Intelligent Design

Causation, Primary and Secondary: A Response to Edward Oakes

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Denyse’s post below (What did Hitler believe about evolution?) quoted Edward Oakes, a writer of great erudition for whom I have a tremendous amount of respect.  Although Oakes frequently sends me scrambling for my dictionary, I look forward to reading his articles and book reviews in First Things and his posts on First Things’ blog.  Because I respect Oakes and am in general agreement with his writings and his worldview, I am puzzled and troubled by his blithe acceptance of evolution and his vehement opposition to ID. 

For those interested in my response to Fr. Oakes’ views on whether ID proponents confuse finality and design and primary and secondary causation, read on.

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Some months ago I participated in a small group discussion of David Berlinski’s February 2006 article in Commentary Magazine about the overwhelming difficulties faced by origin of life scientists (the article is here).  During the discussion Fr. Oakes defended the evolutionary perspective, which led me to ask him how he, as a Christian, can account for the ontological discontinuity between animals and humans on evolutionary grounds.  He astonished me by responding that he does not see any such ontological discontinuity.

When I saw Denyse’s post I decided to read Oakes’ interview at zenit.org to see if I could gain an insight into Oakes’ thinking about evolution and his opposition to ID.  The articles are Evolution in the Eyes of the Church (Part 1) (here) and (Part 2) (here).  I came away confirmed in my views regarding Oakes’ position and still bemused by his opposition to ID.

Before I get to Oakes’ specific objections, I want to say a word about why he says he believes in evolution.  Oakes says:

“Defined in that way [i.e. as ‘descent with modification’], the theory of evolution claims that all life began about 3.5 billion years ago as a single-celled, self-replicating organism from which we are all descended.  Since everyone now reading this sentence once began his or her existence as a single-celled organism, I hardly see how such a theory can be regarded as inherently implausible . . .

“[If natural selection] is strictly defined, it simply means that only those organisms that reach reproductive age get to transmit their genes; and if those genes were somehow ‘responsible’ for helping that organism reach reproductive age, then that ‘helpfulness’ will likely contribute to later success as well.  As with the doctrine that all life began as a single-celled organism, I hardly see how such an obvious insight can be regarded as controversial.”

We have all heard evolutionists claim that ontogeny (the development of an individual organism) recapitulates phylogeny (the evolutionary history of the species), a concept with mounting evidentiary problems itself.  But until now I have never heard anyone suggest, as Oakes seems to be suggesting, that ontogeny is the same thing as phylogeny.  It seems that Oakes’ argument has gone off the rails before it is fairly started.

Moreover, lest anyone believe that Oakes is advocating a “God helps evolution over the humps” version of theistic evolution, note that he accepts as “obvious” and noncontroversial the operation of natural selection.

Turning now to Oakes’ opposition to ID, he says:

“Q: What are your objections to the Intelligent Design movement?

“Father Oakes: Primarily that ID advocates seem regularly to confuse finality with design.  Now because people only design things for a purpose, the two concepts are too often conflated.  But they are different . . . I also object to the way the ID Movement conflates the Thomistic distinction between primary and secondary causality.  The advocates of this movement claim that if it can be proved scientifically that God must intervene on occasion to get various species up and running, then this will throw the atheist Darwinians into a panicked rout.  I disagree.  My view is that, according to St. Thomas, secondary causality can be allowed full rein without threatening God’s providential oversight of the world.

“Q: But aren’t you making God recede from the world, just as the deists did with their concept of the clockmaker God?

“Father Oakes: Actually, no.  Remember that for Aquinas God’s primary causality does not refer to an initial moment of creation, after which secondary causality kicks in and runs things from then on out.  No, God must sustain the world in each moment of its existence.  God keeps the world in being because God is ‘He Who Is.’  God is Being itself; and because of God’s self-sufficient Being, the universe ‘is,’ albeit derivatively.”

In this article I propose to demonstrate that it is Fr. Oakes, not the ID movement, that has failed to make proper distinctions regarding causation.

As readers of my posts know, my favorite Wittgenstein  quote is, “Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language.”  Much (if not most) confusion in intellectual inquiry results not from disagreement on principles, but from imprecise use of language.  Therefore, before addressing Oakes’ comments, I will set forth a brief definition of the terms he uses.

Primary cause:  A “primary cause” is a cause that is not dependent on any other cause.  In Thomism God is a primary cause of all effects because He is the Uncaused First Cause.

Secondary cause:  The term “secondary cause” is used in contrast to primary cause.  A secondary cause may cause an effect but only because it was itself first caused.  A secondary cause exists by virtue of a prior cause.

Finality:  In Aristotelianism there are four separate aspects of “cause.”  These four causes are:  a material (material cause); something to act upon the material (efficient cause); the form taken by the effect (formal cause); and a purpose (final cause).  Thus “finality” or “final cause” is the end (telos), the purpose, the reason a thing is done.

What then does Oakes mean when he says ID proponents confuse finality with design?  With respect to this question, Oakes quotes Etienne Gilson in From Aristotle to Darwin and Back Again.  Gilson contrasts an artist [i.e., a designer] with nature [the realm of finality].  “The manner in which nature operates escapes us.  Her finality is spontaneous.”  Nature is unlike the artist, who must learn and labor and strive to create.  “[Artists] only summon from afar the ever-ready forces of nature which fashion the tree and, through the tree, the fruit.  This is why Aristotle says that there is more purposefulness [finality, final cause], more good, and more beauty, in the works of nature than in those of art.”

While the passage is rather obscure, I take it that Oakes is saying that ID goes astray because it confuses the beautiful, good and final acts of creation of nature with the clumsy efforts of a designer.  The problem with Oakes’ contention is that he anthropomorphizes (gives human qualities to) nature and thereby attributes creative ability to an abstraction.  There is no such thing as “nature” in the sense of an agent that causes trees to grow and, from the trees, fruit to be produced.  Nature is matter and energy and information.  A tree grows not because “nature” causes it to grow.  It grows because matter combined with energy combined with the information in its DNA work together pursuant to physical laws to produce a result, i.e. a tree.  ID posits that the complexity of the tree and its subcomponents and the information content of its DNA are most reasonably explained by the act of an intelligent agent.  While ID does not speak to the issue, some people believe that intelligent agent is God.  ID is a scientific theory.  It does not address the essentially metaphysical Aristotelian concept of the finality of nature, much less confuse it with the act of an intelligent agent.

What does Oakes mean when he says ID conflates primary and secondary causes?  In Creation, Evolution, and Thomas Aquinas (see here), William E. Carroll expands on the Thomistic concepts Oakes only sketches in his article.  Carroll writes:

“It is important to recognize that divine causality and creaturely causality function at fundamentally different levels.  In the Summa contra Gentiles, Aquinas remarks that “the same effect is not attributed to a natural cause and to divine power in such a way that it is partly done by God, and partly by the natural agent; rather, it is wholly done by both, according to a different way, just as the same effect is wholly attributed to the instrument and also wholly to the principal agent.”  It is not the case of partial or co-causes with each contributing a separate element to produce the effect.  God, as Creator, transcends the order of created causes in such a way that He is their enabling origin.  Yet the “same God who transcends the created order is also intimately and immanently present within that order as upholding all causes in their causing, including the human will.”  For Aquinas ‘the differing metaphysical levels of primary and secondary causation require us to say that any created effect comes totally and immediately from God as the transcendent primary cause and totally and immediately from the creature as secondary cause.’” Quoting, Brian J. Shanley, O.P., Divine Causation and Human Freedom in Aquinas.

Carroll then writes, “One need not choose between a natural world understandable in terms of causes within it and an omnipotent Creator constantly causing this world to be.  Aquinas thinks that a world of necessary connections between causes and effects, connections which he thinks are the hallmarks of its intelligibility, does not mean that the world is not dependent upon God.  Necessity in nature is not a rival to the fundamentally different kind of necessity attributed to God.”

Carroll then gets to the nub of his and Oakes objection to ID:  “To refer to [an external creator] mistakenly locates creation on the same metaphysical level as agency in this world, and makes divine causality [i.e., primary causality] a competitor with other forms of causality [i.e., secondary causality].” 

The first problem with Carroll’s and Oakes’ argument is that ID does not even consider primary as opposed to secondary causes, much less conflate them.  Carroll and Oakes seem to believe that ID is an essentially religious endeavor and that proponents of the theory mistakenly believe they must preserve a role for a creator God [a primary cause] to account for the complexity and diversity of living things.  ID proponents are mistaken, Oakes asserts, because, as Aquinas explained, even a comprehensive natural explanation [i.e., an explanation that relies solely on secondary causes] does not preclude a role for God.  That Oakes conceives of ID in essentially religious terms is made clear by the following sentence:  “The advocates of this movement claim that if it can be proved scientifically that God must intervene on occasion to get various species up and running, then this will throw the atheist Darwinians into a panicked rout.”

Pace Carroll and Oakes, ID is not an essentially religious endeavor.  Instead, as explained above, it is a scientific theory that posits that the most reasonable explanation for the complexity and information content of living things is design by an intelligent agent.  The theory posits nothing about the purpose or nature of the agent.  Certainly some ID proponents believe the agent is or may be the God of the Bible, but that is not part of the theory.

The second problem with Oakes’ position is that it is nothing by a vacuous linguistic dodge.  From an epistemological point of view Oakes’ position is indistinguishable from Blind Watchmaker Darwinism (BWD).  Both Oakes and Richard Dawkins assert that purely random material explanations are capable of accounting for the diversity and complexity of life.  The only difference is that Oakes leaves room for an undetectable God, so that “random” does not really mean “random” at all.  So Oakes is in the unenviable position of being at odds with the God of the Bible (who insists that His work is manifest), but also the scientific evidence, which simply does not support BWD.

17 Replies to “Causation, Primary and Secondary: A Response to Edward Oakes

  1. 1
    Carlos says:

    From an epistemological point of view Oakes’ position is indistinguishable from Blind Watchmaker Darwinism (BWD). Both Oakes and Richard Dawkins assert that purely random material explanations are capable of accounting for the diversity and complexity of life.

    I wonder if might be possible to tease these positions apart a bit further. BWD, as you prefer, and Thomism may appear to be identical with respect to “secondary causes,” but the difference is that BWD regards the totality of causes as self-sufficient — hanging in mid-air, so to speak. Whereas Thomism affirms that the totality of causes must itself have a cause, and that this not merely the first link in the chain, but the cause of the totality itself.

    So there’s an ontological distinction. Now, does this ontological distinction have any epistemological fallout for us?

    The only difference is that Oakes leaves room for an undetectable God, so that “random” does not really mean “random” at all. So Oakes is in the unenviable position of being at odds with the God of the Bible (who insists that His work is manifest), but also the scientific evidence, which simply does not support BWD.

    It stands to reason that our grasp of primary cause is different from our grasp of secondary causes, since the causes themselves are different. So if our grasp of secondary causes is through empirical observation and mathematical modelling, we should not expect our grasp of primary cause to be along the same lines.

    The hard part, of course, is to give “our grasp of primary cause” enough content to avoid slipping into Barth’s fideism (if that is a problem, and while it may be for some participants here, it’s not a problem for me) while avoiding giving this notion the same kind of content that one finds in our scientific grasp of secondary causes.

    One approach may be to consider more carefully the structure of lived experience from a phenomenological perspective. Jean-Luc Marion has done this from within a Catholic tradition, and Emmanuel Levinas has explored a similiar line of thought from within Judaism. This might be a very powerful of holding onto what is most valuable in Scripture without getting held down and hampered by Aristotle’s bad metaphysics.

    Aristotlian metaphysics is a stone around theology’s neck, we see that clearly in the contradictions and confusions that arise when we try to accomodate both Aristotle and Darwin, and we don’t need Aristotle in order to speak clearly and forcefully the truths revealed in Scripture through tradition.

  2. 2
    BK says:

    The invisibility of design is not a part of the concept of “secondary causes”. This is something that Oakes and others is adding to the concept, so I would say that the idea of secondary causes is not identical to BWD. And it is completey irrelevant to ID if an agent is primary or secondary cause.

    But what I really think is going on, is that Oakes and that thomist that Carlos linked to just havn’t studied what ID is all about and so consequently don’t know what the heck they are talking about.

    How else could you explian Oakes charging that ID confuses finality with design? ID isn’t based on some generic finality observed in nature, it’s based on specifications that are highly technical and analogous to those specs that come from information science, computing, and engineering. IMO, information science is putting the specific form of causality known as agency on the scientific map. It is simply no longer sufficient to exclude agency from our scientific explanations of the natural world, as agency is the only known sufficient condition for the existence of these forms.

  3. 3
    BarryA says:

    Thank you for your comment Carlos. You write: “The hard part, of course, is to give “our grasp of primary cause” enough content to avoid slipping into Barth’s fideism (if that is a problem, and while it may be for some participants here, it’s not a problem for me) while avoiding giving this notion the same kind of content that one finds in our scientific grasp of secondary causes.”

    Yes, that’s exactly the problem. It seems to me that Barth’s project was to try to give meaning to the Bible without really believing what it says. He failed, as every such endeavor must fail.

    Oakes position is that we must accept through sheer blind faith that there is an undetectable primary cause. I think this position plays right into the hands of the materialists, who rightly ask “Why should I believe on sheer blind dumb faith in the existence of that which even you admit is undetectable?” Maybe there’s a good answer to that question, but I don’t know what it is.

    The Bible says that God is manifest (See Romans 1). The universe has God’s fingerprints all over it. The indicia of design in living things that the ID community has begun to detect are some of those fingerprints. God’s work is in fact detectible.

    Disclaimer: I personally believe the designer is God; ID is a scientific theory that posits nothing concerning the nature and purpose of the designer or designers.

  4. 4
    Carlos says:

    I think that Oakes’ Thomism leaves open the possibility that the creative work of God could be “manifest” without being “detectable” in a strictly scientific manner. It could be manifest through the structure of human experience, to follow through on the phenomenological theology of Marion and Levinas. Being awake and aware of the manifestation of experience itself is the beginning of faith.

    Now, the problem arises, why should one turn to religion for an account of faith? For one thing, experience is collective as well as personal, and human societies are linguistic and historical. So there’s a need for a tradition in terms of which experience (collective and personal) can be adequately explained and interpreted.

    That might not be enough to get you all you want, Barry, but it’s a lot. And I’m not sure if you really can get everything you want. I think you can get a defense of the rationality of Christianity. So you can get an explanation as to why a life of faith doesn’t require checking your intellect at the door. That’s enough to reject the criticisms of Dawkins et al. But I don’t think you can get a defense of Christianity as the only rational religion or as the only true religion.

    One problem that comes up here is that both “materialism” and intelligent design insist that only what is detectable through scientific means is a valid form of knowledge. This is the secret agreement between them which produces the unending disagreements, and which also unites them against mysticism, fideism, Thomism — against all premodern and postmodern theology. But this is a piece of positivism that is no longer tenable even on strictly philosophical grounds, and theologically it leads to the God of the gaps problem in short order.

    In general, I think it’s a collosal philosophical and theological blunder to assume that science alone can tell us what a valid and meaningful experience can be like. To be honest, I’m very partial to the words of Walter Benjamin: “A philosophy which does not include the possibility of divination from coffee-grounds cannot be true.”

    In other words, if our epistemology insists a priori that certain forms of human experience are impossible — divination, epiphany, ecstatic uniion with the divine, etc., then there’s something deeply wrong with the epistemology.

  5. 5
    BarryA says:

    Carlos, you ask me if an appeal to experience (both personal and collective) is enough. My question is, “enough for what?” If you are asking me whether experience is sufficient to get me to separate historical truth and theological truth, the answer is an emphatic “no.” Christ’s claims are worthy of belief because of who Christ is. We know who Christ is primarily through the text of the Bible. If that text is unworthy of belief, if it is not objectively true, then why should we believe what it says about Christ?

    Casting loose from the anchor that is the authority of scripture, we find ourselves floating in an endless sea of subjective opinions about the nature of experience, both collective and personal. One cannot separate the Christ of history from the Christ of faith. If the historical claims about Christ are false, there is no reason to have faith in him.

    “I don’t think you can get a defense of Christianity as the only rational religion or as the only true religion.”

    Christ said “I am the Way.” If Christianity is A true religion, then it must be the ONLY true religion, because Christ excluded all others. In other words, if one accepts Christ’s claims about himself, that necessarily entails rejecting all claims that are mutually exclusive with Christ’s claims about himself, and that means rejecting all other religions as false.

    “One problem that comes up here is that both “materialism” and intelligent design insist that only what is detectable through scientific means is a valid form of knowledge.”

    This is not quite accurate. Materialists believe, as you say, that only that which is detectible empirically is a valid form of knowledge for the simple reason that that which is detectible empirically is all there is.

    ID proponents say that when we are playing the game of science, we will play by the rules of science. One of the rules of science is that we cannot appeal to the supernatural to explain phenomena. ID proponents say, fair enough, we can demonstrate empirically that design by an intelligent agent is the best explanation for the complexity and diversity of life. That is the design inference.

    The difference between ID proponents and materialists is that many (but by no means all) ID proponents say that there are other forms of knowledge, including revealed truth, and when we are not playing the science game we can say that an obvious implication of the design inference is that the God of the Bible is the best candidate for the designer.

    “In general, I think it’s a colossal philosophical and theological blunder to assume that science alone can tell us what a valid and meaningful experience can be like.”

    No argument here. All I am saying is that when you are playing a game with epistemological rules, you have to follow those rules. When you are not playing that game, you don’t.

  6. 6
    Carlos says:

    As someone who is not a Christian — I’m a moderately observant Jew — I’m reluctant to engage in much of (4), except to say this: in reading Kierkegaard’s Concluding Unscientific Postscript, I was deeply impressed by his argument that it is really objectivity which is fundamentally fallible — what K. calls “approximation-truth” — and that absolutism is only possible through subjectivity. It’s almost an inversion of the standard schema — since we normally think of objectivity as absolute and subjectivity as relative, and K. argues that’s really the other way around.

    That’s neither here nor there; I don’t want to get into a protracted defense of my reading of Kierkegaard. Given Kierkegaard’s influence on Karl Barth, I would imagine that you’d have little sympathy, if any, for the melancholy Dane.

    The difference between ID proponents and materialists is that many (but by no means all) ID proponents say that there are other forms of knowledge, including revealed truth, and when we are not playing the science game we can say that an obvious implication of the design inference is that the God of the Bible is the best candidate for the designer.

    Well, if you’re willing to say that there are other forms of knowledge besides science — such as the authority of Scripture as interpreted through tradition — what do you get by playing on the turf of scientists? Is it so important that you own the entire court?

  7. 7
    BarryA says:

    “what do you get by playing on the turf of scientists?”

    I can think of at least two things:

    1. An end to more than a century of Darwinist hegemony over the western intellectual and cultural climate, what Dembski calls our “noetic environment.”

    2. An end to the one-sided Darwinist indoctrination of American school children in the government schools.

    Those are two things we can gain only by advancing a scientific, not a metaphysical, program.

  8. 8
    Carlos says:

    What evidence is there to suggest that there is either “a century of Darwinist hegemony over the western intellectual and cultural climate” or a “one-sided Darwinist indoctrination of American school children in the government schools”?

    In any event, I don’t see why playing on the scientists’ turf is necessary to combat either tendency. Both tendencies, even if they are pernicious — and for the time being I shall simply concede that they are, though I reserve the right to recant that concession — could be combatted by questioning the very identity of science and knowledge insisted upon by the most extreme materialists.

  9. 9
    PaV says:

    I’ve spent considerable time over the last few days reading some of the articles that have been linked, and doing my own research on the Summa Theologica of St. Thomas.

    My conclusion, based mostly on what I find in the Summa Theol., is that the Thomists that have been quoted, for whatever reason, have employed a faulty approach to Intelligent Design; have presented an incomplete picture of St. Thomas’ understanding of creation; do not possess a full enough understanding of where evolutionary biology and genetics stand; and, lastly, with all due respect, seem to be kowtowing to the great gods of science.

    I almost don’t know where to begin. But I shall.

    In the article by William Carroll, he makes the fundamental point that other Thomists are also making; viz, “What is essential to Christian faith, according to Aquinas is the ‘fact of creation’, not the manner or mode of the formation of the world.” They stress the fundamental distinction that Aquinas makes between the ‘created order’, and the ‘natural order’. They then act as if this two ‘orders’ are completely independent and sort of sealed off from one another—which is perhaps no more than a very modern understanding of the relationship of science to religion. Nevertheless, I don’t think this is a fully adequate understanding of what Aquinas meant by ‘Creation’—as I will demonstrate later on using quotes from Thomas himself.

    Meanwhile, let me again quote Carroll from his article. He writes (p5) “Aquinas notes that although the interpretation regarding successive creation, or what we might call ‘episodic creation’, is ‘more common, and seems superficially to be more in accord with the letter,’ still that of simultaneous creation is ‘more conformed to reason and better adapted to preserve Sacred Scripture from the mockery of infidels.’”

    So, then, does this mean that Aquinas is against ‘episodic creation’ and in favor of ‘simultaneous creation’? Well, Aquinas’ argument in favor of ‘simultaneous creation’ is an argument built upon ‘reason’ and intended to avoid the scorn of ‘infidels.’ But note this: in Aquinas’ time no one knew about the ‘fossil record’; no one knew that scientifically it could be established that biological forms came into being in a temporally ‘successive’ way. Thus, if one were to update Aquinas argument (which only seems sensible), ‘reason’ would dictate that he would favor ‘successive creation’ (episodic creation) since that better conforms to the known ‘fossil record’ and would avoid, therefore, the “mockery of infidels”. Don’t the “infidels” mock Creationists? And don’t Creationists believe precisely in ‘simultaneous creation’? So, the question I’m left with is: why can’t Carroll and his fellow Thomists figure out that what Aquinas wrote way back when takes on a completely different look nowadays given our increased scientific knowledge? Are they incapable of it? (The answer to that question is, “Of course not.” So the question remains why don’t they feel compelled to move in that direction? Are they afraid to stand up to scientists?)

    Carroll goes on to further say that “Aquinas, following the lead of Augustine, thinks that the natural sciences serve as a kind of veto in biblical interpretation.” The irony here is this: St. Thomas, per Carroll and the other Thomists, posits the existence of the “created order” based on Sacred Scripture, not on natural philosophy. And now these same Thomists, insisting on the distinction between the “created order” and the “natural order” are using this distinction—based entirely on Thomas’ interpretation of Sacred Scripture—to veto what science is finding; namely, the amazing complexity of the human cell, the irreducible complexity that Behe describes, the clear lack of transitional forms in the fossil record, etc., etc. It seems as if they’ve succeeded in turning things on their head.

    My last criticism of Carroll (though there are others) is this statement of his:
    “It seems to me that if we recognize that there are sciences of nature, then such gaps can only be epistemological difficulties to be overcome. If nature is intelligible in terms of causes discoverable in it, we cannot think that changes I nature require special divine agency. The ‘god’ in the ‘god of the gaps’ is more powerful than any other agent in nature, but such a god is not the God of Orthodox Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. Such a god can easily become a disappearing god as gaps in our scientific knowledge close.”

    This statement is indicative of what I meant when I wrote above, “lastly, with all due respect, [they] seem to be kowtowing to the great gods of science.”

    Again, there is irony here. St. Thomas, going along with Aristotle, says that ‘prime matter’ is inconceivable to the human mind. The mind cannot ‘abstract’ it. And, yet, if there are indeed ‘gaps’, ‘gaps’ that reflect the ‘episodic creation’ of all natural objects, then this means that such ‘episodes’, involving God producing/making natural objects, bringing them into existence in a ‘con-created’ way (i.e., form impressed on prime matter), then the human mind is sealed off from this creative event. (See Question #65, Article 3, and Question #91, Article 2, below)

    In other words, the basic question is: Are there ‘gaps’? Carroll, who throws in a mention of quantum mechanics as a way of sneaking God into the ‘natural order’, should learn from what QM teaches us. QM teaches us that reality does not exist on a continuum. It is discrete. It takes ‘steps’. Carroll is basically conceding the entire evolutionary argument to the “sciences of nature” as if all of nature lies on a continuum, with it being just a matter of time before all is figured through this ‘continuous’ chain of causality. But you see, QM teaches us that there can be ‘gaps’! Why surrender so meekly?
    ____________________________________

    I also what to address something that Michael W. Tkacz, an Associate Professor of Philosophy at Gonzaga University, wrote in an article entitled, “Thomas Aquinas vs. The Intelligent Designers”. There he writes:

    “Thomas points out that the judgment that there is a conflict here results from confusion regarding the nature of creation and natural change. It is an error that I call the ‘Cosmogonical Fallacy.’ Those who are worried about conflict between faith and reason on this issue fail to distinguish between cause in the sense of a natural change of some kind and cause in the sense of an ultimate bringing into being of something from no antecedent state whatsoever. ‘Creatio non est mutatio,’ says Thomas, affirming that the act of creation is not some species of change.”

    I concur 1000% that “creation” is “not mutation”. But, again, we have here a Thomist who wants to make a very facile distinction (one that Thomas, both following and correcting Aristotle, makes): that an act of creation is completely unlike that of natural ‘change’.

    But is the distinction that St. Thomas draws that simple and that complete? Well, I answer that the Summa Theologica gives us an entirely different understanding of what Thomas though about Creation. And I must say I’m completely baffled that experts in Thomism cannot discover, understand, and explicate this view of creation.

    I will now have to start quoting the Summa Theologica. There are basically three parts, each consisting of a series of questions. All of the pertinent questions for this discussion come from the First Part, so I will simply state the question number, and the article number for each of the questions I use.

    Here’s Question 65, Article 3:

    “ I answer that, Some have maintained that creatures proceeded from God by degrees, in such a way that the first creature proceeded from Him immediately, and in its turn produced another, and so on until the production of corporeal creatures. But this position is untenable, since the first production of corporeal creatures is by creation, by which matter itself is produced: for in the act of coming into being the imperfect must be made before the perfect: and it is impossible that anything should be created, save by God alone.

    Reply to Objection 1: In the production of things an order exists, but not such that one creature is created by another, for that is impossible; but rather such that by the Divine wisdom diverse grades are constituted in creatures.

    Reply to Objection 2: God Himself, though one, has knowledge of many and different things without detriment to the simplicity of His nature, as has been shown above (Question [15], Article [2]); so that by His wisdom He is the cause of diverse things as known by Him, even as an artificer, by apprehending diverse forms, produces diverse works of art.

    In Question #70, Article 1, St. Thomas talks about three ‘Divine works’. One of these ‘works’ is the ‘work of adornment’. Just listen to what St. Thomas says, and then ask yourself how a Thomist can restrict God’s “creative action” to simply bringing about a “created order” and no more. Here are the quotations:

    “On the contrary, Suffices the authority of Scripture.
    I answer that, In recapitulating the Divine works, Scripture says (Gn. 2:1): “So the heavens and the earth were finished and all the furniture of them,” thereby indicating that the work was threefold. In the first work, that of “creation,” the heaven and the earth were produced, but as yet without form. In the second, or work of “distinction,” the heaven and the earth were perfected, either by adding substantial form to formless matter, as Augustine holds (Gen. ad lit. ii, 11), or by giving them the order and beauty due to them, as other holy writers suppose. To these two works is added the work of adornment, which is distinct from perfect. . . . So also is it in the work of adornment; on the first day of this work, which is the fourth of creation, are produced the lights, to adorn the heaven by their movements; on the second day, which is the fifth, birds and fishes are called into being, to make beautiful the intermediate element, for they move in air and water, which are here taken as one; while on the third day, which is the sixth, animals are brought forth, to move upon the earth and adorn it.” (My emphasis)

    So, here you have it. St. Thomas says that on the 5th Day of CREATION, which is the 2nd Day of the ‘work of adornment’, the ‘work of adornment’ is brought about, which consists of ‘calling into being the birds and fishes.”

    Excuse me, but isn’t it abundantly clear that St. Thomas is saying that ‘birds and fishes’ were ‘created’? That in turn means that God brought them about directly. So where is this so-called “Cosmogonical Fallacy’ now?

    Here’s some more regarding the ‘work of adornment’: Question #74, Article 2:

    “Reply to Objection 2: God created all things together so far as regards their substance in some measure formless. But He did not create all things together, so far as regards that formation of things which lies in distinction and adornment. Hence the word “creation” is significant.”

    And just to round out things, here’s Question #74, Article 1:

    “ I answer that, The reason of the distinction of these days is made clear by what has been said above (Question [70], Article [1]), namely, that the parts of the world had first to be distinguished, and then each part adorned and filled, as it were, by the beings that inhabit it. Now the parts into which the corporeal creation is divided are three, according to some holy writers, these parts being the heaven, or highest part, the water, or middle part, and the earth, or the lowest part. Thus the Pythagoreans teach that perfection consists in three things, the beginning, the middle, and the end. The first part, then, is distinguished on the first day, and adorned on the fourth, the middle part distinguished on the middle day, and adorned on the fifth, and the third part distinguished on the third day, and adorned on the sixth.”

    How is it possible to read these sections and then not consider ‘special creation’ to be a part of Thomistic thought? I’m simply astounded at what our modern-day Thomists are writing.

    And just to make things perfectly clear that “creation” extends to ‘man’ himself, here’s Question #91, Article 2:

    “ I answer that, The first formation of the human body could not be by the instrumentality of any created power, but was immediately from God. . . . Now God, though He is absolutely immaterial, can alone by His own power produce matter by creation: wherefore He alone can produce a form in matter, without the aid of any preceding material form. For this reason the angels cannot transform a body except by making use of something in the nature of a seed, as Augustine says (De Trin. iii, 19). Therefore as no pre-existing body has been formed whereby another body of the same species could be generated, the first human body was of necessity made immediately by God.

    Reply to Objection 1: Although the angels are the ministers of God, as regards what He does in bodies, yet God does something in bodies beyond the angels’ power, as, for instance, raising the dead, or giving sight to the blind: and by this power He formed the body of the first man from the slime of the earth.”

    And, Question #91, Article 4:

    “Reply to Objection 3: Some have thought that man’s body was formed first in priority of time, and that afterwards the soul was infused into the formed body. But it is inconsistent with the perfection of the production of things, that God should have made either the body without the soul, or the soul without the body, since each is a part of human nature. This is especially unfitting as regards the body, for the body depends on the soul, and not the soul on the body.”

    It seems to me that the Thomists should try and stay more faithful to St. Thomas, and they should try and inform themselves better as to the actual status of evolutionary biology. I sense from their replies nothing more than a knee-jerk reaction to “Creationists”. In the arguments they have put forth, they have oversimplified St. Thomas understanding of creation, and they have failed to understand sufficiently the weight of the arguments that Intelligent Design has put forth.

    Maybe it’s time for the Thomists to re-structure their arguments.

  10. 10
    PaV says:

    I forgot one important quote from the Summa:

    Question #91, Article 3:

    “I answer that, All natural things were produced by the Divine art, and so may be called God’s works of art. Now every artist intends to give to his work the best disposition; not absolutely the best, but the best as regards the proposed end; and even if this entails some defect, the artist cares not: thus, for instance, when man makes himself a saw for the purpose of cutting, he makes it of iron, which is suitable for the object in view; and he does not prefer to make it of glass, though this be a more beautiful material, because this very beauty would be an obstacle to the end he has in view. Therefore God gave to each natural being the best disposition; not absolutely so, but in the view of its proper end. This is what the Philosopher says (Phys. ii, 7): “And because it is better so, not absolutely, but for each one’s substance.”

    Tell me this doesn’t sound like the Divine Artist “designed” life.

  11. 11
    BarryA says:

    PaV,

    Thank you for your obviously hard work and thoughtful comments. You ask why these writers are so willing to kowtow to scientists. I think I know the answer. People like Fr. Oakes grew up and were educated in a time when blind watchmaker Darwinism was taught as almost apodictically proven, and every single educated person, almost without exception, believed this to be the case. Even brilliant orthodox Christian scholars like C.S. Lewis could not swim against this tide of opinion (though there are Lewis quotes that could lead to an opposite conclusion).

    Oakes and others of his generation made their peace with BWD and reconciled it with their faith. Now they do not have the emotional capacity to accept the fact they might have been had. No one likes to admit they were wrong. Emotionally, it is far easier to hang on to error.

    Carlos, here we were having a nice and reasonable discussion and then you go ask the silly question in 8 above. Surely you are not serious.

  12. 12
    Carlos says:

    Surely you are not serious.

    As the old line from Airplane would have it, “I am serious. And don’t call me Shirley.”

  13. 13
    PaV says:

    BarryA: I think you’re mostly right in your assessment as to why Oakes and others don’t change their minds. But I happen to be Catholic, and I’ve spent time with Jesuit theologians, and, unfortunately, there are a number of them that have been overly affected by the spirit of this world; that is, they like to be ‘politically correct’. And, of course, we know that Darwinism is ‘political correctness’ run amuk. So I think it’s more that they don’t want to run afoul of the supposed ‘experts’, which is a shame.

    As to the hard work, there was a lot of digesting to do; but I felt it was important to get a handle on this lack of support from Thomistic circles. It’s better to have them on our side than not. In the meantime, I think I got a better–certainly fuller–idea of what St. Thomas’ ideas on creation were. (It’s always good to get it from the “horse’s mouth”, as they say.) So, the hard work was rewarding. Hopefully, in some way, it will also prove fruitful.

  14. 14
    Carlos says:

    PaV, I’d also like to thank you for bringing Thomas into the discussion. This will make for very interesting reading and re-reading!

  15. 15
    PaV says:

    Carlos: Not just “reading and re-reading”, but also thinking and re-thinking!

    I’ll tell you, the impression I had reading Thomas on ‘prime matter’ and such left me thinking that Thomists need to make a rather forceful effort to try and reconcile modern physics with Aristotelian physics. I kept thinking that there might easily be a way in which electrons, protons, and neutrons could be considered ‘prime matter’. One of the characteristics of ‘prime matter’ is that it is lacking in dimensionality. When ‘form’ is impressed on the ‘prime matter’, then ‘dimensionality’ appears. Well, electrons, neutrons and protons are extremely small, and, of themselves, are, more or less, ‘free particles’. When they combine, hydrogen being the simplest example, i.e., one electron and one proton, dimensionality appears; that is, they form an atom of about 10^-10 meters. And, of course, hydrogen is a ‘natural thing’.

    Then, of course, atoms in combinations, viz., molecules, have their own dimensionality and properties. The quantum properties of atoms, combining as they do into molecules, give individual molecules these various properties. Now we’re well into the area of ‘natural things’, which are, accordingly, made up of this ‘prime matter’, that is, electrons, protons, and neutrons. I think this is certainly worth some attention by modern-day Thomists. I would think it not only would be an assist to philosophy, but also an aid to more fully understanding today’s science.

    We’ll just have to wait and see what the Thomists choose to do.

  16. 16
    BarryA says:

    As the old line from Airplane would have it, “I am serious. And don’t call me Shirley.”

    LOL! One of my favorite lines. I use it all the time.

  17. 17
    ppagan says:

    Dear BarryA:

    You write: “During the discussion Fr. Oakes defended the evolutionary perspective, which led me to ask him how he, as a Christian, can account for the ontological discontinuity between animals and humans on evolutionary grounds. He astonished me by responding that he does not see any such ontological discontinuity.”

    What precisely did he mean by denying any ontological discontinuity between animals and man? Did he mean to say that *both* the human body *and* the human soul can be explained adequately by purely natural causes alone? I would be quite surprised if that were what he intended, if indeed he made such a statement without offering any qualifications.

    Sincerely,
    ppagan

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