Interior dialogue II

The universe is immense, therefore you are not special.

Why is that? If the problem is that the universe is immense, then human life would be instantly special  if a person were a bit bigger (like a few million light-years tall).

That’s not what I mean. I mean that when you look at the universe, our world looks like it came by chance

Special things happen by chance all the time. Mozart was born to a musical family.

Yes, but Christians believe they have a special place in the universe, which means the world can’t come to be by chance.

What Christian argues that providence doesn’t extend to chance events? What a perfectly stupid idea! And when will they start taking Eccesiastes seriously?

You’re making stupid, technical objections. The best hypothesis is that the world just happened. It doesnt look planned, it looks like a random event. Maybe some other hypothesis explains things, but purposelessness explains everything best.

Perhaps. But natural causes are more evident, and you haven’t said a word about nature. Many of the natural causes that make worlds are pretty well known: mass, force, energy. We can study these things and know how our world came to be.

But that ‘s what I mean, all these things just happen from natural causes.

Is this where you bring in those perfectly worthless  “blind forces” again?

Yes. If you just let the forces bang around enough- blindly- you get a world.

And if you let billions of seeds bang around enough- blindly- you  get some plants. Living things purposely use immense numbers of seeds.  If it takes so many seeds to make a dandelion, we could expect a universe to be left over after making an earth.


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9 Comments

  1. Joseph A. said,

    February 28, 2009 at 2:56 pm

    Interesting post! One thing I’m curious of: Can you expand on ‘providence extends to chance events’ again? Do you mean that events which seem like chance from our perspective are not chance from God’s perspective? And that therefore results of ‘blind’ forces are not really ‘blind’?

  2. Kevin Walker said,

    February 28, 2009 at 6:31 pm

    This reminds me of Scipio’s Dream in Cicero’s _Republic_:

    “The lowest sphere is that in which the moon revolves, lit by the rays of the sun. Below that everything is subject to death and decay, except souls which the gods, in their generosity, have granted to the race of men.”

    It is not the size of mankind, but the kind of thing we are that matters.

    –KW

  3. February 28, 2009 at 11:49 pm

    Joseph A,

    There are three possible answers.The first is to appeal to the facts of a life of a Christian. We regularly give thanks to God for events that happen by chance, say, meeting your future spouse at some random meeting, store, seminar, gas station, etc. One doesn’t need to have any metaphysics at all to recognize that this is simply what Christians do. If you buy lotto ticket and pray that you win, you don’t have to think the lotto was rigged if you do win.

    The second is from natural theology. We conclude to the existence of God from what we know about the world, and so after we conclude to his existence, it makes no sense to turn around and say that the facts that we know about the world aren’t so. We found God by looking at a world that was filled with chance, so we come to know God as the author of a world filled with chance.

    St. Thomas adds to this idea, starting with the idea of “luck” (which is chance in human affairs). Luck is said in relation to some agent: the same payoff is good luck for the winner and bad luck for the Casino. If I tell you to dig a well and you find a treasure, it’s good luck for you regardless of whether I knew it was there or not. So there can be a real luck in instrumental causes even where there is no luck (but intention) for agent causes. We have to use extreme caution with this argument, though, because the divine providence always preserves the natures of things, and so his intentions do not destroy the contingency of things. We don’t so much understand this, rather we seek to preserve the truths we come to natural theology with. God can cause in ways we cannot.

    The third answer is from revelation. Ecclesiastes has a crucial role to play here, but so does the very structure of revelation. Assume that all modern historiographical methods existed in the second millennia BC. Who would have thought to write about Abraham? Joseph? Who would have made Egypt a supporting role to the life of Moses? Outside of a confidence in revelation (faith and hope) no one would have written a word about them. Any way you slice it, the passage of time is irreducibly contingent to us.

    Kevin,

    There is a particular absurdity now, since our present theories of the universe insist that there was a time when the universe was only fifty feet across. Are we to assume that human life was special then?

  4. March 1, 2009 at 1:19 am

    more interior dialogues, please :)

  5. Peter said,

    March 1, 2009 at 6:11 am

    James, I love your dandelion analogy.

    This passage is very near to Joseph’s question:

    I q. 22. art. 2, reply to obj. 1.
    There is a difference between universal and particular causes. A thing can escape the order of a particular cause; but not the order of a universal cause. For nothing escapes the order of a particular cause, except through the intervention and hindrance of some other particular cause; as, for instance, wood may be prevented from burning, by the action of water. Since then, all particular causes are included under the universal cause, it could not be that any effect should take place outside the range of that universal cause. So far then as an effect escapes the order of a particular cause, it is said to be casual or fortuitous in respect to that cause [i.e., the "lines of causality" of things bumping into one another, thus producing a contingent effect, chance or luck]; but if we regard the universal cause [God], outside whose range no effect can happen [contingent or necessary], it is said to be foreseen [though it is still preserved according to its nature: contingent or necessary]. Thus, for instance, the meeting of two servants, although to them it appears a chance circumstance, has been fully foreseen by their master, who has purposely sent to meet at the one place, in such a way that the one knows not about the other.

  6. Gagdad Bob said,

    March 1, 2009 at 8:04 am

    Excellent. The cosmos is the residue of man. The universe is merely the placenta, but we are the centa’.

  7. Peter said,

    March 1, 2009 at 9:31 am

    There is a particularly striking argument along these lines contained in the Summa Contra Gentiles (III 22):


    As we said, since any moved thing, inasmuch as it is moved, tends to the divine likeness so that it may be perfected in itself, and since a thing is perfect in so far as it is actualized, the intention of everything existing in potency must be to tend through motion toward actuality. And so, the more posterior and more perfect an act is, the more fundamentally is the inclination of matter directed toward it. Hence, in regard to the last and most perfect act that matter can attain, the inclination of matter whereby it desires form must be inclined as toward the ultimate end of generation. Now, among the acts pertaining to forms, certain gradations are found. Thus, prime matter is in potency, first of all, to the form of an element. When it is existing under the form of an element it is in potency to the form of a mixed body; that is why the elements are matter for the mixed body. Considered under the form of a mixed body, it is in potency to a vegetative soul, for this sort of soul is the act of a body. In turn, the vegetative soul is in potency to a sensitive soul, and a sensitive one to an intellectual one. This the process of generation shows: at the start of generation there is the embryo living with plant life, later with animal life, and finally with human life. After this last type of form, no later and more noble form is found in the order of generable and corruptible things. Therefore, the ultimate end of the whole process of generation is the human soul, and matter tends toward it as toward an ultimate form. So, elements exist for the sake of mixed bodies; these latter exist for the sake of living bodies, among which plants exist for animals, and animals for men. Therefore, man is the end of the whole order of generation.

    And since a thing is generated and preserved in being by the same reality, there is also an order in the preservation of things, which parallels the foregoing order of generation. Thus we see that mixed bodies are sustained by the appropriate qualities of the elements; Plants, in turn, are nourished by mixed bodies; animals get their nourishment from plants: so, those that are more perfect and more powerful from those that are more imperfect and weaker. In fact, man uses all kinds of things for his own advantage: some for food, others for clothing. That is why hand was created nude by nature, since he is able to make clothes for, himself from other things; just as nature also provided him with no appropriate nourishment, except milk, because he can obtain food for himself from a variety of things. Other things hand uses for transportation, since we find man the inferior of many animals in quickness of movement, and in the strength to do work; other animals being provided, as it were, for his assistance. And, in addition to this, man uses all sense objects for the perfection of intellectual knowledge. Hence it is said of man in the Psalms (8:8) in a statement directed to God: “Thou bast subjected all things under his feet,” And Aristotle says, in the Politics I [5: 1254b 9], that man has natural dominion over all animals.

    So, if the motion of the heavens is ordered to generation, and if the whole of generation is ordered to man as a last end within this genus, it is clear that the end of celestial motion is ordered to man, as to an ultimate end in the genus of generable and mobile beings.

  8. Agellius said,

    March 3, 2009 at 8:43 pm

    James: I enjoyed that. It took me by surprise. Very cool. I’m going to share it with people.

    Gagdad Bob: lol!

  9. Davis said,

    April 8, 2009 at 6:47 am

    With Jesus ascended and Judas dead, the apostles needed another to take his place of leadership.

    Acts 1: 23-26
    So they proposed two men: Joseph called Barsabbas and Matthias. Then they prayed, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.” Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles.


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