Doubting Thomas?

A Response to Gary Gutting's Critique of Aquinas

In his review of Denys Turner’s Thomas Aquinas: A Portrait (“Doubting Thomas,” May 16, 2014), Gary Gutting calls the book an “impressive achievement.” He describes it as “stimulating,” “ingenious,” “excellent,” and “brilliant.” But he is much less enthusiastic about Aquinas’s thought than he is about Turner’s account of it.

Gutting criticizes four features of Aquinas’s thought. First, he claims Aquinas’s notion of human beings and the human soul makes it “extremely difficult to understand” how we can be raised from the dead, as Christian orthodoxy says that we shall be. Second, Aquinas’s view of God as Creator leaves us unable to appeal to “the free-will defense” when talking about the problem of evil. It also leaves us unable to think of ourselves as freely acting agents. Third, Aquinas’s claim that God is not a member of a kind “is a major obstacle to any real understanding of God” and leaves us “fundamentally unclear what our talk about God means,” since, if Aquinas is right, words like “wise,” “good,” or “loves” as applied to God cannot mean “what we mean by them.” Finally, Aquinas’s discussions of the doctrine of the Trinity leave it “with no meaning at all” and provide “no meaning that removes the apparent contradiction of the doctrine.” Let’s take these points in order.

According to Aquinas, people are essentially material things. Some philosophers have held that...

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About the Author

Brian Davies, OP, a professor of philosophy at Fordham University, has written many books on the philosophy of religion and the thought of Thomas Aquinas, including The Reality of God and the Problem of Evil.