Just Smoke and Mirrors: Religion, Fear and Superstition in Our Modern World


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An encyclopedia of philosophy articles written by professional philosophers.

Secular society offers alternatives to fulfill all of the basic desires. One of the basic desires - independence - may separate religious and non-religious people. In a study published in , Reiss found that religious people the study included mostly Christians expressed a strong desire for interdependence with others. Those who were not religious, however, showed a stronger need to be self-reliant and independent.

Reiss said one advantage of his theory is that, unlike many other theories of religion, it can be scientifically tested. While the theory can tell us a lot about the types of people who are attracted to religion and different religious experiences, it cannot say anything about the truth of religious beliefs, Reiss said.

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The former is a genuine science, even though it is not based on natural experience and reason. Revealed theology is a single speculative science concerned with knowledge of God.

Because of its greater certitude and higher dignity of subject matter, it is nobler than any other science. Philosophical theology, though, can make demonstrations using the articles of faith as its principles. Moreover, it can apologetically refute objections raised against the faith even if no articles of faith are presupposed.

But unlike revealed theology, it can err. Aquinas claimed that the act of faith consists essentially in knowledge. Faith is an intellectual act whose object is truth.

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Thus it has both a subjective and objective aspect. From the side of the subject, it is the mind's assent to what is not seen: "Faith is the evidence of things that appear not" Hebrews Moreover, this assent, as an act of will, can be meritorious for the believer, even though it also always involves the assistance of God's grace. Moreover, faith can be a virtue, since it is a good habit, productive of good works. However, when we assent to truth in faith, we do so on the accepted testimony of another. From the side of what is believed, the objective aspect, Aquinas clearly distinguished between "preambles of faith," which can be established by philosophical principles, and "articles of faith" that rest on divine testimony alone.

A proof of God's existence is an example of a preamble of faith. Faith alone can grasp, on the other hand, the article of faith that the world was created in time Summa Theologiae I, q. Aquinas argued that the world considered in itself offers no grounds for demonstrating that it was once all new. Demonstration is always about definitions, and definitions, as universal, abstract from "the here and now. Of course this would extend to any argument about origination of the first of any species in a chain of efficient causes.

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Here Thomas sounds a lot like Kant will in his antinomies. Yet by faith we believe the world had a beginning. However, one rational consideration that suggests, though not definitively, a beginning to the world is that the passage from one term to another includes only a limited number of intermediate points between them.

Aquinas thus characterizes the articles of faith as first truths that stand in a "mean between science and opinion. Though he agrees with Augustine that no created intellect can comprehend God as an object, the intellect can grasp his existence indirectly.

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The more a cause is grasped, the more of its effects can be seen in it; and since God is the ultimate cause of all other reality, the more perfectly an intellect understands God, the greater will be its knowledge of the things God does or can do. So although we cannot know the divine essence as an object, we can know whether He exists and on the basis of analogical knowledge what must necessarily belong to Him.

Aquinas maintains, however, that some objects of faith, such as the Trinity or the Incarnation, lie entirely beyond our capacity to understand them in this life. Aquinas also elucidates the relationship between faith and reason on the basis of a distinction between higher and lower orders of creation. Aquinas criticizes the form of naturalism that holds that the goodness of any reality "is whatever belongs to it in keeping with its own nature" without need for faith II-IIae, q. Yet, from reason itself we know that every ordered pattern of nature has two factors that concur in its full development: one on the basis of its own operation; the other, on the basis of the operation of a higher nature.

The example is water: in a lower pattern, it naturally flows toward the centre, but in virtue of a higher pattern, such as the pull of the moon, it flows around the center. In the realm of our concrete knowledge of things, a lower pattern grasps only particulars, while a higher pattern grasps universals.

Given this distinction of orders, Thomas shows how the lower can indeed point to the higher. His arguments for God's existence indicate this possibility. From this conviction he develops a highly nuanced natural theology regarding the proofs of God's existence. The first of his famous five ways is the argument from motion. Borrowing from Aristotle, Aquinas holds to the claim that, since every physical mover is a moved mover, the experience of any physical motion indicates a first unmoved mover.

Otherwise one would have to affirm an infinite chain of movers, which he shows is not rationally possible.

Aquinas then proceeds to arguments from the lower orders of efficient causation, contingency, imperfection, and teleology to affirm the existence of a unitary all-powerful being. He concludes that these conclusions compel belief in the Judeo-Christian God. Conversely, it is also possible to move from the higher to the lower orders.

Rational beings can know "the meaning of the good as such" since goodness has an immediate order to the higher pattern of the universal source of being II-IIae q. The final good considered by the theologian differs from that considered by the philosopher: the former is the bonum ultimum grasped only with the assistance of revelation; the latter is the beatific vision graspable in its possibility by reason.

Both forms of the ultimate good have important ramifications, since they ground not only the moral distinction between natural and supernatural virtues, but also the political distinction between ecclesial and secular power.

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Aquinas concludes that we come to know completely the truths of faith only through the virtue of wisdom sapientia. Moreover, faith and charity are prerequisites for the achievement of this wisdom. Thomas's two-fold theory of truth develops a strong compatibilism between faith and reason. But it can be argued that after his time what was intended as a mutual autonomy soon became an expanding separation.

Duns Scotus, like his successor William of Ockham, reacted in a characteristic Franciscan way to Thomas's Dominican views. While the Dominicans tended to affirm the possibility of rational demonstrability of certain preambles of faith, the Franciscans tended more toward a more restricted theological science, based solely on empirical and logical analysis of beliefs. Scotus first restricts the scope of Aquinas's rational theology by refuting its ability to provide arguments that stop infinite regresses.

In fact he is wary of the attempts of natural theology to prove anything about higher orders from lower orders. On this basis, he rejects the argument from motion to prove God's existence.

Just Smoke and Mirrors: Religion, Fear and Superstition in Our Modern World Just Smoke and Mirrors: Religion, Fear and Superstition in Our Modern World
Just Smoke and Mirrors: Religion, Fear and Superstition in Our Modern World Just Smoke and Mirrors: Religion, Fear and Superstition in Our Modern World
Just Smoke and Mirrors: Religion, Fear and Superstition in Our Modern World Just Smoke and Mirrors: Religion, Fear and Superstition in Our Modern World
Just Smoke and Mirrors: Religion, Fear and Superstition in Our Modern World Just Smoke and Mirrors: Religion, Fear and Superstition in Our Modern World
Just Smoke and Mirrors: Religion, Fear and Superstition in Our Modern World Just Smoke and Mirrors: Religion, Fear and Superstition in Our Modern World
Just Smoke and Mirrors: Religion, Fear and Superstition in Our Modern World Just Smoke and Mirrors: Religion, Fear and Superstition in Our Modern World
Just Smoke and Mirrors: Religion, Fear and Superstition in Our Modern World Just Smoke and Mirrors: Religion, Fear and Superstition in Our Modern World

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