The Metaphysics of Theism

Print ISBN 9780199246533, 2001 pp. [21]-[25]

opposition to natural theology Plantinga does clearly manifest is specifically directed against using it as a source of epistemic justification for religious belief. Aquinas, however, doesn't expressly view his natural theology as having that role. As I said above, his is designed to show that reason without revelation's support could have arrived at many—not all—of the propositions that constitute revelation. In that way, and to that extent, he is showing the unity of reason and faith. I think, though, that he would cheerfully admit that of course his natural theology could in certain circumstances also supply epistemic justification for religious belief.

I can't in this Introduction show in detail how Aquinas views natural theology: that's one of my aims in the rest of the book. But the following passage from Nicholas Wolterstorff, himself a prominent contributor to Reformed epistemology, provides a helpful preliminary sketch of what I think will turn out to be apparent in our investigation of Aquinas's project.

[T]he evidentialist challenge and objection to theistic conviction, along with the attempt to cope with that challenge by practicing evidentialist apologetics, are peculiar to modernity. Some will question this claim by pointing to the practice of natural theology among the medievals. The reply is that natural theology was a different project from evidentialist apologetics—even though the same arguments may occur in both. . . . Taking Anselm and Aquinas as typical, it becomes clear, then, that the medievals were doing something quite different in their project of natural theology from meeting the evidentialist challenge. They were engaged in the transmutation project of altering belief 26

(faith) into knowledge.

26 As my preliminary characterizations have been indicating, I don't think this is exactly right as a description of Aquinas's project in natural theology. It comes closer to characterizing his philosophical theology, which does take revealed propositions as part of its subject-matter (see Ch. One). Like natural theology, which is subordinate to metaphysics, philosophical theology is a subordinate science. Aquinas identifies the 'science' (scientia) to which it is subordinate as God's knowledge (scientia) of himself and everything else, available to human beings directly and completely only in the afterlife (Summa theoiogiae la. 1.2c). As he says in an earlier work, 'For us, the goal of faith is to arrive at an understanding of what we believe—[which is] as if a practitioner of a subordinate science were to acquire in addition the knowledge possessed by a practitioner of the [corresponding] higher science. In that case the things that were only believed before would come to be known, or understood' (Commentary on Boethius's De trinitate 2.2, ad 7).

No one in their milieu was claiming that it was permissible to believe that God existed only if one did so on the basis of adequate evidence, and with a firmness not exceeding the strength of the evidence. (Nonetheless Aquinas end p.21


© Copyright Oxford University Press, 2006. All Rights Reserved did, in chapter 6 of his Summa Contra Gentiles, defend the thesis 'that to give assent to the truths of faith is not foolishness even though they are above reason.0 (Wolterstorff 1983: 140-1) "

27 The passage he quotes from Summa contra gentiles is the title of chapter 6 of Book I, which Aquinas himself is not responsible for, and it may not express Just what Wolterstorff is looking for. By 'the truths of faith . . . [that] are above reason', Aquinas means only those doctrinal propositions to which reason has no access without revelation, the 'mysteries'. Because of their initial inaccessibility to unaided reason, these are the propositions he deals with not in his natural theology at all, but in Book IV of Summa contra gentiles, where he's practising philosophical theology. And in this same chapter 6 of Book I he goes on to offer evidence supporting the claim expressed in its title: 'For divine wisdom itself, which knows all things most fully, has deigned to reveal to human beings those secrets of divine wisdom. By appropriate indications (argumentis) it reveals its own presence and the truth both of its teaching and of its inspiration, while to establish things that lie beyond natural cognition it displays, visibly, works that surpass the capacity of all of nature'—i.e. miracles, some of which he goes on to cite (1.6.36).

I'm convinced that natural theology still offers the best route by which philosophers can, as philosophers, approach theological propositions, and that the one presented in this book is, all things considered, the best available natural theology.

end p.22


© Copyright Oxford University Press, 2006. All Rights Reserved

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