Month: May 2015

Choice as Participation in Creation.

Recently I have been feeling overwhelmed by the weight of the future. Every plan I have had about where I would be by now has not come true, and I have been struggling with what to do next. Should I reapply for graduate school and continue to put effort into that vein, or should I focus on starting a career and looking for a job and moving on? Is it feasible to do both? What does God want me to do next?

It only got worse when I began to think that whatever choice I made, even the choice not to choose, cuts off possible futures for me. Every decision, every second, of every day, creates radically different worlds for me in the future. Or perhaps not. I don’t have the omniscience to know. It seemed like a terrible burden, crushing in the responsibility. I came to think about how choice is perhaps the greatest power in the universe; it is the ability to deny or allow possible worlds to come into being. And we sometimes choose on impulse, or for no reason! For no reason we might disallow a world to come into existence and we might not even know it! With this greatest of powers comes the greatest of responsibilities. It was very…depressing for a while. What if I messed up? Made the wrong decision. It could not be fixed or repented of, ever. Not completely. The world I denied can never be brought into being.

Then I began to be reminded of what Lewis called, “The Weight of Glory.” That there are no ordinary people, everyone is an immortal soul who reflects the image of God. In this, our decisions matter, are taken seriously. But ultimately, for the Christian, God promises us that we will be glorified. Glory, to Lewis is being praised by the Creator, a Divine accolade, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Lewis describes it this way,

It is written that we shall “stand before” Him, shall appear, shall be inspected. The promise of glory is the promise, almost incredible and only possible by the work of Christ, that some of us, that any of us who really chooses, shall actually survive that examination, shall find approval, shall please God. To please God… to be a real ingredient in the divine happiness… to be loved by God, not merely pitied, but delighted in as an artist delights in his work or a father in a son—it seems impossible, a weight or burden of glory which our thoughts can hardly sustain. But so it is. [^1]

The promise of glory is not that we will do everything perfectly, nor that we will make all the perfect decisions or that we do anything. But that God will continue his work in us and perfect us.

So what then is the purpose of my choosing? Of my struggling? Of my trying to do my best?

I’ve been thinking about this, and because of my position between Free Will and Determinism (which I will not expound upon in depth here) I am going to have to say; to create. Admittedly not create in the way that God does, from nothing. I am just as restricted by the choices of my ancestors as I am by the choices that I have made up to this point, but that doesn’t mean that my choices are irrelevant. Our choices, before the universe began, limited the range of possible worlds that God could have created. Thus this universe, the universe we are in, we helped bring about. We, to some extent, continue to help bring about. If we had chosen differently, God would have known differently. The worlds we deny, God knows, but he knows that we deny those worlds, but comes alongside us in all of our weakness and creates with us.

This is consistent I think with other things God does. The Holy Spirit worked alongside authors of Scripture to produce the writings of the Bible, he did not dictate them to the Prophet like Allah did with Muhammad, nor did he let the human writer work entirely independently of God’s will. We entered into creation with him. God invited us into relationship with him, he does not force us into it, and as we “work out our salvation in fear and trembling”1 we also know that “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion.”2 It does not mean that I should make bad choices and know that God will bless them, but I do know that God will bless those who try. This is the Parable of the Talents.

And this comforts me intellectually, and inspires me to do better. I want the world that I help bring about to be a better place, because God is amazing and has invited me to make something great with Him. It assures me that the work I do with God, will be good. It is a comfort, but that does not mean that it makes decision making easy. I am still at a crossroads of life, and am dependent on grace. I want to step forward and do God’s will. I pray that I will be able to. And I am thankful for the honor.

  1. Philippians 2:12 
  2. Philippians 1:6 

Looking Back: The Quinquae Viae

After taking a year to complete a series I originally only intended to do for a month, I think it would do well to look back on things I have learned about the Quinquae Viae since I started studying them.

Firstly, I’d like to point out that my initial thoughts about what they were were incomplete. I said that they were starter arguments, cursory summaries of a text designed to be part of a course on the nature of God and thus would be further explained as his students moved through their coursework.

And I don’t think I was wrong. Indeed, to properly understand Aquinas’ arguments there are quite a number of principles you have to do your research on. The Principle of the Maximum that you find in the Fourth Way, cannot just be assumed to be the same Neo-Platonic reference as his predecessors. St. Anselm for instance, in the Monologium, uses inherent formal causation whereas Aquinas denies that that is even a possibility. So reading more of Aquinas, like his commentary on Neo-Platonists like Pseudo-Dionysius, gives you a better understanding of his premises and thinking and allows you to fill out the arguments he seems to be outlining in the Summa Theologica.

But I do not think this is his only goal. Having done some research I am inclined to agree with Robert Fogelin on this matter. 1 Aquinas is not attempting to demonstrate the existence of God, but instead to show that there must be a supernatural explanation to the universe(which must be God as he explains in the rest of his corpus) due to the limits of physical sciences. If he were trying to do the former, than his Fifth Way was an abysmal attempt at outlining it.

Even if he had managed to prove that in order to have a final cause of anything, there must be a final cause of all things, there is little reason to assume that that final cause is anything like the Judeo-Christian God. But, when recast to be a counter-argument to explaining everything with Naturalism it makes more sense.

Fogelin recasts it this way:

1. We begin with the presumption that the world is the product of a Christian God’s creation.

2. The natural scientist tells us that the world can be fully explained on natural principles; therefore, this presumption is idle and can be set aside, at least when we are doing natural science.

3. It is then argued that the world (here with respect to its teleological features) cannot be fully explained by natural principles, therefore, the presumption in 1 is restored.

I do not wish to simply repeat Fogelin’s paper here though, but I do think that makes a more plausible reading of Five then simply the one he gave.

In addition I have learned that arguments keep taking the same basic form throughout time. People tell me sometimes that eventually science will have learned enough that the need for a God will disappear and it’ll even be impossible to argue for one. After all, we see particles jump into being from nothing all the time, right?2 What way could you even argue for a God? Aquinas’ arguments may not be as capable of holding up in modern physics as they were in the medieval world, but that does not mean they are not still useful.

The five types of arguments he casts: Argument from Motion, Argument from Cause, Modal Argument, Argument by Degree, and Teleological Argument, are still roughly the categories we use today.

Admittedly, we no longer cast the Teleological Argument for showing that individual objects move in certain ways, but we use it to show that the universe needed to have a ridiculously specific and narrow range of constants in order for matter to form, much less life. And so we argue from Fine Tuning. (Although, I am wondering if Darwinian Cosmology could be used in a Teleological Argument. Fledgling thoughts though.) We also, no longer argue, from the first motion, though in all honesty, our Kalaam Cosmological Argument doesn’t look all that different. Our Modal Arguments may have changed, but we still argue for Greatest Conceivable Beings, and Necessary Beings. While we might not argue by degree, we do still argue from goodness and objective morality.

Our arguments have just shifted a bit to accommodate the bounds of our knowledge. That is why I think framing the Quinquae Viae as ‘counter arguments’ to show the weaknesses of Natural Science, continues to keep Aquinas’ arguments useful today. The limits of science haven’t changed, except in the amount of data.

  1. Fogelin, Robert. “A Reading of Aquinas’s Five Ways” American Philosophical Quarterly. 27 1. 305-313 
  2. If by nothing you mean something, namely the quantum vacuum. 

Quinquae Viae: The Five Ways of Aquinas (parts 4&5)

I’ll admit, part of the reason this post took so long was because Aquinas’ Fourth Way was a bit confusing to me. It is commonly classed as an “argument from degree” but I couldn’t figure out quite what it meant. Aquinas’ argument goes like this:

The fourth way is taken from the gradation to be found in things. Among beings there are some more and some less good, true, noble and the like. But “more” and “less” are predicated of different things, according as they resemble in their different ways something which is the maximum, as a thing is said to be hotter according as it more nearly resembles that which is hottest; so that there is something which is truest, something best, something noblest and, consequently, something which is uttermost being; for those things that are greatest in truth are greatest in being, as it is written in Metaph. ii. Now the maximum in any genus is the cause of all in that genus; as fire, which is the maximum heat, is the cause of all hot things. Therefore there must also be something which is to all beings the cause of their being, goodness, and every other perfection; and this we call God.

On the one hand, this argument seems easy enough. There are comparative terms. For us to have comparative terms of abstract concepts, like “Goodness”, “Beauty” and so on, there must be a thing which is their maximum and causes them to be more or less of itself, assuming that such things exist. His example though, of Fire, puzzled me.

Yes, Fire is hot. And it causes other things to be hot. But we know that it’s not really the fire, per se, that is hot, but the energy given off by the reaction that causes the fire to be hot. Since fire is caused to be hot by other things, what is it that gives those things heat?

But, as anyone should do, I attempted to be sympathetic and think about fire like Aquinas would have. When he claims that fire causes heat in all things, what does he mean? It can’t simply cause it by existing. Aristotle had four different types of causation that Aquinas would be drawing on: Material, Formal, Final, and Efficient. Fire is an example where all four types of causation would be met out in a single instance.

Material: Fire is made of fire.
Efficient: Fire creates Fire
Formal: The substance of fire is heat which is fire.
Final: The aim of fire is to produce more fire.

This is an odd example for Aquinas to use in reference to trancendentals like “Goodness”, and “Being.” And this is what puzzled me. God cannot be all four types of causation to the universe: The Universe is not made out of God. And so naturally, I did some research. 1

I discovered that Aquinas’ views on God’s causal relationship to the universe are in play here, and that upon investigation I found out that he denies that God is the causal relationship in two categories: material, and what might be called inherent formal.

Urban argues, in his paper, that Aquinas views at least five types of causation built on Aristotle’s four:
1. Material
2. Final
3. Efficient
4. Inherent Formal
5. Extrinsic Exemplary Formal

While 4 and 5 are subcategories of “Formal Causation” the distinction winds up being important. The first type, Inherent Formal, concerns structural principles present in things which make things as they are. The second type, Extrinsic Exemplary Formal, concern archetypes in the minds of intelligent beings to which they can form their artifacts.

This distinction suggests that the Fourth Way of Aquinas could deal with three types of causes: Efficient, Extrinsic Exemplary Formal(henceforth EEF) and Final causation. The argument goes that if Aquinas thinks that God is the maximal exemplar of Goodness, Truth, and Being then he is the cause of them, but each of them has different kinds of causation.

Truth must be conformed to by propositions, and is thus an EEF. Goodness is normally considered a “final” cause, that which all things strive towards, and Being is taken as an efficient cause, at least by Aquinas if we go back to his Second Way. In order for things to come ‘into being’ being must first bring them there. Thus, Aquinas’ Second Way is laying out his understanding of how Being relates to the world.

If this interpretation is correct, the Fourth Way, in a sense, ties all of the arguments in the Quinquae Viae together. The First and Second Ways show that God has efficient causation. The Third Way makes it impossible for Being, that is the Efficient Cause of the universe, to not exist. The Fifth Way deals with EEF and Final Causation, and since it has not gotten it’s own post I will expound on it here:

The fifth way is taken from the governance of the world. We see that things which lack intelligence, such as natural bodies, act for an end, and this is evident from their acting always, or nearly always, in the same way, so as to obtain the best result. Hence it is plain that not fortuitously, but designedly, do they achieve their end. Now whatever lacks intelligence cannot move towards an end, unless it be directed by some being endowed with knowledge and intelligence; as the arrow is shot to its mark by the archer. Therefore some intelligent being exists by whom all natural things are directed to their end; and this being we call God.

The so called “Argument from Design” is the Final of Aquinas’ Five Ways. A common objection to it is that you could just dismiss the Fifth Way out of hand since Darwin came along and disproved that the Universe had any purposes other than survival. The problem with that objection though is that if the universe really ‘aimed at survival’ as some have suggested then ‘survival’ or ‘fitness’ is the final cause.2 But what is the source of that final cause? What is the supreme ‘fitness’? This is what Aquinas is getting at between his Fourth and Fifth Ways.

Final Causes are always directed towards something, “Fitness”, “Goodness”, “Survival”, “Progress” but you have to have a terminus for these objects that are not within the object itself. The difficulty with certain abstract notions like, “Fitness” or “Progress” is that they don’t seem to have a maximum. Progress, as Chesterton once remarked, “is a comparative to which we have not settled the superlative.”3 because even if you arrive, you must progress beyond it. Fitness, well, if Fitness has a superlative it fails at evading the Third Way, much less the Fifth. Fitness is a state that readies you for survival. The longer you survive the more fit you are. To survive all things at all times would be to be the “Fittest” and the only thing I can think of that would fit that category would be a Necessary Being.4

But that doesn’t quite get at the guts of the Fifth Way. The Fifth Way, has to do with Aristotelian Physics again. According to that system, when an object is moving it is trying to move somewhere. With earthy and watery objects it is towards the center of the universe. With fiery and airy objects it is up to the edge of the universe. Thus, when you throw a rock and it falls to the ground it is doing so because it’s ultimate Final Cause is the Center of the Universe, it just gets stopped by the Earth along the way.

If this is true and all objects move according to purpose, or are shaped according to purpose: The eye being to see, rocks to fall to the ground, etc. then there must be some Final cause that ALL FINAL CAUSES MOVE TOWARD. The Universe as a whole, in an Aristotelian Framework, rotates. That whole thing, is seeking out a final cause, and that thing must be outside the universe. Thus, it must be either an abstract principle: like Goodness, Truth, or Being, which are not grounded in physical reality, OR an intelligence that Goodness, Truth and Being find their root in. Or as Aquinas puts it:

For since things in the physical world are naturally inclined to induce their likeness in things which are generated, this inclination must be traced back to some directing principle which ordains each thing to its end. This can only be the intellect of that being who knows the end and the relationship of things to the end. Therefore this likeness of effects to their natural causes is traced back to an intellect as their first principle. (In Meta. I 15 233.)

So then how do Final causes make sure they link up with the proper effect? Simple, an intelligence does it. And that is Aquinas’ answer to how that works. There is an intelligence who arranges the universe so that final causes wind up being aligned with the proper effects. In a sense, this intelligence is also EEF of those cause and effect situations, because it causes the archetypes to align with the types.

Which brings us full circle back to the Fourth Way.

  1. If there are certain comparatives we use to describe objects, such as “Goodness”, “Truth” and “Being”, then they cannot exist without a superlative.
  2. There are such comparatives.
  3. Therefore there is a superlative.
  4. This superlative is the final cause of the universe, due to being Goodness.(Goodness is the source of all Final Causation, as all things seek the Good.).
  5. This superlative is the efficient cause of the universe: in that it is Being. (Via the First and Second ways.)
  6. This superlative also is the EEF of the universe, due to being the intelligence that aligns effects to causes(and helps final causation.)
  7. Therefore, the Superlative is the Cause of the Universe.
  8. This superlative can be called God.

At least, this is the most around the argument that I’ve been able to get. You are welcome to disagree with my interpretation, but this is what I have come to.

  1. Urban, Linwood. “Understanding St. Thomas’s Fourth Way” History of Philosophy Quarterly 1.3: 281-195. Web 
  2. There are entire types of Darwinism that extend out beyond the realm of evolutionary biology. Fields such as “Evolutionary Ethics” and “Evolutionary Cosmology” exist. see: 
  3. Chapter 2, Heretics 1905 
  4. Whether or not any form of Darwinism can be directed into an argument for the existence of God is a subject for more debate. It’s possible Darwinian Cosmology was born out of an attempt to escape modern recastings of Teleological Arguments.