Richard Howe: How Do I Know That I Know?; Defining the Good [2020 NCCA Apologetics Confc, 2]

As noted in my previous post in this series, in solidarity with a friend who was a presenter there, I signed up to attend (online) the 2020 annual National Conference on Christian Apologetics (NCCA). That link gives the schedule, with titles and speakers, for all the talks. This conference was organized by the Southern Evangelical Seminary (SES), in Charlotte, North Carolina.   When I saw the name “Southern” and “Evangelical”, I wondered if this seminary might be somewhat closed-in and anti-intellectual. It turned out to be just the opposite – – rather than hiding from difficult questions of ontology and epistemology, they have engaged fundamental intellectual issues with rigor and consistency.  Their approach is unique among evangelical seminaries: they have embraced the classical Thomas Aquinas (Aristotelian) philosophical framework, and rigorously weave it into their whole curriculum, to try to give a coherent account of the world and our place in it. That approach came through strongly in the two talks I summarize here.

How Do I Know That I Know?  by Richard G. Howe, Professor Emeritus, Southern Evangelical Seminary.   Oct. 17, Talk 5

The speaker here, Dr. Richard G. Howe, is an emeritus professor at SES. His doctoral thesis in philosophy dealt with the work of Thomas Aquinas, so he is versed in Thomistic thought. In this talk he uses a somewhat whimsical question, “How do we know we are not living in the Matrix?” as an entry to a meaty discussion of “knowing” (epistemology). I cover this talk in some detail, and also a second talk of his, which makes for a long article here; the reader may want to take more than one sitting to work through this. One reason for the step by step treatment here is that this is my first depth exposure to Thomism, and so this blog post is in part an exercise for me to try to make sense of it all.

Dr. Howe’s approach to knowledge is encapsulated in the quote above, from Aquinas: our knowledge begins with our physical senses, with what we can see, hear, taste, touch and smell, although it is completed in the intellect or mind.

There are two general pushbacks he gets from people regarding these propositions. One question is, “How do I know that I can depend on my senses, that they are reliable?”  That is the concern he will mainly address here.

(There is another concern often held by Christians, which is “If all knowledge begins in the senses, how do you get knowledge about non-physical things? Like logic or morality or metaphysical issues like causality, or God?”  Dr. Howe noted that that this concern can be readily addressed by understanding what is meant by “completed in the intellect”, but it would talk a whole separate talk to unpack that).

How Do We Know We Are Not Living In the “Matrix”?

Dr. Howe’s talk here grew out of discussions he had with Jason Lisle, an astrophysicist with the Institute for Creation Research, and Scott Oliphint, a professor at Westminster Theological Seminary. Both of these men hold (in slightly different forms) to presuppositionalism in their view of knowledge. Christian presuppositionalists stress that any system of thought must begin with certain axioms or presuppositions and then reason from there; they claim that starting with theistic (and particularly biblical) presuppositions leads to a more coherent system than starting from atheistic, materialist presuppositions. Unsurprisingly, they had objections to Dr. Howe’s more empiricist approach. Dr. Howe has written up a summary of these discussions here.

A key challenge posed by Lisle was:

Howe has tacitly presupposed (among other things) that our senses correspond to reality.

How does he [Howe] know that he’s not in the ‘Matrix’ and that his sensory experiences have nothing to do with the real world?”    

(For those too old or too young to have seen the movie, the “Matrix” was a deceptive, computer-generated reality). Dr. Howe will reply that he is not “presupposing” that our senses correspond to reality, in the sense that Lisle claims. ButDr. Howe first rebuts the “Matrix” challenge by showing that the assumptions underlying Lisle’s question about the “Matrix” lead to an untenable infinite regress.

The first step is to tease out an implication of this question: “Lisle’s question implies that I could know that I know reality only if I know that my senses are reliable.” That seems fair enough – – only if we know our senses are reliable would we dare to connect our perceptions with what we call “knowledge”.

Dr. Howe then notes that whatever “means” is used to prove that my senses are reliable, that means itself would need to be proven reliable. Thus, you would need to have a “means number two”, to prove that means number one is reliable in assessing the reliability of my senses. But how do we know that means number two is reliable? We would need a “means number three”, to justify or prove the reliability of means number two. But then this means number three would need yet another means to justify it. And so on and so on, in an infinite regress.  This is a reductio ad absurdum demonstration that Lisle’s question itself is philosophically improper.

Like All Circular Reasoning, Presuppositionalism Is Formally Valid, But Only In a Trivial Sense

Now, Lisle thinks that he doesn’t have an infinite regress here, because he thinks he knows that God (through the Bible) has told him that his senses are reliable. This presupposition supposedly cuts off the regress. Lisle holds that a biblical worldview (and only a biblical worldview) can justify knowledge. Lisle has put it this way: “Sensory experience is only reliable if our senses correspond to reality; and only the Christian worldview can rationally justify this.”  He relies on the Bible as the “supreme authority in all matters”. ( I think Lisle’s claim here is pretty typical of Christian presuppositionalism – – that all thinkers have to start with some unprovable presuppositions, and that starting with the truth of the Bible ends up being the only self-consistent approach.) 

But Dr. Howe asks, how do you know that you are in fact getting your Christian worldview “from the Bible”? What are you using to discover whether a given book is in fact a “Bible”? At a minimum, you have to use your eyes to distinguish your Bible from a dictionary or a thesaurus. And once you open up your Bible, how do you know what you’re reading in the Bible is actually there? Maybe your senses are deceiving you, and what you think you are reading in your Bible is not really what the Bible says.

So Lisle would already have to know that his senses are basically reliable, to be able to read the Bible (and then to find there certain passages which affirm the reliability of the senses).

This becomes a vacuous, circular argument: Lisle assumes sense reliability, reads his Bible and finds that it affirms sense reliability, which justifies his initial presumption of sense reliability. But Lisle is not bothered by this circularity. He claims, “Circular reasoning is actually logically valid”.

Dr. Howe responds that Lisle’s observation here about circular reasoning is trivial, and does nothing to advance his point. (The essence of circularity is that the conclusion is also one of the premises, so of course a circular argument is formally valid, in the sense the conclusion is consistent with the premises). Lisle justifies or at least excuses his circularity by responding that all epistemologies are circular. “In fact, all ultimate standards must be defended in a somewhat circular way”.

This is consistent with the teachings of the dean of presuppositionalism, Cornelius van Til, who stated that all such reasoning is circular: “The starting point, the method, and the conclusion are always involved in one another.”

Presuppositionalism Has Already Succumbed to Erroneous Assumptions Underlying Contemporary Philosophy

Dr. Howe observes that the solutions that presuppositionalism offers are directed towards the problems that arise out of modern (analytic) philosophy. These problems include the following: how we can know our senses are reliable; the correspondence of thoughts to external reality;  the problem of justifying induction and  the ongoing uniformity of nature;  Hume’s skepticism of our knowledge of causality;   knowledge as justified, true belief;  the is/ought (fact/value) dichotomy, and so on. 

In trying to answer these problems in the manner that they do, presuppositionalists demonstrate their tacit commitment to the assumptions of the very philosophy that created these problems. But Dr. Howe holds that mainstream contemporary philosophy has simply gone wrong; in Scholastic metaphysics (i.e. Thomism) these problems do not arise. The underlying issues of reality and truth are already consistently handled within Scholastic metaphysics, so there simply is no problem of induction or of is/ought dichotomy, etc.  (While these “problems” are inherently resolved within Scholastic metaphysics, establishing the case for that whole metaphysical package was beyond the scope of this talk).

Dr. Howe notes that Lisle has implicitly bought into “critical realism”. Realism holds that there is an external reality, independent of human observation or perception. That is a common sense position held by nearly every functional human being. But if you think that somehow you have to prove that there is that external reality, or prove that you not in the Matrix, that position is known as “critical” realism. This is a largely a view unique to the modern era. Since the time of the Greek philosophers, issues such as how to avoid optical illusions or the role of intuition versus raw perception in forming our perceptions have been discussed. But ancient and medieval thinkers in general did not question the very existence and accessibility of external reality.

Dr. Howe suggests that the widespread idea that we need to prove the existence of external reality is largely the legacy of Rene’ Descartes (1596-1650). Descartes held that sense perception was unreliable, and tried to base his philosophy purely on thought and deductions. (He wrestled with the thought that maybe he was just being deceived by some evil demon into thinking he was in fact sitting by a fire writing philosophy; this was a seventeenth century version of the Matrix problem).

But Descartes’s doubting of external reality is inherently futile. The very posing of the question of proving external reality makes it impossible to prove that external reality. In the words of Etienne Gilson:

After passing twenty centuries of the very model of those self-evident facts that only a madman would ever dream of doubting, the existence of the external world finally received its metaphysical demonstration from Descartes. Yet no sooner had he demonstrated the existence of the external world, than his disciples realized not only was his proof worthless, but the very principles which made such a demonstration necessary at the same time rendered the attempted proof impossible.

An Alternative to Circularity and Futile Skepticism

Dr. Howe contends that the presuppositionalists are simply incorrect in their contention that all reasoning is circular, since Thomism is not circular in the sense that presuppositionalism is. In contrast to typical contemporary philosophy, Dr. Howe contends that he does not start with presuppositions or assumptions or other such abstract intellectual categories.

Rather, he starts with “reality”.  As a classical/Thomistic realist or empiricist, Dr. Howell argues that the existence of the external world is self-evident.  It is reality. There is nothing anterior to reality from which I could even begin to make a demonstration, the conclusion of which is “reality”. This is because any place that I thought I would start would already itself be part of the very reality that I think I am trying to prove.

We (normally) directly perceive reality and we know that we are doing so. Anyone who argues against this must tacitly suppose that both he and his opponent are in fact able to perceive a common world and thus have a common understanding of at least some of the terms they are debating. Otherwise the opponent of realism would not have any reason to even enter into such a debate. Thus, attempts to deny the direct perception of reality are self-refuting. (This is my paraphrase of Dr. Howe’s argument here.)

Does this mean that you can never be mistaken in some of your perceptions? No, it does not mean that, but that is not what the original question was. The challenge was not, “Is it possible that in some particular instance we are mistaken in what we thought we heard or saw?”  Rather, the challenge was “How do you know that you know anything whatsoever through your senses?”

From the Physical to the Metaphysical

At the end, Dr. Howe returns briefly to the concern he mentioned earlier, which is how do we get from raw physical perceptions to less tangible things like logic, metaphysics, or God? The short answer is that all of these metaphysical questions are ultimately addressable through our knowledge of the sensible world, though it takes some sustained thinking to get from here to there. In inferring metaphysical truths, we can reason from effect (i.e. aspects of the observable physical world) to cause. Time did not permit a full treatment of all this, so the following just outlines some of the approaches here.

He circles back to the original quote from Aquinas, that knowledge “begins in the senses, but it is completed in the intellect”. Gilson states that the senses are bearers of a message which they themselves cannot understand, for the intellect has to decipher it. You as a knowing subject, an intellect, are back behind the data stream of sensory perception, integrating and making sense out of that data.

For instance, how do we arrive at the laws of logic, e.g. the law of non-contradiction? That’s not something we can touch, taste, see, hear or smell. Thomists would say it is not a problem for their system, because the laws of logic are characteristic of existence, of being.  The physical things that I am experiencing through my senses all exist.

Reality is something that you can know through your senses and intellect, and logic is a characteristic of reality or being. In fact, we state the law of non-contradiction in terms of being: “A cannot be both A and not A at the same time and in the same respect,” or “A cannot be both true and not true at the same time and in the same respect”.

The reason some people think there’s a “problem of induction” is that they say that you can’t know that the future is going to be like the past. Currently we can observe that pure water at sea level freezes at 32°F (0°C), but (they say) we can’t know that it will freeze at that temperature tomorrow. Dr. Howe responds that, yes, I can know that, because I (as a Thomist) know the “nature” of water. (The nature or essence of a thing is well-defined concept in Thomism). He says, “Because I already have a metaphysical understanding of the nature of things, and I understand what change is and what sameness is and what the nature of a thing is and what its properties are as opposed to its nature”, he can affirm that water will freeze at 32°F  tomorrow, without getting tied up in skeptical knots.

Finally, how do we get to God? We can’t taste, see, hear, touch or smell God. This seems like an even tougher question then, say, the laws of logic, because God is an infinite being. The answer is that we reason from effect to cause, from the observable physical world to its Creator.

Dr. Howe did not go into the details of this particular inference process, but I understand from other readings that the way in which Thomists reason from the physical world to its maker is a more sophisticated and defensible methodology than the “Intelligent Design” arguments which are commonly employed by evangelical Protestants. Brian Huffling gave a talk at this 2020 NCCA conference dealing with these issues, called “Why Arguments from Natural Science Cannot Prove the God of Christianity and Why Philosophy Can”. I cover that talk here.

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Hold Fast to the Good by Richard G. Howe, Professor Emeritus, Southern Evangelical Seminary.   Oct. 13, Plenary.

Christians are exhorted to “hold fast to that which is good” (I Thess 5:21). But what is “the good”? That is the subject of this plenary lecture. This talk is framed in terms of Aristotelian/Thomistic metaphysics.

Because Aristotelian vocabulary is so foreign to most of today, I am afraid that if I just summarized the key points of this talk as a bunch of bullet points, it would be a waste of time; the average reader would say,”Huh? Why would anyone ever believe that stuff? Is this just all just throwing words around?”   Therefore in fairness I have elected to mainly repeat (with some pruning) what Dr. Howe said, section by section, to let his case be built in his way.  He acknowledges that his assertions depend on the validity of Thomistic metaphysics, which would merit a longer defense than he could provide here.

Much time is necessarily spent up front defining philosophical terms before working around to what might constitute the good. Even that is left in general terms, so this talk does not result in a set of detailed, specific rules of behavior that would constitute “the good”.  The intent, I believe, was to lay a conceptual groundwork for further, rational discussion of specific moral issues.

The Need to Determine What Is Actually Good

The will of the human always aims at what is apprehended as the good, in the same way as the intellect always aims at what is apprehended by it as the truth. Could it ever be wrong for people to do what seems good to them? Yes, if what they think of as good is actually evil.

Confusion over what is actually good and evil in the moral realm is analogous to confusion over what is true, in the intellectual realm. We can believe something to be true that actually is not true. Sometimes that could be an innocent mistake, while in other cases for us to believe something can be an indictment against us, e.g. “The fool has said in his heart there is no God” (Psalm 14:1), and “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil” (Isaiah 5:20).

Defining Some Terms: Nature, Properties, Essence, Form, Potential, Teleology, Privation…

Before we can appreciate what moral good and evil are, we have to understand what good and evil are more broadly.  We use the word “good” in many ways, such as a good pizza, a good car, a good knife, and a good person. When we talk about a knife or an automobile being good, we are clearly not talking about moral good. But when we talk about a person being good, we usually do mean moral good. So what is common in our use of the word “good” for all these things?

A kitchen knife (not a butter knife) may be used as an example, to establish some concepts.  A kitchen knife was displayed, of the type used for cutting up meats and vegetable. A good knife of this type “ought” to have a sharp blade. That property is part of its nature or essence as a good kitchen knife. More formally stated,

A perfect X is an X that has all its properties; an imperfect X lacks one or more of its properties.

By “properties” we mean characteristics, but not just any characteristics. You wouldn’t necessarily say that a knife was not a good knife because the handle was black instead of tan or had a chrome handle versus a leather handle. Whether it does or does not have those properties seems relatively indifferent to it being a good or not so good knife. The sharpness of the blade is not the same as its color of handle. There is something about what the blade should be like by virtue of it being a kitchen knife.

A thing has a “nature”. Philosophers use the term “nature” to refer to an essence. It is that about a thing which makes it the kind of thing it is. A human has a human nature, a lion has a lion nature that makes each of these the kind of thing that it is.

Plato and Aristotle use the word “form”, in other contexts, to denote a thing’s nature. It is that in terms of which a thing is what it is. It is a metaphysical concept. It’s not physical, you don’t see the nature or form itself, although you see the nature expressed physically in terms of the material particularization. (The trend in modern thinking is to deny that a thing actually has a nature or essence; rather, what seems like an essence is just a category or set of characteristics that human minds impose on a thing or set of things. No time to debate this issue here.)

A thing can go through changes, yet still be the same kind of thing (e.g. a human can grow from a baby to an adult, and still be a human). An acorn is on a trajectory to become a full grown oak tree. Barring some outside intervention, the acorn will not get off the rails and become a banana plant. It can never become anything other than what its nature determines it to be, as it goes through its changes, aiming towards its end goal. Those changes are the “actualization” of its “potential”.

In the process of acorn going to a sapling to a full grown oak, the potency or capacities are real in the acorn, and set it on this inevitable trajectory towards its final end or goal, to become nothing but an oak tree (again, if there is no outside interference). That is its “teleology”.

“Perfection” is to have the end or goal of a thing to be fully attained, that is, for its potency to be realized. To be real or actual, is to have being, to have existence. So existence perfects or completes a thing.

What about evil? “Evil” has traditionally been understood or defined as something gone wrong, such that something that ought to be there but is missing. Evil in this broader sense is not necessarily moral. For instance, if a rabbit lost a leg in a trap, such that it was hopping around on three legs, that would be considered an “evil”, since normally a rabbit is expected to have four legs.

That is called an evil or a privation. It is the missing of a good, the missing of a perfection, the missing of the realization of one of its potencies. “Privation” is the lack of a good, the lack of something that is part of something’s nature.

Blindness would be an example. Blindness is a privation of sight, but it is not a thing in itself.
A rock cannot see but it is not “blind” because it’s not part of the nature of a rock to be able to see”. If a human is blind, however, philosophers may consider that an “evil”, although this is not meant to have moral connotations. In everyday English we probably would not call the loss of sight to be “evil”, although we would come close by saying “Oh, that’s too bad”.

What Does It Mean To Be Human?

It is not my DNA that makes me human. Rather, being a human is what makes my material body have that particular DNA. It’s my human nature as a metaphysical constituent (my “form”), that causes my constituent matter to be arrayed as it is. My form as human causes my matter to have five fingers, two eyes, etc., unless something interferes. So my humanness causes me to have the DNA I have.

The question of what it means to be human arises with “transhumanism” – people ask how many parts could you replace in the human (e.g. with robotic arms and legs) and still be human or no longer be human. That question has a false philosophical assumption that what it is to be human is to be above a certain threshold of accumulation of parts. But there is no such threshold. What it is to be human is a metaphysical aspect of the individual human being.

This perspective on humans also undergirds the pro-life perspective on abortion. As soon as the egg is fertilized the zygote in the womb is human, even though it doesn’t have any of the parts that we think of as part of the human. It does not have any limbs, for instance. But it is human.

The Nuremburg trials of Nazi officials at the end of World War II raised the question of what is human or humanity. The justices could not try the Nazis for breaking the laws of the Allied powers, since they were not citizens of the U.K. or the U.S., etc. On the other hand, they could not generally indict them on the grounds of breaking German law, because the German laws had been shaped to accommodate Hitler’s “Final Solution”. So the judges accused them of
committing “crimes against humanity”.

But what is a “humanity”? Is it real in any sense of the term? You don’t find “humanities” as such in this world. If it’s just a label, just a concept and nothing more, just a human cataloging, then how can you commit a crime against it? But if you say it is real (in some sense of the term “real”), then it is very likely that your understanding of humanity is somewhere along the lines of Plato or Aristotle.

There is something unique about humans among animals. Granted that biologically, humans are animals. Aristotle viewed humans as “rational animals” – – animals, but with a unique rationality. Rationality gives us the capacity to think, especially to think in terms of categorical “kinds”, such as trees or humans, in addition to experiencing individual humans, individual trees.

Another thing that rationality does for us, that is unique to humans, is it gives us the capacity to deliberate among options or choices, and on how we act. We have free will (without trying to sort through all the nuances here). Our free will allows us to make choices about the way we act. Why does that matter? Because a lion will never fail to act like a lion. It never does act like a cheetah or leopard or identify as a hyena, unless there is some interference through sickness or disease or injury, etc. That is true of every animal.

However, humans can choose to act in defiance of what it is to be human. But who says what it is to be human? Who says what humans are supposed to be?

When we think of the teleology that arises from a human nature we can think about it in at least two different ways.  In terms of our material body, our teleology parallels the teleology of any other animal. We go from a zygote to a full grown adult human. We will not accidentally become a lion or a banana plant. We will never fail to achieve that end game of our bodies, unless something interferes.

But we also possess an “inner man”, which may be philosophically described as our moral side:

Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (II Cor. 4:16-18)

Notice the distinction – -the outward man is perishing but the inward man is being renewed day by day. The outer man is our physical bodies. As you get older, past prime adulthood, your body deteriorates. But our inner man, our heart, our soul, can be renewed. Our soul can go in the opposite direction of the body. It can become more godly, depending on how we conduct ourselves. Unlike with a body’s development, we don’t become virtuous people automatically. That is unique to us humans, to have this capacity, to choose to act the way God wants us to act or not.

Why Should We Do What Is Good?

We generally understand what a good human body is, but what is a good human soul? If you look at all the world philosophies and religions, for the most part you find amazing agreement among all of them, concerning what they consider a good human to be. There is a sort of pattern that most people seem to acknowledge.

But why should I act a certain way? Well, for one thing, we have a natural, healthy desire to “perfect” ourselves (i.e. to realize our potentials, for our flourishing). People will always act toward what they think is satisfying and completing for them. The problem is not whether the will aims at some “good”; the problem is whether the will is aiming at what is the real good. Or have we called evil good and good evil?

(As Christians, we say there is more to the story. Once a person is saved and filled with the Holy Spirit, by the enablement of the Holy Spirit we are able to achieve even higher levels of goodness and righteousness in our lives. It’s one thing to not murder somebody but it’s another thing to forgive those who harm us and to try to do them good.)

Ideally, at least, a governor or medical official has been put into place with the mission of helping the people under their jurisdiction to flourish. Presumably they have access to broad information, and they are able to give directives which are good for the people. So in principle that is why you would do what they say, because you want to flourish.

In an analogous way, God is the superintendent of all that he has created. If someone asks, “Why should I do what God says?”, part of the answer is, ”What God says you should do, simply is your flourishing”. God is looking out for our well-being, so we do what God says, because it leads to our flourishing.   He has the authority to give us those commands, because he is the infinite creator; it’s all his property.

If we run with the whole Aristotelian/Thomism metaphysics, with its view of humans and their natures, it is possible to derive some moral principles, without having to explicitly appeal to the moral teachings of the Bible or to God. These derived moral principles are “objective”, because they do not primarily derive from mere societal opinions about right and wrong (which change from generation to generation), but from the first principles of a sound philosophy about reality itself. This Thomistic approach differs from common evangelical discussions of the role of God in obtaining an objective morality. [This paragraph is my wholesale rephrasing of what Dr. Howe said on this subject].

Eternal Flourishing

As human beings, we have multiple ways to view our teleology. As Christians we have not only the development of our body and of our soul, but we also have an eternal teleology, moving toward our eternal goal.  The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. To know and relate to God forever is what we are created to do, for our eternal flourishing.

Two Old Testament examples of God doing things unilaterally are given. In Genesis 2, God put Adam into a deep sleep and removed a rib of his, from which the woman was created. Adam was essentially passive in this operation. When God made a covenant with Abram (Genesis 15), again Abram was in a deep sleep, and God simply made a promise of what he would do. (This contrasts with the covenant at Sinai, which was two-sided – – God said, “I will do this, but only if you do that.”) The only response that Abram made at that time was to believe God; that faith was credited to Abram as righteousness (Gen. 15:6).

The New Testament (“New Covenant”) hearkens back to the Abrahamic, rather than the Mosaic covenant. God in Christ has unilaterally undertaken our salvation. It is not something we can accomplish by our own efforts. Rather, we accept by faith the free gift that is offered to us. To paraphrase Romans 4:5, “To the one who believes on him who justifies the ungodly, his believing is accounted as righteousness”. And this leads not only to a more satisfying life here and now, but to further glorious transformation in eternity.

God and the Good

So what does all this say about God and the good? So far we have defined as good the general actualization of potentials. But God does not have a teleology; he’s not trying to be all he can be. He already just is everything to which our finite teleologies are sign posts.

We have talked about potency or capacities being actualized, and also about “perfections” (i.e. fully completing a thing by making real or actual all of its potential, like real leaves and branches appearing for the acorn).  These things are taking on being, existence. That’s the key. Being is the thing that is the reality that we identify as the perfections or the goods. Being and Good are the same thing, in a sense (although that doesn’t mean that everything in life is good).

God is being and truth and goodness in his very substance. This cuts through the so-called Euthyphro dilemma (Is something good because God commands it, or does God command because it is good?). The answer is implicit in what we have stated, namely that what we understand to be good ultimately is the same as what it is to be.

All the possible goods and perfections in this finite created order are just finite glints of the eternal immutable being that God just is. For us, we see God‘s infinite beauty, truth and goodness reflected in finite ways, by means of how this whole creation operates. Beautiful sunsets, noble lions, beautiful oak trees, and good human beings are all pointing toward something that is eternal infinite existence itself.

This is because it is existence itself that causes every perfection to be at all. All the perfections of the created order exist in God unitedly, in one simple eternal act of being. So that’s why God is good: because God is being. He is the great “I am”.

You can contact Dr. Howe at if you have questions. See also his web site at .

The next post in our series on the 2020 NCCA talks is: Fazale Rana Disputes Evolution [2020 NCCA Apologetics Confc, 3] .

About Scott Buchanan

Ph D chemical engineer, interested in intersection of science with my evangelical Christian faith. This intersection includes creation(ism) and miracles. I also write on random topics of interest, such as economics, theology, folding scooters, and composting toilets, at . Background: B.A. in Near Eastern Studies, a year at seminary and a year working as a plumber and a lab technician. Then a B.S.E. and a Ph.D. in chemical engineering. Since then, conducted research in an industrial laboratory. Published a number of papers on heterogeneous catalysis, and an inventor on over 100 U.S. patents in diverse technical areas. Now retired and repurposed as a grandparent.
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4 Responses to Richard Howe: How Do I Know That I Know?; Defining the Good [2020 NCCA Apologetics Confc, 2]

  1. Pingback: Ken Wolgemuth on Preparing Homeschool Students for University Science, and on Grand Canyon and Noah’s Flood [2020 NCCA Apologetics Conference, 1] | Letters to Creationists

  2. Pingback: Fazale Rana Disputes Evolution [2020 NCCA Apologetics Confc, 3] | Letters to Creationists

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  4. Pingback: John Sanford Disputes Evolution [2020 NCCA Apologetics Confc, 5] | Letters to Creationists

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