Monday, June 28, 2010

Fr. Coyne & Dawkins

Nota bene: The Church does not necessarily endorse all Fr. Coyne's opinions, and he is not necessarily speaking infallibly.
A related speech's transcript.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Vatican Astronomer on "Intelligent Design Theory"

Fr. Coyne's presentation and question-and-answer session at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)'s "Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion" lecture. Can modern science truly do without God, as he says? Are true philosophy and theology necessary for modern science to be true science, i.e., to search for absolute truth?
Part 1 and Part 2
Nota bene: The Church does not necessarily endorse all Fr. Coyne's opinions, and he is not necessarily speaking infallibly.

Current Methodologies of Physics & Astronomy

Regarding the correct division and method of the sciences, this lecture, given at the American Astronomical Society (AAS)'s January 2008 meeting in Austin, Texas, highlights the current state of the methodologies in two branches of physical science (specif. scientia media), astronomy and physics.
[Duhem] seems to regard [the non-falsifiability theses, which "is that 'if the predicted phenomenon is not produced, not only is the questioned proposition put into doubt, but also the whole theoretical scaffolding used by the physicist' (Duhem 185),"] as an obvious corollary of another thesis, which could be called the non-separability thesis, that the physicist can never submit an isolated hypothesis to experimental test: “To seek to separate each of the hypotheses of theoretical physics from the other assumptions upon which this science rests, in order to subject it in isolation to the control of observation, is to pursue a chimera” (Duhem 199-200).

—Roger Ariew, "Pierre Duhem"

Modern scientists do indeed consider issues pertaining to this, else their science's arguments risk being circular.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Creation Mingled with Works of Nature? No.

My responses are red and Dr. Tkacz's are green.

Hello Prof. Tkacz,

Thank you for the excellent article "Thomas Aquinas vs. The Intelligent Designers." [...] I understand the flaws of ID [Intelligent Design] as it is presently conceived by people like Behe, but I am confused when you wrote about the hippo:

Consider another example: a large quadrapedic mammal, such as a hippopotamus, gives live birth to its young. Why? Well, we could answer this by saying that “God does it.” Yet, this could only mean that God created hippopotamuses—indeed the mammalian order, the whole animal kingdom, and all of nature—such that these animals have the morphology, genetic make-up, etc. that are the causes of their giving live birth. [So God is a deist's God who only sets up the natural conditions and leaves them alone?] It cannot be that God “reaches into” the normal operations of hippopotamuses to cause them to give live birth. [Why not? Is He not involved at all past some level?] Were one to think that “God does it” must mean that God intervenes in nature in this way, one would be guilty of the Cosmogonical Fallacy. [Or I just wouldn't be a deist?]

Isn't this an issue of proximate versus remote causes? A proximate cause (what biology would study) of a hippo giving birth is the female hippo, and a remote cause (what theology would study) is God, so both the Thomists and ID folk are right; to me it just seems to be an issue of epistemology. What exactly are you trying to know: how the hippo's existence is due ultimately to God or how it's due to its hippo nature—its "hipponess"?

From St. Thomas's Summa Contra Gentiles:

Accordingly if we be asked the wherefore of a particular natural effect, we can assign the reason to some proximate cause: provided, however, that we refer all things to the divine will as their first cause. Thus if it be asked: Why was the wood heated at the presence of fire? we reply: Because to heat is fire's natural action: and this, because heat is its proper accident: and this results from its proper form: and so on until we come to the divine will. Hence if we reply to the question Why was the wood made hot? by saying: Because God so willed: we shall answer rightly, if we intend to trace the question back to its first cause, but incorrectly if we intend to exclude all other causes.

Summa Contra Gentiles, lib. 3 cap. 97 n. 17

His response:

Thank you for your message. I understand your question about my “hippo” example. I certainly do not intend to claim that St. Thomas is a deist. He most certainly is not—indeed, he would consider deism heretical because it denies God’s omnipresence and immanence to creation. The point of my example is that God’s creation is not a substitute for natural causes. Any natural thing or process has natural causes of the kinds that we discover in our scientific research. At the same time, any natural thing or process requires God’s immediate act of creation to keep it in existence. Both are true at once. This is St. Thomas’ view. So, the hippopotamus is created by God in the sense that it is immediately caused to exist and is kept in existence by God. What God causes here, however, is the animal as caused by its natural causes. So, divine creation is not a substitute for natural causes, nor is it like a natural cause. It is a unique kind of cause in a class of its own.

As you know, deism is the view that creation is some primordial cause. Thomas rejects this view. He holds that creation is not an event that took place at some primordial time. [But some creation could; it's not necessary, though, right? No. This is the point St. Thomas is making: it is impossible that God creates the way human beings and other natural things create. God’s act of creation does not take place in time and it must be immediately present to the thing being created. Thus, it cannot be that God created way back when. God creates here and now at every here and now of the universe, whether that here and now is, from our temporal point of view, a present here and now or a future here and now or a past here and now. Remember: According to St. Thomas, creation is not an event, but a relationship of absolute dependence of creature on creator. I think you misunderstood me; I was implying that creatio ex nihilo is possible at a certain moment in time for some creatures, such as the soul of a newly conceived human, or is that false? I think you would say it just appears that way form our temporally-bound viewpoint? I see. You are right and St. Thomas would agree, but he would point out that the creation of the individual human soul must be true in a way that does not commit the Cosmological Fallacy (the confusion of natural cause with God’s divine agency). Because God is absolutely immanent to all of nature, then he is omnipresent with his power to the conception of the individual human being making it be. Basically, this is no different from God’s being present to any other new natural event. But there is a sense in which the creation of the individual human soul is different from God’s general immanence: the human soul is the image of God in a more perfect way than is any other natural thing or process. God’s creation of the individual rational human soul, then, is God sharing his own divine essence in a particular manner that is different from his creation of other natural things. We often tend to think of this in an event manner, but this is, as you say, just part of our “temporally-bound viewpoint.”] Rather, creation is the radical dependence of everything on God for its existence. So, creation is not an event at all, but a relationship of absolute dependence. As in the text you cite from SCG, St. Thomas often uses the term “first cause” to refer to God’s act of creation. He does not here mean “first” in the sense of first in time, but in the sense of absolutely fundamental. God’s actions do not occur in time, they are eternal or to put it another way from our point of view, God is always making us be, he is always creating us. Were God to crease being our creator, we would pass out of existence. So, there is no deism here.

The problem with ID theorists such as Dr. Behe is that he confuses divine causation with natural causation. [As I understand it, he thinks that biology, e.g., can understand the supernatural's effect on the natural order? I get the feeling that he considers life to be a miracle of the first degree:

The highest degree in miracles comprises those works wherein something is done by God, that nature can never do: for instance, that two bodies occupy the same place, that the sun recede or stand still, that the sea be divided and make way to passers by. Among these there is a certain order: for the greater the work done by God, and the further it is removed from the capability of nature, the greater the miracle: thus it is a greater miracle that the sun recede, than that the waters be divided.

Summa Contra Gentiles, lib. 3 cap. 101

How does science know when it's dealing with the natural or supernatural if miracles do indeed happen? Miracles is something I have never seen discussed in the ID debate. Maybe they have been, and I'm just unaware. According to St. Thomas, a miracle is not just a wonderful event, but a revelation of God—it is one of the ways in which God tells us about himself. Miracles must meet three criteria: [1] they must be unusual events out of the regular order of nature (this rules out Behe’s notion that “irreducible complexity” is a miracle), [2] they must draw attention of human beings and evoke wonder in them, and [3] they must have theological significance (that is, they must reveal to us something that is part of the deposit of faith). So, the raising of Lazarus is a miracle because [1] it is out of the regular order of nature (this is not the usual way in which nature creates life), [2] it evokes wonder in human witnesses, and [3] it is a type of the resurrection of Christ.] He treats God’s agency as a sort of super-powerful natural cause. [Yes, definitely] From the Thomistic perspective this is incorrect, for it implies that God requires a material potentiality in order to create, as do natural causes. God’s agency is not just a more powerful sort of cause, but it is totally unlike natural causes. God does not actualize a potentiality when he creates, but he simple is the reason why things are. How can this be? Well, we would have to be God to understand how something can be caused to be without the actualization of a potentiality, but then we are not God. God is the transcendent creator and his very transcendence means that we cannot comprehend how he does what he does. But we can distinguish God’s action from the actions of created things and, therefore, know that God is the transcendent creator. This is important, because if we are not careful, we can be slip into error in our thinking about who God is. The natural universe is intelligible and scientific research is the means by which we know it. God made it that way. But the fact that we can explain natural things in terms of natural causes does not rule out their being created by God. In fact, the only way to explain why there are natural things and their natural causes at all is to understand that they radically depend on God for their existence.

M. Tkacz

Dr. Michael W. Tkacz
Associate Professor of Philosophy
Gonzaga University
I think every ID advocate correctly understands that God and only God creates ex nihilo ("out of nothing"), but they do not understand that God does not override nature. Thus, every ID advocate should read this article in St. Thomas Aquinas's Summa Theologica: "Whether creation [i.e., creatio ex nihilo] is mingled with works of nature and art?" While ID advocates would say "Yes," St. Thomas says "No." He says that "in the works of nature creation does not enter, but is presupposed to the work of nature." This is fully consistent with God simply letting things be. He does not say, e.g., "I create light!" but "Let there be light." (Genesis 1:3). Nor does He say "I bring forth the living creature!" but "Let the earth bring forth the living creature." (Genesis 1:24).

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Assenting to Things Above Natural Reason

Intellectual assent to things that are above human reason is not contrary to human reason nor to science.


Now those who believe this truth, of which reason affords a proof, believe not lightly, as though following foolish fables (2 Pet. i. 16). For divine Wisdom Himself, Who knows all things most fully, deigned to reveal to man the secrets of God's wisdom: and by suitable arguments proves His presence, and the truth of His doctrine and inspiration, by performing works surpassing the capability of the whole of nature, namely, the wondrous healing of the sick, the raising of the dead to life, a marvellous control over the heavenly bodies, and what excites yet more wonder, the inspiration of human minds, so that unlettered and simple persons are filled with the Holy Ghost, and in one instant are endowed with the most sublime wisdom and eloquence. And after considering these arguments, convinced by the strength of the proof, and not by the force of arms, nor by the promise of delights, but—and this is the greatest marvel of all—amidst the tyranny of persecutions, a countless crowd of not only simple but also of the wisest men, embraced the Christian faith, which inculcates things surpassing all human understanding, curbs the pleasures of the flesh, and teaches contempt of all worldly things. That the minds of mortal beings should assent to such things, is both the greatest of miracles, and the evident work of divine inspiration, seeing that they despise visible things and desire only those that are invisible. And that this happened not suddenly nor by chance, but by the disposition of God, is shown by the fact that God foretold that He would do so by the manifold oracles of the prophets, whose books we hold in veneration as bearing witness to our faith. This particular kind of proof is alluded to in the words of Heb. ii. 3, 4: Which, namely the salvation of mankind, having begun to be declared by the Lord, was confirmed with us by them that heard Him, God also bearing witness by signs and wonders, and divers. . . distributions of the Holy Ghost.

Now such a wondrous conversion of the world to the Christian faith is a most indubitable proof that such signs did take place, so that there is no need to repeat them, seeing that there is evidence of them in their result. For it would be the most wondrous sign of all if without any wondrous signs the world were persuaded by simple and lowly men to believe things so arduous, to accomplish things so difficult, and to hope for things so sublime. Although God ceases not even in our time to work miracles through His saints in confirmation of the faith.

On the other hand those who introduced the errors of the sects proceeded in contrary fashion, as instanced by Mohammed, who enticed peoples with the promise of carnal pleasures, to the desire of which the concupiscence of the flesh instigates. He also delivered commandments in keeping with his promises, by giving the reins to carnal pleasure, wherein it is easy for carnal men to obey: and the lessons of truth which he inculcated were only such as can be easily known to any man of average wisdom by his natural powers: yea rather the truths which he taught were mingled by him with many fables and most false doctrines. Nor did he add any signs of supernatural agency, which alone are a fitting witness to divine inspiration, since a visible work that can be from God alone, proves the teacher of truth to be invisibly inspired: but he asserted that he was sent in the power of arms, a sign that is not lacking even to robbers and tyrants. Again, those who believed in him from the outset were not wise men practised in things divine and human, but beastlike men who dwelt in the wilds, utterly ignorant of all divine teaching; and it was by a multitude of such men and the force of arms that he compelled others to submit to his law.

Lastly, no divine oracles of prophets in a previous age bore witness to him; rather did he corrupt almost all the teaching of the Old and New Testaments by a narrative replete with fables, as one may see by a perusal of his law. Hence by a cunning device, he did not commit the reading of the Old and New Testament Books to his followers, lest he should thereby be convicted of falsehood. Thus it is evident that those who believe his words believe lightly.

St. Thomas Aquinas's Summa Contra Gentiles, lib. 1 cap. 6

∃ Two Separate Laws?

Section a1.4 of the top-selling book of Islamic Sharia law says:
a1.4: The measure of good and bad [...] is the Sacred Law, not reason.
This is totalitarian, diabolic, and irrational, "For all the gods of the Gentiles are devils: but the Lord made the heavens." (Ps. 95:5). Catholic Christians believe that the natural law,
written in [even the Gentiles'] hearts,

Romans 2:16

"is a participation in us of the eternal law," of the Divine law (Summa Theologica Iª-IIae q. 91 a. 4 arg. 1). A gloss on this verse says: "'written in their hearts,' as to the existence of a God [and that] their reason tells them that many sins are unlawful." Moral law is founded on reason and perfected by faith; grace builds on nature. Muslims apparently think that Allah and Sharia law is so far above human reason that it can even contradict it. It is no wonder Sharia law also condemns as
a7.2 Unlawful knowledge [...] (2) philosophy [...] (5) the science of the materialists [...] (6) and anything that is a means to create doubts (n: in eternal truths).
Of course truth to Muslims must means whatever Allah's messengers say, a sort of relativism of truth. It is within this context of faith and reason that Pope Benedict so skillfully gave his Regensburg lecture in 2006 which affirmed that the Trinity, Λόγος, is the God of reason.