Apologetics, Culture, Holy Scripture, Theology

Against the Errors of Charismatic Pentecostals

Against the Errors of the Charismatic PentecostalsPentecostalism is being reported as the fasted growing religious denomination in the world. While many other denominations are in decline, the charismatic movement is gaining momentum, and can even boast of having influences within the Catholic Church.

The speed at which a false religious sect is growing can be a cause for concern, but it is the influence this false religious sect is having on the one, true, Catholic Church that is alarming.

I first encountered Pentecostalism in the Catholic Church when I shared with a priest my transition out of the charismatic movement during my days as a Protestant. When he heard that I used to be a Pentecostal, he asked with noticeable excitement, “Can you speak in tongues!?!?” Another instance is when I was speaking to a girl in my parish about her recent trip to the youth conference at Steubenville. She said it was great, and at one point everyone started speaking in tongues. These two brief occasions were not the only times I encountered Pentecostal sympathies in the Church. I have now met people who actively promote this movement arguing that the charismatic “revival” has always been recognized as legitimate within the Church, and have even been told by a Catholic that it would be beneficial to have a very “pentecostally” prayer session with this sect of Protestantism.

These interactions are truly perplexing.

How could the Catholic Church unite herself to a movement that not only began outside of the Church, but is also intimately associated with the flamboyantly heretical health, wealth, and prosperity gospel of the word of faith movement? How could a uniquely Protestant theology, invented in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, promoted by charlatans such as Benny Hinn, Kenneth Copeland, Gloria Copeland, Jesse Duplantis, Creflo Dollar, Joyce Meyer, Paula White, Joel Osteen, Victoria Osteen etc., make its way into the Mystical Body of Christ?

One word provides the answer – ecumenism.

The promoters of Pentecostalism and the prosperity “gospel” would vociferously rebuke the mendicant orders of the Scholastic era started by Saint Dominic and Saint Francis. According to the heretical doctrines of this false gospel, God wants you to be healthy, wealthy, and have a great career. If you do not have these things – health, wealth, and a prosperous career outlook – then you not only lack true faith but also do not have the blessings of God on your life. How does this teaching square with the evangelical poverty of the mendicants? How does the teaching of true faith being united to bodily health work out in light of the ailments Saint Francis of Assisi was afflicted with, such as blindness late in his life? The mystically received stigmata Saint Francis carried on his body would most certainly be rebuked by any one of these false prosperity peddlers named above, and yet, their theology is being welcomed with open arms into the Mystical Body of Christ, the true Church.

It is also worth noting that there are Protestants exercising more wisdom on this matter than Catholic clerics. Protestants are sounding the alarm against these false teachers while the true shepherds of Christ willingly allow wolves into the fold.

The wrecking ball of modernism truly knows no bounds.

Instead of swallowing the lie, it is our duty as faithful Catholics to expose this error so that others might see the truth; not only so that Catholics might guard their souls against these heresies, but also, that Pentecostals might be rescued from damnable error and enter into the Church where Christ is truly encountered in the Eucharistic sacrifice of the Mass.

There are multiple errors within the Pentecostal sect, but two of them are quite prominent. The most popular false doctrines of Pentecostalism are second baptism (baptism of the Holy Ghost), and glossolalia (speaking in tongues). To be sure, these errors stem from foundational errors such as the rejection of the magisterial authority of the Catholic Church, the adherence of ‘Bible alone’ theology, and private judgment. And to justify their autonomous private judgment (as St. Augustine cringes looking down from heaven), the oft-repeated phrase “the Holy Spirit has laid it upon my heart” is quickly utilized when cautious minds inquire into these teachings. When I started asking questions about the credibility of Benny Hinn’s theology, for example, I was allegedly being informed by the “spirit of doubt” and not really concerned with finding truth on this matter.

In order to reveal the destructive nature of Pentecostalism, let’s focus on the errors of second baptism and speaking in tongues, and how they are derived from incorrect scriptural exegesis resulting in a man-made doctrine.

Part I: Second Baptism

St. Paul the Apostle says,

“Therefore, a prisoner of the Lord, beseech you, that you walk worthy of the vocation in which you are called. With all humility, and mildness, with patience, supporting one another in charity, careful to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace. One body, and one spirit: as you are called in one hope of your vocation. One Lord, one faith, one baptism. One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in us all.”[1]

Despite the fact that St. Paul refutes second baptism in the above passage, this error rises and falls on a single verse, which is most often taken from the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible:

“He said unto them, Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? And they said unto him, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost.”[2]

The word “since” is used in two different ways – “because” or “from”. The verses that use “since” as “because” are 1 Corinthians 15:21, 2 Corinthians 13:3, and Colossians 1:4. An example of using “since” as “because” can be demonstrated in this sentence, “Can you pay for me this time since/because I paid for you last time.” The verses that use “since” as “from” are Matthew 24:21, Mark 9:21, Luke 1:70, Luke 7:45, Luke 16:16, Luke 24:21, John 9:32, Acts 3:21, Acts 24:11, Colossians 1:6 and 9, Hebrew 9:26, and 2 Peter 3:4. An example of using “since” as “from” can be demonstrated in this sentence, “I’ve been sick since/from last week.”[3]

The charismatic Pentecostals are attempting to divide the above passage through the introduction of separately distinct periods of time in the life of the believer by changing the interpretation of a single word. The correct way to read this passage is by its interconnectedness from the aspect of when a person believed because they have received the Holy Ghost.[4]

Pentecostals use the KJV to support the false doctrine of second baptism, sometimes referred to as second blessings, by using this verse in an incorrect way. This is accomplished by using the wrong definition of “since”. The error persists because “since” is used as “from” rather than “because” as demonstrated above.[5]

The correct way to read this passage would be, “He said unto them, Have ye received the Holy Ghost since/because ye believed? And they said unto him, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost.”

The Douay-Rheims commentary on Acts 19:2 affords further clarification,

“S. Paul first inquires of them, if they have received the Holy Ghost by confirmation. There answer is probably not to be interpreted with rigor; since they must have heard something of the Holy Spirit, so often mentioned in the Old Testament, by whom the prophets are said to speak of. They meant, they did not know there was in the Church, any means of communicating this Spirit to the faithful.”

The incorrect way to read this passage, that is, the Pentecostal way of reading this passage would be, “He said unto them, Have ye received the Holy Ghost since/from when ye believed? And they said unto him, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost.” This reading, when compared to the correct interpretation above, is being used to justify the Pentecostal idea that a person can believe without receiving the Holy Spirit, and then later be baptized in the spirit by way of spiritual “slaying.” Being “slayed” in the Spirit means to have a Pentecostal minister lay their hands on you or pray over you so that the Holy Spirit will baptize you into receiving the gift of tongues. When this gift is allegedly received, the person will usually crumble to the ground in a dramatic manner and remain paralyzed by the experience. This of course usually takes place after a couple of hours of emotional prompting through “musical worship” in order to muster the appropriate level of emotional expectation.

The basic problem in assuming Acts 19:2 is speaking of two distinct periods of time (initially believing, and then receiving the Holy Spirit later in the life of the believer) is that in order to do so, two nouns must be used in such a way that believing is not correlated with receiving the Holy Spirit. “You received” and “The Holy Spirit” are syntactically connected; as the Holy Spirit is the direct object of received, so they cannot be two separate events.[6] This leaves “believing” as a stand-alone participle to describe the event of initial belief. In order to interpret these as two events, this would have to be an attendant circumstance participle, which would make these events coordinate.[7] It is not ever intended for the second action to happen sometime eventually, that is to receive the Holy Spirit later in the future or possibly not at all in an attendant circumstance participle, which would be the best hope of supporting this false doctrine.

Part II: Glossolalia

I Corinthians 14 of the KJV provides more ammunition for this false doctrine by adding the word “unknown” in front of “tongue” when in reality this word is not found in the Greek. The context bears this out in verses 6-9 and is epitomized here: “There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices in the world, and none of them is without signification.”[8] This doctrine is completely negated by going back to Acts 2, where speaking in tongues initially took place, “And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance… every man heard them speak in his own language.”[9] God gave the Apostles the supernatural ability to breach the language barrier in order to preach the Gospel to all nations.

The false doctrine of speaking in tongues as espoused by charismatic Pentecostals is a novelty of the 19th century, as the unanimous testimony of the fathers indicates:

– St. Augustine –

“And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven. And when the sound was heard, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because every man heard them speak in his own language. And they were all amazed, and marvelled, saying one to another, Are not all these which speak Galilæans? and how heard we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born? Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, in Armenia, and in Cappadocia, in Pontus, Asia, Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the regions of Africa about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews, natives, Cretes, and Arabians, they heard them speak in their own tongues the wonderful works of God.”[10]

“If that night began after the Lord’s ascension, how was it that the apostles wrought so much? Was that the night when the Holy Spirit came, and, filling all who were in one place, gave them the power of speaking in the tongues of every nation?”[11]

“But “the Spirit was not yet given;” that is, with that abundance of spiritual grace which enabled those assembled together to speak in every language”[12]

– Clement of Alexandria –

“The apostle thus speaks: “So likewise ye, except ye utter by the tongue a word easy to be understood, how shall ye know what is spoken? For ye shall speak into the air. There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices in the world, and none of them is without signification. Therefore if I know not the meaning of the voice, I shall be unto him that speaketh a barbarian, and he that speaketh shall be a barbarian unto me.” And, “Let him that speaketh in an unknown tongue pray that he may interpret.””[13]

– St. Gregory of Nazianzen –

“XV. They spoke with strange tongues, and not those of their native land; and the wonder was great, a language spoken by those who had not learnt it. And the sign is to them that believe not, and not to them that believe, that it may be an accusation of the unbelievers, as it is written, With other tongues and other lips will I speak unto this people, and not even so will they listen to Me saith the Lord. But they heard. Here stop a little and raise a question, how you are to divide the words. For the expression has an ambiguity, which is to be determined by the punctuation. Did they each hear in their own dialect so that if I may so say, one sound was uttered, but many were heard; the air being thus beaten and, so to speak, sounds being produced more clear than the original sound; or are we to put the stop after “they Heard,” and then to add “them speaking in their own languages” to what follows, so that it would be speaking in languages their own to the hearers, which would be foreign to the speakers? I prefer to put it this latter way; for on the other plan the miracle would be rather of the hearers than of the speakers; whereas in this it would be on the speakers’ side; and it was they who were reproached for drunkenness, evidently because they by the Spirit wrought a miracle in the matter of the tongues.”[14]

– St. John Chrysostom –

“Ver. 1. ‘Yet desire earnestly spiritual gifts; but rather that ye may prophesy.’

Ver. 2. ‘For he that speaketh in a tongue, speaketh not unto men, but unto God: for no man understandeth; but in the Spirit he speaketh mysteries.’

Ver. 3. ‘But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men edification, and exhortation, and comfort.’

At this point he [St. Paul] makes a comparison between the gifts, and lowers that of the tongues, showing it to be neither altogether useless, nor very profitable by itself. For in fact they were greatly puffed up on account of this, because the gift was considered to be a great one. And it was thought great because the Apostles received it first, and with so great display; it was not however therefore to be esteemed above all the others. Wherefore then did the Apostles receive it before the rest? Because they were to go abroad everywhere. And as in the time of building the tower the one tongue was divided into many; so then the many tongues frequently met in one man, and the same person used to discourse both in the Persian, and the Roman, and the Indian, and many other tongues, the Spirit sounding within him: and the gift was called the gift of tongues because he could all at once speak divers languages.”[15]

The evidence presented against the two most prominent errors of the charismatic Pentecostals is devastating to their most important positions. In order to justify the heretical doctrine of second baptism they incorrectly interpret the Sacred Page by driving a temporal wedge between a person’s believing and receiving the Holy Spirit. Moreover, the abuse of speaking in tongues is justified only by ignoring the context of Acts 2 and the testimony of the Church Fathers. Instead of babbling incoherently, the Apostles were given the miraculous gift of speaking in the intelligible languages of other nations. Our Lord commissioned the Apostles to baptize the nations, and it makes sense that in order to accomplish this mission, they might need the ability to preach in the native languages of the people they would encounter during their missionary journeys.

Most importantly is the fact that these errors cannot be attributed to a move of the Holy Spirit, that is, a new 20th century Pentecost where God is inflaming the hearts of those outside of the salvific ark of the Church. To the contrary, the Spirit of Truth has nothing to do with heresy.


– Lucas G. Westman & Tyson Carter


Part I – Extended Exegesis

Once the synonym is used in place of “since” in the verse, this becomes completely obvious, as it becomes an incoherent idea. This is easily demonstrated first by examining the passages where the KJV translates a word or phrase in Greek meaning “from”, always have either a preposition or a pronoun, or both, modifying the noun. It is never understood with the participle as alleged in Acts 19:2. In addition to the absence of a prepositional phrase, the fact that it is a participle is also a problem, since the participle functions as a noun or adjective, despite being a verb. The noun in the syntactical structure preposition + pronoun + verb (from (since) + the time + [I] entered) is the pronoun “the time/which time”. The verb in the example phrase above from Luke 7:45 is aorist indicative active, not a participle. This is because there is a requirement to have a pronoun understood in the verbal phrase in order for it to make sense, which is normally not a problem when the prepositional phrase “from when/since” precedes a noun (Matt 24:21). The syntactic structure of this phrase is not consistent with the use of the prepositional phrase “since”, but rather consistent with the conjunction “since”. In truth neither are present in this passage in the original Greek, but the relationship between the aorist participle, and the act of receiving the Holy Spirit, are conditional upon each other, which is shown by the conditional conjunction εἰ.

“Since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus, and of the love which ye have to all the saints,” (Colossians 1:4, KJV 1900)

Εὐχαριστοῦμεν τῷ θεῷ …. ἀκούσαντες τὴν πίστιν ὑμῶν ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ

We give thanks to God … Hearing the faith   our   in Christ Jesus

εἰ πνεῦμα ἅγιον ἐλάβετε πιστεύσαντες

if Holy Spirit you received believing

The semantic relationships between “We give thanks to God” and “hearing of our faith in Christ Jesus” (Col 1:3-4) are identical to “you received the Holy Spirit” and “believing”. The verbal phrase is conditional upon the participle. This means that “We give thanks to God” is conditional upon “hearing of our faith in Christ Jesus”, just as receiving the Holy Spirit is conditional upon believing. In the case of Acts 19:2, the aorist participle of “believe” functions as an adverb and modifies the previous clause “If you received the Holy Spirit”. This will generally answer when, where, how, or why of a proposition. This syntactical structure clearly points to the use of “because” rather than the prepositional phrase “from when”, as this is how these questions are answered. You receive the Holy Spirit when you believe, or more appropriately, because you believe.

“In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise,” (Ephesians 1:13, KJV 1900)

“And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit,” (Ephesians 1:13, NIV)

πιστεύσαντες ἐσφραγίσθητε τῷ πνεύματι τῆς ἐπαγγελίας τῷ ἁγίῳ

The syntactical structure of this phrase is identical to the last two examples, it is a conditional phrase made up of a verb, the direct object of that verb (a nominal phrase), and the adverbial participle that represents the condition of the verbal clause (i.e. You received/were sealed with the Holy Spirit). This participle can actually be characterized as: temporal, manner, conditional, and result. The first two answer the questions: when and how, conditional carries the sense of “if”, and the result shows what the verb accomplishes. At what point are we saved? When we believe. How are we saved? By believing. We are saved if we believe, and the result of believing is being saved.

In addition to this, Pentecostals also try to use the “baptism of John” argument using Acts 18:25, 19:3-4. This is a false dichotomy wrought by poor exegesis, as the same phrase is used in Matt 21:25, Mark 1:4, 11:30, Luke 7:29, 20:4, and Acts 1:22, before the Holy Spirit had even come down on the Apostles. This is another example of reading one’s presuppositions back into the text and coming out with a meaning not intended by the author. This is also made obvious by St Paul in the previously quoted passage in Ephesians 4. This immersion (baptism) of repentance (Mark 1:4, Luke 3:3, Acts 13:24, 19:4) is also found in the Jewish Mishnah (Kippurim 8:9A & I), showing it to merely be a Jewish tradition that was later adopted by the Church as a sacrament.

One receives the Holy Spirit through water baptism (Acts 8:36-38), which saves us (1 Pet 3:21), which is a necessary part of believing in Christ, as we are buried with Him in baptism in which we are also raised together with Him through faith in the working of God (Col 2:12). Unlike what other Protestants will try to claim, believing in Christ requires we believe in everything He taught, and not just a small part of it, as the above-cited passages (and many others) show.

[1] Ephesians 4:1-6

[2] Acts 19:2, KJV 1900

[3] Here is the fragment in question in Greek, and then word-for-word directly into English underneath:

εἰ   πνεῦμα ἅγιον   ἐλάβετε           πιστεύσαντες

if     Holy Spirit       you received   believing

The εἰ in this context makes the statement interrogative, which in turn changes the translation of the aorist second person singular conjugation of “receive” (you received) to “have you received?”. The nominal phrase “Holy Spirit” is in the accusative case, which means it is the object of the verb. Thus, the phrase “εἰ πνεῦμα ἅγιον ἐλάβετε” should be translated “have you received the Holy Spirit?” which is fairly uncontroversial.

[4] The controversial aspect of this short passage upon which so much doctrinal error is based is the role of the aorist participle of “believe”.

[5] See appendix for further explanation

[6] Aside from this, the Holy Spirit is a noun and does not make sense without the utilization of a verb, which would also not make much sense without a direct object (unless the verb is intransitive, which it is not).

[7] While many of the requirements for an attendant circumstance participle are met, it is not possible for these participles to be read this way. For example, “Rise and take the child” (Matt 2:13), “Go and learn” (Matt 9:13), “came and bowed” (Matt 9:18), “Go quickly and tell his disciples” (Matt 28:7), “They left everything and followed him” (Luke 5:11), Go and show yourself” (Luke 5:14), “Sit down and write fifty” (Luke 16:6), and many more of these types of participles all have one thing in common, you never have the participle occur and not the verb. The angel was not telling Mary and Joseph to rise, and then maybe take the child sometime in the future, or possibly not at all. If it were possible to have one half of the attendant circumstance participle construction to occur and not the other, then the message “Rise Peter, kill and eat” bears no significance to the abandonment of Levitical dietary practices, if “rise” is not without “kill and eat”. Likewise, the Great Commission “Go and make disciples” (Matt 28:19) would merely be a suggestion, if “Go” was not immediately connected to “make disciples”. Were “go” and “tell the disciples” (Matt 28:7) not inextricably connected, one with the other? Like all of the other examples, the participle that is coordinate with the next verb is always in immediate succession. It is not ever intended for the second action to happen sometime eventually, or possibly not at all in an attendant circumstance participle, which would be the best hope of supporting this false doctrine. This is the closest one could get to Acts 19:2 teaching the doctrine of second blessings, to interpret the participle in one of the other ways would either be so absurd as to not make sense, or is not constructed appropriately either morphologically or syntactically. But abusing grammar in this way causes theological problems elsewhere, in addition to being exegetically irresponsible.

[8] 1 Corinthians 14:10, KJV 1900

[9] Acts 2:4, 6, KJV 1900

[10] St Augustine of Hippo, Against the Epistle of Manichæus Called Fundamental

[11] St Augustine of Hippo, Lectures or Tractates on the Gospel according to St. John

[12] St Augustine of Hippo, Lectures or Tractates on the Gospel according to St. John

[13] Clement of Alexandria, The Stromata

[14] Select Orations of Saint Gregory Nazianzen

[15] Homilies of St. John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople, on the First Epistle of St. Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians


Apologetics, Philosophy

Fides et Ratio & Modern Philosophical Errors

Fides et Ratio on Modern Philosophical Errors1. “The first goes by the name eclecticism, which is meant the approach of those who, in research, teaching and argumentation, even in theology, tend to use individual ideas drawn from different philosophies, without concern for their internal coherence, their place within a system or their historical context. They therefore run the risk of being unable to distinguish the part of truth of a given doctrine from elements of it which may be erroneous or ill-suited to the task at hand. An extreme form of eclecticism appears also in the rhetorical misuse of philosophical terms to which some theologians are given at times. Such manipulation does not help the search for truth and does not train reason – whether theological or philosophical – to formulate arguments seriously and scientifically. The rigorous and far-reaching study of philosophical doctrines, their particular terminology and the context is which they arose, helps to overcome the danger of eclecticism and makes it possible to integrate them into theological discourse in a way appropriate to the task.”

2. “Eclecticism is an error of method, but lying hidden within it can also be the claims of historicism. To understand a doctrine from the past correctly, it is necessary to set it within its proper historical and cultural context. The fundamental claim of historicism, however, is that the truth of a philosophy is determined on the basis of its appropriateness to a certain period and a certain historical purpose. At least implicitly, therefore, the enduring validity of truth is denied. What was true in one period, historicists claim, may not be true in another. Thus for them the history of thought becomes little more than an archeological resource useful for illustrating positions once held, but for the most part outmoded and meaningless now. On the contrary, it should not be forgotten that, even if a formulation is bound in some way by time and culture, the truth or the error which it expresses can invariably be identified and evaluated as such despite the distance of space and time.

In theological enquiry, historicism tends to appear for the most part under the guise of ‘modernism.’ Rightly concerned to make theological discourse relevant and understandable to our time, some theologians use only the most recent opinions and philosophical language, ignoring the critical evaluation which ought to be made of them in the light of the tradition. By exchanging relevance for truth, this form of modernism shows itself incapable of satisfying the demands of truth which theology is called to respond.”

3. “Another threat to be reckoned with is scientism. This is the philosophical notion which refuses to admit the validity of forms of knowledge other than those of the positive science; and it relegates religious, theological, ethical and aesthetic knowledge to the realm of mere fantasy. In the past, the same idea emerged in positivism and neo-positivism, which considered metaphysical statements to be meaningless…Regrettably, it must be noted, scientism consigns all that has to do with the question of the meaning of life to the realm of the irrational or imaginary.”

4. “No less dangerous is pragmatism. An attitude of mind which, in making its choices, precludes theoretical considerations or judgments based on ethical principles. The practical consequences of this mode of thinking are significant. In particular there is growing support for a concept of democracy which is not grounded upon any reference to unchanging values: whether or not a line of action is admissible is decided by the vote of a parliamentary majority. The consequences of this are clear: in practice, the great moral decisions of humanity are subordinated to decisions taken one after another by institutional agencies. Moreover, anthropology itself is severely compromised by a one-dimensional vision of the human being, a vision which excludes the great ethical dilemmas and the existential analysis of the meaning of suffering and sacrifice, life and death.”

5. “The positions we have examined lead in turn to a more general conception which appears today as the common framework of many philosophies which have rejected the meaningfulness of being. I am referring to the nihilist interpretation, which is at once the denial of all foundations and the negation of all objective truth. Quite apart from the fact that it conflicts with the demands and the content of the word of God, nihilism is a denial of the humanity and of the very identity of the human being. It should never be forgotten that the neglect of being inevitably leads to losing touch with objective truth and therefore with the very ground of human dignity. This in turn makes it possible to erase from the countenance of man and woman the marks of their likeness to God, and thus to lead them little by little either to a destructive will to power or to a solitude without hope. Once the truth is denied to human beings, it is pure illusion to try and set them free. Truth and freedom either go together hand in hand or together they perish in misery.”

– Pope Saint John Paul II, Fides et Ratio – 


– Lucas G. Westman

Apologetics, Metaphysics, Philosophy, Saint Thomas Aquinas, Saints, Theology, Thomism

Pope Leo XIII on Saint Thomas Aquinas – Aeterni Patris

Taken From the Encyclical – Aeterni Patris:

St Thomas Aquinas Framed and Labeled TSC17. Among the Scholastic Doctors, the chief and master of all towers Thomas Aquinas, who, as Cajetan observes, because “he most venerated the ancient Doctors of the Church, in a certain way seems to have inherited the intellect of all.”[34] The doctrines of those illustrious men, like the scattered members of a body, Thomas collected together and cemented, distributed in wonderful order, and so increased with important additions that he is rightly and deservedly esteemed the special bulwark and glory of the Catholic faith. With his spirit at once humble and swift, his memory ready and tenacious, his life spotless throughout, a lover of truth for its own sake, richly endowed with human and divine science, like the sun he heated the world with the warmth of his virtues and filled it with the splendor of his teaching. Philosophy has no part which he did not touch finely at once and thoroughly; on the laws of reasoning, on God and incorporeal substances, on man and other sensible things, on human actions and their principles, he reasoned in such a manner that in him there is wanting neither a full array of questions, nor an apt disposal of the various parts, nor the best method of proceeding, nor soundness of principles or strength of argument, nor clearness and elegance of style, nor a facility for explaining what is abstruse.

18. Moreover, the Angelic Doctor pushed his philosophic inquiry into the reasons and principles of things, which because they are most comprehensive and contain in their bosom, so to say, the seeds of almost infinite truths, were to be unfolded in good time by later masters and with a goodly yield. And as he also used this philosophic method in the refutation of error, he won this title to distinction for himself: that, single-handed, he victoriously combated the errors of former times, and supplied invincible arms to put those to rout which might in after-times spring up. Again, clearly distinguishing, as is fitting, reason from faith, while happily associating the one with the other, he both preserved the rights and had regard for the dignity of each; so much so, indeed, that reason borne on the wings of Thomas to its human height, can scarcely rise higher, while faith could scarcely expect more or stronger aids from reason than those which she has already obtained through Thomas.

19. For these reasons most learned men, in former ages especially, of the highest repute in theology and philosophy, after mastering with infinite pains the immortal works of Thomas, gave themselves up not so much to be instructed in his angelic wisdom as to be nourished upon it. It is known that nearly all the founders and lawgivers of the religious orders commanded their members to study and religiously adhere to the teachings of St. Thomas, fearful least any of them should swerve even in the slightest degree from the footsteps of so great a man. To say nothing of the family of St. Dominic, which rightly claims this great teacher for its own glory, the statutes of the Benedictines, the Carmelites, the Augustinians, the Society of Jesus, and many others all testify that they are bound by this law.


– Lucas G. Westman


Apologetics, Philosophy, Theology

Christ & Existential Angst

Christ's CrucifixionConfronted with the existential questions of life the atheist will tell you that there is no meaning in the world, existence is a chaotic accident of materially reduced processes, and human action is intrinsically void of purpose. When confronted by this interpretation of reality the atheist will then argue that the only way to overcome the existential angst of a meaningless existence is to collapse back into the self (which doesn’t exist) and create your own value and meaning in your life.

But this solves nothing, for the reality of meaninglessness is the source and cause of the panic, and therefore collapsing back into the emptiness of the self can only perpetuate the crisis of existence. Claiming that one must rise above it and create their own values and meaning is, quite literally, an exercise in self-delusion since that which would be created by attempting to climb out of the pit is just as futile as the abyss one thinks they have escaped. Indeed, to even think for an instant that meaning can be subjectively created out of a courageous act of the will should only create a heightened awareness of the metaphysical void. The darkness of this reality is an all-consuming fog from which no one can escape. To pursue a delusion isn’t courage it is insanity.

This only helps to demonstrate the total absurdity of the atheistic worldview and how they deal with the existential crisis of existence. If they are interested in being honest with themselves, they must first recognize that “honesty” and the “self” indeed exists within a consciously intentional grasp toward something that transcends the inner subjectivity of the intellect and will. A realization then occurs where the hierarchic transcendent otherness of existence is recognized – in a world that is intrinsically meaningless there should be no discovery of its meaninglessness, for to discover such a thing requires our human faculties to elevate the self beyond the purely material reality which allegedly imparts existential emptiness. If we are participants in a reality that is stripped of any and all telos, why are we such magnificently intentional beings? Why do we search for meaning when the waves of meaninglessness are crashing upon us?

The atheistic perspective can offer nothing of value when confronted by the existential angst of life existing within the confines of a fallen world. Indeed, it is by definition that atheism provides no answers because the entire edifice collapses into a nihilistic void of metaphysical nothingness. Atheism creates the very problem it is looking to overcome. Trapped within an infinite perpetuation of active delusions manifested by the fictional “courageous” will leads to the self-created prison of desolation.

This is the satanic inversion of Christ emptying himself on the cross. The deception of the atheistic worldview convinces people made in the Imago Christi to empty themselves of their defining Christo-centric image so that death rather than life becomes the ultimate reality. Christ emptied himself on the cross so that death might be defeated. Union with Christ’s victory over death brings forth an abundance of life.

Only Christianity can resolve the existential angst of our existence, because it is only in Christ that all things are made new. We will feel pain and the weight of suffering, but the mystery of the cross elevates these experiences to union with the Incarnate Christ, and it is only union with the resurrected Christ that fulfills our entire being in the world. It is the reason why we exist at all. Saint Augustine perfectly articulated this when he said our hearts are restless until they rest in Him.

The choices are clear – the truth of Christ or the deceptive lies of a satanic nihilism.

Romans 8 (Douay-Rheims)

There is now therefore no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus, who walk not according to the flesh.

For the law of the spirit of life, in Christ Jesus, hath delivered me from the law of sin and of death.

For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh; God sending his own Son, in the likeness of sinful flesh and of sin, hath condemned sin in the flesh;

That the justification of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh, but according to the spirit.

For they that are according to the flesh, mind the things that are of the flesh; but they that are according to the spirit, mind the things that are of the spirit.

For the wisdom of the flesh is death; but the wisdom of the spirit is life and peace.

 Because the wisdom of the flesh is an enemy to God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither can it be.

And they who are in the flesh, cannot please God.

But you are not in the flesh, but in the spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.

And if Christ be in you, the body indeed is dead, because of sin; but the spirit liveth, because of justification.

And if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead, dwell in you; he that raised up Jesus Christ from the dead, shall quicken also your mortal bodies, because of his Spirit that dwelleth in you.

Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh.

For if you live according to the flesh, you shall die: but if by the Spirit you mortify the deeds of the flesh, you shall live.

For whosoever are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.

For you have not received the spirit of bondage again in fear; but you have received the spirit of adoption of sons, whereby we cry: Abba (Father).

For the Spirit himself giveth testimony to our spirit, that we are the sons of God.

And if sons, heirs also; heirs indeed of God, and joint heirs with Christ: yet so, if we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified with him.

For I reckon that the sufferings of this time are not worthy to be compared with the glory to come, that shall be revealed in us.

For the expectation of the creature waiteth for the revelation of the sons of God.

For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him that made it subject, in hope:

Because the creature also itself shall be delivered from the servitude of corruption, into the liberty of the glory of the children of God.

For we know that every creature groaneth and travaileth in pain, even till now.

And not only it, but ourselves also, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption of the sons of God, the redemption of our body.

For we are saved by hope. But hope that is seen, is not hope. For what a man seeth, why doth he hope for?

But if we hope for that which we see not, we wait for it with patience.

Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmity. For we know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit himself asketh for us with unspeakable groanings.

And he that searcheth the hearts, knoweth what the Spirit desireth; because he asketh for the saints according to God.

And we know that to them that love God, all things work together unto good, to such as, according to his purpose, are called to be saints.

For whom he foreknew, he also predestinated to be made conformable to the image of his Son; that he might be the firstborn amongst many brethren.

And whom he predestinated, them he also called. And whom he called, them he also justified. And whom he justified, them he also glorified.

What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who is against us?

He that spared not even his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how hath he not also, with him, given us all things?

Who shall accuse against the elect of God? God that justifieth.

Who is he that shall condemn? Christ Jesus that died, yea that is risen also again; who is at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.

Who then shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation? or distress? or famine? or nakedness? or danger? or persecution? or the sword?

(As it is written: For thy sake we are put to death all the day long. We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.)

But in all these things we overcome, because of him that hath loved us.

For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor might,

Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.


– Lucas G. Westman

Apologetics, Metaphysics, Philosophy, Traditionalism, Wolfgang Smith

Wolfgang Smith: Preliminary Remarks

School of AthensThe contemporary debate between religion and science, faith and reason, creation and evolution will most likely continue to rage on for several generations. And no matter how ardently avoided due to the vitriolic annoyance of the modern cult of new atheist personality, the traditionalist will at some point have to wrestle with these debates despite the ill-conceived categorizations. The atheist may feel comfortable with these erroneously presumed classifications by mindlessly repeating the mantra that science has defeated religion, or that reason has won the day over faith, or that evolution is scientific fact while creation is a misbegotten magic fairy-tale, but these pontifications have very little to do with the crux of the disagreement between the opposing worldviews.

The atheistic Weltanschauung requires these conflicts because the principles they are attempting to commandeer in support of their irrational dogma are undermined by their own materialistic presuppositions. The desperate hope for the atheist, then, is to go on sophistical autopilot by way of repetitious platitude in an attempt to persuade others to refrain from thinking in ways that transcend the procrustean reductions of materialism. The traditionalist, however, recognizes the perpetuation of these dialectical categorizations to be a fallacious starting point, a dead end program that ultimately traps a person in the corner of absurdity. There is no conflict between religion and science because “religion” examines revelation, which comes from God, through mystical contemplation of the theological recognition of divine mysteries, while science is a methodological study of those secondary causes discovered in nature that have been created and sustained by God. Faith and reason are not competitive aspects of the human mind and will; rather, they share a dynamically interactive relationship on the same spectrum of contemplation.

Creation and evolution, however, are at odds with one another and there is simply no way to get around this fact. This is where the conflict can become tricky. Evolution is claimed to be a scientific fact, whereas creation is dismissed as frank stupidity resulting in a staggering level of anti-intellectualism. These are the claims made by the atheist, inexorably linked to a Darwinism that perpetuates the erroneous notion that religion and science, and faith and reason are diametrically opposed to one another. Due to this interconnected narrative attacking religion, many contemporary Christian apologists have committed themselves to making peace with the secular sciences in order to analytically demonstrate, not necessarily the truth of revelation, but the compatibility of faith with secular reason according to a probabilistic epistemic theory. This maneuver has proven to be as disastrous as it is unnecessary. Rather than “sanctifying Christ as Lord in our hearts,” contemporary apologetics has knelt before the dictates of a phony secular prestige in order to look respectable.

Instead of prostrating before an ideological enemy, the traditionalist must set the terms of the debate by exposing the specious assumptions crafted by the atheist. The disagreement isn’t within the scope of scientific discoveries against the mythos of a bygone era of superstition; the debate is between a traditional mythos and a modernist anti-mythos pretending to be scientific. The sooner this is realized, the sooner the traditionalist might no longer be intimidated by illusory methodological prestige.

This is where the thought of Wolfgang Smith becomes vitally important for the traditionalist looking to confront the errors of modernist heresy. Smith is a Roman Catholic, an adherent to the perennial school of philosophy, and his credentials are notable,

“The author (Wolfgang Smith) graduated from Cornell University at age eighteen with majors in physics, philosophy, and mathematics. After taking an M.S. in physics in Purdue University he pursued research in aerodynamics. In those early years he distinguished himself by his papers on the effect of diffusion fields, which provided the first theoretical key to the solution of the re-entry problem for space flight. After receiving a Ph.D. in mathematics from Columbia University, Dr. Smith held faculty positions at M.I.T., U.C.L.A., and Oregon State University, where he retired as a Professor of Mathematics in 1992. In addition to numerous technical publications (relating mainly to differential topology), he has published five other books dealing with foundational interdisciplinary problems, and has become widely recognized as one of the foremost authors to offer a critique of modern science in light of traditionalist metaphysics. He has made it his mission to unmask conceptions of a scientistic kind which are today generally accepted as scientific truths, in the hope of opening doors which have been officially bolted since the Enlightenment.”[1]

These credentials indicate that Smith is well equipped to interact with the claims being made by the secular scientific community. In addition to his ability to interact with the technical rigors of modern scientific theory, Smith possesses the aptitude to philosophically engage the assumptions being posited as scientific breakthroughs when in actuality many of these so-called discoveries are themselves rationalized conventions. Indeed, these capabilities make up for various deficiencies within the contemporary traditionalist school when attempting to refute the modernist anti-mythos.

There are three deficiencies often hindering the total annihilation of the modernist anti-mythos:

  1. First, there are numerous Christians who have attained the necessary academic credentials to critically engage contemporary secular science, but often times these same Christians lack the ability to identify key philosophical issues important to the debate taking place between the opposing worldviews.
  2. Second, there are many Christians who have attained the necessary academic credentials to critically engage contemporary atheistic/naturalist/physicalist/materialist philosophy, but often times lack the ability to identify key scientific issues important to the debate taking place between the opposing worldviews. This results in an apologetic endeavor attempting to show that Christianity can at the very least co-exist with secular science, which in my view is totally inadequate. Another scenario that may take place is the appropriate recognition that the debate is fundamentally metaphysical and ontological, which results in the scientific community’s assumptions frequently escaping critical scrutiny.
  3. Third, the philosophical interaction with modern atheistic philosophy and secular science is most often not done from a distinctively traditionalist perspective, that is, many mainstream Christian apologists share the assumptions of the mechanistic metaphysical worldview that came out of the Enlightenment and overthrew the ancient, organic, hierarchic Christian view of reality.

Wolfgang Smith uniquely overcomes these deficiencies by not only having the scientific and philosophical acumen necessary to deal with the important issues under consideration in the dispute, but he also approaches the debate from a traditionalist perspective.

The result of Wolfgang Smith’s thought is an uncompromising traditionalist refutation of the modernistic atheism hiding behind the esteem of scientific discovery.

The refutation and reinterpretation constructed by Smith has three important phases in its process:

  1. First, it is recognized that scientistic ideology is masquerading as science, that is, method is being mistaken for metaphysics. The philosophical ideology of scientism not only reduces itself to an untenable absurdity, it also nullifies the possibility of properly interpreting authentic discoveries of the natural order.
  2. Second, once this illegitimate marriage between metaphysical ideology and the legitimate methods of science has been annulled, so to speak, authentic discoveries of the natural order can be separated from the modernist anti-mythos so that they may be reinterpreted in light of sacred tradition.
  3. The third and final step is taken when the authentic discoveries of the scientific community are newly reinterpreted in light of sacred tradition so that a fuller, more robust comprehension of the cosmos can begin to emerge. Instead of reducing the whole of reality to its atomized parts, the traditionally understood hierarchic created cosmos is once again free to proclaim the splendor of the Creator.

Wolfgang Smith is one of the most important, and yet unknown, Catholic intellectuals of our contemporary era. His thought is not only relevant for defeating the errors of the modernist anti-mythos, but also, for seeing reality through new eyes. Smith makes it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled traditionalist.


– Lucas G. Westman

[1] This summary of credentials is located on the back of his book, Science & Myth.

Apologetics, Theology, Traditionalism

Pope Gregory XVI on Indifferentism

Pope Gregory XVI on Indifferentism“We now come to another and most fruitful cause of the evils which at present afflict the Church and which We so bitterly deplore; We mean indifferentism, or that fatal opinion everywhere diffused by the craft of the wicked, that men can by the profession of any faith obtain the eternal salvation of their souls, provided their life conforms to justice and probity. But in a question so clear and evident it will undoubtedly be easy for Us to pluck up from amid the people confided to your care so pernicious an error. The apostle warns us of it: ‘One God, one faith, one baptism.’ Let them tremble then who imagine that every creed leads by an easy path to the port of felicity; and reflect seriously on the testimony of our Savior Himself, that those are against Christ who are not whith Christ, and that they miserably scatter by the fact that they gather not with Him, and that consequently they will perish eternally without any doubt, if they do not hold to the Catholic Faith, and preserve it entire and without alteration. Let them hear Saint Jerome himself, relating that, at the epoch when the Church was divided into three parties, he, faithful to what had been decided, incessantly repeated to all who endeavored to win him over: ‘Whoso is united to the chair of Peter is with me.’ In vain did they attempt to create an illusion by saying that he himself was regenerated in water; for Saint Augustine answers precisely: ‘The branch lopped off has the shape of the vine; but what avails the form if it have not root?’

From this poisoned source of indifferentism flows that false and absurd, or rather extravagant, maxim that liberty of conscience should be established and guaranteed to each man – a most contagious error, to which leads that absolute and unbridled liberty of opinion which for the ruin of Church and State spreads over the world, and which some men, by unbridled impudence, fear not to represent as advantageous to the Church. ‘And what more certain death for souls,’ says Saint Augustine, ‘than the liberty of error!’ On beholding them thus, indeed, take away from men every rein able to restrain them in the paths of truth, hurried as they already are to ruin by a nature inclined to evil, we may say in truth that there yawns that pit of the abyss, from which Saint John beheld ascending a smoke that obscured the sun, and locusts to lay waste the earth. Thence, in fact, the instability of minds; thence, the ever increasing corruption of the young; thence, in the people, the contempt of sacred rights and holiest laws and things; thence, in a word, the saddest scourge that can ravage States, since experience attests, and the remotest antiquity teaches, that cities powerful in wealth, dominion, and glory perished by this sole evil – the unbridled liberty of opinions, the license of public discourse, the passion for changes.”

– Pope Gregory XVI, Mirari Vos

– Lucas G. Westman

Apologetics, Metaphysics, Philosophy, Psychology, Phenomenology, & Cognitive Science, Seraphic Orthodoxy, Theology

Thomism, Hylomorphism, & Personal Identity

Seraphic Orthodoxy, Hylomorphism, and Personal IdentityThe discussion of abortion is usually approached from the context of “rights” following the judicial precedent instituted by Roe v. Wade and Casey v. Planned Parenthood. One of the philosophical presuppositions undergirding the precedent of a right to abortion is the idea of bodily autonomy. For contemporary American culture absolute bodily autonomy is now an unexamined philosophical foundation protected by quips and slogans rather than sound reasoning. Those in disagreement with Roe and the succeeding precedent are faced with the difficult challenge of combatting sophists dedicated to sloganeering while at the same time being expected to perfectly articulate the pro-life position within an often-interrupted sound bite. Attempting to articulate a thorough refutation of abortion rights requires a Sisyphean effort when your arguments are kicked back down the hill every time some feminist shrieks, “My body! My Choice!” or “Free abortion on demand and without apology!”

In order to engage the abortion debate in a meaningful way the philosophical dispute must first be properly identified. The point of stasis is not at the level of political rights, but at the theological and philosophical level of personal identity, or what constitutes personhood. Moreover, to properly discuss personal identity at the philosophical level, metaphysical and ontological commitments must be discussed, which inexorably requires analysis at the theological level. To be sure, theology, metaphysics, and ontology are entirely wrapped up in the discussion of personal identity so these deeper issues are unavoidable.

When discussing issues of personal identity (or personal agency) our culture is systematically trapped in a strict either/or dichotomy. Either our personal identity is associated with our psychological attributes or it is associated with our bodily attributes. In our modern political discourse, there is no middle way offered to untie this tightened secular knot.

Professor Robert P. George argues,

Either the body is a part of the personal identity of the human being, in which case the human person, properly speaking, is a dynamic unity of body, mind, and spirit, or the body is a sub-personal dimension of the human being that functions as an instrument at the service of the conscious and desiring aspect of the self – the ‘person,’ strictly speaking, who controls and uses the body. The secularist position on issues such as abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia straightforwardly treats the body as a sub personal reality: a living human body is not a person, or, at least, is not a person until it comes to be associated (somehow) with a mind or other center of conscious self-awareness; and a living human body ceases to be a person not necessarily by dying, but ay any point at which it loses this association, which may be long after death. The body, as such, according to secularists, lacks the dignity of personhood – that is why they believe it isn’t necessarily wrong to kill ‘pre-personal’ or ‘post-personal’ human beings (fetuses, handicapped infants, the irreversibly demented, or other human ‘nonpersons’).[1]

Professor George continues,

“The dualism of orthodox secularism is not erased by the materialist insistence that the attributes of personhood are, ‘entirely a function’ of the physical structure of the human organism. For secularist liberals, it is the conscious, desiring, self-aware, and future directed part of the human being that is truly the ‘person’; it is the psychological attributes of consciousness, self-awareness etc. that confer ‘moral standing.’ By contrast, the living body, as such, is not part of the personal reality of the human being. And it is the status of the body as sub personal that accounts for the willingness of secularists to authorize the killing of human beings before they become ‘persons’ (fetuses and even infants) and after they cease being ‘persons’ (the demented, the permanently comatose, etc.) The dualism of orthodox secularism consists in treating the ‘person’ and the ‘mere living body’ as really separable. ‘Persons’ have dignity and rights; (their) ‘mere’ living bodies do not.”

Secularists, then, have tied themselves in an incoherent, ad hoc metaphysical knot that only recognizes rights within the dualistic nature of the functional human person (as they conceive of functioning) while denying this same dualistic nature to those they consider pre or post persons. In addition to this confused position, the supposed right to an abortion is associated with the concept of individual bodily autonomy while at the same time personhood is arbitrarily recognized only when conscious self-awareness is attained. To make matters even worse, the secularist view often influenced by materialist presuppositions, usually commits to a form of mind-body monism concerning consciousness, whereby the mind either emerges from matter or under the pretense of functionalism the mind is reduced to physical sensory inputs and outputs. What seems to follow from this secular materialist position is an incoherent appeal to consciousness as the defining attribute of personhood while at the same time reducing consciousness to an effective material illusion derived from biological operating features of the body. For the orthodox secular progressive, the person is defined by a consciousness that is nothing more than a physicalist illusion of chemical interaction.

Only a scholastic orthodoxy, informed by the tradition of Thomistic thought, and guided by the light of the Catholic faith can overcome the dilemma that has enslaved our contemporary modernist culture. In this essay I will articulate a view of personal identity which unshackles itself from the contemporary either/or tradition when considering these issues. After defending this view of personal identity, I will briefly examine how it can be informative when considering moral issues in the public square.

Scholasticism and the Human Person

Why should we utilize Neo-Scholastic Thomism on issues concerning personal identity? Why should we seek guidance from the Patristic Doctors of the Church, and the medieval scholastic theologians and philosophers when we are living in a modern, scientific era? The primary reason for doing so is to offer a philosophical view that is able to break free from the picture of reality our society seems to be trapped in; an unexamined either/or dichotomy between the mental and material instead of considering a both/and approach to personal identity. Moreover, these public policy issues demanding moral clarity are resting upon a more fundamental ontology of person than our public discourse allows. Neo-Scholastic Thomism, in my view, is able to untangle this tightened knot.

Thomism is committed to the theory of hylomorphism.[2] A hylomorphic philosophy of nature is an important component of the traditionally informed worldview, and emphasizes a specific structure and organization of the materials that make up the world we live in.[3] Most importantly, the hylomorphic philosophy of nature is ontologically hierarchic, metaphysically cogent, is consistent with the light of human reason, and participates on the spectrum of revealed truth concerning the created order. The emphasis of a dynamically unified, hierarchic composite structure and organization of the natural world provides ontological explanations for why various organisms possess distinguishing aptitudes for growth and development, reproduction, perception, movement, and cognition.[4] A philosophy of nature informed by the classical tenets of hylomorphic theory not only reconstitutes how it is that we can begin to understand our created reality, it appropriately challenges the mechanistic view of nature that has been popular since the Enlightenment.[5]

The distinctive philosophical principles of the hylomorphic theory of nature important for investigating personal identity are form/matter and potentiality/actuality. Things (objects) in nature are a combination of form and matter. To visualize this, Edward Feser gives an example of a red rubber ball.[6] The matter of the ball all by itself cannot be the ball because the rubber material could be something other than a ball, such as the sole of a shoe. Moreover, the form by itself is not the ball because the form is merely an abstraction that informs the material substance of the thing, in this case it is the red rubber ball. Since this is the case, only the form combined with the matter can give us the red rubber ball.

The red rubber ball can also be utilized in order to understand potentiality and actuality.[7] The red rubber ball has the potential to become a puddle of red rubber goo if heat is applied. When this occurs the red rubber ball’s potential capability of becoming red rubber goo becomes actualized. It is important to note that a potentiality can only become an actuality by something that is already actualized. For example, a match has the potential to melt the red rubber ball, but if the match exists only in the state of potentially hot it cannot melt the red rubber ball. Only when the matches’ potential to become hot is actualized can it then actualize the red rubber ball’s potential gooeyness.

These elements of a hylomorphic philosophy of nature are imperative for understanding the ontology of a person. On this view, man is a perfect, dynamic, and unified composite structure of form and matter, or body and soul. The ontology of personhood is not the body alone because not all bodies (matter) possess life, and it is not the soul (form) alone because the matter individuates the form. Henri Renard says,

“The soul is the active principle of life in the nature of man. It cannot be a body, since many bodies do not live. It is a form, not composed, not extended, not divisible, but simple; for it has neither essential nor quantitative parts.” He continues, “Man is a perfect unit, a composite of soul and body – two principles which form a natural, substantial unit, because they are transcendentally related to each other as act and potency. The soul actuates, the matter individuates; the soul is the principle of intellectual life, but it needs matter in order to know. It’s knowledge, which is primarily that of the corporeal world, is acquired though the instrumentality of the senses. For this reason, the soul needs the body for the extrinsic stimulus, without which it could never perfect itself.”[8]

From this standpoint, the hylomorphic view conflicts with the contemporary emphasis on the psychological component of the person as well as the emphasis on a bodily or “animal” component. Indeed, man is not the soul, but a composite of body and soul and the soul is the act and form of the body.[9]

Now that we have explained the hylomorphic philosophy of nature and the proper framework for the ontology of a person, we can posit the necessary and sufficient conditions for personal identity needed to persist through time.

On Thomism, a person X is identical to Y if and only if the soul and body are unified in a composite structure of body and soul. This conception of the person is able to direct our real world investigations of personal identity issues in a way that relates to our common intuitions.

How Do Our Intuitions Relate to the Thomistic View of Personal Identity?

The Bernard Williams essay, The Self and the Future, presents us with two thought experiments that lend support for the defense of a unified view of personal identity. The first thought experiment (scenario) provides two agents – person A and person B.  These agents have a “mentalistic” transfer of memory data. After the transfer takes place, the data from person B is in the A – body and the data from person A is in the B – body. Before the transfer takes place each person is able to choose which body will be tortured and which will be given $100,000. After the transfer either the A – body containing person B’s data or the B – body containing person A’s data, will have been tortured or received $100,000. The second scenario involves only one agent – person A. This agent is presented with the fact that he is going to be tortured the following day, but before being tortured their memory will be erased. The key element to consider from these two scenarios is that in scenario 1 the torture is far less of a concern than it is in scenario 2. This is based on whether a “mentalistic” component or a “bodily” component is tracked with regard to personal identity. Williams finds there are “first – personal” and “third – personal” concerns with questions about personal identity. Moreover, there are also “mentalistic” and “bodily continuity” considerations involved in examining issues concerning personal identity. Also, with this in consideration, Williams thinks these scenarios should run parallel to one another; the first-personal approach should focus on mentalistic criterion of personal identity and the third-personal approach should focus on bodily continuity. What actually occurs is to the contrary of Williams’s intuition. In the third – personal approach of scenario 1 we track a mentalistic criterion and in the first – personal approach of scenario 2 we track a bodily criterion.[10]

Following the thought experiments, a 6-stage examination of these two scenarios is presented to us in an intensified manner; (i) Person A has an operation resulting in total amnesia; (ii) add character changes; (iii) add fictitious memories; (iv) previous character changes and fictitious memories match someone else’s, namely, person B; (v) not only do the changes and memories match person B they are derived from person B; (vi) same as (v) but done for A to person B’s body.[11] On Williams’s view, there is no reason, in stages (i) – (vi), that we should deny the A-body person is identical to A. Hence, for Williams, there is no reason to deny the A-body person is identical to A in stages (i) – (vi).

Stages (i) – (iii) highlight the fear rationally obtained within scenario 2, that even if we have our memories erased prior to being tortured we still have good reason to fear the pain following the operation resulting in amnesia. Moreover, stage (iv) does very little to change the scenario in a material manner since the only change of condition is the introduction of person B into the stages. According to Williams, we can track our fear through all of these stages. Not only is there no material significance in change from (iii) to (iv), there is no causal condition introduced. Stage (iv) is merely saying we have character traits and memories that match another person’s, but it says nothing of their causal nature, that is, how we acquired them. Having character traits and memories of another person is not enough to introduce meaningful changes to individual personal identity. Williams lucidly points this out in addition to the immaterial nature of change between stages (iii) and (iv). The same can be said from stages (iv) to (v). Although a change persists insofar as a model of causal relation is concerned with character changes and fictitious memories, there is still no material significance between (iv) and (v). Significant qualitative changes have taken place, but there is nothing numerical to lose track of, as far as personal identity is concerned. Since this is the case, according to Williams, there is no reason the fear should be tracked from (i) – (v) but not continue to stage (vi).[12]

Our intuitions are related to the ontic-constraint provided within the scenarios life presents us with. The ontic-constraint can be understood as the ontological idealization of any thought experiment or model of reality being presented in order to examine personal identity issues. If the ontic-constraint is loosened to such a degree that its relation to “how-the-world-works” becomes less conceivable the thought experiment becomes ineffective. On the other hand, if the ontic-constraint is constructed in such a way that it closely matches our intuitions of “how-the-world-works” the thought experiment becomes effective.[13]

Scenario 1 represents a thought experiment that is ineffective. In scenario 1, the presentation can be likened to an amusing science fiction “what if”. The ontological construction of the thought experiment is fashioned in such a way that under consideration it is not taken seriously. This is the case for two reasons; first, the language employed is from the third person perspective making it less personal. We are not considering the data transfer or the element of torture as something happening to us. The second reason is that nobody believes such a thing is even likely to occur. It is not even conceivable to believe that scientists will ever be able to accomplish a data transfer such as this unless the human person and personal identity are mistakenly reduced to the operating functionality of a computer. It may be popular to analyze the mind/body problem from the perspective of hardware and software, but this thought experiment presupposes the legitimacy of modernist dualism. The empirical component of the thought experiment needs to relate to a plausible philosophy of nature. The first thought experiment fails this criterion because it lacks the ability to capture the body as a vital component of our personal identity; namely, it assumes the body (matter) can exist without the soul (form) and under the Thomistic tradition being offered this cannot occur. Our identity is not merely tied to the mentalistic or formal aspect of our human nature, but also, the medium by which our mentalistic content is acquired, which are the senses via the body. The empirical plausibility must relate to the ontic-constraint of the thought experiment in a meaningful way in order to properly grasp the metaphysical nature and ontological structure of personal identity.

Scenario 2 represents a thought experiment that becomes effective because it is related to our personal identity via direct acquaintance in a dynamically unified manner. The ontic-constraint is in line with how our intuitions and experiences are related to the world. The fear derived from scenario 2 is exponentially greater because the ontological structure of the thought experiment strikes at the heart of our direct and privileged access to our identity. This is the case for two reasons; first, the language employed is in first person. Instead of only thinking about some impersonal agent possibly being tortured it is us we have to worry about. And despite all of the qualitative changes that will take place in the experiment, no numerical changes in personal identity occur. If they did, there would be nothing to worry about, yet a lingering fear of being tortured remains. The second reason is the comparative presentation of the scenarios provides adequate reason to believe an operation could be performed that erases my memory, which is then followed by torture. Not only do we fear losing our memory, but we also fear our post-torture qualitative status shaping our metaphysical identity in ways unimaginable pre-surgery and pre – torture.  It is not that we cease to exist and a new identity obtains, rather, it is the case that our qualitative status has changed in traumatic fashion, which all persons deeply fear. The question is not if I will exist; the question is how I will exist. In this scenario the empirical plausibility closely relates to the ontic – constraint of our intuitions and experience of the world. Hence, we are able to detect the importance of a bodily and mentalistic criterion with regard to personal identity, or rather; the Thomistic conception of personal identity being a dynamically unified composite structure of body (matter) and soul (form) is not violated.

Applying Neo-Scholastic Thomism to Different Moral Scenarios

These considerations are beneficial for investigating real world questions pertaining to personal identity. Consider the question of abortion. Often times the arguments in favor of abortion in some way, shape, or form deny the personhood of the fetus. According to Thomism this is mistaken. Since the human person is necessarily a dynamically unified composite structure of body and soul, and these two elements exist at conception, the fertilized ovum all the way to delivery is a human person. The necessary and sufficient conditions for personhood are obtained at the moment of conception. An argument to the contrary of this position would not only ignore the hylomorphic philosophy of nature being endorsed, it also “ignores the fact that the development of the human body is a specifically human function, and therefore requires a human soul.”[14] Hence, we were all once fetuses, and we can successfully track our numerical identity along with our qualitative development if left alone to persist through time. Cutting off this path of development negates the potentiality of consciousness from being actualized in the human person. If we were to associate personhood to an economic actualization such as property ownership, while preventing a human life from actualizing this potential by denying the freedom to “develop” into a property owning person, the system has been arbitrarily rigged in favor of an ad hoc status. To claim a moral right to terminate a life because it has not actualized conscious self-awareness is to presuppose a dubious metaphysical picture of a supposedly recognizable demarcation of life and person.

Another question that is relevant for personal identity is whether or not a person’s identity remains while existing in a vegetative state. On the Thomistic conception of personal identity the answer is, yes. As long as the person is functionally alive, whether naturally or artificially, the body and soul would still be present, which preserves the existence of personhood from time t-1 to time t-n. Some may argue a person in a vegetative state would not be functioning as a human and therefore, even under the Thomistic conception of personal identity, personhood would become obsolete. Although this is something to consider, the argument forgets the important component of potentiality and actuality in the classically organic philosophy of nature. If a human person is unable to actualize a potential function it does not follow that personhood is lost. If this were the case, one could argue that if a person cannot actualize their potential to walk their personhood is lost. After all, the inability to walk is arguably a missing human function. For the same reason this argument would be rejected, the argument applied to a person existing in a vegetative state is rejected as well. Admittedly, losing the function to walk may be too simplistic because a person that is unable to walk may still possess conscious awareness. Instead of the inability to walk, we can consider a person’s inability to use their reason properly. A person that is severely mentally handicapped will never be able to actualize the potential to reason well, but this person is consciously aware of their existence, their surrounding environment, and experiences all the same realities other conscious human persons experience. What they lack is the ability to use their reason. If we were to substitute consciousness with the ability to reason as the defining factor determining personhood, something immediately strikes our moral intuition that it is intrinsically immoral to end the life of a mentally handicapped person because they may never be able to put together a well-formed syllogism.

Another important question is how does Thomism examine what happens at death? On this view of personal identity, the person no longer exists actually; rather, the person exists residually.[15] Person A exists as a composite of F/M (Form/Matter), or F/M unified brings forth the actuality of person A’s existence. At death, F/M are separated, and since the necessary condition for person A to persist through time is the unity of F/M the person cannot be identified solely as F or M. Hence, the person exists residually and not actually.[16]

Finally, we need to briefly examine what we are personally responsible for with regard to our actions. According to Thomism, it doesn’t make sense to talk about “actions of our bodies,” “decisions made by our minds,” “or things we only remember doing.” To ask the responsibility questions this way is to fall into the either/or dichotomy we are looking to avoid. Only human persons act, think, or remember. For example, if a person were to consume too much alcohol, become intoxicated and black – out they would still be responsible for their actions while being blacked – out, even if they did not remember anything in this altered psychological state. Remembering an action is a cognitive feature that can be altered or hindered while under the inebriating effects of alcohol. Nonetheless, it is still the person who acts while inebriated because the soul and body are united. Thomism, then, suggests that there is no way to divide the psychological and bodily components of action, thought, or memory that would relinquish responsibility of actions even while under the influence alcohol.

In this essay I have articulated a view of personal identity associated with Neo-Scholastic Thomism and a hylomorphic philosophy of nature. The strengths of this view are its unification of the human person, constructing thought experiments according to the effective ontic-constraint criterion, and providing philosophically relevant answers to questions about abortion, euthanasia, death, and responsibility of action. Hopefully, this view will become more influential because I think it can yield interesting advancements when answering relevant moral questions being examined in our culture.


– Lucas G. Westman

[1] The Clash of Orthodoxies, Pg. 34

[2] “The term ‘hylomorphism’ is a compound of the Greek words hyle and morph, which are typically translated ‘matter’ and ‘form’ respectively.” (Philosophy of Mind: A Comprehensive Introduction, Jaworski, Pg. 270)

[3] This fundamental understanding of nature has its roots in Patristic thought, and was endorsed by every major Scholastic thinker. St. Bonaventure and St. Thomas Aquinas, both Doctors of the Church, endorse a hylomorphic philosophy of nature despite their nuanced differenced due to commitments with the Platonic and Aristotelian traditions respectively.

[4] Philosophy of Mind: A Comprehensive Introduction, Jaworski, Pg. 270

[5] The orthodox mechanistic ontology of nature is beginning to be challenged by various philosophers. Some of them are Edward Feser, David Oderberg, William Jaworski, Tuamoa E. Tahko, and E.J. Lowe. Although it may not be formally recognized as such, a structural view of nature similar to hylomorphism is popular among philosophers of biology, biologists, and other scientists. William Jaworski references this situation in his book, Philosophy of Mind: A Comprehensive Introduction, Pgs. 271, 275, 276, 284, and 285. Even Thomas Nagel challenges the mechanistic understanding of nature in his highly controversial book, Mind and Cosmos.

[6] Aquinas, Feser, Pg. 13

[7] Feser also uses the red rubber ball to explain potentiality and actuality, and I am using his example.

[8] The Philosophy of Man, Pg. 37, 38

[9] The Philosophy of Man, Renard, Pg. 40, 42

[10] Williams, Bernard (1970). The Self and the Future. The Philosophical Review, 79(2), 179

[11] Williams, Bernard (1970). The Self and the Future. The Philosophical Review, 79(2), 172

[12] Williams, Bernard (1970). The Self and the Future. The Philosophical Review, 79(2), 17, 172, 174

[13] The term ontic-constraint and the phrase “how-the-world-works” is taken from Uskali Maki’s essay “The Way the World Works (www): Towards an Ontology Theory Choice.”  This essay is found in Maki’s book The Economic Worldview: Studies in the Ontology of Economics. In this essay Maki employs these terms to argue when choosing between models of economic theory the ontology of the model is highly relevant for which theory is the better theory. I find this to be an important insight when considering thought experiments in personal identity issues.    

[14] Reasonable Faith, Haldane, Pg. 138

[15] This could be understood as “continuity” vs. “connectedness.” At death, we would no longer exist in continuity as person A. Our residual personhood at death would only have features of connectedness to person A.

[16] John Haldane explains death in the Thomistic perspective in a way similar to this. I am borrowing his terminology to explain it in a way that better fits this essay, Reasonable Faith, Pg. 158.


Feser, E. (2009) Aquinas. Oxford, England: Oneworld

Jaworski, W. (2011) Philosophy of Mind: A Comprehensive Introduction. West Sussex, United Kingdom: Wiley – Blackwell

Benignus, B (1947) Nature, Knowledge, and God. Milwaukee, WI: The Bruce Publishing Company

Renard, H. (1948) The Philosophy of Man. Milwaukee, WI: The Bruce Publishing Company

Williams, Bernard. The Self and the Future. The Philosophical Review, 79(2)

Maki, Uskali.  The Way the World Works (www): Towards an Ontology Theory Choice.  The Economic Worldview: Studies in the Ontology of Economics

Haldane, J. (2010) Reasonable Faith. New York, NY: Routledge

Apologetics, Philosophy

Greg Bahnsen’s Philosophical Confusion

Greg BahnsenProponents of presuppositional apologetics possess a habitual inability to get things right when it comes to philosophy. Greg Bahnsen’s interpretation of Ludwig Wittgenstein, and his treatment of the cosmological argument are good examples of philosophical confusion in order to prop up a faulty apologetic methodology. For now, I want to focus on Bahnsen’s interpretation of Wittgenstein.

Within this statement is a footnote referencing Wittgenstein, “If the apologist treats the starting point of knowledge as something other than reverence to God, then unconditional submission to the unsurpassed greatness of God’s wisdom at the end of his argumentation does not really make sense.”[1] The footnote says this,

“Ludwig Wittgenstein confessed that a devastating incongruity lay at the heart of his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. If he was correct in his eventual conclusions, then the premises used to reach that conclusion were actually meaningless: ‘Anyone who understands me eventually recognizes [my propositions] as nonsensical, when he has used them –as steps- to climb up beyond them.  (He must, so to speak, throw away the ladder after he has climbed up it.)’ In similar fashion, evangelicals sometimes utilize an autonomous apologetical method. Instead of assuming the authority of Christ, they use that method like a ladder to climb up to acceptance of Christ’s claim, only then to “throw the ladder away,” since Christ is now seen as having an ultimate authority that conflicts with that method.”

It is incredible that Bahnsen would take this passage and somehow associates it with apologetic methodology. In order to properly understand Wittgenstein’s statement, you have to understand what Wittgenstein was attempting to accomplish with his philosophical endeavors.

Let’s take a very brief look at Wittgenstein’s thought.

In the Tractatus, Wittgenstein believed he had successfully solved the problems of philosophy. On Wittgenstein’s view, the mistake of previous philosophical thought was imbued with the error of attempting to say the unsayable. For Wittgenstein, the task of philosophy was to show what cannot be said, and what cannot be said are philosophical or metaphysical propositions.[2] An immediate retort could be that Wittgenstein’s entire Tractatus is caught in a trap because the propositions therein are exactly the kinds of propositions that cannot be said. While this is entirely true, it is not a flaw in the Tractatus, but the purpose of it. The Tractatus is meant to be a ladder by which you climb up, and upon reaching the top something should occur to you; if you have understood its purpose you can thank Wittgenstein for allowing you to get along with your life. You have been freed from worrying about philosophical problems because they have been traps from the very beginning. When philosophy has been buried, we can now focus on things that are more meaningful, which happen to be propositions associated with the hard sciences.

Bahnsen’s claim that an incongruity exists in Wittgenstein’s thought is simply incorrect. The depiction of a ladder that needed to be thrown away in the Tractatus, as Bahnsen claims, wasn’t a literary device constructed in order to represent an understanding of faulty presuppositions leading to unintelligibility. The steps of the ladder are the propositions of the TractatusThe ladder is philosophy itself. Wittgenstein was trying to get rid of philosophy. The deepest problem of philosophy, on Wittgenstein’s view, is philosophy, and not faulty presuppositions, as Bahnsen would have you believe. Since this is a more accurate representation of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus, any comparison of it to apologetic method is ineffective.

Unfortunately for Wittgenstein, he was unsatisfied with his conclusions in the Tractatus.  The arguments provided in his early work did not drive the stake far enough into the heart of philosophy, so he embarked on a different strategy with the same goal in mind – to bury philosophy once and for all.

When entering the world of Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations, we immediately recognize that it is much different than the Tractatus. In the Tractatus there is a theoretical formal structure of language, the ontological foundation is atomism, the structure of language is to be considered completely independent of our socio-cultural relations, we cannot pry language and the world apart because of the picture that is shared with the world, and science is the ultimate standard for our propositions. In Philosophical Investigations, there is no formal structure of language, there is no ontological foundation, language is entirely influenced by our socio-cultural relations, we cannot pry language and the world apart because meaning is dependent upon use, and “language games” are the cornerstone of explanation and description.  

While meaning in the Tractatus is reference via picture to world connection; meaning in Philosophical Investigations is dependent on use. Meaning depends on the use of the words, and words are like a toolbox affording us the right tools given the context of the language game. Instead of working towards building a theoretical structure of language, Wittgenstein emphatically insists that we look at how language is used.

Like the Tractatus, the aim of the Investigations is meant to make philosophical problems go away. In paragraph 133 of the Investigations he says, “For the clarity we are aiming at is indeed complete clarity.  But this simply means that the philosophical problems should completely disappear.” The only way to have complete clarity is to take off the philosophical lenses we view the world through, and actually look at what is going on. Wittgenstein continues in the same paragraph, “The real discovery is the one that makes me capable of stopping doing philosophy when I want to. The one that gives philosophy peace, so that it is no longer tormented by questions which bring itself in question.” One wonders if we could replace the word “philosophy” in the sentence, “The one that gives philosophy peace…” with Ludwig himself.  After all, it seems as if it was Wittgenstein himself seeking peace from the torments of philosophy.

In the end, the Investigations are as self destructive as the Tractatus. This of course isn’t a problem for Wittegenstein, it is his purpose. Each system has this specific aim; one is to show the person out of the fly bottle, and the other is a ladder to climb up in order to throw it away. The problem is, what if you find yourself in another fly bottle or once you climb the ladder you turn around to only find another waiting to be climbed. What if the world is one big fly bottle? What if it is ladders all the way up?  What if it is true that philosophy always buries its undertakers? What if?

Bahnsen misses all of this, badly misinterprets Wittgenstein, and makes illegitimate use of this passage in an attempt to bolster his apologetic methodology.


– Lucas G. Westman

[1] Van Til’s Apologetic, Pg. 3

[2] The Twentieth Century to Quine and Derrida, Jones, Pg. 235

Apologetics, Catechism, Epistemology, Metaphysics, Philosophy

Life on Earth is Spiritual Warfare

Life Upon Earth is WarfareAfter the serpent deceived our first parents Adam and Eve, God revealed his plan to thwart the great enemy of those made in his image and likeness, “I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel.”[1] In the fullness of time, Jesus Christ crushed the serpent’s head through his suffering, death, and resurrection; himself being wounded on the heel.[2] Christ’s Blessed Mother participated in the crushing of the enemy’s head by her fiat at the annunciation. Adam and Eve failed to properly do battle against the serpent, the New Adam and the New Eve soundly defeated that ancient enemy, the Devil. Being filled with hatred, and knowing his time is short, the Devil now wages war against holy Mother Church, “And the dragon was angry against the woman: and went to make war with the rest of her seed, who keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.”[3]

The Devil and his demonic battalions prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls. And while the soldiers of Christ follow their King in his command to baptize the nations, the Devil’s mercenaries are looking to subvert the order of the Great Commission. The weapons used by Christ’s enemies are as diabolical as they are numerous, but they only inflict damage when the soldiers of the Church Militant are unprepared to counteract the deceptive vilifications from the accuser of God’s people.

Christ has exposed the true nature of the devil as the father of lies, “You are of your father, the devil, and the desires of your father you will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and he abode not in the truth: because the truth is not in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father thereof.”[4] From the beginning of time to our current age, those who do the bidding of their father the devil will speak only lies against Christ and his Church, which is the “pillar and bulwark of truth.”[5] Truth cannot be defeated or proven false, so the only way to attack truth is to deceive and lie about the nature of truth. All truth participates in divine Truth. Those who are the enemies of truth do evil against its divine source. And because truth cannot be proven false, the only way to fight against it is to employ methods of tactical sophistry to confuse and lead people into the snares of sinful spiritual error. The devil did this with Eve in the Garden of Eden when he purposely confuses the command of God to not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, eventually fooling her into believing his deception rather than following the will of God. Another examples is when the devil attempts to exploit Jesus’s bodily weakness after extensive fasting in the desert by misquoting the Sacred Page and challenging his omnipotence. And the devil now looks to twist and bewilder the minds of men so they might become comfortable in their sin, deny the faith, and disregard truth for the comfort of autonomous relativism.

The devil has been diligently working against the Church ever since her birth at Pentecost. Whether it is violent persecutions or damnable heretical movements, the Church has always been assailed by her greatest enemy and those willing to do his bidding. From the errors of Arianism to the synthesis of all heresies in modernism, the Church Militant has done battle for the sake of Truth, and she stands ready still for spiritual combat.

Modernism is the heretical plague of our current era, and a relatively recent expression of this heresy can be found in the New Atheist movement. This movement began as a rhetorically powerful battering ram for those looking to undermine religion in the culture and the public square. It has transformed into an aggressive program looking to employ its own antichrist evangel. Peter Boghossian provides a lucid description of the next generation of the new atheist movement,

“Street Epistemology is a vision and a strategy for the next generation of atheists, skeptics, humanists, philosophers, and activists. Left behind is the idealized vision of wimpy, effete philosophers: older men in jackets with elbow patches, smoking pipes, stroking their white, unkempt beards. Gone is cowering to ideology, orthodoxy, and the modern threat of political correctness.”[6]

He continues,

“Enter the Street Epistemologist: an articulate, clear, helpful voice with an unremitting desire to help people overcome their faith and to create a better world – a world that uses intelligence, reason, rationality, thoughtfulness, ingenuity, sincerity, science, and kindness to build the future; not a world built on faith, delusion, pretending, religion, fear, pseudoscience, superstition, or a certainty achieved by keeping people in a stupor that makes them pawns of unseen forces because they’re terrified.”[7]

Following this description, Boghossian provides a brief historical sketch of the movement and the direction he would like to take it,

“The immediate forerunners to Street Epistemologists were ‘the Four Horsemen,’ each of whom contributed to identifying a part of the problem with faith and religion. American neuroscientist Sam Harris articulated the problems and consequences of faith. British evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins explained the God delusion and taught us how ideas spread from person to person within a culture. American philosopher Daniel Dennett analyzed religion and its effects as natural phenomena. British-American author Christopher Hitchens divorced religion from morality and addressed the historical role of religion. The Four Horsemen called out the problem of faith and religion and started a turn in our thinking and in our culture – they demeaned society’s view of religion, faith, and superstition, while elevating attitudes about reason, rationality, Enlightenment, and humanistic values.

The Four Horsemen identified the problems and raised our awareness, but they offered few solutions. No roadmap. Not even guideposts. Now the onus is upon the next generation of thinkers and activists to take direct and immediate action to fix the problems Harris, Dawkins, Dennett, and Hitchens identified.

A Manual for Creating Atheists is a step beyond Harris, Dawkins, Hitchens, and Dennett. A Manual for Creating Atheists offers practical solutions to the problems of faith and religion through the creation of Street Epistemologists – legions of people who view interactions with the faithful as clinical interventions designed to disabuse them of their faith

Hitchens may be gone, but no single individual will take his place. Instead of a replacement Horseman, there are millions of Horsemen ushering in a new Enlightenment and an Age of Reason. You, the reader, will be one of these Horsemen. You will become a Street Epistemologist. You will transform a broken world long ruled by unquestioned faith into a society built on reason, evidence, and though-out positions. This is work that needs to be done and work that will pay off by potentially helping millions – even billions – of people to live in a better world.”[8]

There you have it, a declaration of war. It is a confrontation between the army of atheistic horseman and the Church Militant.

Let’s do battle.

Peter Boghossian’s Manual begins by highlighting the importance of defining the terms within the debate, “One could easily fill an entire book with faith deepities – many, many authors have. Christians in particular have created a tradition to employ deepities, used slippery definitions of faith, and hidden behind unclear language since at least the time of Augustine (354-430).”[9] Before presenting his definitions of faith, Boghossian says, “The word ‘faith’ is a very slippery pig. We need to get our hands on it, pin it to the ground, and wrap a blanket around it so we can have something to latch onto before we finally and permanently subdue it. Malleable definitions allow faith to slip away from critique.”[10]

On Boghossian’s view then, it is important to properly define what “faith” actually means so that it can be thoroughly refuted by a well-trained organization of motivated Street Epistemologists.

Without further delay, here are the two definitions of “faith” provided by Boghossian:

  1. Belief without evidence.[11]


  1. Pretending to know things you don’t know.[12]

In an attempt to bolster the justification for the first definition, Boghossian quotes atheist John W. Loftus, “My definition of faith is that it’s a leap over the probabilities. It fills in the gap between what is improbable to make something more probable than not without faith. As such, faith is an irrational leap over the probabilities.”[13] In summary agreement with Loftus, Boghossian argues, “’Faith’ is the word one uses when one does not have enough evidence to justify holding a belief, but when one just goes ahead and believes anyway.”[14] Finally, Boghossian says, “If one claims knowledge either in the absence of evidence, or when a claim is contradicted by evidence, then this is when the world ‘faith’ is used. ‘Believing something anyway’ is an accurate definition of the term ‘faith.’”[15]

In order to explain the second definition, Boghossian suggests that when the Street Epistemologist hears the term ‘faith’ used in a sentence, they should translate the word within the context of the sentence to mean, “pretending to know things you don’t know.”[16] Admittedly, this will make the sentence more “clunky,” but according to Boghossian, this translation will bring out the transparent irrationality of the faith claims being made.[17] In order to properly train his army of atheistic antichrist evangelists, Boghossian offers a useful table demonstrating what he means by such a translation,[18]

Faith Pretending to know things you don’t know
“My faith is beneficial for me.” “Pretending to know things I don’t know is beneficial for me.”
“I have faith in God.” “I pretend to know things I don’t know about God.”
“Life has no meaning without faith.” “Life has no meaning if I stop pretending to know things I don’t know.”
“I don’t have enough faith to be an atheist.” “I don’t pretend to know things I don’t know enough to be an atheist.”


Alternatively, if atheist is defined as “a person who doesn’t pretend to know things he doesn’t know about the creation of the universe,” the sentence becomes, “I don’t pretend to know things I don’t know enough to be a person who doesn’t pretend to now things he doesn’t know about the creation of the universe.”

“You have faith in science.” “You pretend to know things you don’t know about science.”
“You have faith your spouse loves you.” “You pretend to know things you don’t know about your spouse’s love.”
“If everyone abandoned their faith, society would devolve morally.” “If everyone stopped pretending to know things they don’t know, society would devolve morally.”
“My faith is true for me.” “Pretending to know things I don’t know is true for me.”
“Why should people stop having faith if it helps them get through the day.” “Why should people stop pretending to know things they don’t know if it helps them get through the day.”
“Teach your children to have faith.” “Teach your children to pretend to know things they don’t know.”
“Freedom of faith.” “Freedom of pretending to know things you don’t know.”
“International Faith Convention” “International Pretending to Know Things You Don’t Know Convention.”
“She’s having a crisis of faith.” “She’s having a crisis of pretending to know things she doesn’t know.”


Alternatively, “She is struck by the fact that she’s been pretending to know things she doesn’t know.”

These two definitions and their subsequent explanations direct the Street Epistemologist toward the proper understanding of the claim that faith is an intrinsically faulty epistemology. If these two definitions appropriately capture what it is people mean when they use the term “faith”, then it stands to reason that faith as a system of knowledge is not adequate to provide human beings with the suitable tools for comprehending our surrounding reality.

Boghossian’s critique of faith as an alternative epistemology, however, entirely depends on whether or not he has properly defined the word. Even a rudimentary examination of his definitions will uncover the fact that he has misidentified the term. But let’s go beyond a basic fact-checking mission and thoroughly analyze what the headmaster of this legion of Street Epistemologists is offering.

Consider the first definition – belief without evidence. I take this to mean that a belief is held without any evidence whatsoever concerning a specific truth claim about reality. In this context then, and according to Boghossian’s definition, belief in God or having faith that God exists, is held without a single shred of evidence in the affirmative for this belief. Rather than a gentle tilt, the scales of evidence would tip dramatically to the side of atheism. If asked where the evidence is for faith in God, the person claiming to believe through faith would be forced to answer, “I have no evidence, as the scale clearly indicates.” There is a significant difference, however, between belief without evidence and belief despite sufficient evidence. From the definition to the explanation, Boghossian moves from the former defined position to the latter explanation. Moreover, the quote offered by Loftus in support of the definition discusses an irrational leap over the probabilities, but an unjustified leap over the probabilities is different than taking a blind leap without probabilities in the affirmative for a specific belief. In agreement with Loftus, Boghossian suggests that “faith” is the term employed when belief is going to be held without enough evidence for said belief. Again, this is much different than believing without evidence.

The first definition is not only incorrect; it is totally confused. On the one hand the definition states that “faith” entails belief without evidence, and on the other hand, it is considered to be a leap over the probabilities, or when a belief is held without enough evidence. This is confused for at least two reasons. Loftus’s statement fundamentally misunderstands the potential relationship between what it might mean to use the term “faith” in light of specific probabilities of a belief being true. If it is believed that event X is 90% likely to take place, the missing 10% is not filled in by faith, as if probabilities were an epistemic container for justification. All this probability suggests is an increased justification for the likelihood of event X to take place. Acting on this probability is to trust in the methods informing the 90% probability of the event’s actualization.

The second reason this definition is confused is based on Boghossian’s shift from belief without evidence to belief without enough evidence, indicating that the term ‘faith’ could be defined differently than he has advocated. Belief without enough evidence alludes to the possibility that there is in fact evidence for a belief, but that the claims being made given the evidence publicly available are not warranted. For example, an evidence based claim for the existence of God could be the realist identification of design intrinsic to the natural order. An atheist may counter this view by suggesting the design we see in the natural order is illusory, and any theistic explanation of the illusion of design lacks epistemic plausibility. However, this explanation provided by the atheist would mean that belief is being held with insufficient evidence rather than the total absence of evidence. This example also hints at something important for the sufficiency of evidential claims, and that is the philosophical interpretation of what actually counts as evidence in the first place. An atheist claiming that design does not count as evidence for the existence of God due to an anti-realist metaphysical commitment toward the concept of design does not amount to the demonstration of a lack of evidence for the claim. What is actually taking place is the application of a differing philosophical interpretation of the evidence that is available.

The first definition then, is considerably muddled. It offers no substance to the debate because it is itself trapped between two different misunderstandings of what the term “faith” might mean when examined with malicious intent. Additionally, it presupposes a philosophical interpretation of what counts as evidence that lends a favorable hand to the atheistic naturalist position. So the first definition is not only wrong, it also begs the question concerning the nature of evidence.

What about the second definition? Does it offer anything of substance for the person looking to become a Street Epistemologist motivated to talk people out of their faith?

Not even close.

The suggested characterization of faith as – pretending to know something you don’t know – is nothing more than an accusation of moral ineptitude, rather than a realistic attempt to define a word. To claim a person is pretending to know things they do not know is tantamount to calling them a liar. It is itself an accusation requiring sufficient evidence to be credibly warranted as an epistemic indictment.

In addition to the sheer stupidity of the proposed definition, it is loaded with philosophical problems.

First, the Street Epistemologist must in fact know that a person is pretending to know something they don’t really know. In order to accomplish this they would need to have direct acquaintance with the reasons a person might have for a specific belief, which of course they do not have. And because the Street Epistemologist does not have direct acquaintance for the reasons a person might hold to a specific belief, they are the ones who are awkwardly pretending to know things that they in fact do not know. Second, the Street Epistemologist must know what it is a person is pretending to know before they can accurately say that any person is pretending to know something they don’t know. And if the only thing they would have to go by is the incoherent definition and explanation provided above as their justification for making this claim, then they are operating far outside the parameters of their own epistemic justification. Maybe the person is pretending to know something they don’t know, but the Street Epistemologist who is working from an inherently faulty definition of faith doesn’t actually know what it is that they are claiming a person is pretending to know. Third, the only way the fervent Boghossianite would know with any amount of plausibility that a person of faith is nefariously pretending to know something they don’t know is if their own philosophical presuppositions were themselves adequately examined and justified in their own right. Unless the Street Epistemologist can offer some alternative standard for truth that does not beg all the important questions, and can offer a worldview that does not violate its own standards of rationality, can they even begin to impugn a person of faith with an intrinsic moral fault such as pretending to know things they don’t actually know. Finally, to take the hubristic position that the Street Epistemologist knows that a person of faith is pretending to know something they don’t really know, is to transform themselves into an omniscient being that can probe the complex inner sanctum of the believer’s own subjective conscious cognitive capacities. They unwittingly claim to transcend the irrationalities of faith while being imminently present in the mind of the believer. This strangely eerie delusion hearkens back to the ambitions of Lucifer looking to dethrone God. In order to refute faith in God, they have made themselves gods, or as Scripture says, “professing to be wise they became fools.”[19]

So the second definition of faith offered by Boghossian – pretending to know things you don’t know – is an even worse failure than the first definition – belief without evidence.

Not only has Boghossian failed to properly define exactly what it is he is looking to refute, but he also advises his followers to ignore the actual point of contention between a theistic understanding of reality and its atheistic counterpart, namely, the existence of God. It is remarkably telling that Boghossian implores his followers to avoid disputes in the realm of metaphysics. He says,

“A solid strategy for lowering your conversational partner’s self-placement on the Dawkins’ Scale, and one that I repeatedly advocate throughout this book, is to focus on epistemology and rarely, if ever, allow metaphysics into the discussion. This is even more important in discussions about God – a metaphysical entity.”

Boghossian continues,

“In other words, focus on undermining one’s confidence in how one claims to know what one knows (epistemology) as opposed to what one believes exists (metaphysics/God). Instead of having a discussion about the actual existence of metaphysical entities that can neither be proven nor disproven, direct the discussion to how one knows that these alleged entities exists. (This may also avoid one of the most common retorts among uneducated, unsophisticated believers, ‘You can’t prove it not to be true.’)”[20]

Contained in these paragraphs is an endnote, further explaining why the Street Epistemologist must avoid metaphysics,

“Metaphysical discussions center on the furniture of the universe – what exists or does not exist. Bringing metaphysics into a discussion is usually fruitless and may even be counterproductive, in some cases pushing people further into their faith and metaphysical delusions. Conversations about what there is, as opposed to how one knows what there is, cannot gain cognitive traction because the entities in question (God, angels, demons) have no attributes that leave a footprint in the natural realm. Given this starting condition, there’s nowhere for the conversation to move. Consequently, these discussions almost invariably devolve into he said, she said.

One reason many people assign belief in God a high number on the Dawkins’ Scale is because they started with metaphysics and worked their way back to epistemology. That is, people started with the belief God exists and then asked themselves how they know this. This is confirmation bias. No discussion of alternative formulations of what there is (maybe there’s a God but it’s somehow limited, maybe there is a God but in creating the universe it extinguished itself) will divorce this self-interested bond with metaphysics.”[21]

These paragraphs further expose the explicit philosophical mark of sophistic pretentiousness among the New Atheist movement. Boghossian waxes laboriously against the allegedly deluded maniacs holding to a faulty epistemology of faith, which is comfortably defined in such a way that lends support to his atheistic presuppositions so that serious interaction can be altogether avoided, all while begging the most important metaphysical questions. It is transparently absurd to suggest that the very thing under dispute, namely, the existence of God to which faith would be extended given this metaphysical reality, should be ignored as a topic of conversation so that the seeds of epistemic doubt can be planted in the mind of a believer. If God is in fact among the objects of our metaphysical reality, it cannot be rationally suggested that belief in the existence of God is intrinsically delusional. Rather than entering into a serious, sophisticated, intellectually honest discussion with a religious believer, Boghossian is training his army of Street Epistemologists to openly engage in egregiously vapid and dishonest sophistry. Truth is not on the table in these interactions, rather, winning an argument against less astute adversaries is the goal. Nobility, then, has no place among the character of the Street Epistemologist. They are charlatans eager to spread lies.

Moreover, Boghossian ignores the fact that metaphysics is always in the philosophical driver seat. Every epistemological theory is going to presuppose a metaphysical understanding of the surrounding reality we participate. For example, the Cartesian “cogito” rests squarely upon the metaphysical bifurcation of reality according to the presuppositions of substance dualism. An externalist epistemology coupled with a functionalist solution to the mind/body problem presupposes metaphysical naturalism/physicalism. Boghossian shows his metaphysical cards when he asserts, “God, angels, and demons do not have the attributes which leave a footprint upon the natural realm.” This statement presupposes an unexamined metaphysical naturalism, which is also being coupled with a self-referentially incoherent epistemic scientism.

The metaphysical naturalism of the atheistic worldview is viciously circular in its statements concerning the nature of reality and how we attain knowledge about this reality. The circularities of the atheist goes something like this – science explains everything about reality, which we know because anything that science cannot explain doesn’t exist, which we know because whatever exists must be explicable by science, which we know because science explains everything about reality.[22]

Despite all of these devastating faults of the Street Epistemologist project, there is more damage to be levied against their fatuous game of semantic trickery.

Prior to the now recognizably defunct definitions of faith, Boghossian says that this term is notoriously problematic to define due to the slipperiness of meaningless religious deepities. This too is a false claim.

Consider these references for proper definitions of faith:

“In preparing and instructing men in the teachings of Christ the Lord, the Fathers began by explaining the meaning of faith. Following their example, we have thought it well to treat first what pertains to the virtue.

Though the word faith has a variety of meanings in the Sacred Scriptures, we here speak only of that faith by which we yield our entire assent to whatever has been divinely revealed.”[23]

Student: What is Faith?

Teacher: Faith is the first of the Theological virtues regarding God. It is His proper office to enlighten the intellect, rouse it to every belief which God reveals to us through His Church, even if it might be very difficult and more sublime than natural reason.”[24]

“Faith is man’s response to God, who reveals himself and gives himself to man, at the same time bringing man to a superabundant light as he searches for the ultimate meaning of life.”[25]

“By faith, man completely submits his intellect and his will to God. With his whole being man gives his assent to God the revealer. Sacred Scripture calls this human response to God, the author of revelation, ‘the obedience of faith.’”[26]

* The Catechism of the Catholic Church goes on to provide two individual examples of perfect exemplars of what it means to have faith, that is, assent to what God has revealed.

“To obey in faith is to submit freely to the word that has been heard, because its truth is guaranteed by God, who is Truth itself. Abraham is the model of such obedience offered us by Sacred Scripture. The Virgin Mary is its most perfect embodiment.”[27]

Faith is a grace – “When St. Peter confessed that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, Jesus declared to him that this revelation did not come ‘from flesh and blood,’ but from ‘my Father who is in heaven.’ Faith is a gift of God, a supernatural virtue infused by him. ‘Before this faith can be exercised, man must have the grace of God to move and assist him; he must have the interior helps of the Holy Spirit, who moves the heart and converts it to God, who opens the eyes of the mind and ‘makes it easy for all to accept and believe the truth.’”[28]

Faith is a human act – “Believing is possible only by grace and the interior helps of the Holy Spirit. But it is no less true that believing is an authentically human act. Trusting in God and cleaving to the truths he has revealed are contrary neither to human freedom nor to human reason. Even in human relations it is not contrary to our dignity to believe what other persons tell us about themselves and their intentions or to trust their promises to share a communion of life with one another. If this is so, still less is it contrary to our dignity to ‘yield by faith the full submission of…intellect and will to God who reveals,’ and to share an interior communion with him.”[29]

Faith is a personal act – the free response of the human person to the initiative of God who reveals himself.”[30]

These definitions and descriptions tell us a number of things about the true nature of faith while simultaneously exposing Boghossian’s incompetent mishandling of the subject.

First, they provide a very clear, concise, and easily understood definition of the term – faith is an assent to what has been revealed by God. Far from being the impossible task of wading through the theological and metaphysical ‘deepities’ of superstition, the definition is easy to discover and comprehend if a person is willing to charitably interact with the relevant material. The fact that Boghossian relies on the support of an incoherent characterization offered by an embittered former evangelical is a manifestation of his own laziness rather than astute intellectual capability.

Second, these definitions and descriptions indicate just how wildly far off the mark Boghossian is in his treatment of the term. Faith is not based on a series of evidential probabilities weighed by the rationalist dictates of secular reason, but an assent to what God has revealed about himself, reality, and the salvific path toward beatific vision. The content and methods of faith are not the same as those utilized by the physical sciences, nor can the content and methods of faith be reduced to the standards of empirical verification. To suggest that a reduction like this is even possible is to fundamentally misunderstand the topic under discussion. A feat such as this would be as misguided as attempting to determine the qualitative literary properties of Tolkien’s work by bringing Lord of the Rings to a chemistry lab for empirical testing. Boghossian is recognizably guilty of committing a disastrous category error.

Third, these definitions and descriptions expose a central mistake expressed in the pontifications of Boghossian’s project, which is the treatment of faith as being a one-sided event in the life of the believer. Contrary to this mistreatment, faith is an assent toward something, namely, revelation. On Boghossian’s specious view, faith is treated as a leap into the irrational abyss of metaphysical nothingness. But this is not how the believer understands faith. There are two sides to the coin. On one side is the object of revelation – God – and on the other is man’s capacity to move in authentically free, and submissive obedience toward that object by an act of faith.

Fourth, by misunderstanding the interactive relationship between revelation and faith, Boghossian has entirely misrepresented any meaningful understanding of what a Christian epistemology might philosophically entail. The comparison of his cartoon version of faith as a faulty epistemic theory with that of his unjustified atheistic scientism is an exercise of duplicity.

Fifth, as previously indicated, the approach Boghossian takes on this topic begs the most important metaphysical question, which in this case is whether it is true that God exists. He takes it for granted that God does not exist, mocks the notion that a rational demonstration may be possibly articulated, criticizes erudite philosophical articulation of demonstrative arguments for the existence of God as nothing more than sophisticated semantic delusions, implores his followers to avoid even discussing the topic due to its metaphysical complexities, incorrectly treats faith as an illogical jump into a metaphysical chasm of absurdity, and shifts the dialogue from being a philosophical interaction to a psychological intervention. To say that this is philosophically problematic would be a significant understatement.

What is clear following this analysis is that Peter Boghossian is arming his battalions of Street Epistemologists with dull and damaged weaponry. The interactive maneuvers recommended in this Manual may have an affect on those who are uninformed and ill equipped for the battle, but they do not stand a chance against the Church Militant committed to doing spiritual warfare.

The Sacred Scriptures tell us that, “The life of man upon earth is a warfare.”[31] St. Paul advises us to,

“Be strengthened in the Lord an in the might of His power. Put on the armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the Devil. For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against the Principalities and the Powers, against the world rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness on high. Therefore take up the armor of God, so that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and stand in all things perfect.

Stand, therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of justice, and having your feet shod with the readiness of the gospel of peace, in all things taking up the shield of faith, with which you may be able to quench all the fiery darts of the most wicked one. And take for yourself the helmet of salvation and the sword of the spirit, that is, the word of God. With all prayer and supplication pray at all times in the Spirit, and be vigilant in all perseverance and supplication for the saints.”[32]

If we do not put on the full armor of God when meeting those who look to do battle against us, whether it is the devil, the demons, or a Street Epistemologist preaching an antichrist evangel, we may fall prey to their wicked stratagems. To safeguard against this potential scenario, let us arm ourselves with the truth, which is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The victory has already been won, now we must boldly walk toward the fire of spiritual warfare.


– Lucas G. Westman

[1] Gen. 3:15

[2] Douay-Rheims Holy Bible Commentary

[3] Rev. 12:17

[4] John 8:44

[5] 1 Tim 3:15

[6] A Manual for Creating Atheists, Pg. 16

[7] Ibid

[8] Ibid, Pg. 17, 18

[9] Pg. 22

[10] Pg. 23

[11] Pg. 23

[12] Pg. 24

[13] Pg. 23

[14] Pg. 23

[15] Pg. 24

[16] Pg. 24

[17] Pg. 24

[18] Pg. 25, 26

[19] Rom 1:22

[20] Pg. 79

[21] Pg. 98, 99

[22] A version of this circular explanation of naturalism can be found in David Bentley Hart’s book, The Experience of God.

[23] The Catechism of the Council of Trent, Pg. 11

[24] Catechism of St. Robert Bellarmine, Pg. 191

[25] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd ed., Pg. 17

[26] Ibid, Pg. 44

[27] Ibid, Pg. 45

[28] Ibid, Pg. 47

[29] Ibid, Pg. 47, 48

[30] Ibid, Pg. 52

[31] Job 7:1 Douay-Rheims

[32] Eph 6:10-20

Apologetics, Blessed John Duns Scotus, Philosophy, The Franciscans, Theology

Philosophy as Prayer & Praxis – Bl. John Duns Scotus

John Duns Scotus on the First Principle

“May the First Principle of things grant me to believe, to understand and to reveal what may please his majesty and may raise our minds to contemplate him.

O Lord our God, true teacher that you are, when Moses your servant asked you for your name that he might proclaim it to the children of Israel, you, knowing what the mind of mortals could grasp of you, replied: ‘I AM WHO AM,’ thus disclosing your blessed name. You are truly what it means to be, you are the whole of what it means to exist. This, if it be possible for me, I should like to know by way of demonstration. Help me, O Lord, as I investigate how much our natural reason can learn about that true being which you are if we begin with the being which you have predicated of yourself.”

– Bl. John Duns Scotus, A Treatise on God as First Principle – 


– Lucas G. Westman