An overlong account of creation

An atheist claim at Strange Notions:

[I]f God exists, then prior to creating anything, all that existed was pure perfection. But at present, there exists a universe made up of finite constituents. That fact is more surprising on theism than it is on a view which states that the natural world is an uncreated, causally-closed system.


[I]f God is to have reasons to create at all, those reasons would lead him to create one or more of what philosopher Evan Fales calls perfect creatures. A perfect creature is a person just like God in every way but whereas God is uncreated, a perfect creature is created. A perfect creature is maximal in his power, his knowledge, and most importantly, his moral perfection.

Something is fishy in the foundations of the argument though, since all these same premises could be evidence against the existence of God from the fact that we don’t have perfect houses. What, aren’t houses “finite constituents” of the universe? Look, there’s one over there!

So are we supposed to restrict ourselves to just natural things?  If Lassie has a genetic disease making him an imperfect dog, are we to assume that the theist position is that the imperfection is a feature of Lassie’s creation by God? Doesn’t the fact that it is a genetic disease require that it arise from his ancestors?

If you want to talk about creation so far as it is set apart from the productive activity of the universe, then you can’t just take a finite thing and force one to choose whether its features are created or Naturalist. Your account of creation demands some hypothesis about the contributions from secondary causes, and these hypotheses run the gamut from Berkeleyian divine-mind-projection theories and various forms of occasionalism to the Scholastic Molinist-Thomist theories to Darwin’s well-known if continually overlooked framing of his own evolutionary account of as an account of secondary causes. But on any account what we actually find in any supposedly created universe is always conditioned by secondary causes, and so where these cannot bring forth perfect persons they will neither be found nor intended to exist in creation.*

We either have to take “creation” as primary-cum-secondary causes or as the primary cause in its opposition to the secondary, and either way breaks a straightforward inference from the features of things to the act of creation. What is odd about the Strange Notions debate is that both debaters are working from the same incoherent conflation of these two meanings since both assume that if creation occurs we should be able to take any feature of the universe as directly related to creation, which is something like taking any act of the executive branch as an act of the president. There is, of course, some sense in which every executive action is from the president, but any account of how this occurs hangs on a latticework of qualifying features like co-operation, delegation of authority, initiative and latitude in subordinates, spheres of competence, and the toleration or suppression of incompetence, mistakes, or mutiny.

So how should be understand the primary : secondary cause relation, where “creation” is sometimes understood as both the first term alone and as the confluence of both terms? Here’s a theory:

Creation is the communication of existence to what is other than God, and one of the simpler ways of dividing this from the action of secondary causes is to divide what causes existence from what causes becoming. By existence we mean the unreachable limits of both ends of the Porphyrian tree, which can neither reach existence as some highest genus nor as a concrete particular this. All concepts are therefore dynamic entities with a trajectory both upwards toward what is at the limit of abstraction and a trajectory downwards toward what is the principle of all human intellection in sense. Without existence as a downward limit of conceptualization concepts could not be about anything, without the upward limit they could have no intelligibility, and so to do away with being at either limit is to lose both the possibility and foundation of concepts.

When we say that the creator is the cause of existence or “why we have something or not nothing” what this involves is primary causes : secondary causes :: being : conceptualizable.  On the one hand, this means that all human concepts are proportionate to secondary causes and are only appropriate for knowing them, on the other hand human thought can know these concepts as trajectories to an unreachable limit and so as dependent on a non-conceptual other than serves as a foundation. In one sense this non-conceptual other is nature, both in the subconscious structures of mind and the sensory givens of the world, but it must be nature as ordered to truth and not mere human prejudice, which requires that this foundation either be or arise from intelligence.

More to the point, the dynamic character of concepts can only be unified by being if being overcomes the opposition between the abstract-intelligible-formal and the concrete, i.e. by what lacks physical genesis while still being a source of action, and what is entirely present in both the world of sense and of abstract being while nevertheless being infinitely removed from either. It’s either this or its source that we call God as creator.

The truth of Naturalism is the same truth Kant found, sc. that existence as such is not found among concepts and therefore is not the object of properly human science. But this overlooks the complementary fact that existence is an unreachable limit of the concepts themselves in such a way that it can be known as truth-preserving while overcoming the opposition of the necessary existence of the intelligible and the self-existence of what requires personality or something transcending it. And any claim that it isn’t interested in me has to get past the obvious objection that it is structuring my thought right now.

Where the account of creation assumed at Strange Notions fits in this is anyone’s guess.

*That said, even if the universe is complete in space it is not complete in time, and so any definitive ruling out of “perfect persons” could only be done from the end of history.


1 Comment

  1. Dylan said,

    February 2, 2017 at 2:13 pm

    According to St. Gregory of Nyssa, “the perfection of human nature consists … in its very growth in goodness” (Life of Moses, 1.10). He grounds this in the fact that all creatures qua creatures are mutable, and thus constantly changing. A “perfect creature” as described by Fales is thus metaphysically impossible. Perfection cannot be a state for any creature, only a continual process (“its very growth in goodness”). Indeed, a “perfect creature” is a contradiction in terms. Perfect is a synonym for divine, and perfection can only be attained by creatures to the extent they participate in divinity through continual “growth in goodness” (not to mention knowledge and power). Because there is no upper limit—God is the Good and is infinite and creatures are by definition finite—there can never be a point of arrival at a perfect state.

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