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 Post subject: Reformed Epistemology
PostPosted: Tue Mar 27, 2012 6:32 am 
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I recently read this in a work by Plantinga regarding Aquinas (and Catholic) faith in natural theology, especially with regard to the rational proofs of the existence of God.

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"Reformed or Calvinist theologians have for the most part taken a dim view of this enterprise....for the most part the Reformed attitude has ranged from indifference, through suspicion and hostility, to outright accusations of blasphemy...."


He goes on at great length about the Reformers rejection of what is today called "Foundationalism". Any rational proof has to begin with some "foundational" or self-evident truth. In order to "prove" God's existence with such logical arguments requires a foundational truth, and then the argument builds toward, "God is." The Reformers argued that one must begin with God. God is the "given" from which all arguments must be built, and that God has revealed to all men His existence both internally and through creation (although, the Reformers are not speaking here of some cosmological, ontological or teleological "argument"; that is, not a rational approach to God, by "reasoning" from creation to God, but a rather immediate revelation of God's power through the creation,as per Romans 1). That is, the "self-evident" truth IS God. Thus, rational arguments for His existence are working backwards, or superfluous, or worse, prideful human attempts to reach God rather than submitting to God who has reached to us.

He explains that the Reformers were not rejecting the powers of human reason, per se. In fact, they did believe that human reason had fallen under the power of the Fall, and therefore could not always be trusted. Nevertheless, they believed that human reason, as created by God and redeemed in Christ, was an essential part of the Imago Dei.

Francis Schaeffer, Reformed philosopher, goes so far as to suggest that Aquinas opened the door to the Enlightenment and the enthronement of human reason (though he readily admits that Aquinas himself did not do this), but his endorsement of natural theology and the rational approach to God set up a counterweight to the idea of the Divine Being as the starting point in reason. In Schaeffer's opinion, Aquinas gives too much autonomy to human reason, fails to fully recognize how the Fall has warped reason, and that the starting point for truth must always be Revelation of God by God, not human reason from creation TO God.

I am very interested in knowing if there are any contemporary Catholic philosophers or theologians who address the Reformed "attack" on Aquinas or Catholic epistemology. Or is there any work which specifically deals with Catholic epistemology?

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 Post subject: Re: Reformed Epistemology
PostPosted: Tue Mar 27, 2012 9:19 am 
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Cyprian wrote:
I am very interested in knowing if there are any contemporary Catholic philosophers or theologians who address the Reformed "attack" on Aquinas or Catholic epistemology. Or is there any work which specifically deals with Catholic epistemology?


Reformed Epistolmology 'attacks' Aquinas? :scratch: Maybe some extreme exponents of it do, but Alvin Plantinga in particular has devoted massive amounts of time and attention towards developing, defending, the traditional proofs of the existence of God.....

Anyway, the person here who is the real expert on Reformed Epistimology is gherkin, and you might have to put this question on the back burner until he returns.

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 Post subject: Re: Reformed Epistemology
PostPosted: Tue Mar 27, 2012 10:48 am 
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but Alvin Plantinga in particular has devoted massive amounts of time and attention towards developing, defending, the traditional proofs of the existence of God.....


Plantinga was not defending the Reformers, simply reporting their attitudes toward natural theology. He does note that a few did defend the rational proofs (such as B. B. Warfield), but Calvin, and for the most part Calvin's followers have not.

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 Post subject: Re: Reformed Epistemology
PostPosted: Tue Mar 27, 2012 11:56 am 
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that is, not a rational approach to God, by "reasoning" from creation to God, but a rather immediate revelation of God's power through the creation,as per Romans 1).
In the first approach, one is aware of what one is doing and can therefore do it carefully. The second approach is doing the same things unawares and therefore much more open to error.

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 Post subject: Re: Reformed Epistemology
PostPosted: Tue Mar 27, 2012 11:58 am 
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As for "Catholic" epistemology--the Church has not adopted any official approach to epistemology, but the Thomistic synthesis really has never found any effective competitors, though I guess since Plato was a lot more popular in the Church early on than Aristotle was, St. Augustine et al. probably use a more Platonic model.

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 Post subject: Re: Reformed Epistemology
PostPosted: Wed Mar 28, 2012 3:55 am 
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I think they're failing to distinguish adequately between what is "obvious," something that is somewhat subjective, and what is "self-evident." The principle of non-contradiction is, for instance, self-evident. God's existence may be "obvious" to one of us, but it is not obvious to atheists. However, God's existence can be demonstrated from self-evident first principles.

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 Post subject: Re: Reformed Epistemology
PostPosted: Wed Mar 28, 2012 5:30 am 
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God's existence may be "obvious" to one of us, but it is not obvious to atheists. However, God's existence can be demonstrated from self-evident first principles.

This seems to be exactly what the Reformed Epistemologists are arguing against. That is, they would argue that God's existence IS obvious, even to the atheist, and that therefore, it IS a, no, it is THE, self-evident first principle.

Why then does the atheist "deny" it? The Reformers say, Romans 1:18-19 explain it: "...who by their unrighteousness SUPPRESS the truth. For what can be known about God IS PLAIN to them, because God has revealed it IN or TO ('en) them."

The founders seems to echo a similar principle in the Declaration of Independence when they assert, "We hold these truths to be SELF-EVIDENT, that all men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator, etc." Yet, an atheist would quickly assert that such truths are not self-evident, etc.

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 Post subject: Re: Reformed Epistemology
PostPosted: Wed Mar 28, 2012 6:42 am 
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A thing can be self-evident in either of two ways: on the one hand, self-evident in itself, though not to us; on the other, self-evident in itself, and to us. A proposition is self-evident because the predicate is included in the essence of the subject, as "Man is an animal," for animal is contained in the essence of man. If, therefore the essence of the predicate and subject be known to all, the proposition will be self-evident to all; as is clear with regard to the first principles of demonstration, the terms of which are common things that no one is ignorant of, such as being and non-being, whole and part, and such like. If, however, there are some to whom the essence of the predicate and subject is unknown, the proposition will be self-evident in itself, but not to those who do not know the meaning of the predicate and subject of the proposition. Therefore, it happens, as Boethius says (Hebdom., the title of which is: "Whether all that is, is good"), "that there are some mental concepts self-evident only to the learned, as that incorporeal substances are not in space." Therefore I say that this proposition, "God exists," of itself is self-evident, for the predicate is the same as the subject, because God is His own existence as will be hereafter shown (3, 4). Now because we do not know the essence of God, the proposition is not self-evident to us; but needs to be demonstrated by things that are more known to us, though less known in their nature — namely, by effects.

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 Post subject: Re: Reformed Epistemology
PostPosted: Wed Mar 28, 2012 9:21 am 
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This quote from Aquinas actually accentuates the differences between his approach and that of the Reformers.
He goes on further to state:
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To know that God exists in a general and confused way is implanted in us by nature, inasmuch as God is man's beatitude. For man naturally desires happiness, and what is naturally desired by man must be naturally known to him. This, however, is not to know absolutely that God exists; just as to know that someone is approaching is not the same as to know that Peter is approaching, even though it is Peter who is approaching; for many there are who imagine that perfect good which is happiness, consists in riches, and others in pleasures, and others in something else.


Here the Reformers would say that the "fool" who says in his heart, 'There is no God', does so, not because He does not know God exists, but because he desires to suppress what he knows DOES exist, that is, God. In this condition, so Calvin argued, no amount of logic (such as Aquinas' rational proofs), however sound, will be convincing to the "fool". The Reformers would argue against Aquinas on the statement: "To know that God exists in a general and confused way is implanted in us by nature..." They would say, "No, that God exists is implanted NOT in a confused way or a "general" way." But the Fall has darkened us to the extent, not that we CAN'T know it, or even that we DON'T know it; rather we refuse what we do KNOW, we deny it, we "suppress" it (per Romans 1), we willfully put blinders on to avoid seeing it, that is we REJECT what we know by nature, and thus attempt to live autonomously and justify it by saying, There is no God.

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 Post subject: Re: Reformed Epistemology
PostPosted: Thu Mar 29, 2012 2:46 pm 
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I think the Catholic explanation is pretty much in agreement with you, knowing God, or that a God exists should be self evident through a well formed conscience. If we continually suppress our conscience, then God does indeed give us over to a debased mind(Romans1:24-32, Pslam81:11-12 etc). Therefore it really will seem, or at least become less obvious to those whom God has given up to their debased desires, that he does indeed exist. If they do have a vague belief in God, they usually create him in their own image and not vice versa.

Cyprian wrote:
They would say, "No, that God exists is implanted NOT in a confused way or a "general" way." But the Fall has darkened us to the extent, not that we CAN'T know it, or even that we DON'T know it; rather we refuse what we do KNOW, we deny it, we "suppress" it (per Romans 1), we willfully put blinders on to avoid seeing it, that is we REJECT what we know by nature, and thus attempt to live autonomously and justify it by saying, There is no God.


I think what Aquinas may have meant from your short quote is that we are all implanted with a vague notion of God. We can't really have a general understanding of the Trinity or of the Hypostatic Union etc unless someone teaches us about them(Acts1:31, Romans10:14 etc).

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 Post subject: Re: Reformed Epistemology
PostPosted: Thu Mar 29, 2012 3:10 pm 
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Quote:
I think what Aquinas may have meant from your short quote is that we are all implanted with a vague notion of God. We can't really have a general understanding of the Trinity or of the Hypostatic Union etc unless someone teaches us about them(Acts1:31, Romans10:14 etc).

Yes, I see, that is very possible. I'll have to go back and read what's ahead and behind that section in Summa.

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 Post subject: Re: Reformed Epistemology
PostPosted: Thu Mar 29, 2012 7:18 pm 
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Here the Reformers would say that the "fool" who says in his heart, 'There is no God', does so, not because He does not know God exists, but because he desires to suppress what he knows DOES exist, that is, God. In this condition, so Calvin argued, no amount of logic (such as Aquinas' rational proofs), however sound, will be convincing to the "fool".
I don't know that St. Thomas would disagree with that. He would state that the fool is being irrational, but he certainly knew there were (and are) irrational people in the world.

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 Post subject: Re: Reformed Epistemology
PostPosted: Thu May 31, 2012 5:07 pm 
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First, it might be important to note that Plantinga is not Reformed in regards to predestination. Plantinga is a molinist when it comes to that. My point in bringing this up is to make sure that no one confuses what Plantinga means by reformed. Plantinga does not reject natural theology, in fact, Plantinga uses it. This can be seen in virtue of his 12 or so good arguments for the existence of God and his development of the ontological argument. However, Plantinga (like the reformed) argues that one does not need any arguments in order to be rational and warranted in their belief in God. He argues as Calvin does that man has a sense of the divine. That is to say, our cognitive structure is built in such a way that belief in God is produced in a basic way (no need of any arguments). Thus, Plantinga's main beef is with evidentialism, and not Aquinas and his big 5. So be rest assured, you can accept both Thomism and aspects of Reformed Epistemology.

The evidential objection to belief in God is that if one is without a good argument for belief in God than they are not rational in holding their belief. Thus, in order to actually have knowledge that God exists, one must have a good reason for that belief. This is grounded in what is known as classical foundationalism. Classical foundationalism avoids the epistemological regress argument by postulating the concept of basic beliefs. That is, there are beliefs that do not need further justification and all other beliefs are based upon those basic beliefs. The basic beliefs according to classical foundationalism are those beliefs that are self-evident, incorrigible, or evident to the senses. Thus, in virtue of belief in God not fitting into any of these categories, one must have an argument for it to be considered justified and rational.

Plantinga rejects classical foundationalism for a few reasons. Plantinga first accuses classical foundationalism of being self-referential incoherent as classical foundational does not meet its own criteria. Plantinga does not believe that classical foundationalism is either a self-evident belief, an incorrigible belief, or a belief that is evident to the senses. He further argues that the truth of classical foundationalism cannot be proven in virtue of building on these basic beliefs either.

Secondly, Plantinga demonstrates that there are more beliefs that need to be taken as basic than the ones that classical foundationalism endorses. For example, the belief in other minds does not meet the criteria of classical foundationalism and yet one would be irrational in not holding to that belief. Perhaps one may argue that it is in virtue of seeing the effects around them that they come to an inductive conclusion that there are other minds, as a sort of best explanation. However, upon further thought, there appears other explanations that explain just as much and possibly even simpler. For example, perhaps one can explain the effects around them by postulating a Freudian theory, that in order to survive in this cold and dark world our cognitive faculties produce the belief that there are other minds around us. Or maybe, there is an evil demon monster who is playing a trick on us and gives us the illusion that there are other minds. Another possibility could be that the individuals who we come in contact with are actually zombies but they give the same effects as other minds.

Similar arguments can be made regarding the beliefs in induction, memory, testimony, and the external world. Thus, Plantinga argues that the basic beliefs espoused in classical foundationalism are way to strict and would leave one to be irrational in accepting obvious truths that are found in the above beliefs. Furthermore, if there box becomes wide open regarding what constitutes a basic belief, Plantinga postulates that belief in God and Christianity should be considered a basic belief.

Plantinga argues that belief in God can be basic in the following way. If there is a personal loving God who is there and has created man in His image so that He may know and love them, it would appear that something like the sense of the divinity would be true. That is, upon being in God's ordered creation (the right epistemic environment), belief in God could be produced by man's cognitive faculties in a way that allows man to know this personal God. Meaning, man could know God without an argument as one might just come to the conclusion that upon looking at the stars in the sky that God created them or perhaps after one commits a great sin, one just finds their self believing God is upset with them. It appears that if God uses these things to make Himself known to his creation, then man can form belief in God in a basic way. This of course is conditional, that is, if Christianity is true, then it would most likely be warranted in virtue of the reasons given. This means that Plantinga is not arguing for De Facto but De Jure. Plantinga then takes naturalism and famously argues that unlike Christianity, if naturalism is not true, it most likely would NOT be warranted. For a brief primer on that check out my blog here http://furtheringchristendom.files.word ... tion-1.pdf

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 Post subject: Re: Reformed Epistemology
PostPosted: Thu May 31, 2012 5:39 pm 
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There a good many Reformed, especially on the scholarly side, that see themselves as in the Augistinian-Thomistic-Calvinist tradition. And this isn't any thing new.

Frankly it is self-evident that some things are self-evident, in no need of proof but are immediately grasped when grasped. To ask for a proof of that is inherently to beg the question. You either accept it or you don't.

In anycase, it is quite anachronistic to read into Calvin or whatnot such views. Reformed epiistemology owes far more to Descartes, not so much in his answer to epistemology (certainly) but to the alleged problems it attempts to address. One may be reading too much into Calvin to suppose that he meant anything other than say Bonaventure, or the myriad of others that took God as basic and foundational. Admittedly I am not an expert on Calvin, but I am skeptical of such an interpretation

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 Post subject: Re: Reformed Epistemology
PostPosted: Thu May 31, 2012 7:13 pm 
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The Sensus Divinitatis is definitely found in the Institutes.
Regarding Descartes, Plantinga is not influenced by him at all. Plantinga argues for a loose foundationalism (rather than classic) and is an externalist (rather than an internalist). If anything, Plantinga is responding to the likes of Descartes and Locke (as he does in his Warrant volumes).

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