Motion as education/ bringing up

In the First Way STA understands the motion as an educare. The Latin term had already developed in STA’s time to its familiar English meaning as education,* and so we should take the act of teaching/ learning as the paradigm to understand where we start from in the First Way.

Early Modern philosophy shifted the paradigm sense of motion from raising (educare) a child or animal or crop to something like one billiard ball hitting another. While something like this had to happen if we wanted to develop an experimental physics, the shift affects a difference that is hard to overstate. We move from a sense of nature that is understood best by a teacher, husbandman, farmer and gardener to one understood best by an engineer or artisan. We shift from experience to experiment. While in both cases the thing that causes motion has some actuality or power that the subject in motion lacks, we shift from a sense that agency is at the service of the mobile subject to an agency that dominates and controls its activity. In the first sense of motion the ideas of natural and violent have some place and the subjective mobile has all sorts of interesting structure and needs that have to be taken into consideration in order for the motion to happen while in the second sense the mobile subject is so evacuated of structure that Newton doesn’t even bother to name it. At most it is a body, but it is entirely and perfectly responsive to “force”. The distinction between natural and violent motion becomes largely unimportant to the physicist.

Or does it?  A closer look at the foundations of mathematical physics shows that it’s based on the idea that falling is a natural local motion. One could write a very impressive history of modern physics as a development of the insight that bodies fall by nature. This is what Newton saw in the apple, and Einstein developed in the equivalence principle that founds GR. Force or energy is an educatio of the natural desire of a body to fall.

In Aristotle, natural motion seemed to be for rest in natural place. Newton changed this by seeing natural bodies as having an operatio to fall, which is the actualization of its gravitas or gravity. Rest, whether in a natural place or not, was not what body is trying to do – it was rather trying to actualize it’s gravitas. Nevertheless, in order to articulate this actualization he had to set it in opposition to a state of rest, even though there was no clear sense in his system of why rest could ever be a meaningful action for a natural body. Einstein’s equivalence principle does away with the need to oppose the acceleration of gravitas and rest by treating them as equivalent.

*At least in the broad sense of “bringing up” or “raising” a child, though it extends easily to animals and crops. The traditional way of giving the goal of marriage is as educatio proles, the raising of children (which was understood to usually include their generation).



-One way to put the Scotistic objection to God and creatures being analogues is that to see them in this way makes a cosmological argument into a sort of comedy routine. God exists like who’s on first. If the analogy is like an agent and instrument, then God exists like I just flew in from from New York.

-Okay, to make that last analogy work you have to assume that people fly on, say, pterodactyls (who are actually capable of flying as primary agents). Have Fred Flintstone tell the joke. It’s old enough… hey- oh!

-St. Thomas used the word “deus” both as a name for a sort of thing and as a proper name. One can’t very well pray to deus in the Mass except as an individual, but he used exactly the same word to speak of Athena or as a sort of thing. This is because god is a word like father or christ or doctora name for a sort of thing or office that has a way of being used as a proper or quasi-proper name. But as soon as it becomes a proper name every father is named equivocally. Whether you and I mean the same thing by “father” depends on whether we’re thinking of the sort of thing he is or the one that he is.

(extra credit: apply to the “do we worship the same God?” question)

Asking whether God exists is like asking whether Johnny has a father – there is a relatively easy answer that asks only whether he was sired by somebody and a relatively more complex answer that asks who exactly that person is. A single argument might prove that God exists in the first sense but you’ll need a whole science to prove him in the second sense.

-The argument from evil is now widely acknowledged to require gratuitous evils. Rowe is clear that he dos not think we can prove such things exist, but he takes them as obvious. A difficulty arises when we consider that gratuitous evils are historically counterfactual since some evil is gratuitous iff it could not have been the least one possible God could have allowed. I’m pretty confident in the counter factual ~Hitler ~ WWII, but to call this a gratuitous evil I would have to know that this wasn’t the least possible evil allowed.

One of the basic tropes of time travel sci-fi is that in trying to fix any evil we end up causing greater ones. Taking this as an insight into the actual structure of history means that every evil is the least possible one. The claim is at least conceivable, and its presence as a repeated trope suggests that it arises by nature. Can we make the point in a more philosophical way? Would it suffice to point out that we can only structure and plan things with per se relations, while nature and God seem to lack this restriction? Why do patterns form in random events? We say this is because there is no reason for them to be one way rather than another, but I suspect that this is an attempt to get something out of nothing.


Existence in God and creatures

-How does STA start with “existence” as said of the things around him, prove that God exists from it, and then say that “existence” doesn’t mean the same thing when said of both?

-Analogy! Right? But it would be odd to prove that there is a light of the intellect by starting with EM wave light. If I guy knew both existed he could compare them and perhaps see the fitness of the analogies we use to explain them, but there is no way to prove that one analogue exists because another does.

The objection breaks down if we use the analogy from accident to substance. But how are we visualizing God if we take him in this way?

-The universal testimony of mysticism* is that in the fullest awareness of self it is also true that the opposition of self and other falls away. This requires that what is most substantial in us is also what is most substantial in everything, while at the same time being distinct in such a way as to allow for the real existence of multiplicity.

-We can argue, as Carroll does, that metaphysics has to follow physics but this doesn’t go far enough. It has to follow all of our experience – mystical included. The aporia of the one and the many is an attempt to resolve the problem by “reason” alone apart from this sort of experience, and the problem of how there can be an order of causes without eliminativism or reductionism is just one variant of this problem.

Variant from metal health/ ethics. If there is no ultimate union between self and other that preserves the distinction of both, then narcissism is self-improvement.

-Consider these analogues of “the tire moves”:

a.) The tire moves because the axle moves it

b.) The tire moves because the driver’s skill (or the program Google wrote) moves it.

c.) The tire moves because kinetic energy moves it.

The interaction problem is a failure to think past (a), and if we didn’t use the “interaction!”as a taxicab against the soul we would see it made physical theory impossible too. (cf. Brandon).

-Unless the physicist wants to say that kinetic energy needs kinetic energy to move, which in turn needs kinetic energy to move ad infinitum, he’s appealing to exactly what STA calls equivocal causality, and such energy “moves” and “acts” or “changes states” by analogy.

-If the whole point of physics is “to unify multiplicity to unity” or “to maximally compress experience to simple law” then the whole point of physics is to find universal or equivocal causes and, if there is more than one, to find the one most primary and fundamental.

*You can even have a scientific presentation of it, if that’s your thing.

Misconceiving free will as imperfect freedom

Two experiences of freedom: Take “freedom” as the sense that the outcome of our actions is up to us and could be otherwise.

First, consider the feeling we get from standing in front of a set of options about something important and feeling that we could go either way and are without decisive reason(s) for choosing one path over the other. In such a condition, any need to decide is a cause of anxiety, and any analysis of the options comes to be experienced in the same way. Freedom in this sense is obviously no perfection. It is a dread that we beg and pray to be delivered from, and much of the edifice of religion is dedicated to removing it (from auguries to oracles to vocation discernment retreats). Any secular replacement for religion has to provide therapy for sort of freedom (punditry, gurus, appeals to “the latest scientific findings”). Growth in prudence is concomitant with minimizing this this sort of anxiety in the face of the contingent. Not only is such freedom not found in God but wisdom is more godlike to the extent that it is free of it. As someone who spends his whole professional life with students making decisions about their future I have to deal with this imperfect freedom daily.

Second, there is a freedom that we spend all of our pre-adult life trying to attain and much of our adult life trying to exercise, sc. to do what we enjoy or what we know we ought to do without the leave of others. This freedom is what we do if all onerous needs of the body and other obligations are taken care of. We experience it as children in amusements and parties but the experience matures into the exercise of talents or of the self-expression that consists in doing what we were made to do. Freedom in this sense is most of all characteristic of God and is the highest sort of perfection. Freedom in this sense “could be otherwise” because we recognize that we could be ignorant or fail to actualize the harmony between what is and what ought to be, or at least because recognize that this sort of freedom will manifest itself in ways that are different from our own.

Imagining free will as the ability to choose between alternative mistakes freedom (1) with freedom (2). Indeterminancy is a sort of ignorance, anxiety and dread that, by definition, is “resolved” by departure from reason – by coin flips or a blind “I guess so?” assertion of will. Placing God in front of these alternatives – in front of “possible worlds” in the sense of the condemnations of 1277 or Leibniz or Analytic philosophy – is to start from a misconception that will poison everything. It’s the equivalent of making God a dithering teenager on a vocation-discernment retreat or a scrupler wondering if she should go to communion.

Freedom (2) is largely uninterested and even non-cognizant of alternatives and cares only for the harmony of essence and self in operation, or of those parts of us that are ennobling and given with those that are in our control. We establish the maximal freedom (2) in God by the proofs of the identity of his essence and self.

Against pan-utopias, divine and human

It is easy to cynically view the divine permission of evil as God green-lighting some odd Rube Goldberg mechanism that kicked evil into motion only to have “a greater good!” pop out in the end. But permission is not initiation, and it connotes a preference that the merely permitted thing not happen at all. Permission is not even an explanation of evil but a stance that takes it as a given. A God who is seen as permitting evils has to be seen as taking them as just there, as givens to be tolerated with disappointment and anguish.

Evil is a sort of anti-god in having no origin story, no principle of explanation, no originating cause, and whose existence is mystery. But all of these descriptions are mockeries of the divine originality, principation, a-causality, and mystery (there is no question here of some naive Manichean dualism).  In a similar ironic twist on revelation, evil is a god that must be overcome and die in a definitive eschatological event.

The Enlightenment dream of a best possible world as Utopia is as impossible to divine power and wisdom as it is to human wisdom. Hell is eternal, even if its presence on earth won’t be.

Thomism and the independence of creation

STA bases his whole rational theology on his existence proofs, and all his existence proofs require him to assume the reality of the existence and operation of non-divine beings and actions (he even argues that the only possible existence proofs are one that assume the reality of non-divine actions and argue causally to deus.)

This means STA has to logically rule out many well-known theologies from the beginning. Obviously Eastern or quasi-Eastern nihilist theologies are ruled out, but they were probably never much of a temptation to the sorts of persons who are attracted to rational theology. More significantly, a Thomistic occasionalism (whether the Islamic or early modern version) is a logical impossibility since denying reality to non-divine action would, for STA, make rational theology impossible. But most significantly, no Thomistic account of divine premotion or the predestination of the saints can be read as a denial of the integrity and independence* of non-divine action since to do so undermines the ultimate basis of any account of premotion or predestination of the saints.

One objection to this is that a “natural” action would be no less real if it were utterly dependent or to some extend independent. We might very well start off assuming something is non-divine and then come to understand ourselves as mistaken. But I think that this underestimates the role that existence and operation of the sensible and finite plays in the existence proofs. STA has to rule out any eliminativist or strong reductionist accounts of creaturely existence and action, since to do so eliminates the only explanadum for which God is rationally necessary.

*Independence comes in degrees, but Thomism can never understand “what’s really going on” as the propagation of a divine action through inert and utterly dependent created instruments. For STA, the idea that “our merits are only God crowning his own works in us” can never have a rational foundation.

What Christianity explains about evil

Christianity gives two accounts of how evil is possible:  a.) Whatever is other than God is not identical to its goodness and so is (logically) capable of existing without it and b.) God allows them.* It also gives one account of the order of evils: angelic, original, actual (it also gives some account of the order of motivations and actions). These explain how evils are possible and what order they came in, but this is not at all what most bothers us about them. That there is no logical answer to this, whether in theism or outside of it, is just the way things are.

*Just what this allowance involves is unclear. We need more thought done here to figure out whether actual evils might be allowed for the sake of possible goods (that may or may not happen) or whether evils in general have an order to some particular greater good (no sin, no Incarnation, etc.) but need not have a straight-line causality between any one evil and some greater good, or to what extent evil arises out of respect for the order of creation, which is inseparable from things that have no rational point (chance, action in vain, bad luck, the higher depending on the lower, etc.)

If “allowance” is a way of talking about how no evil needs to be meaningless it has some value, but if understood as making evil a sort of currency that God uses to purchase goods it is ridiculous and explains nothing. The Patristic dismissal of redemption as a “debt paid to Satan” is in line with this.

Creation in biblical and classical theism

Biblical creation opens with God moving over the deep – the chaotic, evil, unformed, non-blessed – and responding to them with the light coming forth from his logos. The light is then divided from the deep/darkness, is called good, and nothing is said about the darkness. Though the light first comes forth from the logos the need to divide it from darkness implies some degree of mingling between the two that God must set aright. There is both the procession from God from the beginning and the definitive eschatological separation of good and evil.

Biblical creation is a further possible development of a philosophical account of creation. A philosophical account can show that for God to give rise to anything less than himself required that evil be possible, but it cannot account for how moral evil is more than a possibility or for why physical evils are such that the lower sometimes lives at the expense of the higher. Again, classical theism can say no more than that these are allowed, but allowance does not suffice to explain why anything is more than a mere possibility. What classical theism takes as a possibility biblical theism takes as more than a possibility, and then starts with the divine response to it.

For classical theism, God’s response to creation is identical to his act of creation – it’s just conservation in being. In biblical theism an additional element is needed since something is introduced in addition to what is found in the act of creation as classical theism understands it. Biblical creation will therefore always be reparative and dialectical. Classical theism allows for at least the logical possibility of a deist god since there is nothing left to be done with creation beyond the act of creation. For Biblical creation, literally everything happens after there is something beyond what is given in creation.

There is also an account of creation ex nihilo in scripture, given from the mouth of the Maccabean mother to her martyr son. But notice it occurs entirely within the context of God’s response to evil : as God has brought the world out of non-being so too he will raise his holy ones from the dead (cf. . 27 – 28) Biblical creation appropriates themes from classical theism to account for its dialectical, reparative and redemptive character.

Powers in intelligences

Power is an ability, and in intelligent beings as such abilities are either

1.) Anything one can be responsible for or

2.) Skills.

Their difference is that the first includes what Latin speakers called peccata: mistakes, errors, sins, and wandering indefinitely to and fro. Surgeons have the ability (1) to effectively torture people, but this does not make torture included as a surgical ability (2).

If we want to speak of God’s omnipotence we can’t speak of it in sense (1), which is too vague and only appropriate to describing a finite creature. It’s an accidental sense of ability anyway, one that is included among rational abilities because some rationally creatures act out of ignorance.

The complexity objection against Darwinism

One of the very old objections to Darwinism was that it is more complex than special creation. The number of changes required to turn a wolf into a whale exceed the amount of work one would have to do to make a whale from almost anything. It’s actually harder to make a submarine out of a car than it is to make it de novo or from whatever might be lying around. It is easy enough to image a submarine turning into a car, but once one starts taking the engineering problems seriously the story becomes more an more like an episode of Mythbusters. 

But it’s hard to turn this into an in-principle argument against Darwinism since any pre-existing organs are more than none. It merely raises the familiar empirical question of how many changes are needed before they become prohibitive.

« Older entries Newer entries »