I hate literary pablum. I hate it even more when pablum is presented to a large audience in the place of thoughtful and informed writing. Bill Hamblin and Daniel Peterson gave the internet another steaming bowl of pablum with all the usual pretense of scholarship and intelligent writing but it fails to deliver on every front.
I’ve seen these two whine on Facebook about how they only have 800 or so words and that they can’t publish some detailed account of someone’s philosophy or belief. Such whining is baseless, because that isn’t being asked of them. Is it so hard to express something interesting about Aristotle’s God in 800 words? Not really.
PROTIP #1: Stop Wasting Words.
If you have 800 or so words to write about the God of Aristotle, don’t open with an unrelated story about Galileo. What does the other throw of Aristotelian Science in the Medieval University have anything to do with Aristotle’s Metaphysics? The answer is, precious little. This anecdote doesn’t serve your purpose, why include it? Why not just include an anecdote about the perceived distance between man and God in the Aristotelian schema?
PROTIP #2: Stop Being Illiterate
Seriously. There is no consensus among scholars who specialize in the works of Maimonides, Al Farabi, or Thomas Aquinas that they failed to incorporate and synthesize an Aristotelian philosophy into their faith. I doubt the both of you are even aware about the growing interest in Neo-Thomistic philosophy where plenty of modern Catholic philosophers attempt to meld biblical and Aristotelian thinking. Is any of that successful? I don’t know and more importantly, Hamblin and Peterson are not even aware they don’t know.
PROTIP #3: Actually Read Aristotle
I have a feeling neither Hamblin nor Peterson did much more than glance at some kind of gloss of Aristotle before writing that piece. I take a dim view of their scholarly ability to be anything but lazy and shallow, so it didn’t actually surprise me they couldn’t get much right about the 12th book of Aristotle’s ‘Metaphysics’. So when they make this complaint:
The unmoved mover, endlessly contemplating itself because it's the only thing in the universe worthy of its notice, seems unlikely to pay any attention to the sufferings of less worthy beings such as, say, humans. And if it truly affects all other things but cannot be affected, there appears little point in praying to it. One might as well pray to a rock.
I knew poor Aristotle was in for a rough mishandling. In the interest of Philosophy proper, here is a passage from the previously mentioned book (1072a21-8 ):
There is, then, something which is always moved with an unceasing motion, which is motion in a circle, and this is plain not in theory only but in fact. Therefore the first heavens must be eternal. There is therefore also something which moves them. And since that which is moved and moves is intermediate, there is a mover which moves without being moved, being eternal, substance and actuality. And the object of desire and the object of thought move in this way: they move without being moved. The primary objects of desire and of thought are the same. For the apparent good is the object of appetite, and the real good is the primary object of wish…
What’s this? Desire gives the means for the unmoved mover can cause motion without moving itself? Interestingly enough, Aristotle described heavenly bodies as capable of feeling a love and desire for God (‘On Heavens’ 285a29), could it be that the entire world has a desire for God? In this same chapter we read(1075a11-25):
We must consider also in which of two ways the nature of the universe contains the good or the highest good, whether as something separate and by itself, or as the order of the parts. Probably in both ways, as an army does. For the good is found both in the order and in the leader, and more in the latter; for he does not depend on the order but it depends on him. And all things are ordered together somehow, but not all alike- both fishes and fowls and plants; and the world is not such that one thing has nothing to do with another, but they are connected. For all ordered together to one end…all share for the good and the whole.
It is simply dishonest for an actual reader of Aristotle to come to the same conclusions Hamblin and Peterson did, because Aristotle certainly ascribes order and goodness to the entire world because of the eternal mover and it makes little sense to say that God achieved this by kicking off a series of causes, but ultimately remains aloof.
In the 7th book of the ‘Metaphysics’, Aristotle equates God as a way of life, because God’s thinking about primary substances is what started the creation of the universe and in that creation is a desire to manifest itself in perfection. When creation desires or thinks about God, it is doing so to be more like God, this gives the order and goodness we find in the universe because God is order and goodness.
So there is a consistent way for someone who holds to an Aristotelian kind of philosophy to conceive of God as this prime mover who doesn’t directly meddle in the affairs of creation. For example, take a righteous paragon (I dunno, like Abraham maybe) who is ever turning his mind to God and exercising his ability to close in on the perfection of his being, so that he is able to better apprehend the will of God and share that inspiration. Such an event might look like God is giving something to Abraham directly, but a close inspection of categories and causation as expounded by Aristotle could reveal the opposite (Maimonides comes close to this view in his ‘Guide For The Perplexed’).
I know Deseret News isn’t exactly a shining example of informed commentary, but when it employs a couple of PhDs in good faith to produce a short and insightful column, it should get that. Instead, Peterson and Hamblin just sort of make shit up and don’t care about the consequences. It is a wonder why they got removed from NAMIRS.