Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Philosophy of Thomas Aquinas: Part 7: Aquinas’s Cosmology: Creation, Providence, and Free Will

Sorry for the long time between posts on this topic, I've been on various other projects including classes online, a Dawkins book review, and other things.  From the lecture notes: "'Cosmology' means the logos, or rational science, of the cosmos, or the universe. It used to be a major division of philosophy, but many of its questions—questions about time, space, and matter—have been answered by modern science. Still, many philosophical questions remain, especially questions about the relations between God and the cosmos."  I disagree with the spirit of this idea, that science has answered many cosmological questions.  It seems that science holds no power when it comes to much of philosophy.  There may be some answers available about certain cosmological mysteries available in science, but they focus on the how of things, the real questions of philosophy are still completely unanswered, namely the why.  On this topic Prof. Kreeft tackles twenty questions about cosmology from Thomas' philosophy:

About Creation

1. Why did God create the world?  God has no need for anything, as such He is the perfect giver, He created the universe for our (mankind's) benefit.  Out of His "pure generosity, unselfish love, charity—which according to Christian theology is the very essence of God."

2. But how did He create the world?  He used nothing to make nothing. Thomas defends the idea "creatio ex nihilo,” creation out of nothing.  That DOESN'T mean space/empty space, formless matter, or even potentiality.  This is quite different than other "creation" stories, including Greek mythologies that have god(s) creating the universe from matter.  This reminds me of the "kalam cosmological argument."

3. But is this creation possible?  It seems that it’s like “an infinite distance cannot be crossed, but infinite distance exists between being and nothing.”  This is a false concept, God created time itself there is no previous state of the universe.  We can understand what it is not, as this discussion points out, but we can know it analogically via our own creative processes.

4. Is the universe infinitely old?  Thomas knows that this is an important point since Aristotle, one of his primary sources of logic and reason, so he needs to do more than rely on theological dogmatism to say that the earth/universe is not eternal.  Thomas says, “the newness of the world cannot be demonstrated from the world itself, nor from its efficient cause, God, for God acts by will, and the will of God cannot be predicted by reason.”  To which Prof. Kreeft responds, "Of course, we know now that Aquinas was wrong about the first of those two points. Scientists have demonstrated, from the world itself, that it is only about fifteen billion years old."  This is one of my biggest problems with this lecture series, Prof. Kreeft seems to constantly put his opinion into Thomas' mouth.  Though I agree with this idea: "The Big Bang doesn't prove the universe was created by God, but it does prove the world has not always existed."  That's actually been the primary point of the Lee Strobel book (at least the first couple chapters) that I'm reading, the theory of Evolution is not for sure, and the Big Bang theory is one of the best pieces of evidence for God.

5. Since God is perfect, and acts perfectly, did God create the best of all possible worlds?  According to the lecture, "Leibniz argued that He did, and Voltaire brilliantly satirized that idea in Candide.  Aquinas goes with Voltaire and common sense here, as he always does, and admits that this is clearly not the best of all possible worlds."  Philosophically, the concept of other worlds might be possible, but according to science, there's no evidence for other worlds (universes).  I think this is clear from theology that the reason this world is not perfect has to do with sin, not that God didn't make things perfect.

6. Is this the only universe?  Again, it's philosophically possible, but there's no evidence.

7. What about evolution? Does it contradict what Aquinas means by creation?   Again, Prof. Kreeft puts his view that Thomas would wholeheartedly accept Darwinian Evolution.

The Relation Between God and the World

8. Does God love everything in the world?  Yes: “God’s will is the cause of all things. It must needs be, therefore, that a thing has existence, or any kind of good, only inasmuch as it is willed by God. To every existing thing, then, God wills some good.  Hence, since to love anything is nothing else than to will good to that thing, it is manifest that God loves everything that exists.”  This is a very telling definition of love, to will good towards something/someone.  Obviously, a very general overarching definition, but interesting nonetheless.

9. Does God love all things equally?  No: “since God’s love is the cause of goodness in things, as has been said, no one thing would be better than another if God did not will greater good for one than for another.”  The universe is full of hierarchies.  God loves humans more than cows which is why humans are more valuable than cows (that's not to say that cows aren't valuable).  Equality among people is a noble good, but the cosmos is not a democracy.  What would that look like?  Should we weigh the desires of mosquitoes when going camping?  If humans hold no more value than cows, I don't want to join you at your house for dinner.

10. Why did God make the universe so diverse?  Did "the multitude and distinction of things come from God?”  Yes, it comes from God's will, that not only is there hierarchy in life but there is diversity, and everything has it's strengths/weaknesses and works well with other things.  This is in direct contrast to pantheism.  In pantheism everything is united, everything is indistinguishable from god--what a boring universe.

11. Do creatures lead us away from God or to Him?  There is a danger of worshipping the creature not the Creator, but there is nothing inherently bad about created things (see #5).

12. “Whether the cosmos as well as man has God as its end?”  Yes, later in ethics, Thomas will try to prove that God is the chief end of man and the whole cosmos because of final causality.  There is a point to the cosmos (and mankind) the earth is set up to be our home, the universe is more like a house in which mankind is meant to dwell.  It is not purposeless.  God is the source and essence of all existence as well as it's chief end.

What Goes On in the World

13. On chance.  Thomas says “Everything is subject to the providence of God.”  Like “the meeting of two servants, although to them it appears a chance circumstance, has been fully foreseen by their master, who has purposely sent them to meet at the one place in such a way that the one knows not about the other.”  This includes the ideas of quantum theory, it just means we don't know what that the two things were meant to be, we see it as chance or random, but in reality it is God's hand at work.

14. How does divine providence work?  God governs the universe via his middle managers (Prof. Kreeft's analogy).  Again I think he assumes too much when he says, "This is the most basic reason why Aquinas would have no theological difficulties with evolution.  In fact, he would see the use of natural forces such as “natural selection” as showing more perfection in God than special creation of each species by miracle."  God doesn't directly cause everything, He indirectly causes through other agents that He has made, including nature.

15. On free will Thomas writes, “nothing can happen outside the order of the divine government,” but “it is part of the divine government that natural things happen by nature and free human choices happen by free will.”  He doesn't see God's foreknowledge as affecting free will.

16. On miracles, can "God can do anything outside the established order of nature?” YES, because God "is not subject to the order of secondary causes, but on the contrary this order is subject to Him.” It seems funny to me, that people often criticize Christianity for its acceptance of miracles.  Even Jefferson (and other deists) were well known for their denial of miracles because it contradicted what they thought of as God.  But, it is a strange idea to doubt miracles taken in light of the creation of the universe.  God, Who created the entire universe in the Big Bang would have no problem performing a comparatively simple thing like walking on water or raising from the dead.

17. Does the cosmos include angels, pure spirits? Yes, the cosmos is more than just the physical so it's reasonable that spirits without bodies, in contrast to humans that are bodies with spirits, would exist.  It's not absolutely certain but it's not illogical.

Good and Evil

18. Are the evils in the world are willed by God?  No, because God wills things that exist, evil doesn't exist in the same manner that a tree or an animal exists.  Evil is a deprivation that is in something that is good.  God created metals and things that explode when they reach certain temperatures, but He did not will that mankind would take those good things and use them as weapons to do evil things (not that guns are only used as evil tools).

19. Can evil corrupt the whole good?  No, because like a parasite that consumes it's entire host if evil were to completely consume all things, the death of the host would also cause the death of the parasite, evil.

20. Which of the two kinds of evil is worse, pain or fault?  Most of the arguments from evil (against God), focus on pain, or natural evil.  But, Thomas sees it the other way around, much like Socrates taught that it is better to suffer evil than to do it.  Because suffering evil hurts one's body, but doing evil hurts one's soul.  This may seem callous, but it's a method of managing the universe.  God in His providence uses suffering evil to prevent some from doing evil.  This final point I don't know that I agree with theologically.  I do agree that doing evil is worse than suffering evil, I don't see it as a providential means for God to manage the universe.  I agree (and it's biblical) that God can use evil to bring about goodness e.g. Joseph.  But, I don't think that all suffering is necessarily the same.  Sometimes it just rains, again God set up the laws of nature to govern the world, and He doesn't always intervene, so sometimes it rains on both the just and the unjust.