Category Archives: Minneapolis

Which Way Is Up?

Welcome to Sunday, the day after the day we are supposed to “keep holy” according to the Third Commandment – and a good day, still, to pause and reflect. What do we think of Aquinas’ first four Ways to prove the existence of you-know-who?

They’re not what I expected. My memory of Aquinas led me to believe he’d be easy to ridicule, and I was wrong. As a body of work, Aquinas’ various “Summas” and “Replies” and opinion pieces are towering, meticulous and clever. He’s also quite easy to read – he had no interest in showing off, just communicating. He dictated to four scribes at once, reciting quotations from memory. On his deathbed he said he was most grateful for the fact that he immediately understood everything he read. In short: a genius.

But did he prove God exists? He presented the best arguments there are that don’t rely on revelation, scripture or subjective experience, that are solely derivable by reason from first premises and observation. Ways #1-3 notice things that happen through time in our world – change, causation and creation – and ask the perfectly reasonable question: What got them started?

Pre-moderns didn’t waste much time “proving” God exists because they had no alternative explanation beyond chaos. We moderns feel that we do. Ask somebody walking down Hennepin Avenue or the Nicolette Mall “How did the universe start?” and, if they’re a good Scandinavian graduate of “The U,” they’ll say, “The Big Bang.”

The God Project Street Team: “What happened before the Big Bang?”

BLOND PERSON: “Whassup?”

TGPST: “Exactly! What happened before that?”

BP: “I don’t know. But I’m sure some physicist at The U knows.”

TGPST: “What if they don’t?”

BP: “Try MIT – the Minnesota Institute of Technology.”

TGPST: “And what if they don’t know?”

BP: (fake smile) “Excuse me, I have to get to my ice fishing class. Have a great day now!”

My point here is not that Minnesotans have a self-satisfied way of referring to their pointedly average state school as “The U,” as though there aren’t any others, but that we make as many assumptions as pre-moderns did, just in a different direction. We assume science has it covered. Pre-moderns assumed God did. We both have faith in something we do not quite understand.

I still don’t know what got change, causation and creation started. I have to admit my ignorance and put my faith in something I can call “God” or I can call “Physicists at the U” (aka “Science”).

The most common logical objection to Aquinas’ Ways #1-4 is that he assumes no series can go on to infinity; there must be something first. Logicians say he doesn’t prove this, just asserts it. Well, okay, but it’s not a very satisfying objection. How can you explain infinity? We simply open up another thing – as Aquinas does in Ways #1-4 – that is beyond human understanding.

A better objection is that it’s a very long highway from this mysterious changer, causer and creator to the Hebrew Bible and the Calvary Pentecostal Ministry. Very true. All Aquinas succeeds in doing – and I think he does succeed – is draw our attention to an obvious fact: There is much about this Universe of ours, and about our own hearts, that’s like a Q&A without the A.

What do you think?

Clarifying the Obvious

Happy Monday, Seekers!


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Let’s start with a clarification. By calling this a Clarification – as opposed, say, to a Correction – I’m trying to imply without saying it out loud that what follows is a point that, in my infectious enthusiasm for the Truth, I may have passed over too lightly on my way to yet more brilliant observations. I’m implying, had I only stopped for breath in my recitation of mind-blowing truths, I might have expounded a tad more on a certain item for those of you in the back row who were tweeting at the time.

So here I am about to clarify the obvious for the people. (By the way, this is one theory about why Anselm’s reply to Gaunilo is so disappointing: he left out the parts of his “Proof” he considered obvious, not realizing that Gaunilo wasn’t getting it.)

Yet I just learned this last night, while walking my dog through a snowdrift so intimidating it scared even her, a Bernese mountain dog: Kant himself created the phrase “ontological argument” to describe these Proofs of Anselm, Descartes, Leibniz, et al. And Kant did not know Anselm’s argument directly: he argued against Descartes. Clear? Good.

Now we were talking about Anselm’s Credo of “Faith seeking understanding.” He’s a believer trying to show that faith is compatible with reason. He’s not a modern dude trying to convince a busload of atheists there is a God. That’s a totally different Project.

Here’s the thing, again: Anselm defines God as That Than Which Nothing Greater Can Be Thought (TTWNGCBT) … and proceeds to show how those who have TTWNGCBT in their minds can not fail to see that It exists. In the form of a dialogue, it might go:

ANSELM: Imagine God.

FOOL: Got it.

ANSELM: Can you fail to see that It exists?

FOOL: Actually, yes.

ANSELM: Imagine God.

FOOL: Got it. Wow. Really amazing. Still doesn’t exist, bro.

ANSELM: Imagine God.

It’s a strange argument. Anselm is saying if we really, truly have TTWNGCBT playing on the small screen of our minds then … we can see It MUST exist. We can’t imagine an imaginary God, if we are imagining God.

The Fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” She can imagine whatever she wants, there still ain’t no God. Anselm says: “Imagine God.” This is not the scientific method. Gaunilo and Kant saw it as absurd – a way to conjure up anything we want, like some computer-animated fantasy.

But Anselm isn’t conjuring up just Anything, is he? He’s making claims about Everything: that is, God. There’s an ultimacy in this God that’s complete: It is anything and everything. The Source of all, unchanging, entire, outside of time and space, the perfection of perfections, love and truth Itself.

Another way to put his argument – one less offensive to us moderns – is: “If we think about the concept of ‘Perfection’ long enough, we will realize that we are thinking about something that is, in some way, real.”

We’ll see when we get to Augustine, Platonists like Anselm were fond of looking at the good things in our world and imagining the better things to which they seem to point. We could argue this is pure mysticism, meditating ourselves into a subjective state of believing things no one else can see. Anselm would not agree. He would say: anyone who meditates on this topic ends up in the same place: it is not subjective. It is true.

Augustine describes a similar maybe-mystical experience in Book VII of “The Confessions.” Can we wait?

* Highly Recommended: Medieval arguments for the existence of God are described with greater eloquence and authority by Prof. Thomas Williams in this incredible audio course. Grade: 5 snowballs out of 5!

Saving Private Anselm

Let us always bear in mind the sacred Rule of the Corporate Brainstorm (SRCB):
“There are no stupid ideas, only stupid people.”

The Situation

Prove This!

Our friend King Kong said the type of argument Anselm used can not prove the existence of God. In fact, he proved it could not prove the existence of God. Proofs of the unprovability of proofs only begin to hint at how hard it is to read Kant. But we suffer here at The God Project Dot Net so that you, dear lurker, can enjoy your weekend.

Unless you are in Minneapolis. Last night we went to our prom-themed corporate holiday party, complete with balloons, boutonnieres and a band that’s supposedly blowing up. Coolness abounds; the band sounds like the Ramones. Everything sounds like something else to me, as everyone looks like someone, only younger, which can mean only one thing: I am over forty. (Random aside: Kant was over fifty when he started writing what we still read today.)

So I’m at this pseudo-prom surrounded by dancing Scandinavians and I’m wondering how I got to be here, after 20 years in the Center of the Known World. And POP!: I realize my angle on living is Anselmian. Listen to this, over the band:

“I do not seek to understand in order to have faith but I have faith in order to understand. For I believe even this: I shall not understand unless I have faith.”

This is Anselm’s infamous Credo: “Faith seeking understanding,” also in the “Proslogion.” It’s not a Fundie-type statement: he’s just saying he (1) makes a commitment, (2) proceeds, and (3) understands all the nit-picky details later, if ever.

Isn’t this incredibly human? Isn’t Anselm just Keeping It Real? Why am I in Minneapolis, after all? My wife did the P.T. Barnum hard-sell for years, true, but it came down to a day when I thought: “Let’s do this.” Rational? Not in a way that would impress King Kong. It was a leap into the mystic void based on little more than a feeling, part-reason, and faith in our little family’s nuclear adaptability.

And now that I’m writing out loud, seems to me like exactly those decisions based on cold, hard reason that have turned out to bite me in the balloon. I mention one: my rational goal, for so many years, was to own an apartment in Manhattan. Sound thinking. The height of rationality, right? I got one. Want to buy it from me? Please?

Anselm said: “It is quite possible to think of something whose nonexistence cannot be thought of.” Tell that to an atheist. But the truth is, Anselm himself did such a thing: thought of something whose nonexistence cannot be thought of. Had an undeniable conviction of Truth based on some hard evidence … and something else.

What? Augustine has a similar experience in “The Confessions.” We’ll get there, little gorillas. We’ll get there together.