Sunday, April 14, 2013

Points of Interest

An assortment of things I've run across that you may find of interest....

  • I'm sure you can remember cartoons, TV shows, or movies that featured a character in a moral dilemma being advised by an angel on one shoulder and tempted by a devil on the other. Did you ever wonder where this idea came from? Actually, this is a very old idea in Christianity. An excerpt from The Life of Moses by St. Gregory of Nyssa (335-394 AD), one of the greatest Fathers of the Church:
"There is a doctrine (which derives its trustworthiness from the tradition of the fathers) which says that after our nature fell into sin God did not disregard our fall and withhold his providence. No, on the one hand, he appointed an angel with an incorporeal nature to help in the life of each person, and, on the other hand, he also appointed the corruptor who, by an evil and malificent demon, afflicts the life of man and contrives against our nature." (Book II, paragraph 45)
This is consonant with the notion that God allows us to be tempted in order that we might grow stronger in virtue by cooperating with His grace, turning toward God and away from sin. I'm not sure we'd go so far as to say that God appoints a demon to afflict us. But still... I bet you thought some animator made this up. Nope.
  • There's an old story that our roads are the width they are today because they were patterned after train rails, which were patterned after carriages, which were patterned after Roman chariots -- so that the width of roads has not changed in 2,000 years! I'm not sure this is true, but there is at least one feature of our society that we do owe directly to the Romans: law. For example, the five basic categories we have today of circumstances which invalidate a contract are the same as they were in ancient Roman law! The survival of this principle is thanks to the medieval canon lawyers, particularly Gratian, who retrieved, collected, integrated and codified the wide assortment of civil and Church law which had survived into the second millennium. The Napoleonic Code was largely based on these surviving bits of Roman law, and its influence spread as France marched across Europe in the early 1800s. This code was then carried into the New World as the nations of Europe colonized the Americas and Africa. That same legal framework undergirds our Constitution. So, you can thank Gratian and St. Raymond of Penyafort for the Bill of Rights.
  • When you hear an atheist or agnostic argue against the existence of God, what do they most often say? It's usually some variation on one of these two points: 
1) If God is perfectly good, why is there evil?
2) We can explain the natural world apart from God; we don't need a "God of the gaps," because there are no gaps. 
I can't think of any argument I've heard from an atheist that doesn't boil down to one of these two points. So guess what St. Thomas listed as the two objections to the question of whether God exists in his Summa Theologica? From ST I, Question 2, Article 3:
Objection 1. It seems that God does not exist; because if one of two contraries be infinite, the other would be altogether destroyed. But the word "God" means that He is infinite goodness. If, therefore, God existed, there would be no evil discoverable; but there is evil in the world. Therefore God does not exist.
Objection 2. Further, it is superfluous to suppose that what can be accounted for by a few principles has been produced by many. But it seems that everything we see in the world can be accounted for by other principles, supposing God did not exist. For all natural things can be reduced to one principle which is nature; and all voluntary things can be reduced to one principle which is human reason, or will. Therefore there is no need to suppose God's existence.
Go here to read his replies to the objections. 
The point is: folks, we've been over this before. If you're going to deny that God exists, at least come up with something original. Next time you hear an atheist or agnostic make one of these arguments, point them toward Thomas' argument. Perhaps they'll be surprised that someone who lived 800 years ago had already thought of their clever questions and answered them.

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