Would Thomas Aquinas be an Atheist if He Were Born in the 21st Century?

A favorite of 'scholarly' deists is to fall back on the teachings of Thomas Aquinas. Any time you say anything about the dangers of putting too much emphasis on ideas percolated well before 99% of what we currently know to be fact, these guys take it as a personal affront either for themselves or poor old Thomas, or in one case as an indictment of the 13th century. They trot out how enlightened it all was in the 13th century, with all the university's being founded and such. Not so much about the 4th through 9th Crusades, the Children's Crusade, the Medieval Inquisition, the Church condemnations (including some of the works of Aquinas himself), the fact that University's were placed outside of secular law allowing students freedom for all sorts of crime, and the fact that the 'Queen of the Sciences' taught at these places to rich kids was theology. The 'natural sciences' as taught were based mostly on the teachings of Aristotle, another intelligent guy who was completely wrong about what we now think of as science. If you were a scholar you had to learn Christianity in Europe. Everything else was learned from that perspective. God was a priori knowledge. The pope granted great latitude to university curricula. Except when you taught heresy that would get you excommunicated. In other words, the scholarly theists cherry pick what they need at the moment just like always.

To argue against the ideas is to attack the man. I have a bombshell for you. I personally find Aquinas to be an extremely interesting and important figure from history. I also believe that he was clearly very intelligent and a skilled writer. He also was pretty wrong about the actual science. Here's a quote about spontaneous generation (admittedly a persistent meme that survived until Pasteur conclusively proved it false).

Since the generation of one thing is the corruption of another, it was not incompatible with the first formation of things, that from the corruption of the less perfect the more perfect should be generated. Hence animals generated from the corruption of inanimate things, or of plants, may have been generated then.

I don't include that to belittle the man at all. He was a man for his time. But what if he wasn't?

The whimsy I propose is something that I have thought about from time to time. It's part of the old nature or nurture argument. What would a man like Aquinas born and raised in our time, think of what he wrote in his own time? Maybe it sounds silly, but I'm not convinced that a modern version of Aquinas would have come to the same conclusions as one from the 13th century. If he was the thoughtful and insightful man his modern acolytes insist he was, what if any, would have been the effects of modern knowledge? If he had attended modern university would he have emerged like Behe, like Ruse, or like Shermer?

In light of current science would he have concluded that once you remove yourself from all the word games what evidence is left? Impossible to know. But it's something to consider when these guys trot out the religiosity of some scientist from a few hundred years ago. They never seem to stop to consider what those scientists would think today - particularly now that the penalty for spiritual honesty is not roasting on a stake.


pboyfloyd said...

Yea, sure, and what about Aristotle, is he a great 'argument from pure reason' dude?

Seems to me that they absolutely loved his argument from pure reason.

I know that I'm totally wrong here but I imagine a Ray Comfort kind of guy yammering on about the shape of a fucking banana, just to run interference for the politicians who doubled as theologians back then, basically keeping the population disenfranchised, where they 'belong'.

Seems to me that the two flagships of atheist pure reason, ".. is God powerful enough to ban evil but just doesn't want to, then why worship him?", and, "Does God enforce morality or create morality?", ought to be enough to convince everyone really, because they suggest there's no need for God, instead of trying to invoke Him, which is invoking magic.

pboyfloyd said...

Seems to me that the 'best' argument theists have against those two arguments against gods has been set aside since they stopped imprisoning people for blasphemy.

"Know what? You're hurting Christians' foo-foos! Maybe a bit of hard labour will cure you of that!"