Paul's Passing Thoughts

From the Reformation to the Third Reich: Protestantism’s Impact on Western Culture – Part 4

Posted in Uncategorized by Andy Young, PPT contributing editor on March 10, 2017

The following is part four of a multi-part series.
Taken from John Immel’s third session
at the 2014 Conference on Gospel Discernment and Spiritual Tyranny
~ Edited by Andy Young

Click here for introduction
Click here for part two
Click here for part three
Click here for part five
Click here for part six
Click here for part seven
Click here for part eight
Click here for conclusion


In the previous article we were discussing the re-introduction of Aristotle into Western thought. This is a breakthrough of epic proportions because the ideas of Aristotle are directly responsible for liberty and the explosion of human achievement that takes place in the 17th century.

Aristotle understood that universals do not exist in some transcendent world of Forms as Plato taught, but rather they are the product of human cognition. Man’s capacity for reason makes it possible for him to understand similarities in identities in the physical world and categorize them in such a way that brings order to reality. This is in stark contrast to Plato and other contributors to Western thought to this point. They held human reason in contempt and regarded human senses as inferior for being able to interpret the word around them.

Aristotle’s metaphysical premise regarding the nature of existence and the subsequent epistemological qualification that resulted in acknowledging man having ability to correctly interpret reality led Aristotle to some logical conclusions regarding the behavior of particulars. The behavior of a particular is defined by its nature. The essential characteristics of a particular are what define its identity. The essence of each thing is unique to that thing. This is what all science is based on. The axiom of human existence are understood in three laws.

The Law of Identity
This is the primary axiom of which the other two laws are corollaries. The Law of Identity says that any object cannot both be and not be at the same time. Man cannot be both “man” and “not man.” A horse cannot be both “horse” and “not horse.” “A” cannot be both “A” and “not A.” Aristotle said it this way:

“If, however, a definition, for example, man, horse, A, were not limited, but one were to say that the word is an infinite number of meanings, obviously, reasoning would be impossible. For not to have one meaning is to have no meaning. If words have no meaning, our reasoning with one another and ourselves has been annihilated, for it is impossible to think if anything we do not think of but one thing.”

Think of the conversations that you have had and how frustrating it is how often the Neo-Calvinists change definitions, and they place mutually exclusive ideas together. This is what they are doing. They are annihilating reason.

Paul Dohse is very fond of talking about the grammatical approach. Words are really a description of entities, and it is our means by which we communicate the nature of our perceptual experience. Words hold abstractions and concepts. So when somebody says to you, “the clear meaning of scripture,” what you first must say is “clear by what context?” Because unless you have the Law of Identity in action, you will find that they don’t have a context. It is usually a free-floating abstraction, and they are treating the abstraction as if it is the only thing that matters. The Neo-Calvinists are masters of wrecking the Law of Identity.

The Law of Non-Contradiction
The first corollary to the Law of Identity says this:

“It is impossible then that being a man should mean precisely not being a man. And it is not possible to be and not be at the same time. But the point in question is not whether the same thing can at the same time be and not be in name, but whether it can be [and not be] in fact.”

This is the important part. Can something actually exist as two mutually exclusive things? The answer is no, never. A perfect example of this is the expression coined by Martin Luther, Simul justus et peccator – “simultaneously saint and sinner.”

The Law of the Excluded Middle
The second corollary to the Law of Identity says this:

“But on the other hand, there can be no intermediate between contradictories, but if one subject, we must either affirm or deny on any one predicate. This is clear, in the first place, if we define what the true and the false are.”

He is basically saying you can’t punt. If you cannot figure out how to reconcile a contradiction, you cannot relegate it to the abyss of “mystery.” In the book, Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand put it this way:

“Contradictions do not exist. If you believe you have found a contradiction, check your premises. One of them is wrong.”

The problem within the Medieval world was they would never check their premise. They always had an explanation for what it was, and so they could never identify an error. You see this dramatically within churches. It is stunning to watch them rationalize one of two directions, either why God is for them or God is with them. The church’s roof falls on everybody; God is against them. The church’s roof falls on everybody; God is with them. And in each instance, you have mutually exclusive ideas. Is it God’s judgment or is it God’s blessing? And they will do Herculean reasoning efforts to try to justify why are they both and the same – the exact same event is basically two separate outcomes. You are ultimately looking at a violation of the Law of Excluded Middle. You cannot punt. If you find an inconsistency in your thinking, you have something fundamentally wrong with your thinking.   Consider how that impacts a vast percentage of Christian doctrines!

In summation, the identity of “A” is in fact the identity of “A”. The particulars of “A” must never contradict. For “A” to maintain its identity, there can be no middle compromise on something not “A”. This is the foundation of causality. It is because man can identify “A” and hold no contradiction on the identity of “A” that empowers man to successfully make a distinction and see the relationship on how the particulars interact.

Without causality, everything in reality remains a totally unprecedented event. Man cannot tell why one thing happens versus another. This is crucial to understanding reality. The foundations of causality, the laws that govern causality, are a corollary to the correct judgment of reality. The inability to identify cause and effect is man’s central and greatest failing, and insanity is directly tied to the inability to act to identify causality. Our internal “reality testers” are directly related to our ability to identify cause and effect between objects in space; abstractions and action and motion.

So now you can begin to grasp why it is that all effective human cognition flows from Aristotle- all laws of logic, all of man’s conceptual capacity, all of man’s reason, and most importantly, man’s capacity to grasp the world in which he lives.

Question: Why is this a threat to despots the world over?

Second question: Why has every oppressive ideology sought to unseat Aristotle?

Third question: Why do tyrants cling to Aristotle’s shoulders while trying to cut off his head?

Here is the answer. Because Aristotelian thought means that:

  • Existence is knowable, understandable, and practicable.
  • All men have the ability to arrive at the truth.
  • Knowledge is available for all who would use the laws and the rules of logic to obtain it.

This foundational concept was revolutionary. It was the original Copernican shift from the transcendent world of Plato’s Forms. Indeed, without Aristotle’s foundation, Copernicus was not possible, and neither is any other advance in human knowledge.

Here is Aristotle’s greatest impact on Western thought. When using the laws of thought, the mind of man is effective to understand man’s existence. An existence that is identifiable is an existence that is understandable. An existence that is understandable is an existence that is explorable. An existence that is explorable is an existence that is controllable. An existence that is controllable is an existence that man can master.

And this is exactly what happened. Thomas Aquinas introduced Aristotle into the horror story that was the Augustinian Dark Ages, where crime was a starving serf eating the king’s deer, where punishment was an iron maiden or the rack or the stocks, where civil liberties meant the government could do no wrong because the king had a divine right to any action, where child labor law was mandatory 16-hour days scratching in the fields of the lord’s property with a stick to plant the lord’s crops so that the father can pay the lord’s taxes, where plagues were heaped on the heads of sinners, where the princes and kings waged yet another war against the Lollards or the Catholics or the Protestants, and teenagers pledged their oath of loyalty to fight in religious wars.

Aristotle’s ideas soon inspired the Renaissance. I want you to notice the contrast between Medieval art and the art of the Renaissance. Consider the impact of Aristotle in the Sistine Chapel. Now man is no longer this cringing, horrified, tormented beast, writhing in the flames in the pit of hell. Now man is portrayed as the very image of his own Maker! It is a powerful contrast. This is how the entire progression of ideas have impact as this metaphysical statement rolls out to people, and now they begin to roll back to themselves through art in the images and the pictures that affirm their metaphysical, epistemological and ethical assumptions.

For the next hundred years, this philosophy moves in fits and starts. It travels down blind alleys, intellectual cul-de-sacs. By the time we get to the 17th century, philosophers are exceedingly aware that they need a new start. A new start equated throwing off the Augustinian metaphysical and epistemological framework. Mysticism and dogmatism continued to wreck everything it touched. Something was very obviously wrong.

The thinkers in the 17th century merely had to observe that the human history was dominated by ignorance, superstition, poverty, and despotism. Revelations did not work. “Faith” was merely government-enforced superstition. Dogmatism was really despotism. Despotism led to oppression and poverty. Philosophers needed a new method. This new method was Reason.

The Age of Reason gave way to the Enlightenment of the 17th century. Reason became the standard, and the world was beginning to actually understand the world which man lives. Notice the explosion. You should recognize most of these names – Bacon, Galileo, Newton, Descartes, Locke. These men represent the core, the explosion of the power of human reasoning and what it ultimately produced. Here is where man finally gains freedom.

There is the one thing, however, that remained to be figured out – political thought. The power of Aristotle’s metaphysics and epistemology ultimately worked out into the area of ethics. We now have an ethical standard where man is able to determine value, and the nature of this ability is what empowers him towards self-governance.

I consistently ask this question, who owns man? There have only been two options in the whole history of the human race: either the State owns man or man owns himself. In political action, this is how man finally came out from underneath the horror story that was the Middle Ages, the horror story that was the Augustinian doctrine, the horror story that was made after Calvin.

This brings me to the emergence of John Locke and the issue of capitalism. This will be the central issue in National Socialist Germany and ultimately how it impacts the United States.

To be continued…

Click here for introduction
Click here for part two
Click here for part three
Click here for part five
Click here for part six
Click here for part seven
Click here for part eight
Click here for conclusion


2 Responses

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  1. John said, on March 11, 2017 at 8:44 AM

    Great series, John Immel. Just when I thought it was safe to go back to not thinking.

    Luther’s contradictory and yet (obviously) deeply loved axiom in Calvinist/Reformed circles, “simultaneously saint and sinner” has some ramifications. “Hey, I can’t help being a pedophile, abuser, rapist, stripper, prostitute, murderer, liar, pastor, elder, certified counselor, sponsor of a poor African child – only 5$ a month will secure the African child three meals, a shoe..and the ESV! – at the same time, because I am both saint and sinner.” (Which tells me they don’t know which one they are. Jekyll and Hyde much? Which further tells me they don’t know much about the New Birth and what it actually accomplishes there and then…when it happens, because something once happened).

    But because all people have the ability to arrive at the truth, and because we are applying logic, we can see through Protestantism’s guano. An ex-Calvinist friend told me once it’s all about truth and not about feelings or warnings or opinions. Yes, I said, but whose truth? Just to have ONE verse does not validate an entire movement: That is called cultism. One question can’t have two opposing true answers. One is faking it.

    Interesting conclusion and aspect about art (I can’t even tell why a subsequent cup of coffee never tastes as good as the first one; how much less would I know anythin’ ’bout art?). I have noticed some gargoyles and other evil-looking things in certain “churches”; either on the façade or on the inside.

    And because the word “art” has cropped up in my comment, I have every right to ask: Is it an “ism” or is it “art”? (From an author-illustrator living in Africa, according to the Tube. I wonder if he has shoes?)


  2. lydia00 said, on March 13, 2017 at 2:38 PM

    The Reformation was political. (The YRR go into fits when I say this but it was)

    The 95 Theses are all about indulgences. The princes and electors were sick of sending money to Rome not to mention all the land owned by Rome.

    The put Jesus lipstick on a political power dilemma.


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