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Colin Brown is senior professor of systematic theology and has been at Fuller since 1978. Prior to this he taught at institutions in the United States, Germany, Canada, and his native England. He is also an ordained Priest in the Episcopal Church. The author of numerous texts, I recently finished his "Philosophy and the Christian Faith" which is an overview of Christian philosophy since the middle ages. The book moves rapidly (all to rapidly) from Anselm and Aquinas to the 17th century empiricists. Brown gives a superficial treatment of the medievals and clearly shows contempt for them. Here I wish to respond to one particular point Brown made against the Thomistic Five Ways. Speaking of the arguments as stated by Thomas Aquinas, he says:
"The very least of these objections is that, in the case of the Unmoved Mover, the argument leans heavily upon an outdated, Aristotelian pre-scientific view of the world. "
Brown explicitly states his objection; it is grounded in "Aristotle’s concept of everything being in motion as a transition from potency to actuality." Several points should be made here. This is modern arrogance on display. First, how exactly is Aristotle wrong about things being in motion or transition? Certainly there are areas where he improperly applies the concept of motion, such as in the case of wood being potentially hot or actually hot when it burns. But the concept as a whole, where does it err? Has the “post-scientific world view” that Brown seems to place such stock in solved the ancient philosophical problem of being verses becoming? Has it arbitrated successfully the debate between Heraclitus and Parmenides or has it simply taken sides? Has it reached a satisfactory answer to Zeno's Paradox? Also, how exactly is Aristotle (or Aquinas for that matter) “pre-scientific”? In the absence of equipment such as the telescope, geocentricism is the most “scientific” conclusion one could make. It is perfectly in-line with an empirical method that allows the primacy of sense perception. In other words, Aristotle’s world view is precisely that of Brown. Brown simply has access to more sophisticated and technologically advanced equipment that allows the senses greater perception than Aristotle and Aquinas had. Instead of attacking Aristotle as a method of undermining Thomas, one would think that Brown would laud both as foundational to modern empirical scientific method!
Brown also signals his basic agreement with the radical skepticism of David Hume and his attack on causality. The basis of the criticism is that we never actually see causes, we only ever see effects. What we call cause and effect is in reality a mere “customary relation.” If in some far away land, a farmer hears a rooster crow and then the sun comes up, he may inadvertently attribute the rooster crowing as the cause of the sun rising. The same principle, argues Hume, is applicable to the universe. Obviously we cannot give a full account and refutation of Hume here, but several quick points should suffice:
1.) As in the case Mark Twain, the reports of the death of causality at the hands of David Hume have been greatly exaggerated. Hume does not in any way destroy causality (which is an irrefutable axiom) but merely brings a radical skepticism to our ability to know a true cause. Changing the name of cause and effect to “customary relations” does not vanquish the foe as Hume wishes.
2.) This kind of radical skepticism is easy to say but impossible to live. One would like to ask Hume if he lived his life in such skepticism or was it only in certain chosen areas which he deemed “safe”? Would he walk across the street without any regard for large, fast moving carriages coming his way? Or would he conclude that being run over by a team of horses does not necessarily cause great bodily injury or death? After all, being hit by a team of horses and being injured is only a “customary relation.”
3.) Radical skepticism of this kind leads to the belief that there is no knowledge. As Augustine demonstrated to the academicians long before Hume, this view is defeated on its own premise: To claim there is no knowledge is to claim some knowledge.