by Bill Nugent
So great was the impact of Thomas Aquinas on the medieval church that his philosophy is called simply “Thomism.” Writers don’t even have to bother to use his surname when referring to his work.
Thomas Aquinas was born in Aquino Italy in 1225 and entered the Abbey at Monte Cassino at age five. He was received into the University of Naples when he was fourteen and during his time there he joined the recently formed Dominican order of friars. At eighteen he entered the university of Paris where he studied under the renowned scholastic philosopher Albertus Magnus (Albert the Great).
He spent the bulk of the remainder of his life at Paris where he wrote his towering intellectual and theological works, the most prominent of which are Summa contra Gentiles and Summa Theologica. He died in 1274, his brilliant, impactful career coming to an end before he attained the age of fifty.
The dominant philosophy of the 13th century was calledScholasticism which was a rigorous, logically deductive system of thought that integrated faith and reason. The rational philosophy of Plato and Aristotle was synthesized and harmonized with the knowledge given by special revelation from God in the Bible. It wasn’t a joining of Greek paganism with the Bible but was a joining of Greek logic to scriptural truths. Philosophy was considered the handmaid of theology. Scholasticism was founded by Boethius (480-524) but reached its zenith under Aquinas.
There are two major modern misconceptions about Thomism. One is that Thomas was overly reliant upon Aristotle. While Thomas drew much from Aristotle’s logic he was also sharply critical of many aspects of Aristotelianism. Another misconception is that Thomas separated faith and reason. This error is especially ironic because the major thrust of Thomism is to synthesize faith and reason. Thomas clearly distinguished between faith and reason but never separated them as being antagonistic. He regarded Christianity as a reasonable faith not a blind faith. He asserted faith in the primacy of the Bible’s special revelation but used logical reasoning to buttress Christian truth.
Thomas countered the teachings of the followers of the philosopher Averrhoes Ibn Ruoshd (1126-1198) and others who asserted a double truth theory. The Averroists claimed that a revealed truth (i.e., a truth given by revelation from God) could be logically false. This is the separation of faith and reason that Thomas and all consistent Christians oppose. The fact that we oppose the separation of faith and reason doesn’t stop atheists and other secularists from accusing Christians of believing logically false things.
For instance, atheists consider certain aspects of the creation story in the book of Genesis to be unscientific. Christian creationists counter that the creation account is not unscientific and there is mounting scientific evidence that not only points to the necessity of a creator but also points to a reasonable inference that creation unfolded in exactly the way that the book of Genesis describes.
Thomas laid out five proofs for the existence of God. They are rational proofs. Faith is supported by reason. Thomas’ fifth proof is often called the teleo-logical proof for the existence of God. This is the proof that asserts that the universe shows evidence of design, therefore there must be a designer.
The teleo-logical argument is one often used by present day creationists to prove God’s existence. Creationists, which include many Ph.D. scientists who are part of the Intelligent Design Movement in science, point to the extreme complexity of single celled organisms as evidence that these must have been created by an intelligent designer.
Francis Crick, Nobel prize winning co-discoverer of DNA, has acknowledged that even the building blocks of life such as proteins are extremely complex molecules. Crick even went so far as to calculate the probability of the random formation of a 200 link chain of amino acids. Crick acknowledges that this 200 polypeptide chain is a small protein yet the chance of it forming randomly is one in ten to the 260th power.
Those who study probability say that something with a probability of one in ten to the 50th power will essentially never happen. Crick calculated the random probability of the formation of just one small protein and found it to be so improbable as to never happen. A simple bacteria is composed of over 200 varieties of proteins which in turn have to be assembled in precise order, a mind boggling improbability of it ever happening by chance.
What all this proves is that the very foundation of evolution, which is chemical evolution, could not have happened in a trillion years. It is reasonable to believe that life has a designer. The designer is God. Reason undergirds faith just as Thomas Aquinas wrote over seven centuries ago.