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Part Ten: An Imaginary Conversation on Faith between Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas Part Ten: An Imaginary Conversation on Faith between Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas
by Dr. Emanuel Paparella
2013-05-22 11:30:20
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Thomas Aquinas: good morning professor Aristotle. We meet again. I’ve been following your discussions on faith and belief in God and an after life and I’d like to interject a slightly different view.

Aristotle: I thought you had already expressed your view as a rationalist attempting to bridge faith and reason in your Summa Theologiae.

T: No, this is different. The Summa gives the proofs for the existence of God from reason; but, as you know, I was a religious person, a Dominican friar, and had also a life of faith. It is not my philosophy so much that helped me to become a saint of the Catholic Church and get to heaven where I enjoy the vision of God, but my faith.

A: Now that is something new. Would you like to elaborate?

T: Of course, you have so far debated the existence of God as if belief in God were something for which one needs proper empirical evidence.

A: As a rationalist and one who rationalized the existence of God, you surely are not rejecting  all that now.

T: Not at all. I am simply saying that your rational arguments for the existence of God and my arguments too treat religious beliefs like any other beliefs; what I’d rather call trustfulness. Indeed, for those kinds of beliefs you need the support of empirical observation or evidence and those have to be consistent with other facts one believes. If you declare that a friend of yours was in your home while you were not there and stole some documents, and he denies it, you better have some solid evidence before you make that charge or you’ll be accused of engaging in egregious slander. Especially important to determine whether or not your friend is a truthful person or is he prone to fabrication of facts and then denial that he had fabricated and refusing to apologize? Unless you can supply that king of evidence you are involved in a glaring inconsistency.

A: I fail to see the point here.

T: Well, the point is simply this: religious beliefs are different from trust in evidence. That is out of place within religious belief.

A: But then you are de facto saying that religion is inconsistent and does not give evidence.

T: Not so Professor Aristotle. Religion has a radically different way of discovering its truths. It does not go about searching for evidence. It uses faith which is based on revelation. That is called  fideism. In Latin fides means faith. So a fideist is somebody who believes that religious knowledge comes from faith or revelation. For example, try as one may, one will not discern the theological virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity in your books on ethics.

A: Neverthless, it seems a bit circular to me. It appears that faith is nothing but wishful thinking, what you’d like to be true despite the evidence or lack of it. That the sort of method that leads to false beliefs, wouldn’t you agree?

T: I already said that indeed it would be a bad methodology if you were trying to determine whether or not your friend was in your home and stole some documents or if you are trying to answer a scientific question. What I am saying however is that faith is quite appropriate as a methodology to get answers to religious queries.

A: You of all people should know that there is only one truth, not two truths, one for science and one for religion. If a procedure is bad for science, then in all fairness it ought to be bad for religion too.

T: I agree that truth is one and faith ought not deny the use of reason while rationality ought not consider faith unreasonable or irrational; that was the whole point of the Summa, but it appears that you missed my point professor Aristotle. Let me try another explanation. The procedure or the method has to fit the kind of game that one is playing. What may be ok in football (to touch the ball) may not be ok in another game such as soccer; there only the goalie can touch the ball. That is the same situation between religion and every-day knowledge. They are different games. They have their own rules and procedures and one cannot judge the procedures of one by the rules of the other.

A: Sorry but I remain unconvinced, I think that truth is truth and the only way to get to it is to look for evidence and consistency.

T: I suppose we have arrived at the center of our disagreement. I insist that religion provides a totally different kind of truth from science and even every-day taken for granted common sense. Faith has more to do with the will than with logic and reason, as our colleague William James has argued in his essay The Will to Believe.  As you know, toward the end of my life I mystically glimpsed at truths revealed to me by religion and revelation which almost induced me to burn the Summa arrived at by reason.

A: fortunately you did not burn it, or we’d all be the poorer for it; but my dear friend and colleague we can certainly agree to continue to disagree without becoming disagreeable and uncivil with each other.

T: Indeed, we can surely agree on that. Have a good day Professor Aristotle.  

 


    
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