Monday, May 23, 2011

Thomism and the Common Man

If there's one objection I have to Thomism, it's not with the content so much as the approach I see Thomism offering. See, I'm a big fan of Ed Feser, and due to him, a growing fan of scholastic and classical thought. I've learned a tremendous amount by my spur-of-the-moment decision to buy The Last Superstition when it first came out, and it's done wonders for sharpening my understanding of formal and final causes, of just what Thomists (and Cartesians, for that matter) mean by the 'soul', the obfuscation often in play by materialists, etc. To put it simply, there's a tremendous amount of knowledge there. I'm still absorbing it, and the more I absorb, the more I see how modern philosophy has gone wrong.

But... there is one problem I have. The problem is that Thomism is just not really accessible for the average person. And like it or not, Christianity - while having a ferociously potent intellectual and philosophical tradition - is not thoroughly a religion for the intellectual or the philosopher. And by that I mean is, it seems obviously meant to be more accessible than that. This is not to say that Thomism is not valuable, even tremendously so - far from it, especially as a Catholic. It's that I think Thomistic thought and argument should not comprise the entirety of proclaiming the Christian message, or even the theistic message.

Put another way, I think there exist - while imperfect - more accessible arguments for God. Or at least, arguments for the belief that the natural world is self-evidently arranged such that concluding the intention of a mind or minds from it is powerful, natural, and intuitive. And I more and more think that it's there where the conversation with the modern world really has to start. Simple arguments with strong rhetoric, that give a man a reason to suspect a powerful mind or minds in nature. Not a definitive proof of the Christian God, but enough inference of a mind to give a man reason to investigate further, and to approach the world strongly or reasonably suspecting that it does, in fact, have an Author. And if so, that perhaps there's more that can be learned about this Author.

There's a prominent place for Thomism, even now. There's a place for the likes of William Lane Craig. But there also needs to be a place for the common man - and I'm as common as they come - who simply looks at everything from the periodic table to planetary formation to the human circulatory system to evolutionary theory and says, "This really has the look of a mind's work about it."


Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

I've been pondering this post. Have a look at my "Freudian arg against abortion" thread, if you could, thanks.

Crude said...

Glad to know it was worth pondering!

I want to stress that what I mean in the post is this: Thomism and A-T arguments may be correct. Indeed, they may (and I am strongly inclined to believe they do) demonstrate God's existence, especially if someone understands the arguments. The problem is getting someone to understand the arguments, and navigate the host of objections and, etc.

I think Catholicism is compatible with, and Christianity in a way demands, a far looser standard to spread and adhere to the faith. One which is still compelling to and compatible with reason, but far more accessible.

And, I threw in my comment on your post. I liked it when I saw it - I thought it was a quite inventive way to hit a pro-life argument from an unexplored angle. Not that I suspect Freudianism is all that popular nowadays, but it's the fact that you can make the argument that impresses me.

Pseudo-Augustine said...

I agree with your assessment here, but I am not so sure that the intellectual tradition is meant for the common man anyway. We have to remember that there are not so intelligent unbelievers who simply disbelieve because of emotional, moral, and situational reasons (there are more). I would also contend that Christianity has defenses that aren't so intellectually difficult to understand. J.P. Moreland has written a few books that really bring the nub of arguments down for the common man. I also think that systematic (Dogmatic theology)theology has a role to play here by introducing the doctrine of God, of Christ, etc. What I have found is that once you give someone the basics of Christian faith many attacks can be repelled pretty easily. I really like your blog.


Crude said...

Thanks for the comment. And the compliment - it's not much of a blog, just a place where I sketch out thoughts or grouse a bit. Glad someone enjoyed an entry.

I agree about the emotional, moral and situational reasons driving people. I actually think they tend to be in the majority, with the 'intellectual' reasons often becoming after the fact justifications - and honestly, it's not just unbelievers who do that.

But there's this tendency, even among Christians, to build up non-belief to be greater than it is. That's one reason I never like the 'scientism' bit - it gives the impression of "Those atheists just love science too much!" In reality, most of them couldn't care less about most science, and it's not a driving factor. The (abuse of!) science as a talking point is what they find interesting.

I think it's no coincidence that the typical Cult of Gnu member not only says he doesn't believe in God, but the God(s) he doesn't believe in so happen to be God(s) he really, really wants not to be real.

Timotheos said...

Actually, Aquinas shared your sentiment, which is why he argued that this need implies that God must have reveled things about himself.