St. Anselm and the Ontological Argument

The Ignored Anselm
When I was seminary I read a few books whose authors seemed to take great joy in hating on St. Anselm. I don’t remember what they were at this point, but it still struck me as weird. He would be dismissed as somebody who was overly philosophical, he would be lampooned as having come up with a silly proof for God’s existence, or he would be criticized for foisting his medieval economics upon the gospel in Cur Deus Homo. I’m not sure that any of this criticism was warranted. I’ve been rereading Anselm and found his work to be quite edifying.

The Ontological Argument
Since I’ve graduated from seminary and started reading more philosophy I’ve discovered that the Ontological argument is not limited to Anselm (though his expression of it seems fairly original). I don’t really buy the argument because it relies (on the surface any how) upon innate knowledge rather than empirical experience. Aristotle was right on that score and so was St. Thomas. Nevertheless, it was weird to read theology text books making fun of the argument or even hearing lectures by theologians (none of my profs, just some courses I downloaded from bigger name schools on itunes university) making fun of it. The problem with doing so is that the argument has been treated much more thoroughly since that time and perhaps in much more rigorous ways than Anselm did (for his piece was also meant for devotional purposes, not merely philosophical). Anyhow, since Anselm, some version of the ontological argument has been put forward by:

  1. Rene Descartes (see his meditations) It’s also important to note, that despite his critiques of Descartes, Hume seems to have mentioned in a letter to a friend in Edinburgh, that Descartes argument still remained convincing enough. Though this could be Hume’s attempt at having his cake (being an atheist) and eating it too (not wanting to admit it).
  2. Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (it appears in several of his papers)
  3. Georg Hegel
  4. Kurt Friedrich Gödel (volume 3 of his collected works)
  5. Alvin Plantinga

Some of these are more rigorous than others. But its not like the argument hasn’t received attentional due its ridiculousness. Gödel’s version has even been verified as logically valid using computer science in an experiment meant to show the utility of computers for formalizing arguments. Hegel, as far as I know, never actually stated his version of the argument, but he claimed to have it. Plantinga’s possible worlds model is weird to me because I don’t buy into the whole “possible worlds’ model of argument seems wrong headed. Rene Descartes’ version of the argument starts from global skepticism and moves from there. It at least shows that if we doubt everything we must then infer our own existence, followed by God’s own being. Again, I’m not saying that any of these are necessarily true arguments. I’m just saying that Anselm wasn‘t some medieval hack who sullied our theological heritage. It is also important to note that there are some interpretations of Anselm‘s argument that have almost nothing to do with proving God’s existence at all, but that his argument is instead an attempt to understand what it means to the intellect to have faith in the Christian God (Barth, Anselm: Fides Quarens Intellectum).

I’ll post more later on Anselm’s supposed understanding of the Atonement. To put it briefly, it isn‘t so wrong as all that.


Body of Christ

Nick posted about the Body of Christ. His chief insight, which is true, is that Jesus himself, though head of the church, is a member of the church. This is because the head is a member of the body. It reminded me of how a man I work with prays. He prays, “In the name of our older brother, Jesus.” Sometimes people mention to me that that find this unusual. So I point them to these passages (ESV today, didn’t feel like translating this morning):

Mat 12:48-50  He asked the man who told him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?”  (49)  Then pointing with his hand at his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers,  (50)  because whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

Rom 8:29  For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that the Son might be the firstborn among many brothers.

Heb 2:10-18  It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through suffering as part of his plan to glorify many children,  (11)  because both the one who sanctifies and those who are being sanctified all have the same Father. That is why Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers  (12)  when he says, “I will announce your name to my brothers. I will praise you within the congregation.”  (13)  And again, “I will trust him.” And again, “I am here with the children God has given me.”  (14)  Therefore, since the children have flesh and blood, he himself also shared the same things, so that by his death he might destroy the one who has the power of death (that is, the devil)  (15)  and might free those who were slaves all their lives because they were terrified by death.  (16)  For it is clear that he did not come to help angels. No, he came to help Abraham’s descendants,  (17)  thereby becoming like his brothers in every way, so that he could be a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God and could atone for the people’s sins.  (18)  Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

Without any in depth exegesis, it can be seen that from the point of view of the gospel writers, of Paul, and of the author of Hebrews (Paul according to Dave Black) that Jesus is our brother and we are his. He is not less our Lord for this, but he does look after us as an old steward who ensures that those within the family of God remain in good graces with the Father of the house. In other words, if we wish to know how to be the beneficiaries of the house, is should look to Jesus. If we want to know what the beneficiaries receive, we should look to Jesus. If we want to know how to deal with sufferings and persecutions, we should look to Jesus. If we wish to know what to do when our household memberships are in conflict, we should look to Jesus. Jesus is the head of the church, but not merely in the authoritarian sense. He is the head of the church in the sense of being its first member, of being the older brother of those who are members, and in the sense of being the paradigm for membership. 

Self-Experimentation and Peer-Reviewed Evidence

I’ve mentioned before that I have a genetic bone disorder and have utilized my interpretation of scientific publications to self-experiment. At least once, this self-experimentation has had positive health results. Other times I have merely yielded knowledge about what does not help. For instance, I’ve had pretty bad acid reflux for the past few years. I recently discovered from my mother that I also had terrible reflux as a baby. I might even have a weak LES muscle. I don’t know, I haven’t been to the doctor for it for years because they just prescribe proton pump inhibitors or histamine blockers. I can buy those and as far as I can tell, they have long term deleterious effects on the human body. 

Any how, I recently came across this article by Seth Roberts about self-experimentation (h/t Bruce Charlton). Roberts essentially argues that self-experimentation based on a frame of reference in a field can allow one to test assumptions within the field or to move forward toward different conclusions prior to determining the mechanisms of those changes. He likens the process to foraging and or have a hobby. Back to GERD-like symptoms:

Gregory L Austin et al., “A Very Low-Carbohydrate Diet Improves Gastroesophageal Reflux and Its Symptoms,” Digestive Diseases and Sciences 51, no. 8 (August 2006): 1307–12, doi:10.1007/s10620-005-9027-7.
In this study, a very low carbohydrate diet (consuming less than 20 grams a day) led to improved symptoms in all eight participants. The metric was a probe utilized to determine acid exposure time in the esophagus. There was no blind in this particular study, but the objective measurement is interesting. The measurements were taken before the diet was initiated and then six days later.

WS Yancy Jr., D Provenzale, and Ec Westman, “Case Reports. Improvement of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease after Initiation of a Low-Carbohydrate Diet: Five Brief Case Reports,” Alternative Therapies in Health & Medicine 7, no. 6 (November 2001): 120.

In this article records the case of five individuals who self-initiated a low-carb diet found themselves without frequent symptoms of heart-burn and indigestion. It is published in an alternative therapy journal, but it’s still peer reviewed.

The Pay Off

So, I started an extremely low carbohydrate diet about two weeks ago. The main purpose was precisely to decrease symptoms of heartburn that had become more frequent that non-heartburn. My existence had become somewhat miserable because if I happened to even eat a small snack, within minutes I would feel very full and bloated. I would have heartburn (even if I took medicine prior to eating) and the full feeling would last for several hours. If I ate lunch at work, I usually was not able to eat dinner or go to the gym at night. The only way to get food in prior to the gym was to eat around 10am, then just be full and miserable all day at work. This started around March, but the heart burn goes back to my early twenties.

Anyhow, I started the diet, eschewing the conventional wisdom that fatty foods lead to heartburn. I For the first two days I ate less than 20 grams of carbohydrates, continued drinking coffee, and obtained most of my carbohydrates from sauerkraut, spinach, and mushrooms. My protein and fat came from butter and meat. I expected my digestion to remain slow, but to at least experience less heartburn. Within two days, I had my first day with no heartburn and no medication. Upon increasing my carbs to about 50 grams per day, and allowing myself one “cheat day a week,” I have had only one serious experience of heartburn and 7 light flare-ups that went away as soon as I took an antacid or dissipated by the time I walked to the medicine cabinet. My digestion has sped up as well. Just Tuesday I ate a rather large lunch and was able to hit the gym by 3:45 without losing my food after dead lift.

So, despite conventional wisdom to the contrary, a high-fat, low-carb diet may assist with relief of symptoms related to GERD and indigestion.



On the Weird Stuff in Scripture

When you read the Bible you really do find a great deal of really, really weird stuff. Interestingly, I find weird stuff in almost everything I read whether fiction or non-fiction. For instance, the Pythagorean Theorem is super weird. It is a proven and easily provable theorem, I came up with a proof for it in high school (that’s not impressive, it had been used before) and came up with several others as a math teacher (again, upon searching all had been previously discovered). Nevertheless, it is weird. You wouldn’t intuit it by looking at a right triangle, yet it works. When I’m reading about other cultures, I regularly learn incredibly weird things. Reading about ancient history is a good way to find weird stuff. Reading in the sciences, several weird things appear. In many ways, nature is precisely counter intuitive. So, if there is a God and this God created nature and left us revelation of the path to true felicity, one might expect to find, in that revelation, a bit of weirdness. This is especially to be expected if this revelation was made to ancient peoples who possessed a mythological worldview and entertained several superstitions about the way(s) of divinity. Not only so, but the culture of the Biblical world is just different from ours, as are their idioms, expressions, and social habits. That being said, a great deal of Christians hear things like, “the Bible is a perfect revelation from God” and thus read the Bible expecting to find something that confirms their own bizarre notions of perfection. I would submit that the Bible is precisely inspired to have certain difficulties, to make a perfect system of theology impossible, and to require tremendous humility to understand because its purpose is ultimately to guide communities of people who dedicate their lives to God’s kingdom revealed in Jesus Christ. Indeed, prior to the time of Christ, the purpose of the Old Testament was, once again, meant to provide light to communities of people who dedicated themselves to YHWH, not to be immediately understandable and easily resolvable in its difficulties (Proverbs 1:1-7).


Joseph Butler on the Weird Stuff in Scripture

Hence, namely from analogical reasoning, Origen has with singular sagacity observed, that he who believes the scripture to have proceeded from him who is the Author of nature, may well expect to find the same sort of difficulties in it, as are found in the constitution of nature1. And in a like way of reflection it may be added, that he who denies the scripture to have been from God upon account of these difficulties, may, for the very same reason, deny the world to have been formed by him. On the other hand, if there be an analogy or likeness between that system of things and dispensation of Providence, which revelation informs us of, and that system of things and dispensation of Providence, which experience together with reason informs us of, i. e. the known course of nature; this is a presumption, that they have both the same author and cause; at least so far as to answer objections against the former’s being from God, drawn from any thing which is analogical or similar to what is in the latter, which is acknowledged to be from him; for an Author of nature is here supposed.

Joseph Butler, The Analogy of Religion: Natural and Revealed to the Constitution and Course of Nature, ed. W. E. Gladstone, vol. Vol. I, The Works of Joseph Butler (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1897), 8–9.

Similarly, Leonard Euler addresses this very issue in the context of polemics against freethinkers:

XXXIX. As for the arguments formed by these adversaries and the apparent contradictions they claim are in the Holy Scripture, it would not be useless to begin by remarking that there is no science, no matter how solid its foundation, against which one cannot make objections just as strong or even stronger. There are also apparent contradictions which, at first glance, seem impossible to resolve. But since we are in a position to return to the primary principles of these sciences, this provides the means by which to destroy these arguments. However, when they are not seen through to the end, these sciences lose nothing of their certainty. Why would such similar reasons be enough to remove all authority from the Holy Scripture?

XL. Mathematics is regarded as a science in which nothing is assumed that cannot be derived in the most distinct way from the primary principles of our knowledge. Nevertheless, there have been people far above average who have believed to have found great problems in mathematics, whose solutions are impossible; by this they imagined themselves to have deprived this science of all its certainty. Indeed, this reasoning that they propose is so deceptively attractive that much effort and insight is required to refute them precisely. However, mathematics is not lessened in the eyes of sensible people, even when it does not clear up these problems entirely. So then what right do freethinkers unwaveringly think they have to reject the Holy Scripture because of a few nuisances which mostly are not nearly as considerable as the ones in mathematics?

XLI. In mathematics, one also encounters rigorously demonstrated propositions that, when not examined with the highest degree of attention, seem to contradict one another. I could produce several examples here if their complexity did not require a deeper knowledge of mathematics than I suppose most readers to have. But I can at least say with assurance that these apparent contradictions are much more significant than those that are supposedly found in the Holy Scripture. Despite this, no one suggests dismissing the certainty of mathematics. This doubt does not even exist in those who do not have the capacity required to refute these contradictions and to demonstrate that they do not hold.

Euler, A Defense of the Revelation Against the Objections of Freethinkers.

Soame Jenyns on the Rationale of Difficult Revelation

MY second Proposition is not so simple, but, I think, not less undeniable than the former, and is this, that from this book may be extracted a system of religion intirely new, both with regard to the object and the doctrines, not only infinitely superior to, but totally unlike, every thing which had ever before entered into the mind of man; I say extracted, because all the doctrines of this religion having been delivered at various times, and on various occasions, and here only historically recorded, no uniform or regular system oftheology is here to be found; and better perhaps it had been, if less labour had been employed by the learned, to bend and twist these divine materials into the polished forms of human systems, to which they never will submit, and for which they were never intended by their great author. Why he chose not to leave any such behind him we know not, but it might possibly be, because he knew, that the imperfection of man was incapable of receiving such a system, and that we are more properly and more safely conducted by the distant and scattered rays, than by the too powerful sunshine of Divine illumination; “If I have told you earthly things,” says he, “and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things?”1 that is, if my instructions, concerning your behaviour in the present, as relative to a future life, are so difficult to be understood, that you can scarcely believe me, how than you believe, if I endeavoured to explain to you the nature of celestial beings, the designs of Providence, and the mysteries of his dispensations; subjects which you have neither ideas to comprehend, nor language to express? Jenyns, A View of the Internal Evidence of the Christian Religion.



Of course the Bible has weird stuff it is authored by human beings and it is allegedly inspired by the God who made the whole weird cosmos. Every religious, historical, fictional, scientific, and mathematical masterpiece has weird stuff in it because nature is weird, people are weird, and apparently God is weird.