The Thomist account of creation and its opposite pt. 1

Derek Jeffreys commented a recent post, and I mentioned at the time that I very much liked his 2004 critique of the non-reductive Physicalism of Nancy Murphy. While there is a good deal that I’d like to speak about in the essay, for the moment I’ll only talk about a point that arises from the essay. Murphy defends a claim about creation that, while very reasonable, is diametrically opposed to the Thomistic account and which carries with it very far-reaching implications for our human accounts of the world.

First, Murphy’s opinion, which claims that what God creates:

“Has a measure of independent existence relative to God, notwithstanding the fact that God keeps all things in existence. To put the point another way, if God were completely in control of each event, there would be no-thing to keep in existence. To create something, even so lowly a thing as an electron, is to grant it some measure of independence and a nature of its own, including inherent power to do some things rather than others.”

[Jeffreys quotes Murphy further] At all levels of creation, God creates “genuine individuals, with his or her own integrity, created powers, capacities, and typical behavior” that enable them to participate in creation. Moreover, God never overpowers God’s creatures, acting instead to sustain and influence them within their nature and powers. Thus, at the quantum level, God respects the “rights” of sub-atomic particles, acting within their inherent powers to actualize “one or another of the quantum entity’s innate powers at particular instants.

This is Molinism, by which I mean the actual historically held opinion of Luis de  Molina SJ, not what Analytic philosophers mean by the term. On this account, the independence of created things requires that their action be partially the result of created causes, and partially the result of divine causes. Creating independent things means God keeps his hands off of them and  never overpowers them by violating their natures. Deism represents one extreme and simplified version of this, where God causes things to be, and every subsequent action is entirely reduced to the things created, though perhaps it is occasionally violated by a miracle (note how miracles are now violations of natural law and order). It’s a reasonable opinion, but Thomism rejects it root and branch. Why?

On the Jesuit opinion, to bestow esse, that is, to create, is not to bestow the act of all acts and the perfection of all perfections in the sense of giving that without which there is absolutely nothing at all; rather creation gives “the act of acts” in the sense that there is some real actuality apart from it, namely the actuality that God “lets be” or “allows to happen” (we explicitly leave aside the privations that are allowed to exist). On St. Thomas’s way of seeing things, this is a failure to understand what creation is. Apart from what is given in the act of creation, there is absolutely no positive being. For a Thomist, Molina’s opinion requires saying that there are some positive reality in creation (whether substances or operations) which is not a created thing; that is, there are some creatures that are not creatures. One cannot specify anything other than God himself apart from the act of creation – there is no such being, whether actual or possible.



  1. Peter said,

    November 29, 2011 at 10:09 pm

    Hey James,

    You probably don’t remember, but a while ago I mentioned an article from the Angelicum journal: Scientiae et Philosophiae secundum Albertum Magnum. Well, I finally obtained a copy. I had planned to translate it myself and put it up on the internet, but I simply don’t have time — my life is a mess. I haven’t even had time to read the whole thing. Are you interested? If I sent it to you, would you do something with it?

  2. Joel Feil said,

    December 1, 2011 at 3:57 pm


    Any primers for the basics of Molinism and Thomism?

    I’ve been meaning to do some remedial reading on the topic for a while, but don’t really know where to start.


%d bloggers like this: