Sunday, September 3, 2017

Why Classical Theism Matters

What is Classical Theism?

In natural theology, the classical theist demonstrates the existence of God by reasoning from effect to cause. At the end of this deductively air-tight reasoning chain, the classical theist arrives at the conclusion that there is Existence Itself or Pure Actuality. That which is Existence/Pure Act is the cause of all outside of itself.  And this is, as Aquinas says, is what men call God. From this conclusion, certain other conclusions follow, such as that God is simple (metaphysically uncomposed), impassible, eternal (not subject to time), immutable (impossible for God to change), infinite (God is not limited), good (God is goodness), ineffable. God is not a being among others, He is Being Itself. God is personal but is not person. Other conceptions of God dispute one or more of these predications. Dr. Brian Davies explains the distinctions between classical theism and other views in his book Philosophy of Religion. Dr. Edward Feser has some great posts at his blog on this topic and in his book The Last Superstition.

Why is classical theism important?

How one conceives of God is critical to their philosophy and theology. For example, atheists often level the “one god further objection.” This often goes something like “well you [Christian] don’t believe in Zeus, Thor, etc. I just go the next step; I simply don’t believe in one god further than you/I am atheistic about one more god…” On a classical view of God, this objection is a straw-man because the classical theist does not mean anything like the Greek pantheon when he says "God." As mentioned above, for the classical theist God is not a being among others. He just is Being itself. Other conceptions of God might say that “God is like a person without a body” or something similar, in which case the classical theist thinks certain problems arise. For example, if God is composed of properties like maximal power, knowledge, and so forth, then what is the nature of such composition? And, how might one reconcile thinking of God as a 'person' with the Christian doctrine of the Trinity?

Further, I think when we look at how God is described in the Bible, the classical theist conception fits the best. A paradigmatic verse for this is Exodus 3:14, where God says, “I AM WHO I AM.” God is "He Who Is". The classical theistic framework helps the Christian exegete Scripture in a hermeneutically sound and consistent manner. The classical theistic conception of God as timeless seems more in keeping with divine knowledge. We are told God knows the beginning from the end (Isaiah 46:10). On classical theism, I think this is answerable in a way that does not create problems with diverse types of knowledge in God (e.g. foreknowledge and middle knowledge).

Much more could be said on this, and I plan to do so in other posts. Others have also said a great deal on the divergent views of God (see Davies). What I intended here was simply a general sketch so readers can better understand some of the theme in the blog. 

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