Victor Reppert asks:

If God used an evolutionary process to create us, why did he do it that way?

Some notes:

1.) On the use of the word “create” see Brandon’s post here. Reppert no doubt means “create” as a synonym of “make”, but it’s crucial to use the word “create” properly, especially when the divine causality is in view. The distinction is relevant to Reppert’s question, since creation and generation are compatible, even though generation allows for chance and- in the measure that it does- it allows for bad luck. Reppert seems interested in the features of a natural process that seem to have arisen from bad luck (his example is weak back structure). What arises by creation, on the other hand, is not such that luck or chance can be involved in the process.

2.) I was interested by the phrase “the evolutionary process makes us”. Assume “us” means “we animals”. So taken, saying “evolution makes us” is like saying “the hydrological cycle makes roses”. One is speaking improperly in both cases: the process of rainfall, evaporation, condensation, etc is not explained by relating it to the roses blooming, even though it is the case that roses do bloom as a result of it; and in the same way, evolution is not an explanation of “us animals”- so far as we do not enter into an explanation of the evolutionary process. We are as accidental to the evolutionary process as yellow dandelions are to the process of evaporation. This kind of chance arises from mismatching the causes and effects.

Evolution doesn’t explain any species, but the multiplication of species over time, and this multiplication is itself a good. See here, along with the subsequent questions.

3.) More likely, by “us” he means “us human beings”. But everyone knows that human beings could not be made by an evolutionary process, since we have a formal part that cannot be the term of a natural generation and therefore requires creation in the strict sense of the term, as St. Thomas argues here and in many other places. Right?

Or are we just assuming from the beginning that there is nothing in man that cannot be explained by some natural process or another? If so, doesn’t the question presuppose that we are already conceding human nature to Naturalism?

4.) Some Thomists, faced with arguments like the above, want to divide the generation of the human body and the creation of the human soul. Something like this might be true, but it is more difficult than this. There is no human body without a human soul, except by sheer equivocation. We cannot answer without qualification whether evolution could generate a human body.

5.) De Koninck  argues that there is a sense in which evolution does generate human beings. Generation of species is a sort of motion, and no motion can exist without some sort of immobile term. For a natural process, this would be a natural being wih an utterly immobile form. Man, so far as he is measured by the aevum, is such a term.

6.) Reppert’s “why” question is looking for some good or goal, which means we need to raise the question of what the goal of evolution is, and what a man is.

One response to “the present king of France”- UPDATED

There is more than one way to understand Russell’s famous logical puzzle about the present king of France, and moreover it’s one of those puzzles that is used to show more than one thing (even things that Russell never intended), but suppose you understand the puzzle like this:

“The present king of France is bald” must be either true or false. But it is not true, for there is no PKoF. But it is not false either, for then the contradictory statement would be true: “The PKoF is not bald”, which is not the case, since he doesn’t exist. In other words, both sides of the contradiction are false for the same reason: there is no King of France. Both sides of a contradiction are false! The principle of contradiction has no value!

The simpler response is that the affirmation “…is bald” is false, and the contradictory is true, precisely as it contradicts.  It is true to say that the PKoF is “not bald” where “not bald” is taken as  indeterminate to whether the PKoF exists or not. The PKoF is not bald because he is not anything at all. Our current president is not bald, but neither is last Tuesday or happiness, though for different reasons: the first because he has hair, the second because they are not the sort of things that can be bald or not. When we say “not bald”, both must be taken as possibilities, and the second possibility verifies the truth of the statement “the PKoF is not bald”.

This is generally true of truths that are generated out of the principle of contradiction. The falsity of the affirmation guarantees the truth of the denial only so far as the denial prescinds from whether something exists or not. To say “either p or not p” is deceptive, since “not p” must be taken as open to the existence or non-existence of the subject.

The problem of intention (or “aboutness”) is part of a larger problem: the problem of relation. We refuse to make the crucial distinction between a thing and an absolute thing (an absolute either in the substantial or accidental order).

Thomism and semiotics

God, loving symmetry, decided that since he was a plurality of persons constituted by relations, that creation would be a plurality of relations constituted by persons. He therefore spoke by his word and made a plurality of beings which, when they were compresent with created persons, would be signs (that is, they would be a certain relation to a cognitive power).

Experimental physics and first physics

Say that you are reading book six of Aristotle’s physics, where he gives a proof that all things in motion must have extension. You then consider some finding in experimental physics that shows that particle X is in motion, but it has no extension. The following exhaust your options:

1.) Aristotle is wrong.

2.) Experimental physics is wrong.

3.) Other

For whatever reason, option #1 seems to be the knee-jerk response. I’ve met a number of people who would take route #2, but it isn’t a very fertile path. #3, of course, provides for more than one answer, like:

a.) “Extension” means more than one thing.

b.) “Motion” means more than one thing.

c.) What Aristotle calls “motion” can be called this, but what experimental physics calls motion cannot be called motion, except metaphorically (or vice versa).

d.) What Aristotle calls “extension” can be called this, but what experimental physics calls extension cannot be called extension, except metaphorically (or vice versa).

Options a and b assume that both Aristotle and the experimental sciences are using their terms properly; c and d hold out the possibility that one of them uses the term improperly. Figuring out the proper senses of a term is not the easiest thing to do (for example, Aristotle and St. Thomas say that “possible”, when said in logic or mathematics, is a sheer metaphor, while others seem to think that all possibility is contained and revealed in logic by way of “possible worlds”) nevertheless, there doesn’t seem to be any way of avoiding the problem. Our use of terms can’t be separated from the dispute.

“just as ‘good’ names that to which the appetite tends, so too truth names that to which the intellect tends”

ST I q. 16 a. 1

Notice, truth and goodness are understood through motion (the action of “tending”). The difference is that, in this comparison, truth contains a note of rest while goodness seems more purely mobile; knowledge happens so far as the known is in the knower, good happens so far as the one desiring tends to the thing desired. The motion of intellect is so that it might rest in itself, and the motion of the will is so that it might rest in another.

It striking how poorly this consideration of truth and goodness maps on many modern and contemporary accounts of the same; or how, if it seems to be similar, is actually contrary. Don’t we tend to think that it is knowledge that should be perfected by attaining to the exterior (the “subject” attaining to the “object”)? Don’t we tend to see goods as sought for interior and self-perfecting reasons? (Much of the “rights” tradition- at least so far as it is affected by Hobbes- tends to see the order of goodness as pointing inward towards the human subject) On the other hand, when Nietzsche sees truth as being limited to the interior life of a human being and terminating in it, he doesn’t understand by this what St. Thomas does.

The division between the subject and object does not require that the known is defined in relation to what is proper to the subject. To be so defined is proper to an intention known by sensation.

After we identify intellect with imagination- that is, after we deny the reality of intellect- mind will remain behind as the unrecognized voice that calls man a monster who exists for no reason.


Holiness as a basic personality type

In a combox discussion with a Naturalist about why I was a Christian, I kept hitting a brick wall over what “holiness” meant. Christianity, I argued, was the best system I knew for becoming holy, and I wanted to be holy. Considered from this angle, joining the Church was no more remarkable than a drunk going to a bar: both provide a desirable service. The Naturalist kept insisting that either I took my ideas of a good person and attributed these realities to God, or that I decided before the fact that those who followed God were good,  and then concluded that holiness was therefore good. My position was that holiness was a quality of persons which is as basic as any other human quality, and that it no more needed to be explained by reference to something else than a cat needs to be explained by reference to something else. Holiness was not an inference, at least not anymore than any opinion of a person’s character is an inference. Holiness is a unified character that is simply different from compassion or dedication or silence or resolve or chastity or a love of the transcendent, even though it contains all these things and a good deal more.

One can be irritated by holiness, or desire it, or be more or less oblivious to it, but I doubt it is in keeping with anyone’s experience to say that holiness is nothing other than a judgment we form after the fact. A holy person is simply a kind of person, even though we can live our lives in more or less perfect isolation from this kind of person (there is nothing remarkable about this- we live most of our lives in isolation from most of the kinds of person that there are.)

Put in popular terms, holiness is a chief product that the Church produces, and it is the one that it was designed to produce. Churches provide other goods too- a sense of community, a feeling of purpose, various health benefits for those who attend regularly, but for all I know these might be provided just as well by some other institution. The Church promises salvation too, and many might point to this as the chief good it provides, but this strikes me as a misunderstanding: the Church only promises salvation on its own terms: it claims to provide only an eternal opportunity to exercise the virtue of holiness. The rejection of such an opportunity is ipso facto the rejection of salvation. Everyone would want to go to heaven if heaven were a place offering the eternal enjoyment of whatever you happen to want now- but as far as I can tell, no Christian sect has ever claimed that such a place exists. There is a place for those who love the holy, and hell. Faced with such options, it is entirely reasonable to think that when most people look at the options, they say “well, then I guess I’ll go to hell”.

Temporal existence IV

Motion is either continuous or not. Either way, it is a simply remarkable thing.

Continuous: There is no first or last motion. All that is moving has moved and will move. Nothing is moving that has not already been in motion; and all in motion will be in motion. Motion is always between two terms. Trying to find a motion that has not been moving is like trying to find the next real number after 2, or the last real number before 2.

Discrete: no moving subject moves, for there is no subject, just as there is not one moving subject on a shelf of books where each book is annihilated one after the other. Strictly, there would be no “after” since this presupposes one thing that holds itself in the same way before and after.In fact, this would be a denial of motion.

Observation confirms the idea that motion is continuous. Observations can be more or less elaborate, but we are still speaking about something we are observing.

But if motion is continuous, and is therefore always between two terms, then the existence of motion requires the existence of its terms. What kind of temporal existence do they have? If the terms do not exist now, there cannot now be motion; but if the terms exist now, then how are they before and after in time, which is the only way we are interested in them? We easily imagine time lines, but time can’t be a line. In fact, a time line is as much a contradiction as square circle! it requires that something be at all at once (like a line) which by definition cannot be at once (temporal succession).

But if a time line is a contradiction, how is motion- as temporal- possible? Better yet, what is necessary if motion exists?

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