose of physical union is to bring children into a secure family in which they can be taught and cared for by a mother and father who love them. Only a man and a woman can procreate a child, and we sever the institution of marriage from the natural purpose of procreation only at our peril. Perhaps that is too obvious to require further discussion. The unitive purpose, however, is not so obvious. What we mean by saying that physical union has a unitive purpose is that it can also further a deeper union between the husband and wife.

To understand the unitive purpose we must recognize that the sexes are not only different but complementary. God could have made just one self-sufficient sex. Instead he made two, each of which feels itself incomplete and longs for the other. The canyon between them is deep, but bridging it is well worth the patience and discipline it requires.

To be sure, there are other ways to use the sexual powers, ways that do not bridge the canyon. For instance, solitary sex sinks a person more deeply in the self; sodomy sinks him into a looking-glass idol of the self; and promiscuity merely uses the other for the purposes of the self. By contrast, marriage holds forth the prospect of altogether forgetting the self in care and sacrifice for the other. We come to ourselves by losing ourselves. This extraordinary intimacy is among the profoundest of natural goods. Of course, Divine law goes even further, describing it as a foretaste of our supernatural good—that still deeper union to which we are invited with the wholly other, who is God—but that is another topic.1
This is a clear way to understand how the design of human beings points to a natural man/woman pairing, and how sexual function has primary and tertiary purposes. It doesn't deny sex for couples that may be infertile, since they are still acting within natural inclinations, even if no child will ever result. However, it also highlights the impossibility of any same-sex coupling to ever be able to make the same claim. This is why whenever I talk about marriage, I talk about natural marriage, because man/woman marriage reflects biology and natural law.


1. Budziszewski, J. Written on the Heart: The Case for Natural Law. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1997. Print. 70-71.
IMage courtesy Ray Dumas and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) license.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

How Rational Are Rationalists When It Comes to Sex?

In his book God is Not Great, Christopher Hitchens writes, "Our belief is not a belief. Our principles are not a faith. We do not rely solely upon science and reason, because these are necessary rather than sufficient factors, but we distrust anything that contradicts science or outrages reason."1 It seems one of the more popular slogans that modern atheists like to banter about is the claim that they are not motivate by "ancient superstition" but by "logic and reason." There is even a t-shirt that says the same. The popular 2012 atheists’ conference was even named The Reason Rally. The claim to uphold reason above all is frequently repeated to me by those in the freethought movement.

Yet, there seems to be something else going on. More and more prominent atheists hold to a very liberal sexual ethic, announcing their "sexual orientation" shuns monogamy for multiple sexual partners,2  or have had their fair share of promiscuous flings.3 The American Atheists and the Backyard Skeptics co-sponsored a billboard proclaiming "Atheists make better lovers. (After all, nobody’s watching.)" Spokesman Bruce Gleason states, "Atheists make better lovers because they have less guilt about sex, while people believing in religious superstitions attach a negative aspect to sex. We do not think a supernatural deity is watching us — neither in life nor in bed."4

Aquinas on Reason and Passion

I want to stop here and clarify what I'm trying to say. I am not saying that just because someone is an atheist it means he or she is more sexually loose than others. But the claim to hold rationality seems to be contrary to the positions taken by the examples above. Thomas Aquinas recognized over 800 years ago that human beings had certain biological drives for sex, hunger, and other natural impulses—Aquinas called these "passions of the soul"—that we share with animals. These are necessary as they provide the drive for species to thrive and reproduce. But Aquinas also recognized that human beings have a unique aspect of the soul that animals do not have: the ability to reason. We have the ability to see our actions and to measure their ultimate ends. Will certain actions enforce rationality and self-control or will they simply strengthen the animal appetites? Aquinas holds in order to express one’s full humanity, reason must rule over and control the passions.5

Appetites are not good and bad in themselves, but they must be subjected to and governed by the faculties of reason, and they must help to strengthen our rational souls. Allowing any carnal desire or passion to become the driving force in a person’s life is inherently antithetical to reason. I agree with this. Today, if one lives to satisfy his or her urges or biological desires, we would classify that person as uncivilized.  But succumbing to such drives doesn't demonstrate that a person is more rational. On Aquinas’ view it would show quite the opposite.

The Irrationality of Atheist Sexual Promiscuity

Now, here’s the problem. If atheist principles "rely solely upon science and reason" as Hitchens claims, then why are so many atheists bowing to those animal passions as a driving force in their lives? How is the claim of polyamory as a sexual orientation applying the principles of logic and reason? Are groups like the Godless Perverts placing their passions under the control of their reasoning or are they seeking to express their animal desires? As more atheists identify with a loose sexual ethic, are they bolstering reason or strengthening the animal impulse?

In Sex & God: How Religion Distorts Reality, Darrel Ray writes, "Fear is the foreplay of religion. If done right, it interferes with all aspects of human sexual pleasure."6 One may claim that religion done right interferes with all aspects of human sexual pleasure only if one assumes that any sexual predilections are good and should be acted upon. But this is contrary to reason, which allows us to master our activities and keep our sexual urges under control. When Christian theology teaches that we should keep our animal passions in subjugation, it elevates humans to beings that are capable of living above their animal passions. Sexual restraint and monogamy demonstrate just how reasonable Christianity is.


1. Hitchens, Christopher (2007-05-01). God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything (p. 8). Twelve Books. Kindle Edition.
2. "Coming Out Poly + A Change of Life Venue." Richard Carrier Blogs., 18 Feb. 2015. Web. 04 Mar. 2015.
3. Lee, Adam. "The Wall of Silence Around Michael Shermer." Daylight Atheism., 29 Sept. 2014. Web. 04 Mar. 2015.
4. Mehta, Hemant. "Atheists Make Better Lovers, Says Billboard." Friendly Atheist. Patheos, 115 Feb. 2012. Web. 04 Mar. 2015.
5. Aquinas, Thomas. "The Summa Theologica: I-II.24.1." Summa Theologica. Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 11 Jan. 2007. Web. 04 Mar. 2015.
6. Ray, Darrel. Sex & God: How Religion Distorts Reality. Bonner Springs, KS: IPC, 2012. Print. 26.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

What is the Uncaused Cause of the Universe?

Christianity has always been a faith that relies on reason and evidence for its beliefs. Paul models this in his challenge in 1 Corinthians 15, where he hangs all of Christianity on the fact of Jesus' resurrection from the dead "(if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile").1 After the apostles, we have the witness of early church fathers, such as Justin Martyr, through thinkers like Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas who all contributed to not simply the church's mental development, but to the growth of reason the world over.

 One of the more famous defenses by Thomas Aquinas is his Five Ways argument for God's existence, one of which argues that God is the Uncaused Cause2. This particular argument is sometimes misunderstood as arguing that all events are caused by preceding events, like a chain of dominoes. So, it you were to trace all events back in time, you'd eventually get to a first cause that starts the dominoes falling. That description is closer to another of Aquinas' Five Ways arguments, the Unmoved Mover. The Uncaused Cause isn't a time-dependent argument, but rather an explanation of contingency. Just as my life is contingent on me breathing air right now, not just in the past, so all effects can point to their current state of existence as contingent on something else.

Aquinas rightly notes that to try and explain an effect (say the existence of the universe) by pointing to itself is impossible. This also applied to multiverse scenarios, since we must ask what causes the multiverse "engine" to produce multiple universes. Aquinas rightly says that such claims are simply not explanations. We must ground all effects in an ultimate cause, otherwise we have explained nothing.

Peter S. Williams has a great little video clip clearly explaining Aquinas' Uncaused Cause argument.  Check it out below:


1. See: Esposito, Lenny. "Why is the Resurrection so important?" Come Reason Ministries. Web. 10 March 2013.
2. Aquinas, Thomas. "Whether God exists?" Summa Theologica. (Benziger Bros. edition, 1947). Web. 5 Aug 2014.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Was it Necessary for Jesus to Rise Again?

In his monumental Summa Theologica, Saint Thomas Aquinas presents a fully developed theology of the Christian church. Aquinas did this in a kind of Socratic method, posing each topic as a question, offering certain objections against the doctrine and then answering the objections raised. His Third Part focused specifically on Christ and in Question 53 he looks at the necessity of Jesus to rise from the dead.

Aquinas offers five specific reasons why the Resurrection is crucial to the faith. He writes:
 First of all; for the commendation of Divine Justice, to which it belongs to exalt them who humble themselves for God's sake, according to Lk. 1:52: "He hath put down the mighty from their seat, and hath exalted the humble." Consequently, because Christ humbled Himself even to the death of the Cross, from love and obedience to God, it behooved Him to be uplifted by God to a glorious resurrection; hence it is said in His Person (Ps. 138:2): "Thou hast known," i.e. approved, "my sitting down," i.e. My humiliation and Passion, "and my rising up," i.e. My glorification in the resurrection; as the gloss expounds.

Secondly, for our instruction in the faith, since our belief in Christ's Godhead is confirmed by His rising again, because, according to 2 Cor. 13:4, "although He was crucified through weakness, yet He liveth by the power of God." And therefore it is written (1 Cor. 15:14): "If Christ be not risen again, then is our preaching vain, and our [Vulg.: 'your'] faith is also vain": and (Ps. 29:10): "What profit is there in my blood?" that is, in the shedding of My blood, "while I go down," as by various degrees of evils, "into corruption?" As though He were to answer: "None. 'For if I do not at once rise again but My body be corrupted, I shall preach to no one, I shall gain no one,'" as the gloss expounds.

Thirdly, for the raising of our hope, since through seeing Christ, who is our head, rise again, we hope that we likewise shall rise again. Hence it is written (1 Cor. 15:12): "Now if Christ be preached that He rose from the dead, how do some among you say, that there is no resurrection of the dead?" And (Job 19:2527): "I know," that is with certainty of faith, "that my Redeemer," i.e. Christ, "liveth," having risen from the dead; "and" therefore "in the last day I shall rise out of the earth . . . this my hope is laid up in my bosom."

Fourthly, to set in order the lives of the faithful: according to Rom. 6:4: "As Christ is risen from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we also may walk in newness of life": and further on; "Christ rising from the dead dieth now no more; so do you also reckon that you are dead to sin, but alive to God."

Fifthly, in order to complete the work of our salvation: because, just as for this reason did He endure evil things in dying that He might deliver us from evil, so was He glorified in rising again in order to advance us towards good things; according to Rom. 4:25: "He was delivered up for our sins, and rose again for our justification."
To restate these reasons:

  1. Jesus' resurrection demonstrates the Father's acceptance of Christ's humility in sacrificing Himself for our sins.
  2. Jesus' resurrection shows us that He is almighty God, vindicating His authority and our submission to Him.
  3. Jesus' resurrection provides proof that death has no power over the Christian.
  4. Jesus' resurrection gives us the impetus to live holy lives for Him.
  5. Jesus' resurrection is part of His salvific work.
How truly great is our salvation! How truly magnificent is our Lord! How truly important is the Resurrection and how worthy is it to reflect on it this Easter.

Monday, March 25, 2013

What the Kalam Tells Us About God's Existence

From the earliest days of philosophy, it has been noted that you can't get a something from a nothing. Now this is pretty intuitive, right? How can you get a thing out of nothing? Nothing by its very nature is a no-thing. The universe is a created thing. It would seem then that the universe couldn't come from nothing, but had to come from something else. This concept didn't escape a brilliant Catholic philosopher named Thomas Aquinas who lived in the 13th century. He used the idea to build his argument for the existence of God. Aquinas argued that God must be the ultimate cause five different ways, but the biggest one, the one that draws the most attention, is what we call the First Cause.

Aquinas noticed that no matter what you look at, no matter what you see or experience, it is tied to some kind of an event; something happened. A baby is born or a person dies; whatever the event, it will have a cause associated with it. So for example, the fact that I'm alive means there's a cause for the existence of my life. Like our questioner above, Aquinas started working his way backwards. Well, if that had a cause, then this had a cause, and this had a cause… And all of these things we see simultaneously have causes. It may be a single cause, it may be a complex set of causes, but they all have a cause someplace. So there's this huge chain of events that have to lead back somewhere. What was the first cause? So Thomas Aquinas argued that God would be the First Cause. He would be the un-caused cause. And that was his big push for the five ways; God is this un-caused cause.

As I've shown in a previous blog post, the idea that the universe is infinitely old doesn't make sense anymore. Because we can show the universe had a beginning, I want to restate the argument from existence in a way that gives more clarity to what we're really trying to prove.

Given that we can show the universe had a beginning, I want to restate the argument from existence in a slightly different way, one that gives more clarity to what we're really trying to prove. We have already agreed that a thing cannot come from nothing. In saying such, we are also claiming that the "thing" in question has a beginning. So a better way to state our argument is, "Whatever begins to exist has a cause." Put into a formal logical structure, the argument from existence can be framed this way:
  1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause
  2. The universe began to exist.
  3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.
This is known in logic as a syllogism, which means that if the first two claims are true, then the third sentence must be true. Either the universe began to exist, or it didn't. And if the universe began to exist, it couldn't be caused by nothing (since there's nothing there to make it happen) and it couldn't have caused itself (since it doesn't yet exist). Whatever begins to exist has a cause. The universe began to exist. Therefore the universe began had a cause. This specific argument for creation has been known for some time by philosophers, and it even has a name: the Kalam Cosmological Argument. The name may sound daunting, but all we really need to know is the simplicity of the argument.

What we can deduce from the Kalam

Although the argument seems simple, if we unpack it a little bit, you can see how strong the argument really is. Something can either be eternal (no beginning) or it can have a beginning. I think it's pretty clear from the evidence above that the universe had a beginning. If the universe had a beginning, it either began an infinite amount of time ago, or it began some specific amount of time ago. It can only be one or the other. We've already shown that the universe beginning an infinite amount of time ago doesn't make any sense. So the universe had to begin some specific time ago. Therefore, the universe must have a cause.

But we can learn more as we reflect on our understanding of the universe. We can see the cause for the universe can't be material, because all matter is included within what we call the universe. Also, the cause must be outside of time, because according to Einstein, time, space, and matter are all joined together within our universe. That also means that the cause can't have any kind of a spatial dimension either. So we have a cause that's outside time, outside space, and without mass; a cause that is something that may be classified as an eternal spirit. 

We can continue to draw certain inferences about such a cause the more we think about it, and although these are not proofs I think they are interesting in that they do follow logically from what we've already discovered. First, the cause would have to be a mind, not a mere force. I say this because the cause for creation must have some type of will or desire to create; the mechanical laws of nature don't yet exist so a brute force doesn't make sense. In other words, there was a point at which this cause decided, "The universe should be." And the universe was. So although the Kalam Cosmological Argument doesn't necessarily prove the Christian God, it comes pretty close to showing a Creator that is basically an all-powerful mind choosing to act upon nothing who then creates everything.
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