Tuesday, 30 September 2014

God's Regular Action in Creation

St Thomas Aquinas distinguishes three kinds of action of God about the created things. Creational, ordinary, miraculous. The Creational action which ended when God on day Seven or indeed already in the evening of day six rested from all His works is neither ordinary nor miraculous. According to St Augustine it took exactly just one moment, but other Church Fathers do not agree and himself he says otherwise on other occasions. But he makes an important statement about that "single moment" : in it God determined the ENTIRE potential active and passive, natural, preternatural and miraculous, of each created thing. So, that moment was neither natural nor miraculous, it was something more extraordinary than miraculous breaks of the ordinary: it was a beginning of the ordinary. And as it was a beginning of all ordinary events, it was not an ordinary continuation of some previous state - as evolutionists taking his and St Thomas' statement about "non-miraculosity" of Creation as endorsing investigating "how" it happened according to how it "must" have happened to be an "ordinary continuation" of a previous state of nature.

However, even creationists do sometimes misdefine the meaning of God's ordinary action and its difference from the miraculous.

Here I will quote the Protestant Russell Grigg about it. Then I will say what is wrong with his statement.

God acts regularly through His creation by means of natural law; miracles are the way He acts on special occasions. In Exodus the miraculous is seen in:

  • 1) God’s foretelling of all the events to Moses so that he could announce them to Pharaoh.
  • 2) The beginning of all the events (and the cessation of some) at the exact times stipulated by Moses as the agent of Yahweh, and because of the actions or prayers of Moses and Aaron.
  • 3) The localizing of the events so that Goshen (where the Israelites lived) was excluded.
  • 4) The events themselves.

God is not precluded from using natural phenomena or secondary agents to accomplish His special purposes. In fact, Exodus 10:13 says that God brought the locusts of the eighth plague by ‘an east wind that blew across the land all that day and all that night’. And then Exodus 10:19 says that, to end this plague, God ‘changed the wind to a strong west wind, which caught up the locusts and carried them into the Red Sea’. However, this is the only plague which Moses detailed in this way.

Now, nothing of what Russell Grigg is saying about the miraculous is wrong. Neither that God can use secondary causes in extraordinary ways, nor that there is no duty for God to do so when doing a miracle. Nor of course the reasons why the Ten Plagues are a real miracle.

The problem is rather in his first statement.

God acts regularly through His creation by means of natural law.

Natural law is not an effective causality. It is a formula (or a set of forulas) to which non-miraculous effective causalities have to conform, in one way or another (and the formulas very often hold true even during miracles). I will have to remind of C. S. Lewis' intellectual discovery in one chapoter of Miracles. I think the chapter is called either Red Herring or Natural Laws/Laws of Nature.* Who has read it knows already what I will say.

On an Ocean steamer there may be a billard table, a table with snooker balls. A physicist seeing where they lie initially, taking into account the rolling of the ship, the angle at which the surface varies and the time periods in which it does so, taking into account how smooth the velvet of the snooker table is, taking into account how heavy and smooth the balls themselves are, taking into account how big the table is and how soon the movement is going to be stopped, will have no real trouble calculating where the balls will lie five minutes later. Or perhaps he will, but let us at least pretend he won't, let us pretend that his physics is fine enough to calculate that within a 95% secure probability and 5% margin of error.

"What if I take up the snooker pin and push a ball? Will his calculation still hold true?"

No, it will not. The laws of physics are not what causes the balls to move, but the rolling of the ship or the pushing with a cue by someone is what causes them to move. If an actor is not expected by a physicist, his actions will not be taken into account, and the balls will lie very differently from where they would have been without the intervention. But the laws of physics have not been broken. Rather they have been illustrated in a different way, by another "input of energy" - or to avoid that vague phrase by another act - than the one expected. This means that the laws of physics themselves are not these actors. And this in its turn means ... never, ever in the history of the universe have the laws of physics caused or effected anything. Akways whatever has been effected has been effected by something other than them. But, according to them, usually - or even during miracles.

And if I put one bobbin of sewing thread into my bag, do the laws of arithmetic guarantee I will find one bobbin in it the next day? Not if someone pilfered it, and if someone did, he broke the laws of France, though he won't be bothered by policemen about it, but not the laws of arithmetic. The point of C. S. Lewis is that the laws of nature are very much closer to laws of arithmetic than to the causality from which events come. In other words, no Thomist worth his salt should ever again tolerate someone describing "laws of nature" as a secondary efficient cause, they are not efficient causes at all, they are formal causes, precisely as the laws of geometry are formal causes of whatever goes with squareness of every square in the universe, but will not efficiently poroduce a single one of them.

Saint Thomas did not say that God in his ordinary Providence uses "laws of nature", he says He uses "secondary causes" as in seconary efficient causes. He also uses them ACCORDING to** laws of nature, but that is not what causes events to occur. This difference between Russell Griggs and Aquinas illustrates that though Fundamentalists may have, and Creationists on CMI like Sarfati do have an interest in Saint Thomas Aquinas, the Father of the Fundies remains a certain Enlightenment Man, called Locke. And those were less clear thinkers than the Scholastics of Thirteenth Century at the Sorbonne.

What Saint Thomas said very clearly was that God moves some THINGS - which He created in the first place - by other THINGS - which He also created and these are an order of finite number of steps to the THING or THINGS which God is moving without any interpediate THING moving it. He also states that God moves lots of BODIES by subjecting them to SPIRITS. So, when we talk of ordinary providence, God's use of secondary causes is in certain cases synonymous with God's using, note well in ordinary providence, not in separate occasions like miracles, angels to move visible things.

It is beyond the scope of this essay to trace the Patristic history of this idea. It is a fascinating subject which merits another essay. I found one father or writer say that God dominates winds, angels dominate flames, demons dominate waters (remember the Church uses exorcism over water before blessing it as Holy Water and recall also Our Lords' attitude at the end of Mark chapter 4 - an attitude which on other occasions He reserved for demons and Pharisees and for Satan. I found another saying - it is actually Peter the Lombard - that demons lack all faculties over material objects unless granted special permissions by God. But that would rather - I think, and I think St Thomas thought so too*** - be because of their punishment as damned than due to their angelic nature not having such a capability.

Think of a jacket on a hook. It is perfectly true that its pockets are not directly on the hook, but only hang from the hook via the rest of the jacket. Same is tree of sleeves and of handcuffs. Same is true of buttons and buttonholes. But there is nevertheless a finite number of parts to the jacket, and if most hang indirectly on the hook, one part at least, like a loop of ribbon attached to inside of collar where it is sewed onto the torso, hangs on the hook directly. Again, one can also hang it to a hook using a coat hanger - and then the shoulder parts of it will be hanging directly on the coat hanger.

The point is, God is like the hook, angels like the coat hanger. Causalities within the purely material, like forces between bodies, are like the textile coherence of the jacket. Here there is a very great discrepancy between image and what I intend to convey, since the hook and the coat hanger are not alive. They cannot "miraculously" lift and sew a torn pocket. God and angels can and do intervene at other kinds of occasions then the ordfinary ones. They are the main actors, closely followed by men's minds. That is not a statement that leaves the universe no coherence of lawfulness or order, it is a statement of the metaphysical nature of the order, which goes a long way to explain the metaphysical nature of the miracles, of the miraculous exceptions from it.

Hans Georg Lundahl
Paris, La Clairière
St Jerome of Stridon

Quote originally by Griggs from:

CMI : The ten plagues of Egypt
Miracles or ‘Mother Nature’?
by Russell Grigg

* Note that CSL would rather have said "laws of nature" because "the law of nature" or "natural law" to him would have meant something quite on another subject: the law of moral requirement a man has to meet even without having heard of God's revealed law and even without having a legislator or a just one at hand, simply because of his nature of being a man rather than a frog. As readers of Donald Duck will occasionally remember, real ducks have no antinudity requirement. Men, living with other men, even husband and wife when not during intercourse, and since the Fall of Adam, have one.

** Omnia fecisti pondere, numero et mensura. Or perhaps "numero, pondere et mensura." Somewhere in the writings of King Solomon, translation courtesy of Saint Jerome. Thank God Latin is easier to remember than "book-chapter-verse" references! Or perhaps it was even a Psalm.

*** I will be able to check, since I can find the passage in Lombardus again, and Saint Thomas wrote a comment to Sententiae.

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