Paul's Passing Thoughts

From the Reformation to the Third Reich: Protestantism’s Impact on Western Culture – Part 3

Posted in Uncategorized by Andy Young, PPT contributing editor on March 9, 2017

The following is part three 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 four
Click here for part five
Click here for part six
Click here for part seven
Click here for part eight
Click here for conclusion


The Re-Discovery of Aristotle!

St. Thomas Aquinas

In the previos two posts I have brought you up to the collapse of civilization. That collapse lasts for almost 800 years because Augustine stands virtually intellectually unopposed. There are some medieval theologians and so forth that do rise up, and some of them were pretty smart, but when it came right down to it, they had nothing important to say in the evolution of Western thought. The result is for all of their departures and all of their good ideas, they never abandon the rudiments of orthodoxy.

Then around 1250, St. Thomas Aquinas appears on the scene and reintroduces Aristotle into Western thought in 1250. Aquinas is critical because he integrated the philosophies of Aristotle into Christianity. I cannot understate the importance of this because the re-discovering of Aristotle is what makes the concepts of freedom and liberty as we know it possible. Aristotle is responsible for the coming Enlightenment Era and thinkers such as John Locke. I dare say that the United State would not have happened had it not been for Aristotle.

I want you to notice this timeline. Even with the contributions of Aquinas in 1250 AD, we do not get to freedom, liberty and knowledge until almost 1700! That means that man still spends another 500 years or so in this doleful horror story of the Dark Ages. But it is Aquinas who gives us Aristotle, and Aristotle bails us out of the madness.

The reason I want to talk about Aristotle is because because ultimately I am going to get to the impact of Neo-Calvinism on the United States of America.   By the time I get to the next two parts of this series, I want you to be absolutely aware that America is not possible without Aristotle and without John Locke.   You must know what you are about to lose and why you are about to lose it. And if you don’t understand this much, then you will never understand why I object so vehemently to Augustine and Luther and Calvin.


Now I’m not going to go over how Aquinas integrated Aristotle into Christianity. That would be a long and tedious project. So I’m just going to start with Aristotle and the elements and roots of Aristotle. Aristotle is the most important figure in all of Western thought. Aristotle was a student of Plato and spent 20 years in Plato’s Academy. For a series of reasons, he left Athens, and eventually, those series of reasons resolve and he came back to Athens and created his own school called The Lyceum. But while he was in Plato’s Academy, he was considered one of Plato’s best students, and he was a committed Platonist.

In the beginning he accepted the premise of Platonism and its full philosophical statement from the beginning to the end. However, during his time away from Athens, he began to rethink, and he decided Plato was wrong, and not just a little wrong, catastrophically wrong. As such, he began to rethink the whole of philosophy and the whole shape and scope of philosophy.

Now in the grand scheme of intellectuals, Plato was a genius on levels that is hard to grasp for people in everyday life. Still, Plato had ideas that came before him that he built on. Aristotle had nothing before him to arrive at his conclusions. Everything before him was exactly the opposite of what he said. So for Aristotle to arrive at the conclusions that he did is illustrative of the capacity of his own genius.

Aristotle objects to Plato’s world of Forms. He rejects Plato’s metaphysics at the root. Plato created a transcendent world where everything you see is actually a shadow of the real thing, of the perfect thing.   Those perfect things were actually located in this world called the Forms. There was a perfect table in the world of Forms, and the table that you see is a shadow. It is imperfect and therefore a shadow of this perfect thing.

Aristotle rejected this idea because he believed the Forms are a useless theory because it does not explain this world. This world is filled with particulars, things that move, change, grow and act. Particulars are independent entities that can be categorized by what they have in common, such as a dog, a tree, a man, a remote control. They are self-contained and self-enclosed things, something that exists in and of itself.

This is the world that man needs to understand. Man does not need to know Plato’s static supernatural world.

Here’s an example. This world has chairs, tables, dogs, and Calvinists. Plato says that to understand this world, another world must first have chairs, tables, dogs, and Calvinists. As far as Aristotle is concerned, this creates a useless duplication. All that Plato has done is create a useless metaphor that does not address the root question, how does this world reflect the world of Forms? By what mechanism does this take place? And of course there is no answer, because by definition, all that Plato was saying is this world of Forms is somehow a bright enough light that it casts a shadow here. But yet there is still this fundamental division, which means that man is still living in a world that is somehow functionally unreal.

Here is Aristotle’s major substantive objection. To understand this objection, I need to help you understand the distinction between universals and particulars. I have already defined particulars for you. Aristotle recognized that particulars can be categorized into universals. Universals are what is common to a number of particulars. It is the characteristic possessed by many particulars. What is the common denominator of say table-ness or chair-ness or circle-ness? When men conceptualizes these things, he universalizes the concepts into an abstraction.

Let me see if I can explain this.   Consider a remote control for your television. That particular remote controls a particular device, namely your television. You can generalize “remote” into a universal concept. That concept can be abstracted to the nth degree because now you do not have to remember every single remote you have ever see in your lifetime. You can now hold in your head the concept, the abstraction, of remote, and it encompasses all of the remotes on the planet. You see, this is an enormously powerful part of human cognition. It is Aristotle’s ability to identify the process of going from a particular to the universal (concept), to the abstraction that gives Aristotle’s metaphysics and epistemology such enormous power.

What Plato did is he took the human mind’s ability to conceptualize a universal and instead said “remote” has a perfect “remote” somewhere else, and that is how we know a “remote” generally. Aristotle says that is silly. What you just did is took the abstraction, “remote-ness”, created universal perfect “remote” somewhere in another world, and then said, oh by the way, this particular remote is only a reflection. So in other words, Plato took the universal and made it a particular. This is a powerful, powerful argument. He pretty much said Plato made up this world that had no function and no purpose and that all that was necessarily important was here and now.

Here’s how Aristotle explains this. We separate common characteristics of entities, particulars, by our selective awareness, by observing the differences among them. We then reduce things to a common denominator. And this is how we go from particulars to universals. When a baby first enters the world, he looks around and sees chair, chair, chair, chair, chair, chair, but he does not understand all of these chairs. At first to him these are all somehow unique and individual events. But eventually, he begins to identify the common denominators of all chairs, and he begins to conceptualize “chair” in general, and then he abstracts to the bigger picture.

Notice Aristotle’s distinction. Just because we can perform the action of abstraction does not mean that the common denominator exists in a separate supernatural reality. Separating things in thought is very different from separating in reality. When man practices this selective process, he is performing abstraction. For example, within your room, you could identify all the shapes of the circle in the room, so you can ignore color, or if it is a part of a chair or connected to the wall you can extract the concept “circle” from each instance. But this mental process does not mean that “circle” is out there somewhere in a Form.

Aristotle called Plato’s world of Forms the “Fallacy of Reification”, literally “thing-making.” Plato is making a particular out of a human cognitive process. This is a brilliant deduction. Aristotle identifies a fundamental flaw by pointing out that this is really nothing more than how the human consciousness works. It is part of the human consciousness identity.

Now you should have some basic insight into how Aristotle conceptualizes the world. Here are the basics. Reality exists. What man perceives is reality. There is no conflict between reality and appearance. Reality is what man observes, and any formulation that says otherwise is error. Particulars are the units of reality. The things you see are particulars. As I said, anything you can physically point at, look at, identify, subtract and blank out everything else and look at, that is a particular. Everything is an individual and a concrete. Individuality is the particular’s irreducible element. The thing that individualizes it is the thing itself.

Here is Aristotle’s distinction, and this is a direct contrast to Plato. Universals are real. Universals are the objects of conceptual thought. Universals are the abstraction of particulars, but only particulars actually exist. Let me make a distinction. There was a common tool of debate that was called Zeno’s Paradox. Zeno said you couldn’t actually cross a room because you could not cross distance. You would go to half and then to half again and then to half again and then to half again and to half again, and you could not cross a room by definition. Of course, this is error because it takes the concept of infinity and turns it into a thing. You do not cross infinity. You cross an identity. And the identity is the distance of a room, 30 feet. Aristotle correctly destroyed Zeno’s Paradox by observing that the abstraction “infinity” was not real. We use it as a mental organizer, but it is not in existence like this. So can we cross a room? Absolutely. Why? Because we’re not crossing infinity. We’re crossing an identity, 30 feet.

Side Bar: Most of the conflicts that we have regarding the Neo-Calvinist group and all collectivist ideologies are the failure to grasp the distinction between concretes and particulars, concepts and abstractions. Most of our theological discussion has failed because it has misunderstood these specific distinctions. And the reason the Neo-Calvinists kick our butt so consistently is because they are masters at manipulating the difference between concept and abstraction. I’ll let you mull that over.

Aristotle said matter is the uniqueness of a particular. Form is the universalizing of those things that a particular shares with other things. So he takes over Plato’s concept of form, but he uses it entirely differently. Aristotle noted that you cannot have form without matter, and you cannot have matter without form. This is Plato’s fundamental error; he created a world of Forms without matter. This is the exact same failing in Augustinian doctrine. Augustine’s Form is the heavenly and the universal worldly godly realm. This earth has no Form. Augustine manipulates this to the nth degree throughout the entirety of his ideology.


Aristotle’s Metaphysics
Everybody prior to Aristotle said that consciousness was primary. Some consciousness, whether some variation of man’s consciousness or some divine consciousness, imposed its will on the world and shaped it after its fashion. Aristotle said that is backwards. It is reality that comes first and consciousness engages reality.   This is known as the Primacy of Existence, and this is the Copernican shift in philosophy, because it puts reality and consciousness as co-counterweights in the ability to define what is. It gives the ability for objective knowledge.

With the primacy of consciousness, you have no guarantee of objectivity because the first question you must ask is, whose consciousness defines reality? Is it Allah? Is it God? Is it Isis? Or if you are a follower of Hegel, is it the state that defines reality? Can the state impose its collective will on the world? With this, all you have is the term subjectivism. The primacy of consciousness is nothing more than subjectivism. But it is reality first, the primacy of existence first, the correlation of consciousness perceiving that reality that gives you the ability to have objective knowledge; it gives you a plumb line, because man has every confidence that what he sees is.

Man’s obsession to alter reality by the mind is the heart and soul of magic. And this is the primacy of consciousness’ preoccupation. This is how pond scum in the Middle Ages magically became frogs. Everything is and it is not. Everything is mutable and changeable. There is no reality and there is no causality.

Man practices the primacy of consciousness metaphysics all the time. You see something horrible and the first thing you do is start saying, “No, no, that can’t be.” The blogosphere is doing this with Calvinists all the time. They see one more manifestation of Neo-Calvinist abuse and just magically go, “No, that can’t be. It can’t be the doctrine.” They pretend the relationship between ideas and outcomes do not exist. That must mean it is not reality. This is the implication of the primacy of consciousness. They are defining the measure of truth by their own determination at a given consciousness.


Aristotle’s Epistemology.
One of the biggest problems with Plato’s world of Forms is if there is this other world, how does man ever get this concept of “table”? Where does that come from? If he has no ability to perceive it by any means, how does he get it? Well, the historic solution to this was the concept of innate ideas, that somehow man just knew it. Before he was born, man knew it and he remembers it as he grows. All of these things, these innate ideas, all originate pre-consciousness.

If you recall from the 2013 series on the evolution of Western thought, practically every system of thought included the idea that somehow man’s senses and his ability to perceive were impaired or invalid. Aristotle opposed this thought. He said that a man starts his existence tabula rasa, as a blank slate. Man has no innate ideas. The way man gets his knowledge is that it begins with the senses, perceptions. Man’s faculty for understanding reality is his perceptions. All formulations that write off the senses at this point are wrong.

Man sees a rainbow, and he sees it from a distance and it physically looks like it touches the ground. And so he goes to try to find where it is, and of course he can’t find it. And the more he tries to walk towards the rainbow, the harder it is to see the rainbow. Or a similar example is you take a stick. A stick is straight in the air. You stick it in the water and you look at it, and suddenly, the stick bends. The historic criticism was that the senses deceive us. We really can’t rely on the senses.

Aristotle realized that was nonsense. You simply made a crucial error. The senses gave you the correct information, but you interpreted the information wrong. You misunderstood what that information was designed to give you. The stick in the water appears bent because at some point you learn the implications of how water moves and shapes light. The stick didn’t bend. The light coming back at the senses is what changed the appearance of the stick. The same thing is true of the rainbow. A rainbow is the result of light passing through water mist which refracts the light, and so the illusion that you think you see is really the correct manifestation of the entities light and water.

Aristotle’s next epistemological advance was called concept-formation which I have already discussed at length earlier in this article. It is the ability of man to take perceptions and particulars, identify the common denominators between them, and conceptualize abstractions called universals. This is how man brings order to his perceptions and begins to classify reality by identifying identities. It is by this method that man goes from circle to wheel to cart to transportation.

This is how man builds every increasing levels of complexity. He takes the very small, the particular, and he begins to form and shape that until he gets to the broadest abstraction. The order goes this way, perception to conception to abstraction to universal. And I’m going to keep saying this because this is central to the world that we inhabit. Until you understand how this functions, it is very easy to get wrapped up in the Augustinian ideas and their specific effort to divorce the world from reality man’s mind. This is a central attack that we will see over and over again as we progress through this discussion.

To be continued…

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

The History of Western Philosophy and Its Societal Impact on the Church – Part 4

Posted in Uncategorized by Andy Young, PPT contributing editor on February 7, 2017

The following is part four of an eight-part series.
Taken from John Immel’s second session at the 2013 Conference on Gospel Discernment and Spiritual Tyranny
~ Edited by Andy Young

Click here for part one
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

We continue in our discussion of the major contributors in the progression of Western thought. Many concepts and doctrines that we have traditionally come to think of as Biblical orthodoxy in reality have their roots in ancient philosophies. Here is a brief summary of the thinkers and their contributions that we have studied so far:

Thales – The first scientific approach to explaining reality as opposed to a pantheistic approah. The concept of one universal “stuff” and its various forms.

Heraclitus – Because everything is in a constant state of “flux”, man is unable understand the nature of reality. The first to introduce a division of reality. Two “realms”.

Parmenides – Precursor to Aristotle’s “Law’s of Identity” and existence. Existence is real, but change is not. Change is only apparent because of man’s faulty perception.

Zeno – The Dichotomy Paradox.  Movement was an illusion and plurality and change was impossible.

The Pythagoreans – Orphic mystics.  Introduction of the soul/body dichotomy.

The Atomists – Described a mechanical model for metaphysical concepts.  Introduction of determinism.

This brings us to part four, and we will pick up where we left off.


The modern disparaging term sophistry is used to describe someone offering a false argument for the express purpose of clouding the issue. The word’s origin comes from a professional class of philosophy and rhetoric teachers of the fifth century. The name became a criticism because of the way the Sophists conducted their teaching business.  At the time their great sin was taking money for teaching philosophy to the aristocracy, and they engaged in open deception. And the reason they engaged in open deception you will understand shortly.

Their goal when teaching the nobles was to win the argument by whatever means. Persuasiveness was a desirous skill in Athens because it was a means to political power and wealth, and the Sophists focused their instruction on these skills. Since they didn’t believe in truth, they saw no moral failing in their methods, and this made them villains to most of their contemporaries.

Actually, they were villains for probably two reasons. Plato didn’t like them at all. And most of what we know about them is from Plato. He often used them as straw men for Socrates to knock down. But the second reason they were considered villains was that they are credited with starting was is called “egoism”.   This is the “egoism” that everybody fears, the idea that the world is mine to conquer and your needs and rights don’t matter.

There were two main Sophists.  One is Protagoras, considered to be the father of Sophism.   The other is Gorgias.

Now I need to introduce you to another philosophical concept. This is called skepticism. Skepticism means there is no objective or certain knowledge. It is impossible to know anything absolutely. There is no absolute truth. If you hear somebody say that, they are a skeptic. Nothing can be known, and when I say nothing I do mean nothing. The Sophists where skeptics.

The Sophists said that there was no certainty to be had for any creature, and they sought to prove that every sense perception to any creature was necessarily invalid. Others had suggested that man’s senses were invalid, but the Sophists took this argument to new heights (or lows depending on how you look at it). They made an all-out attempt on the faculties of man to show that every sense perception is wrong, not just that man can be taken in by the occasional illusion or hallucination, but that man can never trust anything from his senses.

The Sophists taight that whenever we perceive, what we perceive depends on two factors. It depends on the object being perceived and the nature and condition of your sensory apparatus. For example, the colorblind man looks at a tree and says the tree is gray, but a man with normal vision looks at the same tree and says it is green. The same object, but different sensory outcomes. One man is sick, the other healthy. They both eat pie. One says it tastes sweet, the other says it tastes bitter. One man is in a hot tub and gets sprayed with water from the hose and says, “how cold!” Another man craws out of the Arctic Ocean and gets sprayed with water from the hose and says, “how warm!”

What was the conclusion the Sophists drew from this? The key factor in each instance was that the quality of the sensory apparatus determined the effectiveness of the experience, so that it appears that all sensory information is utterly subjective. How then can we ever know anything for sure? What is the right experiential knowledge? Who has it?

According to the Sophists, nobody. No one can perceive reality except as a subjective function of his specific senses. All we can ever know is that what you perceive right this second is what you perceive right this second. So the only certainty is, “it seems to me now,” because in a few minutes your senses will probably change. The inescapable conclusion then is that since the perceptions change from person to person and from time to time, each individual lives in his own private subjective little world.

According to the Sophists, there is no such thing as “truth”, there is only subjective experience.

luther-and-reasonNow watch what happens to man when this happens.

If the senses are invalid then reality is unknowable. If reality is unknowable then reason is useless. If reason is useless then truth is unknowable. They have just reduced man to less than nothing.

Here is the main argument for these conclusions. Everybody disagrees about what is rational. Who is to say what is really true? Since everyone seems to disagree about everything, the whole question must be hopeless. If man had a way of arriving at the truth, they would agree. The fact of disagreement means that reason is incapable of arriving at truth.

There was a second argument best expressed by Gorgias who offered up three propositions.

  1. Nothing exists
  2. If anything existed you couldn’t know it
  3. Even if you could know it, you couldn’t communicate it.

This is the most succinct statement for absolute skepticism, and you can see now why skepticism descended into complete subjectivism and complete relativism. There are no absolutes, and there is no objective truth.

Has anyone ever heard this before? Think about an aristocrat in the Bible, a government official, maybe taught by the Sophists. Think Jesus. Think crucifixion. Think of the words of Pontias Pilate, “What is truth?”

This was a predominant way of thinking for centuries.

It is the single greatest attack on human senses ever constructed. It is foundational for Plato’s teaching and then subsequently applied to Christian teaching from Augustine and on. So this perspective effectively crippled epistemology, man’s qualification for discerning truth, for over one thousand years. And you wonder why there was ever a time called the “Dark Ages.” It was dark on principle. It was dark metaphysically, it was dark because the “church” said it was impossible to know.

You actually see some variation of this in the modern day. But you see it in more subtle forms in very reasonable conversations about the nature of truth. On a blog, one individual by the name of “Ben” asked me a series of questions and made the following comments:

“…also by definition, truth must be absolute. Said another way, truth cannot be relative. This is not to say that all human action has a case-specific absolute, but that eventually, at some hierarchical level absolutes must exist. Most secular ethics are relative. To say, for example, that some morality naturally selects itself is relative. Utilitarians are relative, and obviously so is majority rule in all its forms.

“It follows then that absolutes must be derived from a source outside the human sphere. Any configuration conceived by humans, even unintentionally through biological processes, always reduces to relativism.”

What is the fundamental assumption about the nature of human existence? That man cannot fully grasp the nature of truth. This is skepticism at its root. Ben’s assumptions are two-fold. Ethics are the providence of a supernatural source, and the reason is because man is incompetent to know the truth.

When you hear a preacher talking about your cramped little subjective lives, he is staking a claim to the roots of Sophism. He is seeking to condemn individual men for their inherent subjectivism. Any time you hear someone say, “it is true for you,” they are giving away their philosophical pedigree. The Calvinist doctrine is true for me even though you are an Armenian with a bad attitude.

One final note on the Sophists and their politics. Remember I said that from the beginning that a philosophical progression starts with metaphysics and ends with politics. Our ethics that arrive from our metaphysical assumptions produce our government action. If you remove reason and senses from human existence, how do you deal with another man? What happens when another man does not accept your version of truth? The only method left at your disposal is the use of force to compel another into your desired behavior. This is the source of all violence in the world. When you remove reason from man and you assume that he cannot know truth, the only thing left is to treat every other man as prey.

Since there is no truth and there is no reason, this of course affects public policy. Your government and public policy is always an expression of your philosophy. And once reason is no longer valid the only means to deal with other men is violence.

(Remember when I said that Sophism became the definition of egoism? This was why they were such villains. This kind of thing is utter anarchy, and it’s not livable. Any rational human being recognizes this. Liberty and anarchy are not the same creature. We are often told that liberty is really anarchy, but that is error because it removes from man his fundamental apparatus of reason. You have two ways to deal with men, by force of ideas or force of violence. The moment we are pointing a gun we are no longer discussing ideas, we are no longer reasoning. So an argument is by far the better course of action because that can be engaged freely, which is the very definition of liberty.)

The Sophists are the first people to pose the Nietzschian will to power as the ethical ideal, which means that man’s primary social purpose is domination. And now you can understand why the Caesars were constantly waging wars of domination. It naturally followed that the ethical premise produced the political outcome.



There is some academic debate whether Socrates really ever existed or whether he was simply an alter ego created by Plato as a vehicle to deliver his own ideas. The debate doesn’t really matter though, because ultimately the development attributed to Socrates was crucial in the evolution of Western thought.

Socrates is the first philosopher to take up the task of grounding objective knowledge and objective morality into human existence. This is a huge undertaking considering the pervasiveness of Sophism to this point. Socrates’ focus was on the philosophical discipline of Ethics.  He had a specific approach that was ultimately systematized into Plato and Aristotle.

This was the approach. Socrates said that the reason people are confused, so habitually in disagreement, so endlessly mired in subjectivism, the reason they despaired at ever knowing the truth was because their concepts were never defined. Now that seems obvious to most of us, the need to understand the commonalities of a particular argument. Socrates went on to say that people will fight over the question of is a man good or honorable or virtuous and never arrive at a conclusion. Identifying this problem, for Socrates and his contemporaries, was an evolution of thought. We will never come to agreement until we can first agree over the definitions of good, honorable, or virturous.

The question then is what are the characteristics of particulars so that we can arrive at a definition? What are the particulars of good? What are the particulars of honor? What are the particulars of virtuous? For example, when we discuss honor, what is the common denominator that is the class called “honor”? To define the concept you must generalize what is common to the whole group of a class. So when you think of “circles”, you don’t have to think of every circle you have ever seen. You can simply see what is common to all circles.

universalsSocrates identified what was the need and the essential nature of what is called universals. This concept is huge. It is the dividing line of every system of thought that comes after. Universals are the set of properties common to every member of a class, and it is the basis of its classification.

Every item that can be categorized into a specific class is called a particular. Man engages in this process constantly. This is his unique ability, to reduce down to commonalities, to universals, a class. He doesn’t need to remember every single instance of a particular in order to identify it. Using the concept of universals he is then able to see any given particular and identify it by instinctively categorizing it into a given class.

Man’s conceptual faculty is what gives him the ability to understand principles and laws which in turn gives him the ability to predict the future. This is important. If I can derive a principle by generalizing a particular, then I can look into the future and see the application of that principle to other instances and reasonably predict an outcome. If my reasoning is valid, and I can understand laws, suddenly the world is not such a scary, confusing, chaotic place.

This is the importance of the difference between conceptual versus perceptual knowledge. Conceptual knowledge is founded on the recognition of universals. Perceptual knowledge is founded on what man understands from reality’s interaction with his senses, and that varies from man to man. Socrates goal was that if we can validate universal knowledge, we can answer the skeptics’ rejection of truth. Man must rise from the merely perceptual stage to the conceptual stage, and this is what stops the fights. At the conceptual stage, man can grasp a universal standard and end all argument and all subjectivism.

To be continued…

Click here for part one
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