For St. Thomas, the universe was performing a single activity. It was a series of nested spheres united by causal orders and acting with a unity of operation. The sphere of the sun governed generation, for example, and the sphere of Saturn governed conservation. Even the angels were viewed as being created at the same time as the physical cosmos, and (the sub-seraphic orders) were put in change of tending to the physical in various ways. Though the Universe was not a substance or unum per se, it nevertheless had the order of a machine, such that no parts were superfluous and each part was functionally relevant to every other part. Moreover, the universe had no natural history – it was simply a series of nested and interactive spheres since the moment it existed.

This vision of the universe was what St. Thomas had in mind when he spoke of a “common good of the Universe”, and it’s clear on this conception that such a good was what was principally intended in creation. Dekoninck tried to preserve this teaching of the common good on a new understanding of the universe by fleshing out a new understanding of the universe as united in the single operation of approaching* the generation of some fixed number of rational beings (i.e., either us or aliens). Though one could arguably see this as the goal of the older, Thomistic universe, CDK’s vision was less grounded in physics and more in metaphysical accounts of matter and causality, with an IOU written to fill out the details from physical science later. There are, it seems to me, a good many problems with this new vision, even if not all are fatal:

1.) What we mean by the physical universe is not given to sensation. We no longer see spheres that give a significance to place or are tied together by clear lines of sensible influence. All that is driving the universe now is the desire of matter for form.

2.) We develop a sort of interaction problem between the physical universe and the angelic order, in that we lose any point of contact between the universal causality of the angels and the physical universe. On the old system, the universal causality of the angels touched the cosmos at the point where one had universal physical causes.

3.) It’s not clear how the new methods of science can deliver on the IOU. We don’t discover the order of the universe  by noticing the interactions how substances build up a universe by progressing from part to whole but by progressing from phenomenon to law.

4.) We have no idea of how to make the cosmos a physical order without it being an order of position or place, but our present understanding of the cosmos seems to make it an axiom that position or place is not essentially diverse. This is the familiar “Copernican principle”, i.e. physical laws are symmetrical with respect to all places.

*An actual rational being requires an act of special creation and so can’t be produced by the universe as such.

1 Comment

  1. Paulo Juarez said,

    June 24, 2015 at 11:34 pm

    Dr. Chastek,

    I recently came across a paper by Robert Augros, in which he makes the following comment with regards to the fine-tuning of the universe:

    “A universe aiming at making life possible implies a mind directing it. For matter alone cannot aim at anything: it cannot act with anything in mind. If the universe, which has no understanding, acts for the sake of an end, it must be directed by some other being endowed with understanding. A mind behind the whole of nature, directing the universe and all its laws to an end, describes God.”

    Augros is clearly taking a fifth way approach to the fine-tuning of the universe. But, if we put fine-tuning aside for a moment, he could be read as making the following, more interesting argument:

    1. The universe acts for the sake of some ends.
    2. But the universe lacks understanding.
    3. That which lacks understanding, yet acts for the sake of some end, must be directed to that end by a being endowed with understanding.
    4. Such a being is God

    What do you make of this? Can we speak of the universe as acting for the sake of certain ends? In other words, does the universe move toward certain purposes? if so, what are they? If by “universe” we mean something like the unity of all spatio-temporal existence, does it truly make sense to speak of this unity seeking after particular ends or goals?

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