On Christian Philosophy : Una Vera Philosophia?

James F. Ross


We have to frame a position that fits philosophy as it is done now, but respects its perennial features yet also responds to the literature concerning medieval writers[1] and the recent suggestions for contemporary philosophy[2].

Philosophy, as Aquinas, and many others, described it-- as a demonstrative progression from self-evident premises to evident (or even necessary [Scotus]) conclusions,-- is rarely attempted nowadays, even by "scholastic" philosophers. Demonstrative success,-- that is, entirely to eliminate competitors to one's conclusions, -- is not the expectation now, nor has it been the achievement of philosophers historically. Thus, some restrictions upon starting points may be relaxed as unnecessary, e.g. that they be self-evident.

Nevertheless, the idea that one is not entitled to premise things one does not find out on one's own, and that others cannot evaluate publicly and interpersonally, seems to retain force, though not unqualified force. For, pulling against that restriction are, first, the recognition that a good deal of what we know independently in fact comes by a system of reliances (e.g. reliance on measuring instruments from spoons to micrometers; on the authenticity of texts we cannot check; on records made by others; on statistical theories one cannot verify, and on traditions of how to make observations and to record them, and even on traditions of how to evaluate reasoning and classify data, on traditions of logic, and even on our memories and senses) and that we are entitled to rely upon such things, with caution. Secondly, we recognize that the rational basis for some important commitments is to be found both in natural faith (in our parents) and in refined feelings by which commitments are obtained and sustained. Stable commitment is more a matter of appraising and exercising the rational functions of the will (aimed at our good[3]), than it is a matter of items of evidence or individual arguments. The upshot is that philosophy, and science in general, does not have the self-evident , or clear and distinct, beginnings envisioned by Aristotle's commentators and adaptors, or even by Descartes and other modern philosophers. Rather, both philosophy and science are systems of commitment, often based on comprehension, but as much based on reliances, quite different in origin and structure from what is typically proposed. Still, in certain areas of science, for instance, general mechanics, statistical theory of gasses, and optics the outcome is like the derivation of many and varied truths from a few first principles that are evident on experienced consideration. And some areas of philosophy contain equally impressive reasoning, for instance, as to why there cannot be a satisfactory phenomenalist analysis of physical-object statements, or why the principle of verifiability is not an adequate principle of meaningfulness, or (to take more classical themes) why causation cannot account for being-as-such, or why possibility cannot be prior to being-as-such, or why act is prior to potency absolutely. Some considerations seem to be dispositive, to make the comprehension so elementary as to put the burden wholly on any challenger. But those are the exceptions, even though there may be many of them. In general, important and disputed points are not directly resolved by argument, but are (as Jung said of conflicts) transcended or transformed by shifts of evaluation. Arguments do not, typically, change minds on substantial issues, like the existence of God, the freedom of the will and the immortality of the soul, points central to Augustine, Aquinas and Descartes, or even on ontological issues, like the relationships of universals, common natures and individuation, among Aquinas, Scotus and Ockham. Nevertheless, the arguments are essential elements in the cognitive progression, forming the steps to which a response makes an advance.

Because we are not doing demonstrations for the most part, we have to reconsider whether, with certain cautions, we can employ knowledge we have gained by revelation.[4] For as long as the starting points are true and reasonably believed, what will be the basis for excluding them? Maybe we will have to fall back on the traditional argument that philosophy is essentially an endeavour on our own, without elements provided only by public revelation, and that theology is a similar endeavour to which revelation is an integral starting point. That will put Plantinga's recommended "Christian Philosophy",[5] which is to be marked by its outright theistic commitment (not, however, presented as something discovered or proved by merely rational inquiry) into the category of theology. The view I develop here assumes that we can prove the existence of God and that the "faith elements" that make a philosophy Christian are quite different from that. Similarly, the classical monotheist philosophers, from Aristotle through Augustine, Anselm, Maimonides, Avicenna, Averroes, Albertus Magnus, Aquinas, Scotus, Ockham, Descartes, and Leibnitz, were agreed that one can demonstrate the existence of God. Thus it was not their theism, or even their conviction about proof, that marked them as Christian, Muslim or Jewish philosophers, but other elements of their faith that, at least by magnetism, affected their philosophies.

Today in philosophy where proof is attempted, it is more likely to be "proof by a preponderance of the evidence" or "proof by clear and convincing evidence", or "proof beyond a reasonable doubt", (see Section V, below) rather than proof with the additional marks of a demonstration, namely, that it eliminates all counterpossibilities to its conclusion. Sometimes we can reach demonstrative standard; but those are not the points about which there is division both in principle and in lived conviction.

Many of the observations made in the context of the famous discussion of the "Christian philosophies" of St. Augustine, St. Bonaventure, St. Thomas and Duns Scotus,[6] are still enlightening and will be adapted here. But the framing assumption that philosophy is a demonstrative science has to be put aside for more limited objectives. Still, I think the reality of God is accessible to rational inquiry and can be proved by considerations that range --according to the dispositions of those who examine them-- from "a preponderance of the evidence" to" beyond a reasonable doubt", though falling short of the finality of demonstration. In any case, it is other features that make a philosophy Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, and Taoist.

The Outcome. Thus we can come directly to the issue as it exists now, and answer without reservation. Of course, there is Christian philosophy in at least four useful senses, each of which I will discuss: (1) when the philosophy has distinctively Christian insights into what is involved in a question of interest to philosophers regardless of their faiths, e.g.," Can a thing be of more than one nature or quiddity?"(Incarnation); (2) when the philosopher considers Christian revelation indispensable as a source of considerations to be accommodated, negatively or positively, (even if not mentioned or made part of the doctrine)--here E. Gilson's famous notion seems to apply, as does what J. Wippel calls "being Christian in the moment of discovery"[7]; (3) when the basic issue (of morality, of law, of cognition, the will or even being) cannot even be comprehensively framed neutrally to the Christian faith: what is true human freedom? [the ability to attain life with God]; what is a properly functioning cognitive system? [one prior to the Fall or partly restored by grace, or given the blessed in accord with original divine design]; what is the problem of evil? (the mystery of God's creating death and permitting evil)[8]; and (4) lastly, but most distinctively, when the whole Christian Wisdom, including not only the disciplined and articulate understanding of life and of the path for attaining fulfilment, but its elaboration into Christian civilization, with all its arts, sciences, technologies and means for developing human potential, is COMPARED contrastively to other Wisdoms and Ways, ranging from the philosophies of the pagans that Augustine considers, to other secular/ pagan (Greek, Roman) wisdoms, other religions (Buddhist, Hindu), other ethical systems (Confucian), and even other "folk mythologies", the stories and rituals by which people (say, native Americans) integrate individual and community life with all of nature. For it is exactly in such a contrastive context that Augustine's question becomes central: which is the one true philosophy? And Augustine's answer becomes one we can adopt: "Christianitas est una vera philosophia", though my application of the word is more inclusive than his, and "Christianity" as a PHILOSOPHY, has not one or a few expressions, or any one more authoritative than all others or any that is even consistent on all points.


Philosophy as an intellectual discipline is marked from its beginnings by the cogent articulation, through courses of connected reasoning, of comprehension of questions about the ultimate "causes" of things. Not all philosophy is expressed as connected courses of reasoning; other activities may serve related ends. For instance, Plato used myths, stories, analogies, dramatic tension, historical connections and even characters who display the positions and temperaments being examined. Still, the dominant feature of the discipline is its articulated reasoning in aid of comprehension of the kind that terminates the inquiry with an insight that satisfies the originating questioning.

Mastery at philosophy as a discipline is displayed by concert-quality articulation of connected reasoning about ultimate matters, along with extraordinary skills at communication, some of which are skills at disclosure (see Plato, Sartre and Wittgenstein). Since the object of philosophy, like science, is expressed comprehension that terminates inquiry with insight, display and disclosure of comprehension can be just as effective as concert-articulation of cogent reasoning, or serve cooperatively with it to achieve persuasiveness. In fact, as Plato exemplified, the greatest philosophers master many forms of expression, typically inventing literary forms to achieve their objectives as well.

Philosophers are also attracted and affected by intellectual fashions[9], e.g. to emphasize formal argument (Scotus), to fill the work with formal logic (some contemporary writers), to make philosophy look like science (some ancient, medieval and a whole tribe of recent philosophers), even though such features are surface markings, like styles in clothes. Thus, Russell thought he had achieved a new level of discipline and decisive thought; so had Leibniz; so had Spinoza; so had Descartes. Theirs were just fashions within a perennial discipline.

Philosophy, as a discipline, is neither Christian nor non-Christian, though it has flourished in the Christian West, and enriched Christianity for a thousand years after it ceased to be a key feature of Judaism or Islam, or even of Greek and Russian Orthodox Christianity. In fact, the cultivation of the discipline (as well as of natural science) marks a distinctive aspect of Western Christianity: fides quaerens intellectum. Furthermore, the cultivation of the discipline has caused an important religious difference between Catholics and Reformers over the proper role and extent of rational inquiry into matters religious in the life of a Christian. In the Christian West philosophy has had, and still has a societal role in the way thought is to be disciplined, even religious thought. One would have to say, then, that philosophy as a discipline is incidentally Christian from its influence upon Christianity and its societal role as one important continuation of Greek and Roman culture into the new Christian civilization.

But we also have to ask about the CONTENT of philosophy, both about the understanding of the questions and of the answers. For it turns out that the content of certain problems, even some ontological and epistemological ones, is not religiously neutral, as we shall see.


There are a number of respects in which one's philosophy may be enough under Christian (Muslim or Jewish) influences that one may call it "Christian [or Muslim or Jewish] philosophy" even though it may have no have more Christian [Muslim or Jewish] content than its sensitivity to the religious effect of philosophical positions, or the extensiveness with which issues that are of concern to religious people are debated (e.g. the relation of time to eternity; the relation of God to natural causality; foreknowledge to predestination)[10].

Most obvious are the philosophies that develop issues of explicitly religious concern, rather than, or as well as, philosophy of science, metaphysics, epistemology and ethics. Others reflect religious differences, as I mentioned, in their preoccupations: Christians with providence; Muslims with occasionalism and fatalism. Broadly, Augustine, Bonaventure, Anselm and Aquinas and Scotus, Ockham, Descartes, Berkeley, Leibniz, Locke and Kant[11] have to be called Christian philosophers in these respects. Moreover, in each we can find much more than concentration on themes in which Christians have particular interest; we can find positive adjustments to take account of faith and negative adjustments to avoid conflict with the faith.

There is content to be considered Christian in apparently neutral questions, like "What constitutes the identity of a person over time and change?", because the outcomes have an impact upon religiously central notions (e.g. "what is a person?"). First, the outcome may conflict with one's religious commitments; secondly, one's lack of sensitivity to foresee such outcomes may blunt one's understanding, so that one gets little of significance from an inquiry rich with potentialities for the faith, as I think happened to the Christian "applied modal semanticists"(Ross,1990b) and as certainly happened to the Christians who tried to accommodate Positivism[12]. Thirdly, the content of a successful philosophy needs distinctively Christian elements, negatively, to avoid conflict with the faith, and positively, because some issues cannot even be correctly framed without elements of Christian faith (e.g. the proper functioning of human cognitive systems cannot be described neutrally to the doctrine of the Fall, as A. Plantinga also observes; nor can the nature of human beings be determined independently of their supernatural origin and destiny). Fourthly, some parts of philosophy have to be developed specifically for the expression of religious mysteries, for example, a theory of real kinds is needed to discuss the Incarnation (or a substitute for real kinds, as Descartes tried to resolve the matter); a theory of "persons" for the Trinity of Divine persons, and a theory of real presence for the Eucharist, and of causation for the relationship of nature and grace and the divine operations in nature and through humans.

A Christian philosopher has a different insight into what is involved in certain questions, e.g., "Can one substance have two natures?", and "Is what a physical thing is determined by its micro-parts?", "Can one and the same living thing be reassembled with different physical parts after having died and disintegrated?" because of the implications for the Incarnation and the Eucharist, and bodily resurrection, even should no mention of such things occur in the inquiry. I could imagine a Hindu similarly influenced by the background conviction that all matter is illusion or that survival as a distinct person is of no importance, when considering the same questions. Christianity, like many other preoccupying backgrounds, can modulate content without becoming part of it. Those are the first levels of involvement, the very minimum ways in which Augustine. Anselm, and the long line of others I mentioned, wrote Christian philosophies, just as the Arabs wrote Islamic philosophy and the Jews wrote Jewish philosophy.

Present day Christian philosophers, like the great medieval writers, typically confront philosophical issues that have to be resolved as general philosophical questions, through considerations directly concerned with the religion. Thus elaborations of the theory of final causality, where the inquiry and subsequent disputes are triggered by questions about how grace operates on the will, have to be done and sustained by the kind of thinking that is indisputably philosophical, even though there is to be a religious application of the outcome later on. Thus, within the overtly theological works of Aquinas, Scotus and Ockham there are extensive treatments that are indisputably philosophical inquiries and disputes, regardless of the theological environment that triggered them. For instance, there is no way a serious Christian or Jew or Muslim can approach issues of personal continuity through physical change without having an eye toward accounts that will cohere with their notions of bodily resurrection.

Their religious perspectives give them an independence from the secular academic establishment (Plantinga also remarks on this), allowing them to contribute something special to the development of ideas, whether or not the establishment listens. If the quality of the intellectual discipline is high enough to make the philosophy meritorious, I think one's actually stating what religious commitment prompted or motivated one's inquiry or suggested one's outcome, will only make one's writing more interesting, even to non-believing readers. At the same time, I have to acknowledge that intellectual prejudice is so rampant that the mere association of work with one or another Christian tradition will cause many of the best philosophers simply to tune it out. But that is a mere feature of our time, one that changes when the establishment changes.


This is the controversial and the novel part. There is Christian philosophy, too, in the sense that on a number of the basic problems of philosophy, including the "problem of evil", the foundations of moral law, and the goals and proper functioning of human cognitive powers, or even what freedom is, and whether possibility is consequent on being, there is no religiously neutral standpoint from which even to state the problem comprehensively[13], despite centuries of pretty much unchallenged thinking that there always is. This is the feature in the discussion of "Christian Philosophy" that has not been discussed before. Instead, it has always been assumed that genuinely philosophical issues can be adequately stated and resolved without any content that presupposes one or another religious commitment. Even Aquinas seemed to believe that. It now seems to me on several crucial points to be quite the opposite.

In fact, so marked is the religious perspective, and so necessary, (e.g., the doctrine of the Fall as it affects conceptions of human rationality), that Christians, and in this case Jews and Muslims or Hindus, may claim that theirs is the only adequate statement of the basic problem. On other matters, Christians may claim theirs alone is the correct way to formulate the problem. Moreover, there may be no religiously neutral standpoint from which to state the problem adequately. I will explain this further, noting that I was entirely opposed to this view for many years, never having noticed such a case, until I thought I discerned that approach to the problem of evil in papers respectively by Marilyn Adams and Eleonore Stump[14]; certainly that seems to be a reasonable conclusion to draw from their insights into the factors involved. Then I began to notice that there is no neutral way to discuss the nature of human freedom at sufficient depth, except from the point of view of what is lost in the Fall and restored with grace and expressed in the death of Jesus[15]. That inclined me to Plantinga's [and Wolterstorff's and Alston's] position.

That there is not a religiously neutral standpoint from which even to state what properly functioning human cognitive powers have to be able to do, or what the role of the will is in belief and unbelief and to what extent persons may be responsible for what they do and do not believe[16], or that the command-force of moral law may come from divine will, (see Philip Quinn on divine command morality). These recognitions seem to take a considerable step beyond the restraint of Aquinas and Scotus, for example, and, as to content, do threaten a loss of the prized neutrality of philosophy among sectarian differences. Yet another advance has also been achieved: that philosophers of similar degrees of disciplinary excellence can and do continue effective communication despite content in their views that reflects their sectarian differences or differences of tradition (e.g. Protestant or Catholic). In fact, they find themselves nowadays in a common enterprise in response to the far advanced secularization of philosophy in the "establishment" universities.

For example, a believer in God should be quick to point out the absurdity of reasoning that supposes that it would be evil for an omnipotent and perfect creator to make the biotic kingdom in which life comes from death and predators and prey are intertwined in their perfections. The theist should point out that no world is made impossible by the amount of evil in it, and that the moral qualities of the creator cannot be read-off the world on analogy to human persons. For, because to make creatures that suffer cannot of itself be evil, the goodness of God cannot be the simple-minded likeness to us that the initial secularized "problem" assumed. Furthermore, the existence of God is required for the "problem", so the more perplexed one is by the evil of the world, the more committed one becomes to the being of God. (Otherwise, what would be the problem?) The classical pagan formulations (Epicurus) of the problem are incoherent in the notions of "goodness" involved and in their understanding of "what ought not to be"; for, of course, if God exists, there is nothing that absolutely ought not to be. Further, as writers even before Augustine argued, and we continue to, right up to now, it cannot be wrong to make creatures capable of acting rightly, but imperfectly so, and thus, "able" to do wrong (in the sense that an imperfect pianist is able to play wrong notes, whereas a non-player cannot make a mistake, only noise). The problem then, to be coherently formulated, must suppose the existence of a powerful creator who is "good' but in a sense not naively modeled on us. A religious perspective transforms the secular framework and, as M. Adams and E. Stump show, can be applied to transform what appear to be the issues.

Even some very abstract metaphysics is not religiously neutral. If I am right in my criticisms of certain modal actualists, what they claim conflicts with the very theism they purport to expound.

[17] One might think that such a broad question as "Is possibility prior to being" has to be independent from the fabric of Judeo-Christian faith. But no, only some responses are compatible with the theism professed by both Jews and Christians. Moreover, the kind of being required for the Trinity of Persons excludes propositional knowledge, temporal vantages, possibilities independent of the divine will, and any distinction at all between the divine nature and the divine being; denials of simplicity are simply incompatible with the requirements (at later points) of Christian belief.[18] Another example is the continuing debate as to whether a wholly different metaphysics, the Whiteheadean process ontology, can provide a description of God that is compatible with Christian faith, as Hartshorne(1983), Ogden(1986), Cobb, Neville (1980), Ford (1984), and many others have argued.

Not all the "Christian philosophers", philosophers whose positions are responses to Christian faith as I have described such responses, are religiously active believers. As Van Harvey characterized himself, former believers now acting as intellectual point-men for the faith they used to share, like scouts or patrols correcting the course of the community as much as fighting its enemies, can also be theologians; so, I suppose they can be "Christian philosophers" as well.

Some philosophical subjects are actually philosophy done "in-house" by Christian believers, such as the dispute about the role of natural theology that I will comment upon, and inquiries into the rationality of commitment to the Christian faith, or about what sanctity really is, or whether there is a place for "proof" in the rational basis for Christian belief. Sometimes disputes are thrust upon the believer by outside attacks, for instance, the dispute, now defunct, over what can be said meaningfully, if anything about God.[19] Philosophy done "in house" in response to outside attacks or to differences of religious tradition can and does influence the larger philosophical community when it is well done, as can be seen from the effects of the "reformed epistemologists," and other Christian responses, upon the notions of empirical knowledge and of scientific knowledge in general. The whole field of epistemology is changing.


Philosophical Theology, though once part of Judaic and Muslim thought, is now almost exclusively practised by Christians. The enterprise might be called a distinctively Christian kind of philosophy. Yet, that is an historical accident since the inquires are appropriate to any monotheism. The subjects have been strictly limited to things accessible to reason unaided by revelation, even though prompted, often, by religious wonderment, e.g. the relationship of providence, foreknowledge and predestination to free will. It tells us something about the Christian religious culture, namely that it is integrated with and employs the efforts of human reason, that philosophy has a societal role in Western Christendom. Other religious traditions do not, or no longer, have an associated rational practice like "natural theology." [20] Secondly, there is a traditional religious dispute, going at least as far back as St. Bernard's hostility to dialecticians, about the extent and role of natural theology within the Christian religious tradition, having to do with the extent to which our own intellectual efforts can, first, make cognitively accessible, and secondly, establish, elements of things revealed, like the existence of God. The difference represents a difference of attitude toward the extent to which it is religiously appropriate to say that something that is revealed is also accessible to rational inquiry, and the extent to which it is religiously appropriate to substitute our own "finding out" [unreliable as it often is] for unyielding acceptance of the word of God. In addition, after the Reformation, a more pessimistic view of the condition of human cognitive and voluntary powers on account of the Fall ("total depravity") gained currency, with a consequent devaluation of the supposed accomplishments of human reason, and an impatience with the futility, religious evasion and even distrust of the divine word that such inquiries seem to display. There are other differences as well, some of them exaggerations.

One exaggeration attributes to "Catholics" and sometimes to Jesuits and sometimes to Aquinas, the intention to compel assent with argument, as if they intended "to clobber one into belief". Some overeager apologists may have thought that, but it is a deviant view. However, Catholics do think people can realize[21] that God exists by reflecting on things made plain by our experience (of the need for an ultimate explanation of order, meaning, causation, the foundations of justice, the being and beauty of the world, etc.). No special training is required, just clarity of insight (how frequent it is, is not important). Moreover, they think that with proper training, or an astute intelligence, one can figure out for oneself, in an articulate course of reasoning that rests on things obvious to perception, that God exists, more or less the way one figures out how to breed roses or make a boat seaworthy, or at least, the orbits of the planets and celestial navigation. Whether cogent lines of reasoning amount to demonstrations or something less is disputed. Further, many understand St. Paul to have stated the same general idea and think Vatican I pronounced the same view: that a human being is able (fit), by nature, to find out for itself that God exists (conditions being favorable), though there is no claim that will happen with any particular frequency or that all will describe God the same way or even succeed in the discovery. None of that, not even augmented with the convictions of St. Augustine, St. Anselm. Aquinas. Scotus, Ockham, Descartes Leibniz and even Locke, that the existence of God can be proved, supports the idea that belief in God can be compelled by argument.

On the other hand, the courses of reasoning offered to disclose the existence of God should not be disdainfully downgraded, just because of the centuries of dispute about how best to formulate them, or because of what appears to beginners and even journeymen, to be gaps. For they begin with what is plain to see and look for its deepest explanation and may very well make the matter "beyond reasonable doubt" or at least "plain and certain" for a person, depending upon how much he or she knows and on other psychological and social conditions. In a word, they may fall short of excluding all other options but may in fact exclude all other reasonable and coherent options. Of course, equally to be avoided is the shameful exaggeration of the demonstrative success of particular formulations of lines of reasoning in which the well-trained can see unjustified gaps, as often happens when amateurs formulate the design arguments or the moral arguments or the arguments for a first cause.[22]

Sometimes there are exaggerations of the differences between Catholic and reformed thinking on these matters, too. Thus the "reformed epistemological" claim that theistic belief does not (in general) need argument in order to be justified or reasonably maintained, or even have an evidential basis in the fabric of one's belief, is one Catholics typically share, but for a different reason: After all, if belief in God comes by natural faith, it is as reasonable as one's belief in the identity of one's parents, or that the earth is a planet, or that the stars, far away, are like the sun. Moreover, if natural faith is confirmed with the grace of Baptism, the belief has to be regarded as stabilized by the hand of God, as it were. And if conviction that God exists comes as a result of one's figuring things out, then it is justified and reasonable, provided there are not too many and too large errors in the thinking. Even more, conviction that comes from natural faith, can and often does amount to knowledge; that, of course, is disputed[23], but i think by persons who fail to see how much we know as a result of parental instruction and schooling. I even think we can take St. Paul to express the same idea when he says that faith is our cognition of things unseen. In any case, one does not have to accept Plantinga's analysis that belief in God may be a "basic belief," one that requires no evidential grounding, to get the same effect.{ My objection here is not to the outcome, but to the foundationalist-framework in which the result is attained.} I prefer to reason that "natural faith" from "rational reliances" makes commitment rational, even in the absence of evidence. The outcomes are the same.

In fact, there is a general position about empirical knowledge relevant here. Where belief is not compelled either way by the evidence, the engine of assent is the will (volition) which is aimed at our apprehended goods. I have argued elsewhere( Ross: 1985) that Aquinas not only held that position, but, as far as I can tell, invented it as a general account of cognition in the absence of self-evidence or scientific knowledge. Theistic commitment does not need an evidential basis. In fact, the knowledge of God's reality does not need an evidential basis. It can come from natural faith and be as certain to us as that sunlight makes the sky blue, even though (before we learn about diffusion and light wave lengths we cannot understand why the yellow sun makes the sky blue). It is also worth noting that by having acquired certain conceptual sets by natural faith in childhood and having consistently used them in judgment, the reality of God is directly evident to some people, the way light is evident to me when I am seeing.[24]

There is a second position on which I agree with Plantinga and other "reformed epistemologists": that theistic conviction can be supported by arguments. Then, we differ again, in that he thinks the many

"good" arguments only lend likelihood to the conclusion we accept on faith[25]. I think some arguments can put the matter of God's existence "beyond a reasonable doubt" for some people, for others, "make it clear and convincing" that God exists and for still others, make it "sure by a preponderance of the evidence" (say, as sure as that the Exxon Valdez polluted an Alaskan bay), but that which considerations will do that and for whom, vary greatly with the subjective preparation and proclivities of individuals, even though the items to be considered are objective and accessible. Thus with a little training, I think a person can be brought to recognize that the only condition under which a divine being is even possible (rather than outright impossible) is if such a being actually exists. (For it cannot, for many reasons, begin to be or have ceased to be, or merely "might have been"). Next one is brought to see that a divine being is really possible, perhaps, as Duns Scotus suggests, from the nature of causation or being or finality in things, or in some other way.[26] For now I will take it that most people feel no discomfort with the idea that a divine being is really possible and that their conviction on that point is epistemically prior, for them, to their seeing that actual being is a condition for the real possibility of a divine being. Then, the conclusion simply drops out, that God exists. One just brings "Actual existence is a condition of real possibility for God" into focus after the person reaches conviction about the real possibility of God. (It is quite important to keep the cognitive order that way; otherwise, a person may come to think that his judgment the a divine being is really possible is no longer warranted.)

Others are more readily reached with considerations of design, or of a cause for matter or a cause of objective justice in a universe in which there is moral evil. That sort of reasoning, while it will not put the matter beyond reasonable doubt (because of challenges about evil, the mysteries of sin and death, etc.), can still amount to clear and convincing evidence for a person interested in explaining such features of the universe and conversant with the failure of all other options to do so.

And for those disposed and equipped, comparing various accounts of human life and the cosmos, in detail (as if we were holding a complex trial on the explanation of an airplane crash and had to consider thousands of pages of proposed evidence),that is, all the major philosophical stories about the origin and nature of being, etc., many will find a preponderance of the evidence favouring the proposal that there is a spiritual creator of the material world[27]. In those respects and by those standards, I have no doubt that there are "good theistic arguments", just as Plantinga, using a somewhat different measure, thinks there are "good theistic arguments" from other considerations that I do not evaluate here. Whatever the differences of detail, there seems to be a convergence between reformers and Catholics here: the Catholics don't propose to produce classical demonstrations of the existence of God (though there may be some to be produced--that issue is not settled); and the "reformers" don't say there are no arguments with any weight even relevant to the matter. So both endorse the reasonableness of figuring the matter out, with the Catholics expecting to achieve a higher degree of rational certainty, but the "reformers" being open to achieving a high degree of likelihood.

Nevertheless, there is a residual difference that Plantinga expresses nicely, as a doubt about the propriety of replacing a belief held by divine gift with a mere product of human inquiry--whether natural theology ought to transform "faith into knowledge," as if a higher moral state is converted into a less worthy one.[28] The reformers were rightly suspicious of any suggestion that one has to see and see why God exists to have rationally permissable faith in the Creation, Fall and Redemption. That you have to find out that God exists on your own, is not only opposed to the preaching of Jesus and the Apostles, but a threat to the general idea that faith is entirely a gift of God, and obviously cannot be improved by some effort of reason. Nevertheless, there is no oddity about getting a scientific grasp of God's existence, or even reasoning that places it beyond doubt or makes it clear and convincing, as if a divine gift were replaced with something inferior. Scientific grasp is not superior to divine faith as a source of certainty, but it is a more perfect exercise of our cognitive powers, one to which we are ordered by nature and enabled by grace, in the same way that the beatific vision is superior to divine faith and hope in via. For, of course, one has faith and hope in things to be seen.

Looked at one way, philosophical theology is a study in its own right: what can we come to know by human reasoning, about God. (Aquinas describes it that way, SCG. I.9.4). In another way, it can be part of a Christian philosophy, a worked out world-view, full of reasons where reasons can be found, but rich from God with the revelation of what is necessary and sufficient for human fulfilment in the broad sense of a "worked-out world view on how and why things are and how to live accordingly" that I describe in the next section. Thirdly, philosophical theology can be done as a part of the believer's activity of understanding his faith, as seeking reasons where reasons are to be found, not because of any deficiency in the faith, but because this is "fides quaerens intellectum", philosophical inquiry inspired and prompted by religious faith, a kind of common "Christian philosophy" regardless of the differences of philosophical or religious doctrines arrived at; so the doctrinally deviant Scotus Eriugena, Durandus or Wycliff or Descartes is as much a Christian philosopher as the more orthodox Augustine and Aquinas.


From ancient times "philosophy" was associated just as much with a "world-view and a way to live according to it",--what I call, "a Wisdom and a Way"-- as with a thought-discipline with articulate courses of reasoning about ultimate realities. Stoicism, Epicureanism, Platonism, Aristoteleanism are as much associated with a world-story and the ethics, political theory and individual prudence that organizes life within such a world-view as they are with metaphysics and epistemology. Now it is as philosophy in that broader sense that St. Augustine, in The City of God, The Confessions, De Beata Vita, Contra Julianum, etc., sees Christianity as preeminent. In The City of God,XIX,1.2, he mentions Varro's "now lost manual of philosophy in which 288 different 'philosophies' had been distinguished precisely according to the kinds of answer it was possible to give to the questions how the happy life is to be attained".[29] R.A. Markus goes on to say," This conception of philosophy as an all-embracing activity concerned with everything relevant to the realization of the ultimate purpose of human life is itself derived from antiquity." That is right. And, Augustine, making comparison to all the others, says in C. Julian. IV, 14.72 (PL 44.774) that Christianity is the one true philosophy. In order to make that claim good, Augustine had consciously to ignore the idea that philosophy is wholly the product of human inquiry and reflection, without any admixture of authority or trust. Instead, he emphasized that among the advantages of Christianity is the authority that makes it sure (De Ordine, II, 5.16). Moreover, the other "philosophies" were not the pure products of reason alone, either, e.g., manichaeism, stoicism, epicureanism (which Augustine regarded as vulgar and corrupting) and all the varieties of gnostic philosophy, often involved mythological, religious and superstitious elements.

Moreover, there is an intermediate sense of Christian "philosophy" which others might now call "theology", but I think inaccurately: that is, as a name for the Wisdom that is the product of the "spoils of the Egyptians" doctrine (De Doctrina Christiana, II,40.60). St. Augustine says, just as God ordered the Israelites to "take the spoils of the Egyptians" when they left captivity for the promised land, so Christians are to take the best of pagan learning to enrich their understanding of the things God has revealed. The pagan learning, the philosophy, art, history, law and science, is of course, transformed in its new Christian home but also causes new understandings and new appreciation of the elements of revelation. The reason I think it inaccurate to call the Christian product, made up of the "spoils" and the faith, "theology" is that a great deal of what is to be taken into the promised land from among the pagans is literature, music, drama, poetry, law, physical science, history, astronomy, mathematics, physics, philosophy. political economy, and every other ornament of the intellect and human achievement ( I suppose, including military tactics and civil engineering), and thus, we produce a combined and transformed wisdom that is NOT theology, though it may have one important part which is theology (in the sense in which Aquinas spoke of "divine science" in Summa Theologica). So we have a Christian wisdom that is much more than theology, yet very little the product of human demonstrative reasoning from self-evident first principles, and in fact, full of things to which such a notion is irrelevant. I call that "philosophy" too.

Yet there is something even broader still, that is the whole Wisdom and Way, and may be called the one true philosophy. We would be short-weighting Christian Wisdom were we unwilling to regard it as a whole. The "separate provinces"[30] staked out for theology and philosophy by St. Thomas, while dividing two sciences from one another, is no more than a minor subdivision within Christian Wisdom. We have to keep in mind that Thomas's distinction was between sciences, between intellectual practices and their products. Christianity as a wisdom and a way, rich with the spoils of its pagan benefactors which have developed and transformed as Christian practices for two millennia, is neither a mere combination of sciences nor a unified body of mere assertions, nor a mere library of ancient and modern learning combined with a museum of ancient and modern art. When we talk of Christian wisdom, we are not speaking of a unified science, though the wisdom may have scientific parts, for instance, both theology and philosophy, along with secular sciences and arts. But the scientific parts, though characteristic and important, are small in substance compared with the literature, plastic art, architecture, music, poetry, meditation, reflection, history, law, spiritual traditions, and varieties of spiritual life. Nor are we speaking of a unified and single body of knowledge or true belief taken as itemizations; for one thing there are different versions of Christian Wisdom, both sectarian (religious) and philosophical and historical (e.g. Byzantine vs Roman), and different phases both historically and geographically. I deliberately extend Augustine's notion by which he called Christianity a philosophy, indeed the one true one, to include as much of human learning, wisdom and art, as marks and identifies the whole Christian culture as product of art and intellect, transformed by faith (the way the Bach St. John Passion is a unity of musical genius and comprehending faith).

That Christian wisdom, with its inheritance from pagan cultures, along with the intellectual accounts, both by rational inquiry and religious faith, and the whole of the way of living that is fitting to such culture and wisdom, amounts to a Christian philosophy of comprehensiveness suitable for comparison, along with the society it creates, to any other competitor of suitable generality along with the society it creates. (Indeed, it is even worth asking whether there is another suitably unified and variegated competitor for comparison.)

The relevant notion of "truth" then is not item by item accuracy, but fidelity, in the overall themes as to the fundamental truth, the reality, of the origin, meaning and purpose of things and how one should live, to the revelation and to the riches incorporated from every source Christian culture apprehends, a fidelity that contrastively discloses opposing wisdoms to be at essential points in error.

Thus a useful notion of Christianity as the one true philosophy is that Christian wisdom contains the fundamental truth and is faithful to it, not without error and distortion as far as the human contributions to it are concerned. But in contrast to any other wisdom comprehensive enough to compete, especially as to the dignity and ennoblement of the individual human life, the others contain elements that are, by inquiries accessible to human reason, in error on central points and contain elements opposed to the revealed truth, however much they may be rightly admired, imitated and even assimilated into Christianity.[31] Thus, the philosophies that conclude that the material world is an illusion are in that respect false. The philosophies that conclude that there is nothing but matter (conceived in a corpuscularian 18th-centuryish way) are false. The philosophies that conclude there is no personal God are false; and so on, for those that deny free will, survival after death, or claim that one may do evil that good may come of it, or deny that there is any real justice or hold that some humans are above the law, or that human life is of no worth.

The claim that Christianity is the one true philosophy can only amount to a claim that, in certain comparative contexts, Christian wisdom, taken as a whole with its many varieties and better and worse versions, is superior both as an account of the ultimate realities and of mankind's relationship to those realities and of what is the path to personal human fulfilment. Superiority is a matter of avoiding crucial errors about what reality is fundamental, and about how humans are to behave and how much they are to be invested in this world, while being qualitatively more revealing about the ultimate reality and the right path for living.

Moreover, there can, in this respect, be various expressions of Christian philosophy, of varying merit, and, as I said above, they can and must be developed and renovated from time to time. For example, the early Christian philosophies were too much influenced by Plato and did not contain an appraisal of competing societal organizations based on diverse economic principles. Now a Christian philosophy without a critique of notions of social justice and the just distribution of wealth and opportunity, and a theory of remedial justice (how to get from an unjust society to a just one), along with reasonable restraints on coercion and eminent domain in such a project, will be woefully inadequate. A Christian world view that does not contain a rational account of the way the dispossessed may use force (but perhaps, not lethal, or at least not massively lethal force) to attain redistribution of wealth and opportunity is inadequate and unrealistic. Christian ideas that would allow the denial of free expression in order to control the speaking and writing of error and the production of corrupting "art", would be a deterioration from what Christian thought has already accomplished. Christian philosophy has to be renovated because old ideas become threadbare: simple views that civil government is the result of the Fall and necessitated by sin (instead of a view, say, that civil government is a means of obtaining goods for all that cannot be obtained by mere cooperation among persons acting entirely out of individual self-interest, and without a common conception of the goods cooperation attains; for instance, preparation of society for the second coming) have to be revised, as do notions that the right way to resolve social conflicts is by legislation and implicit coercion, when we all know, as did the ancients, that tranquillity of order and conformity to law arises from respect for the law as a minimal standard of public conduct, and not by regulation and coercion.

No philosophy, on the scale I am discussing, can be taken as a conjunction of claims and pronounced true. But contrastively, and at the level of general themes and cultural accomplishment, they can be compared and judged, even though there is no "neutral" position from which to do that[32]. For one cannot step outside religious faith and its cultural unity to appraise, say Hindu religion and culture. Yet, for all our respectful appreciation, we have to judge that polytheism, pantheism and animism are mistaken, as are fatalism, destruction of the environment, acceptance, even exploitation, of the conditions of the poor, the ill and the despised, or that human action is of no cosmic significance and individual action of no importance.

Indeed, we would be remiss not to compare thinking and society on the vast scale, and with the varied forms I mention, because it is as real as is ENGLISH, the language that subsists in all the utterances, mostly ungrammatical, in varied dialects and vocabularies, accents, idioms, platitudes and figures of speech, and variations throughout the world. Some partial expressions of the Wisdom and Way, like Augustine's, Aquinas's, and Bonaventure's, philosophical-theological and -Scriptural expressions, along with the artistic expressions of Dante, Milton, Marlowe, Shakespeare and the achievements of architecture and painting, sculpture and window-making, manuscript illumination and liturgy, as well as the achievements of spiritual life, political advancement and literature, will stand for millennia. Others will have shorter or more limited and ancillary life as steps toward new "classical" expressions. Thus, de Chardin's speculations about evolution and the unity of the universe will probably be incorporated and transformed within some new Christian philosophy of greater scope and comprehensiveness. And present stages of painting and of the novel will be reincarnated by geniuses into deeper appreciation of the spiritual plight of humans and the means that have been offered to escape it.

Someone might say we should just reserve the word "Christian wisdom" for this conglomerate of faith, science, history, humanities and culture. Why devalue the word "philosophy", especially when "true" applies only in the adapted sense of "fidelity to fundamental realities both revealed and real", and where "superiority" in what is agreed to be spiritually, artistically and humanly rich, has to do with avoiding error on the fundamentals and attaining better the potentialities of mankind? First, calling such wisdoms and ways "philosophies" is not at variance with the ordinary discourse of non-specialists."Philosophy" as understood by nonspecialists is largely the sort of "Wisdom and Way" even applied to the way people think of a particular task or business or of themselves. So there is more immediate recognition of the notion of "Christian philosophy" than there is of "Christian wisdom" which is thought to be the accomplishment of a few talented and brilliant Christians, most people being too modest to think they share wisdom, but not hesitant to say the share a philosophy. Secondly, not even specialists restrict the word "philosophy" to a demonstrative science from first principles, or even to the backbone of disciplined thought I described above. Everyone learned is aware that there is a thought-discipline with an ancient history, that is "philosophy" even though there is little agreement about how to describe it, despite our being able to recognise, under the passing fashions in its expression and the fashions in the subjects explored, the backbone of disciplined reasoning about "ultimate explanations". No specialist is going to confuse that discipline, the perennial philosophy, even when it is done with explicit or implicit religious content, with the broad notions I used above. So there is no devaluation to be feared.

The real danger of devaluation of the notion of philosophy comes from the idea that truth and falsity have little to do with it, that the discipline is an illusion, that philosophy is a kind of literary criticism or a kind of hermeneutical mediation among views expressed in science, literature and art (as Richard Rorty and some Continentals seem to suppose). It is simply without any basis at all to say the discipline of thinking of the kind I described above has bankrupted itself, and to insist that philosophy has transformed, by its own pretensions and failures, into some vague hermeneutical negotiation (as Rorty recommended), or into some kind of literature where the "polarity" of the "true" and the "false" is collapsed, and all explanatory objectives are abandoned. Even if that were the outcome of three centuries of philosophy (as Rorty thinks and I deny), that would still leave out the prospects of a realignment with medieval and ancient thinking that would resuscitate the gasping enterprise. If that pessimistic, historically myopic, unimaginative depressed proposal is what is to be " post-modern philosophy", then indeed there is a devaluation, but it is of the discipline.

The expression and embellishment of Christianity as a philosophy (a wisdom and a way) is the collective enterprise of all Christian (and Christian-influenced) philosophers, theologians, moralists, legalists, artists, writers, scientists and scholars, each doing his/her job well, whether they are aware of the effect or not. It is a collective enterprise that is both a path to individual Christian fulfillment and a display of Christianity's unparalleled excellence, in comparison with all other "philosophies of life". The collective effect is to develop Christian Wisdom, both speculative, artistic, spiritual and practical, as "the one true philosophy". Truth, of this sort, is possessed only in the fundamentals and some of the embellishments, but is otherwise sought and projected. For when we make a comparison on the scale Augustine proposed, enlarged even as I suggest here, to compare both our accounts of the being and order of the universe and our way to human fulfilment, with all competing wisdoms and ways, the scale of elements includes the whole culture and its cultural history and its future for millennia. It is participation in and contribution to such a common objective, pursued mostly by the independent efforts of writers, painters, musicians, artists, businessmen, philanthropists, churchmen and statesmen, and even governments, that not only makes individual life coherent, rich and properly aimed, but gives our history, as the people of God, a collective aim that can be discerned from the accomplishments of the society, just as the faith of the middle ages can be read off the great Cathedrals.

James F. Ross

University of Pennsylvania

September 28, 1991


[1].John Wippel (1984), with extensive citations,assesses the "great debate" E. Gilson sparked by speaking of the "Christian" philosophies of St. Augustine, St. Bonaventure and St. Thomas. Gilson's view was challenged with the problem "how can thinking become Christian and remain philosophy?" Among the outstanding writers Wippel cites, are E. Sillem, Van Steenbergen, J. Owens, J. Maritain, A. Pegis, and J. Weisheipel.

Leo Sweeny S.J. (1985) presents views much like the one I develop here, with very extensive textual citations; he considers Maurice Nedoncelle (1960) to offer a good summary of the controversy in recent times. The collection of Fr. Joseph Owens (1990) came to my notice after this paper was written. Fr. Owens elegantly expresses three key ideas of Christian philosophy: first, that "A world penetrated through and through by the supernatural cannot be understood satisfactorily when the naturally knowable aspects are regarded as making it a complete and finished object"(Owens:1990:ix); secondly, that "even supernatural facts, like the trinity, have aspects that belong to philosophy: existence, being, action, quality, relation and the like..." (Owens:1990:ix); and thirdly, that reality described scientifically and interpreted religiously "can be given marvellous intellectual appeal under floodlighting by Christian philosophy." (Owens:1990:307). His illustrations and references are especially interesting. Except for my emphasis upon the deflated expectation of what can be accomplished philosophically, and my exploration of two very broad notion of Christian philosophy, Fr. Owens made the other points of this paper.

[2].Alvin Plantinga 1984; see also, his 1983; 1986a;1986b:307; 1987; and 1988a. John Wippel (1983) provides citations to extensive literature. Wippel seems to think philosophy is a demonstrative rational inquiry that can only incidentally be aided by faith, as in its "moments of discovery", where the idea to be considered is suggested by the Christian faith. Plantinga, on the contrary, seems, at first, to be advocating a much deeper influence of one's Christian faith. But then one notices that he is insisting that one's philosophy be overtly theistic, and even mentioned that in this sense it can be Jewish or Moslem, as well. And here the crucial difference with St. Thomas, and with Fr. Owens (1990) shows up. For Plantinga thinks one has to rely upon faith in the reality of God, because the existence of God cannot be proved or demonstrated, though he acknowledges there are many "good" but only probabilistic arguments for it. Moreover, he gives no detail as to any further scope of the "Christian" content of philosophy, except for its finding theistic roots in epistemological problems previously thought to be neutral to God's existence; Joseph Owens (1990) goes much further in explaining the Christian content of philosophy. See: James A. Keller (1988), Alvin Plantinga (1988b:159), and James A. Keller (1988:165). I describe a deeper Christian involvement, as does Fr. Owens.

[3].See James Ross "Cognitive Finality" (1992a, expected),and (1986) and (1985). Aquinas sees science as proceeding demonstratively from insight compelled by a "manifestam visionem veritatis" in self-evident premises to a conclusion compelled by the transparent necessity of the logical steps. Duns Scotus raises the stakes by requiring for a demonstration that the self-evident premises be modalized into necessary ones and that conclusions be derived that are necessary, too: thus develops the procedure he adopts for proving the existence of God. See also James Ross (1990a and 1992a, forthcoming), which discuses the roles of reliance and the internal rationality of our cognitive processes.

[4]. St. Anselm in Cur Deus Homo was too ambitious, trying to demonstrate what he could not, but his mistake was not in trying to demonstrate what is revealed; for it is common practice to try to demonstrate the existence of God. Rather, the Incarnation is considered a revealed supernatural truth, not subject to demonstration or even to our knowing the fact, absent divine revelation.

A few decades ago, George Mavrodes challenged: why can't one use everything one knows as premises in philosophy, including the things we know on the testimony of God? I think it would be an evasion (and false) to say that what we believe on testimony is not something known, as used to be the practice. With Aquinas, faith does yield cognition (cognitonem), though not science (scientia), except in the special case of "divine science" not discussed here. A better reply seems to be: what you can begin with depends upon the extent of the initial agreements you can expect from the discoursing community.

[5].Plantinga (1984:255) allows that such philosophy could as easily be Jewish or Moslem because the commitment he emphasizes is monotheism. I go much further toward a "Christian philosophy" in content as does Owens (1990).

[6].See the extensive literature used by John Wippel, cited above.

[7].The matter is highly controversial, as Wippel's references (cited above) indicate. Basically, I think Gilson regarded Augustine's, Aquinas's, Bonaventure's and Scotus's philosophies as "Christian" because, despite the origins in Plato or in Aristotle, their philosophical accounts of such matters as 'being,' 'universals,' 'participation,' --and every other detail--, were clearly modified by and moulded by their awareness of the implications for what they believed by revelation, even when no revealed matter was being discussed. Moreover, the whole effect, even leaving out the "theology", is detectably and measurably "Christian" in its emphasis, in the way it is used to prepare answers that become part of the theology (e.g. "what is a person?"). It is Christian from the aim in which philosophy is appropriated from pagans, the aspects developed in detail and the anticipations of issues that have to be resolved to explain Christian doctrine. So, Aquinas's doctrine of being and of participation and of the ipsum esse subsistens is worked out so as to be compatible with and advance the intelligibility of the notion of three supposita of one nature that are, yet, one substance.

[8].Items (1), (2), and (3) combined, particularly with extensive discussions of occasionalism and fatalism by Muslims and of freedom and providence by Christians make up a distinctively Christian or Muslim philosophy, without any purely theological (revelation) content.

[9].Like the dialectical arguments in Plato, the mixed empiricism and abstract arguments of Aristotle, the more geometrico of Duns Scotus (esp. De Primo Principio) and Spinoza, the formal modal argument in Duns Scotus and many recent philosophers, and the penchant for writing out quasi-logical formulas or lists of "truth-conditions", and other tools for precision.

[10].On a number of occasions bright students reading medieval philosophy are alienated from the prominent theism; I sympathize, remembering my aversion to talk of "the gods" in Plato.

[11].See Stephen Palmquist (1989). Even Hume, by reaction and yet concentration on themes peculiar to Christians (e.g. miracles), can be counted, although one historian to whom I mentioned that, while accepting that William James, Berkeley, Locke, and Leibniz may be counted, thought Hume should not.

[12].See the extensive literature I cite in Ross:1981: ch.7. Plantinga also uses this example in "Advice" (Plantinga:1984:256).

[13].This seems to be the view of A. Plantinga, and I think, N. Wolterstorff, as well as other "reformed" Christian philosophers.

[14].Marilyn Adams and Eleonore Stump renovated the discussion of the problem of evil by undercutting the assumption that there is some religiously neutral statement of exactly what the problem is. See Marilyn Adams (1986). Also see Marilyn Adams (1985;1987; 1975 and 1976-77; and 1988, besides), and Eleonore Stump (1983). One of the roles of religion is to tell us what the "brokenness" of man, visible in outline even to secular philosophers, and the resolution of evil, actually consist in.

[15].See the forthcoming Ross:"Mindful of Man."

[16].See Ross (1986) and similar "cognitive voluntarism" papers.

[17].See Ross (1990).

[18]. See Alvin Plantinga (1980).

[19].See Ross (1981: Ch.7) for the literature, especially the mortifying accommodations various Christian writers attempted to make to the demands of the senseless verifiability test for meaningfulness.

[20].For instance, see the summary of Aquinas' views in Leo J. Elders, S.V.D. (1990).

[21].This is not an inferior state, but one of knowing, attentive knowing.

[22].See Ross (1970).

[23].See the papers, mentioned above, on Aquinas on faith and reason, on Augustine and on various aspects of cognitive voluntarism.

[24]. I acknowledge Aquinas's view that for God to become directly present to the understanding in his being rather than as a cause, the abstractive intellect has to be bypassed by God's using his own being , as intelligible species, to enable and actualize the human understanding. I am talking here only about an habitual awareness of the presence of God in things as the enablement of our knowing natural objects, in effect, habitual awareness of the "existence of God in things" that Aquinas discusses in ST, Ia.q.8.

Alvin Plantinga's seems to think (see above papers) that one is not necessarily improved by replacing faith in God's existence with scientific knowledge on the point. Doubts of that kind show a post-reformation difference among Christian philosophers. To use our cognitive powers successfully to find out for ourselves that God exists, or even to become scientific enough to see that, and why God exists, is not to go from a more perfect moral state of accepting a divine gift, to a less perfect state of acting on our own. Rather, belief is an anticipatory commitment to what is (in this case) to be seen. So we progress from a cognitively less perfect state to a more perfect one; that fact that divine faith is a virtue in no way derogates the fact that science is a virtue as well.

[25].Moreover, we not only differ on the force of the arguments, we differ on the items that are candidates for the list of "good" arguments, even arguments lending likelihood. That is because Plantinga in listing "a dozen or so" good arguments, lists several that require the existence of God for the permanent being and infinity of propositions, numbers, sets, and the like, whereas I do not think there are any such eternal, infinite abstract objects, apart from human or perhaps angelic thought, and think it a limitation, inappropriate to God, to have to think mathematically, by logical forms (or any process) or to have one's thought-contents sorted linguistically into propositions, or the like. God cannot think that way, as I show in Truth and Impossibility (forthcoming). On the other hand, I argue that without the existence of God there would be no problem of evil, not even a genuine mystery, because there would be no background against which to "find something objectively wrong" in the universe, but only an anthropomorphic projection, as Spinoza reasoned.

[26].Some philosophers think that mere consistency of the claim is enough for real possibility. Unfortunately, I can now show that to be false; see Truth and Impossibility. So it is not exactly clear how we do recognize the real possibility of things whose existence is not evident to us, but we do, frequently. And most people have little or no difficulty reaching that conviction about God, especially when facing the challenge "Well, if you think there couldn't be a divine being, show me why not". One relevant consideration is that esse has to be prior both to causation and to possibility, because, otherwise, there could be neither: Thus some ipsum esse subsistens is possible.

[27].Where proof by preponderance of the evidence is involved, it is not impossible or even unlikely that well-disposed persons of different education, especially different emotional training, might reach opposed conclusions each finding it supported by a preponderance of the same body of evidence both considered.

[28].See Plantinga's papers cited above. See also, Gary Gutting (1985).

[29].See R.A. Markus (1967:344).

[30].See F. Copleston (1985:146), where he describes Aquinas by using this phrase.

[31]. There are advocates of cultural understanding who consider it a solecism even to consider whether Hinduism or Islam or Christianity, taken as a whole culture, including its science, philosophy, literature, arts, its historical achievements and its contribution to the dignity and ennoblement of individual human life, is "superior" as a wisdom and a way for humans, or even true in a way the others are not. For one thing, there is supposed to be no "fair" and "neutral" standpoint from which to judge. But that is part of the Christian message and objective. Christianity does not encourage vulgar disrespect. Such comparisons require a Christian frame of respect and love along with one's interest in truth and open-mindedness to the riches of other great Ways and Wisdoms.

[32].It is a mistake to think that sceptical threats are supported by our admitting that there is no neutral standpoint, not part of one of the contestants, from which to judge, and therefore, that all such judgments are culturally and religiously biased. I developed some principles for such matters in Ross (1992b).