Can we do what Scotus and Aquinas did?

As some-one who has been studying the works of medieval John Duns Scotus I am aware of how much he used the pagan philosophical writings of Aristotle to analyse and defend what the Church taught. It was using non-biblical sources to defend traditional teaching. it was against a background when some were trying to do the opposite and undermine the church and when parts of the church were trying to ban the writings of Aristotle.

I wonder if today if we did must do what Scotus and others did, by using parts of modern science theory to actually defend what the church teaches, not to see modern science as some kind of biblical rival, but also an evangelistic and apologetic source. That is the challenge for those of us who do have training in the sciences.

Only if we’re honest.

One of the things I admire about Aquinas was his insistence that he not only know, but be able to repeat the strongest possible opposing arguments - putting them even in better lights, if possible, than his opponents could. “Steel manning” (as opposed to ‘straw manning’) is a recently coined term for that. It would go a long way toward good forum atmosphere if we all would invest ourselves into understanding those we imagine are our opponents in that kind of light. Then one of several things happen. Either your own responses are able to withstand that best possible advance; or you must alter your position or arguments in response to that advance (iron sharpens iron). Or perhaps your interlocutor is in the right and you need to change your position. …Or… perhaps you no longer have an answer, but feel led of the spirit to maintain your conviction in the face of the superior argument you see arrayed against it. At that point, honesty should compel you to acknowledge your opponent’s strength, and the humility of your own weaker position before it - living in the simple trust that answers must exist, even if they are beyond your access at the moment. But in none of these cases is the misrepresentation of opponents (or any whiff of ‘end justifies the means’) ever a valid option.


The philosophers of the Middle Ages used Aristotle and Plato to better understand theology and the world. No problem with that.

The problem today is that we need a new philosophy to understand theology and the world. The old one is no longer adequate to the the foundation for both science and theology, but is is the old forms of Western Dualism which block the formation of new ways of seeing Reality. Stephen Hawking was right about this, even though I would most likely disagree about the new form of the new philosophy.

We are cursed and privileged to live in a pivotal period of human history. God has chosen us to make a difference. .

I believe that we can almost use any subject to tie into faith. Such as I can use the drive for life through evolution , where it’s not just death but new life being created through death as species evolve, to overlap with new life in Christ through his death and resurrection.

Even though we are not alone as far as statistics state, we can use statistics of earth being habitable to show that God is here, even if he’s also at 1,000 other galaxies and so on.

But we can’t use science to prove God. Like we can’t use the gaps in understanding biogenesis as a home for God as a scientific reason for his existence because we can’t answer it otherwise yet.

But we can use almost any subject as a introduction to Christ.

As a Thomist myself, the answer is yes.

Scotus likewise gave fully value to discussing the merits of his opponents.

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Yes we need to engage with the philosphies of today, which is what I meant about doing what Scotus and Aquinas did with Aristotle. Not that we should also use Aristotle and Plato as the church did. The whole realm of theoretical physics, and discussions of moral character and ethical values are ripe for theological engagement.

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We should note that the New Testament references to the ‘logos’, the ‘third heaven’ and the ‘powers of the air’ have no basis in the OT, and seem to come from the cosmology of Greek philosophy, especially stoicism and Middle-Platonism. Remember also that according to Romans 1:20, all humans have ‘some’ knowledge of divine truth.

Whoops! Sorry to have necessitated Moderator intervention. My apologies (Christy! Mervin!).

So, @Reggie_O_Donoghue, why, in your humble opinion, should we remember Paul’s rhetoric?

Often there is a lot we can learn from philosophers (and scientists doing philosophy) – useful ideas and terms they define – even if we don’t agree with their conclusions. A big example for me is the word and idea of “memes” coined by Dawkins. He used it to justify the worst of atheists accusations that religion is a disease and I take this parallel he has drawn between genes and ideas to suggest that the mind represents a different (memetic) form of life altogether. In this way, Dawkins argument is shown to be completely absurd, since genes do not equal disease then we have no reason to equate memes with disease either.

So yes it is not only a good idea but a necessity to engage with the philosophies of today. But that doesn’t mean we have to buy into them, for in that there is the danger that they can replace Christianity to some degree which I see happening with Neoplatonism to some detriment to Chrisitan thought.

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Where does he do that? Dawkins defined the meme as a unit of cultural transmission.

People can theoretically know truths about Christianity without divine revelation

That’s all I know. I know nothing directly by divine revelation. Including divine revelation.

Not according to Scotus. We have can arrive at limited knowledge of God from the natural world. I doubt we would know God was Father, Son and Holy Spirit from a knowledge of the world. That came via revelation instigated by God.
Or have I misunderstood your meaning?

Doubt? Nothing in nature requires God, let alone so complex a one.

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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