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).

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