A new post on Fr Aidan Kimel’s blog Eclectic Orthodoxy caught my eye, because it references the late Hugh McCann, whose book Creation and the Sovereignty of God impressed me greatly recently. McCann seeks to show how true libertarian freedom is compatible with – and even depends upon – full divine sovereignty over all created events.
Kimel picks up on this theme (his links to McCann are worth following, rather than have me botch an explanation). McCann’s scheme is an example of the principle of double causation, which in one form another has been the dominant understanding of thinking Christians for many centuries, and of the Hebrews before that, at least as far back as the writing of the books of Kings and Genesis. I would be the first to say that no detailed philosophical scheme, including McCann’s, is without its problems, because at best they’re attempts to look as far as is possible into the most hidden things of God, and at worst they’re in danger of fooling us into thinking we understand the secret things of God.
But they’re valuable in demonstrating that there are ways to grapple with such mysteries as divine ordination and human freedom without divorcing them, and they’re necessary because too many people down the millennia have, by opposing God’s causation to ours as if they are simply alternatives, sacrificed either divine sovereignty, or human freedom, or both. Open Theism is a current example of the former: the latter is less conducive to the autonomous spirit of the times, but could be exemplified by Hypercalvinism.
Kimel points us back to a former post where he has discussed double causation, citing this time mainly Herbert McCabe, an also-deceased Dominican philosopher of religion (influenced, it seems, mainly by Aquinas, Wittgenstein and Karl Marx!). McCabe writes:
“All created causes make a difference to the world. They are parts of the world which impose themselves on other parts of the world. When the hurricane has passed by, you can see that a hurricane has passed by; the world is different from what it was before. But God’s creative and sustaining activity does not make the world different from what it is—how could it? It makes the world what it is. The specific characteristic effect of the Creator is that things should exist, just as the specific characteristic effect of a kicker is that things should be kicked. But clearly there is no difference between existing and not existing. The world is not changed in any way by being created. If you like, you can talk about the horse before it began to exist and the horse after it began to exist (though it is an odd way of talking); but you must not say that there is any difference between the two, for if the horse before it began to exist was different, then a different horse would have come into existence.”
This quotation speaks wisdom, for it accounts for the fact that things that are to us caused by the necessity of law, or logic, or by the exigencies of chance, or by free human decisions are, to God, simply created, for he creates all these causes and their operations in eternity. God is not another agent in the world, but the creative cause of all such agents, which nevertheless retain their status as true causes.
Unfortunately, Kimel then goes on to cite McCabe to conclude that such double causation proves the folly of Intelligent Design, and indeed of natural theology generally:
And this, by the way, is the reason why intelligent design theory is fatally flawed:
“A hurricane leaves its thumbprint on the world, but God does not leave any such thumbprint. We can say, ‘This looks as though a hurricane has been here’, but we cannot sensibly say, ‘This looks as though God has been here.’ That is why the famous ‘Argument from Design’ (commonly attributed to William Paley) is a silly one. You can’t say, ‘look how the world is [orderly, complicated or whatever], so it must have been made by God.’ You can no more say, ‘This sort of world must have been made by God’, than you can say, ‘This sort of world must exist.’ The arguments of St Thomas Aquinas to show that God exists (as distinct from the five arguments usually attributed to him) do not try to show that because the world has this or that feature it must be made by God. They try to lead us from consideration of this or that feature to the very difficult and elusive metaphysical notion that the world exists instead of not existing.”
Eddie Robinson, in particular amongst Hump writers, has noted (and questioned the necessity of) the tendency of Thomistic writers from Ed Feser to writers on BioLogos to trash natural theology totally. At one level, their observations may be valid. To speak of God’s “interfering” with nature is nonsensical when all the time his creative and sustaining activity “makes the world what it is.” To distinguish what God has designed from what he has not is invalid on the same grounds (Free process people should take a lesson from that, probably far more than IDists). And it is true to say that where Aquinas’s “Five Ways” succeed, they have deductive force rather than the merely inductive force of empirical arguments for design.
But I think the desire to distance themselves from Paley may perhaps blind such thinkers to another level in the matter. And I think the case is made by the limiting instance of miracles. If, for example, we take the feeding of the five thousand, it is perfectly possible to couch the event in the same terms that McCabe uses: as far as God is concerned, to create from five loaves and two fishes sufficient to feed five thousand men, and have baskets left over, is neither more difficult nor more extraordinary than his creating and sustaining the loaves and fishes in the first place, or creating the chance that somebody had them with him, or even creating the disciples in their capacity as questioners of Jesus’s ability to feed so many. To paraphrase McCabe, we might say:
The loaves and fishes are not changed in any way by being created. If you like, you can talk about the loaves before they were multiplied and the loaves after they were multiplied; but you must not say that there is any difference between the two, for if the loaves before they were multiplied were different, then different multiplied loaves would have come into existence.
But we know, without any long reflection, that this is an inadequate understanding for although, since God is eternal, the incident of the loaves and fishes was part of God’s whole timeless creation, yet as an event in time and place not only did it uniquely demonstrate God’s immediate power, and his concern for that particular crowd, but it took place for that very purpose. For the purpose of miracles is primarily, apart from anything else, to show God’s power.
There are other reasons too, of course: God also wanted to show compassion, to validate the ministry of Jesus, and to teach a number of lessons from the parallels with Moses as the provider of food from God for Israel to the lesson of Jesus as the true bread which John goes on to tell in his gospel. But even those reasons must begin with “Why then did God show this great demonstration of his power over nature?”
The same is true of every miracle, not only in the Bible but in the experience of that multitude of saints down the centuries who have prayed to God as their only salvation from distress, and seen the humanly expected course of things altered:
And what more shall I say? Time will not allow me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and obtained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the raging fire, and escaped the edge of the sword; who gained strength from weakness, became mighty in battle, and put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead, raised to life again.
We may add that the Bible’s witness to itself is that it reveals, in a special way, the wisdom and truth of God, for all that it was written by men with the same brains, pens and parchment as are common in the world. Now it may be argued that miraculous signs and special revelation serve a particular purpose which is not served by the ordinary entities and events of nature; they are exceptional, by definition. But that caveat doesn’t change the fact that McCabe’s argument is not, after all, universally true: if there are sufficient reasons, then God’s creative energy – though to him, creative business as usual, we may happily concur – may be witnessed by his creation as a revelation of his apparent direct action within space-time.
To deny that any such inferences may be drawn from events in nature, as opposed to the ministry of Jesus or the prophets – such as the inference of design in contradistinction to chance – one first needs to be sure that there are no sufficient reasons for God to have, in appearance, “shown his hand” as he does in miracle. And, as far as I can see, it is not possible to reach such certainty.
Indeed, on the contrary there are reasons to suppose that God might well wish to be “detectable” in this way. I suggest that all such reasons probably have to do with mankind, and our recognition of God, for no doubt it is within the ability of God simply to have made the world as it is appear, ex nihilo, with no train of secondary efficient causes.
So I don’t think one should say, for example, that God had to act within time to bring the DNA code into existence because “natural causes” could not have been sufficient. He could have made them sufficient and the Deists would have chortled all the way to science’s predetermined outcomes. On the other hand, should God deliberately create secondary causes insufficient for such a thing to occur, it would be a demonstration of his power and deity to those who studied those causes and found the natural probabilities too low to be realistic. And we do, after all, read at various points in Scripture, not least in Romans 1, that God did make creation to reveal his hand transparently, and made humans in turn to be able to perceive it, unless they blind themselves rebelliously.
This would be as much as to say that there seems no compelling reason why God might not quite deliberately build gaps into his workmanship which, giving the iindication of direct divine activity in the past, would cause men to honour him. Remember, “God of the gaps” is an argument based on Deism, not on the biblical God, for whom nature is a tool for him to use as he pleases.
But of course, we do not need to dig so deep into nature as the DNA code, or the other byways explored by Intelligent Design proponents. As I wrote in discussing Asa Gray, the arguments of natural theology used by both him amd William Paley do not depend on seemingly miraculous interventions, but on the very fact of cosmos rather than chaos, of which individual examples like the eye or reproduction are only illustrative examples. As I quoted Gray:
Organic Nature abounds with unmistakable and irresistible indications of design, and, being a connected and consistent system, this evidence carries the implication of design throughout the whole. On the other hand, chance carries no probabilities with it, can never be developed into a consistent system, but, when applied to the explanation of orderly or beneficial results, heaps up improbabilities at every step beyond all computation. To us, a fortuitous Cosmos is simply inconceivable. The alternative is a designed Cosmos.
The argument does not, in fact, say that because these things are so complicated they would not have happened without God’s intervention: rather, they focus Aquinas’s teleological argument on the harmonious relationship between all the ends found in nature which, according to the Fifth way, are each in themselves evidence for God (and against the alternative, which is chance).
I’m not sure that God could have made a wisely-constituted oikonomos without leaving the tell-tale signs of his designing hand: if he had done so, it would have been pretty inhospitable for us, I think. But Scripture tells us that he always intended to show his power and deity to mankind in some limited way by his creation, just as he intended to show it in more detail by that same Scripture, by miraculous signs and – supremely – by stepping into the world in the Person of Jesus.
So whilst we may well hold, on sound philosophical grounds (which I happen to share), that the world is “all that it is” by one act of creation in eternity, including all its contingencies, human choices, and divine acts as well, there seems no good reason to treat divine acts in creation, seen from our own viewpoint, as being just as different in kind from the regular happenings of nature as are the free choices which, we believe, are part of of the divine image that makes us more than merely “natural”.
Taking the undetectability of God too far doesn’t only get rid of natural theology (and that rather unjustly), but miracles as well, and indeed most that makes the God of the philosophers differ from the God of Jesus Christ. I’ll finish by quoting Blaise Pascal’s memorial to the experience of the latter in his own life:
The year of grace 1654
Monday, November 23, day of Saint Clement, pope and martyr,
and others in the martyrology.
Vigil of Saint Chrysogonus, martyr, and others.
From about ten-thirty in the evening to about half an hour after midnight.
God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob, not of the philosophers and savants.
Certitude, certitude; feeling, joy, peace.
God of Jesus Christ. Deum meum et Deum vestrum.
“Thy God shall be my God.”
Forgetting the world and everything, except God.
He is only found by the paths taught in the Gospel.
Grandeur of the human soul.
“Just Father, the world has not known you, but I have known you.”
Joy, joy, joy, tears of joy.
I separated myself from him: Dereliquerunt me lantern aquae vivae.
“My God, will you abandon me?”
May I not be eternally separated from him.
“This is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and him whom you have sent, Jesus Christ.”
I separated myself from him; I fled him, renounced him, crucified him.
May I never be separated from him!
He is only kept by the paths taught in the Gospel.
Total and sweet renunciation.
Total submission to Jesus Christ and to my director.
Eternally in joy for a day of trial on earth.
Non obliviscar sermones tuos. Amen.