Created Grace v. Missions

Thomas might speak to the debate over created or uncreated grace better if we say that his account of uncreated grace is the missions of the divine persons.

Psalm 53

 [F]ortes quaesierunt animam meam non proposuerunt Deum ante conspectum suum. 

The strong have sought my soul, and have not set God before their eyes. 

The strong are any of our desires not ordered to the divine law, since without this nothing can harm the spiritual life. Any extrinsic enemy of the soul tries to induce a temptation, i.e a desire not ordered to the divine law, and our soul only battles immediately against the desires that rise up within it. [E]ach one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed (Js. 1:14.)

[I]n veritate tua disperde [inimicos]

Destroy [my enemies] in your truth. 

God destroys the enemy of the soul not by blind power but by the illumination of the truth. Consequently, the enemy lives within the lie that dwells within the soul, loving with a blind desire that does not even know what it wants. 

[S]uper inimicos meos despexit oculus meus

My eye has looked down upon my enemies. 

The singular eye is speaking of the eye of the mind dwelling in divine truth and in a different sense of the eye of God and the saints, who have seen the destruction of our enemies already as a fait accompli, which we see through the confidence of hope arising from the obedience of faith. 

Scientific Extrinsicism

One of the subtle but foundational changes that Newton introduced into physics was the extrinsicism of action, i.e. that  physical action as such arises from extrinsic sources. The First Law is that action as such is from vis impressa, and absent this one has no action but only a uniform state of motion or rest. 

Aristotle, by contrast, could accept all of Newton’s equations but would have balked at the claim that physical action was inherently extrinsic. The physical world is the totality of what arises by nature, which is an intrinsic cause of motion and of rest. 

One clear difference is between the Newtonian and Aristotelian accounts of falling. Both agree that a fall is a tendency to a gravitational center, but in a Newtonian world this comes to be attributed to gravity, or a force between objects and outside of them, tugging them extrinsically. For Aristotle, by contrast, gravity is nothing but an intrinsic tendency of a body to seek a gravitational center, of which he (mistakenly) thought there was only one. Oddly enough, it’s hard to see how Newton avoids positing a superfluous entity that ends up acting from an intrinsic principle anyway, since if gravity is some sort of ghost tugging things to the center of mass it still seems to do so from an intrinsic principle. Tugging to a center is just what this ghost in inherently compelled to do because, well, that’s its nature. If it comes to that, why not just put an inherent nature in bodies and be done with it? 

One answer might be that this would modify to some extent our theory of an experiment. Experiments act on things from without – this seems to be just what we mean by the experimental condition, i.e. something we introduce into a system from without that is not introduced into the control group. This gives the sense that the real magic occurs from what is introduced extrinsically. If something else isn’t introduced into a system from without, then how does anything in the system change? 

Aristotle’s answer is that things are also being drawn into a system by the intrinsic natures of parts. So sure, water makes a difference in plant A that doesn’t occur in plant B if we deny it water, but this water is not just poured on the plant but also drawn into it. 

The intersection between Newton and Aristotle modifies parts of both systems. Newton’s Laws seem like the best articulations we have of physical natures as such but they need to be recast as arising from the intrinsic natures of things. As already explained, what Newton called gravitas or heaviness is exactly what any Latin speaker would have thought it was – the inherent tendency of a body to move to some point or simply to fall. One needs no ghost to tug on the body. The more interesting modification comes in his notion of inertia. What Newton should have said is that the nature of the physical as such is to preserve action it receives from a higher order, whether that action makes the physical entity rest or move, and as an accidental effect of this preservation it resists attempts to alter it. Newton is in fact discovering the true nature of the physical as an instrumental cause of a higher order. He called it “inertia” but in fact it is subordination or instrumentality. What he called vis impressa traces back ultimately to the intrinsic nature of higher order beings like living things or angels moving natures according to impressions that the physical object preserves, bearing in mind that once a physical object is in motion it can also run into other objects and cause motions in them. Newton’s cosmos is, pace Naturalism, a system that moves partially of itself by its heaviness and partially in its openness to causes of a higher order, as when, for example, an experimenter introduces an experimental condition that he withholds from the control group. In fact, the essential instrumentality of physical things (or “inertia”) is exactly why experiments work, or even physics itself. 

The hypostatic union

1.) The hypostatic union is a union between God and a creature. The normal union between God and creatures is in virtue of God’s power and so might be called a dynamic union. As the sermon goes, if God stopped thinking about you even for a moment – i.e. if he stopped doing something – you’d cease to exist. But God does not make Christ’s humanity exist merely by his action but most uniquely by the existence of the Second Person. 

2.) In dynamic unions we see what God does but in the hypostatic union we see what God is. Again, in any creature other than Christ we see God’s action while in any encounter of Christ we see God’s existence. Dynamic unions block an inference from the nature of one to the person of another: if I use a plastic pen you can’t conclude that I am plastic or non-living. But hypostatic union allows for just this sort of inference. If, for example, I were hypostatically united with a pen, it would be true that I was made of plastic and non-living, though not in virtue of my human nature (which can’t be either) but in virtue of my hypostatic union with the nature of the pen (which requires both.) 

3.) The difference between Christ’s sacramental or verbal presence does not differ from the beatific vision ex parte the object but only ex parte our insight, in the same way that if I went from not understanding Turkish to understanding it nothing would change on the side of the object I hear but only on the side of my insight. One does not clear Christ out of the way, or push aside his sacramental presence to see the “real” Christ among the blessed. 

4.) Did God not exist in 100BC? Yes. Just say it. 

This is not said of God as a person prescinding from the hypostatic union or of the divine nature even as part of Christ, but of the person as hypostatically united to an individual human nature. Again, the hypostatic union is not a dynamic one – it shows us what God is and not merely what he does. The truth that God did not exist in 100BC is nothing other than to say that there was no hypostatic union in 100BC, and so there was no God qua hypostatically united. 

5.) Individuality is opposed to universality but not to subsistence in another, since if individuality as such ruled out subsisting in another then individual accidents would be contradictory. Christ’s individual humanity also does not subsist of itself, though not in virtue of being an accident. 

6.) Unions are of three kinds: (1) Physical. The paradigm case here is by quantitative contact of parts, but it needs to be broadened to include union of fields or entangled particles. (2) Teleological. This is the union of appetite to the good. Such a union is greater than the physical union just described since it is the intrinsic cause of it. (3) Hypostatic. Here there is a union between the natural unions (1) or (2) and a supernatural being, such that the actions and existence of the natural being are attributed to the existence of the supernatural being, in virtue of is union with the natural. 


II SCG c. 49

Thomas’s first argument in II SCG c. 49:

No body contains something except by a quantity of the same measure, so that it contains a whole in the whole of itself, a part by a part, and a greater by a greater and a lesser by a less. The intellect by contrast does not grasp something known by a quantity of the same measure since it understands and grasps in the whole of itself both whole, part, greater and lesser in quantity.

Thomas is comparing the way bodies contain (continere) objects to the way intellects grasp them (comprehendere.) So the same body is the content of a glass jar the mind though only in different ways.

The argument foregrounds the notion of intellectual content in its opposition to a physical container, though in the active English and Latin are more comfortable speaking of an intellectual grasp or apprehension than an intellectual container, both unproblematically in the passive use content for both what is in the container and in the mind.

Thomas thus argues for different meanings of all the relevant terms, e.g. grasping (by intellect vs. by pliers) containing (in an intellect vs. in a room) content (intellectual vs. written vs. boxed-up.) Perhaps a different version of the argument would argue that if all things are physical then the only content would be physical content, the only grasp of anything would be a physical grasp, which clearly is not the case. But this last argument seems vulnerable to the objection that it’s parallel to another one against the existence of master fletchers: if a master fletcher made all possible arrows then he would also have to make the arrow of time, but since he clearly can’t do so then he is not a master fletcher. This gets all the terms wrong, however, since Thomas is proving intellect is not a body from the fact that it grasps objects and has content, which is analogous to proving that the arrow of time is not a physical arrow since it is not made by a fletcher.

It’s not bias

Our desire for reporting or political discussion free of bias is probably just a desire for reporters and politicians with prudent judgment and love of the good.

What else would bias-free reporting be? It can’t be the totalizing vision of just anything and everything, since this would be best achieved by reporting things entirely randomized and perhaps even unrecognizable (There are no stains on the back leg of the desk Evan Falcone uses in art class! Jill Jones’s skirt size is different when she shops at Macy’s…) We need agreements about significance and and what counts as insight into them.

But then again, what does any of this have to do with reporting? We made technologies that allow one to monetize the attention of large groups of persons. The point is to simply feed attention-grabbing product into one end of the machine and collect the dollars that come out the other. What does bias have to do with any of this? What would the philosopher king or virtuous man do with the machine?

Even if the machine seeks attention per se, it knows one needs things of real significance to get it. What rulers do matter, stories about injustices matter, etc. In a word, common goods matter. Here’s where those who feed the machine take on the role of kings enforcing unity and devotion to a common good and prophets testifying to the supreme common good.

So our complaints about bias turn out to be disbelief that some common good is actually the supreme one, or perhaps even a good at all. To be sure, racial justice is a common good, as is personal autonomy, public health, (some type of) sexual freedom and freedom of association, but it’s hard to take seriously that any of them would be a supreme, trumps-all common good. None of these, after all, is sacred. This leaves us forced to either recognize the sacrality of something else or sacralize one of these. Both options are terrifying, of course, and they should be.

The axioms of Catholic sexual ethics

Catholic sexual ethics reduces to two axioms: 

1.) Human sexuality is a common good. 

2.) Non-inseminating sexual activity is physically or “biologically” defective. 

“Human sexuality” is taken in many of its contemporary meanings, including sexual differentiation into male and female, sexual intercourse, and the habitus or orientation to sexual activity. Sexuality is ordered to two common goods (i) the continued existence of the species and (ii), in social species, a continuance within a families, tribes and societies. So my existence as a male is essentially a way of being a part of ongoing existence within a society; the habitus of sexual activity is a desire precisely for that sort of existence; and sexual activity itself is my effective desire to bring it about. It should go without saying that none of this precludes other dimensions of sexuality, especially since anything as fundamental and deep seated in our identity is inherently mysterious. Most importantly, for reasons that will be clearer with (2) none of this is an immediate claim about one sexual act being perfect or defective in its moral species. 

(2) is a claim about the physical character of the sexual act and says nothing about it’s moral character. The distinction is crucial since (2) is only axiomatic when taken in this sense, and since a sexual ethic would clearly beg the question if it began by asserting the moral goodness or evil of sexuality in its first axiom. It also needs to be stressed from the beginning that it is obviously idiotic to claim that every act that that intentionally renders something defective in its physical species is also morally defective e.g. antibiotics clearly bring about physical defects in bacteria but it’s evidently morally unproblematic to do this, and the same can be said for killing pests with crop sprays, wearing antiperspirants, chewing gum (i.e. mastication without swallowing), or walking on your hands (whatever function one gives to hands, it’s hard to imagine it not being impeded by walking on them.) The list might well extend ad infinitum. 

From the axioms, let’s start with this conditional:

A.) If it is morally wrong to cause a physical defect in sexuality, Catholic sexual ethics makes sense.

If, for example, all intentional non-inseminating sexual activity is morally defective and not just physically so, then it’s immediately clear there is a moral defect in homosexuality, masturbation, and barrier or withdrawal methods of contraception. But it’s also easy to infer the general marital context of sexual activity, since even if many see no problem in causal or uncommitted sex there isn’t anyone who can’t see the moral and even intellectual defect in casual widespread insemination since, for example, the whole premise of safe sex is that such a thing is stupid and morally irresponsible.

We can also see that the Catholic permission of periodic continence (“NFP”) is not arbitrary or irrational since infertility is no impediment to insemination. This is just as true if the infertility is due to age, and so there is no per se impediment to, say, marrying a menopausal woman.

And now for the main argument:

B.) Inducing physical defects in common goods is morally wrong.

Intentional non-insemination induces a physical defect in a common good.

The second premise follows from the conjunction of the two axioms given above, but the first is an axiomatic claim about common goods. If your company gives you a company car or a stapler to use for office work then you can call each of them yours and you can certainly use and enjoy them, but you can’t destroy or sell them. Again, you can use a public park and even enjoy it, but you can’t cut down its trees for your own bonfires or build a personal residence on it. In terms of property law, you have the right of usus and fructus but not abusus.

But to induce a physical defect in anything is to exercise the right of abusus, and while we have such a right with respect to natures that are beneath us (like bacteria, plants, or non-human animals) or with respect to things that are limited to our private good (like our nutritive powers or powers to sweat or use our hands) we have no such power over common goods in which we participate. All the many counterexamples to the (admittedly often poorly articulated) “natural law” accounts of sexuality fail by not recognizing sexuality as a common good.

With this in place we can account for the rest of Catholic sexual ethics. While contraceptive pills and vasectomies are not impediments to insemination they are clear assertions of the right of abusus over the common good of the reproductive power. While we are still sorting out the many strands of “trans” ideology there is a clear problem with surgical mutilations of the sexual organs or the claim that there are more sexualities than male or female, as this latter would assert that there is some yet undiscovered principle of participating in the common good of the continuation of the species in the sense usually called “biological.”

Randomness and causality

If you teach anything about causality it doesn’t take long to hit some version of an argument like this

If you had a large number of these atoms, you could predict how much time would need to pass for half of them to decay: that’s the definition of a half-life. For any single atom, however, if you ask, “When will this atom decay?” or, “What will cause this atom to finally decay?” there is no cause-and-effect answer… radioactive decay forces us to reckon with this uncomfortable fact:

The same effect that we can achieve with an instigating cause can also be achieved, naturally, without any such instigating cause at all.

In other words, there is no cause for the phenomenon of when this atom will decay. It is as though the Universe has some sort of random, acausal nature to it that renders certain phenomena fundamentally indeterminate and unknowable. In fact, there are many other quantum phenomena that display this same type of randomness, including entangled spins, the rest masses of unstable particles…To assert that “whatever begins to exist must have a cause” ignores the many, many examples from our quantum reality where — to put it generously — such a statement has not been robustly established.

1a.) I’m Thomist so I don’t think natural science is capable of deciding the question whether the universe is finite or infinite, which makes me against the Kalam too, but the (very representative) argumentation given against it here is too loose to know what to do with. 

1b.) The first problem is that nothing in the argument shows one how QM tells the difference between (i) seeing no cause or giving no explanation vs. (ii) seeing there is no cause or seeing no explanation can be given. The text as such doesn’t conclude to (ii) as opposed to (i) though it seems insistent on asserting (ii) for reasons it never shares with the reader. Clearly (i) isn’t interesting as not giving explanations is something humans do all the time and goats and beetles do throughout the whole of their lives. We might not give explanations for all sorts of reasons: stupidity, indifference, not needing to, out of tact, or most dramatically because no explanation is possible.

1c.) It’s unclear what the half-life argument is trying to show. All sorts of things are predicted for individuals as parts of a larger group that can’t be predicted for them as individuals. I am shocked if I as an individual get into a car accident while I am not surprised at all if some individual as a part of a large enough group gets in a car accident. Said another way, I’m surprised if I win a lottery after the numbers are called but not that someone wins it after they are called. This sort of thing is what insurance actuaries, bookies, casinos, and weathermen spend all day computing. Of course the half-life group outcome is predicted in a way that doesn’t predict outcomes for individuals as individuals. What else do we expect out of probability equations? Did someone prove that probability equations are only applicable to inherently probable things? This sounds like a proof that English could only be used to describe inherently English things – crumpets and cricket perhaps, but not eclairs or volleyball.  The fact is that we are dealing with a smuggled ontology of probability equations that needs to get pushed into the open.

1d.) Again, Thomists have been insisting forever that nature has lots of chance in it, and we meant real chance, as in purely unpredictable conjunctions of things. Any sheerly accidental conjunction is not a per se one, notwithstanding its being predictable at least given large enough numbers. One can’t get very far in discussions of causality without perseity. 

2a.) This is a subordinate point but still a significant one: while the premise he is trying to refute is that whatever comes into existence has no cause, the radioactive decay example is formally about something corrupting or going out of existence. Where is the ontology that shows us that corruption taken formally falls under all the same causal descriptions as generation taken formally? even if we posit that every generation is from a corruption, this doesn’t give them the same logos or causal structure. One crucial difference is that generation is a change per se whereas corruption is not. Perseity again! 

2b.) The main problem, however, is with the word exists showing up in the conclusion when it is in none of the premises. When did QM become a metaphysics? What resources does it bring to bear on existence taken formally? Does it solve grammatical problems too? Similar things apply to the account of causality. Where is that definition given? As soon as we start taking any of the terms formally or per se, it’s not clear what QM has to say about “everything that begins to exist has a cause.”

3.) Obviously, none of these points is beyond criticism, even very straightforward criticism. We all recognize that Schrodinger’s cat is a more mysterious thing than actuarial tables, and that the double slit experiment and the Bell theorem can’t just be conceptualized in mechanical ways. But this doesn’t licence ontologies that are as dramatic as they are loosely argued.  

Physical science and the infinite

Assume that physical science is incapable of a definitive or final state and so progresses only in the sense of ruling out false hypotheses as opposed to resting in the final true one. There are two ways to understand this sort of motion:

1.) It’s progress toward knowing infinite intelligible things in an endless series.

2.) It’s progress toward an infinite intelligible thing as an end to the series.

My claim is that (1) is only possible if (2) is.

We can obviously enjoy (1) without needing to state a reason why we do: just as we can indefinitely enjoy eating new food one day after another we can enjoy finding new truths ad infinitum. The question is not that we enjoy (1) but the causal role that (2) plays on it, even if this causal role usually goes unnoticed.

Reason starts from the desire for an end and so it can only embark on the endless in virtue of some X other than that endless series. This X renders the endless desirable and relative to X the infinite series is not desirable in itself.

But isn’t finding new truths ad infinitum desirable in itself? Yes, if you mean that we don’t seek any one truth with the intention of abandoning it for a later one, the way we might seek money only to trade it for a car. Newton, for example, didn’t set up a physical system so that it could be transformed by Einstein. Doesn’t this is the point: We set up systems intending them at least to better approximate something final, but (tautologically) no part of an endless series approximates something final in the series. So our enjoyment of the infinite series is as an approximation of some X outside the series.

So is our X just intellectual stimulation or the hope to better humanity? Not at all: neither satisfies the desire to know except accidentally and not in the manner of a theory being approximated. X is therefore an object of intellectual vision embracing in itself infinite possible intelligibles. This is what Thomas calls the beatific vision.

Science as providential

One danger in discussions of science and religion is a largely unspoken presumption that sciences are entirely our own doing in opposition to a religious or faith-based sphere of action comprising all our interactions with God. On this account the scientific is taken as something we did for ourselves apart from God’s providential activity in the soul. When this happens we think we should praise chiefly man and not God for sanitation, eradicating smallpox, increased crop yields, synthetic insulin, antibiotics, and the all but total elimination of plague, infant mortality, and famine. People prayed for centuries for exactly the society in which we find ourselves. So why so little thanksgiving? Why no psalms in praise of divine mercy? 

No sooner was the prayer answered than we grumbled that the prayer did nothing and that we solved the problem by ourselves. If only we stopped praying and started sciencing sooner! The assumption is that science is our work without divine help and everything else is “religion” or “faith.” With such a postulate in place “religious” persons are left to scramble for an actual religious act, since by definition it can’t be one that we do for ourselves and it certainly can’t be rational. If it’s rational, after all, it’s just science; if it’s “moral” then is this “moral” component rational or not? If so, it’s science! The advance of Enlightenment can look like nothing more starting with the assumption that the rational falls outside of God’s causality and then proceeding to notice that things are done better when they are done rationally. 

But to believe in a creator at all means believing nothing falls outside the providential order, and rational goods are as much an expression and gift of the divine mind as a natural goods or even goods arising by chance. Finite goods exist only relative to the infinite good and are therefore only desired given our antecedent desire for union with God. The tremendous goods of the scientific revolution are not a promethean success at winning for ourselves what the gods never gave us but are acts of divine mercy. The last century or so was an unprecedented era of divine mercy which we’re unable to see so long as we’re bewitched by the neo-Pelagian assumption that we won all scientific goods for ourselves. 

Scripture contains many warnings about the dangers of prosperity. Theologians might take this as odd since it is not prosperity but evil that was the greatest argument against God’s existence, but it turns out that while evil disposes one to argue against God’s existence prosperity disposes one to assume there is no God, and to take the goods we enjoy in prosperity as so entirely of one’s own hands that we should feel foolish for any time we spent praying for them. All this is gross impiety of course, and we probably have a century’s worth of unsaid prayers of thanksgiving for God’s mercy as shown through the goods of science and engineering. Let’s get started. 


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