The modes of God’s presence

“As the presence of God does not come within our direct experience in its infinite essence, if we are to enter into divine communion and fellowship, it is necessary that God should manifest Himself to us in special and limited modes of presence. Such presence is relative. Thus God vouchsafes (a) a presence in glory to the hosts of heaven; (b) a presence of efficiency in nature; (c) a providential presence in human affairs; (d) an attentive presence to His worshippers and petitioners; (e) a judicial presence in our consciences; (f) a bodily presence in the Incarnate Son; (g) a mystical presence in the Church and her means of grace; (h) an official presence with His ministers; (i) a sacramental presence in the Holy Eucharist.”

The Being and Attributes of God, Francis J. Hall, D.D., New York:Longmans, 1918, p. 288.

Christians against ID, Part 2

[See Part I here.]

This topic came to my mind recently because I’m taking an Astronomy course at my local community college. In this course I learned that shortly after the Big Bang (that is, relatively shortly), there were only three elements: Hydrogen, helium and a small amount of lithium. These elements eventually started condensing and forming into galaxies and stars. It was through the life cycles of stars that the heavier elements developed, such as the ones we and our planet are made of. Our sun is not a first-generation star but was formed from the materials left over from prior generations of stars.

This got me thinking: The very matter that we and our planet are made of is a product of evolution of a sort, the evolution of matter from lighter elements to heavier ones through natural processes over billions of years. ID itself doesn’t dispute this.

But isn’t the evolution of the matter we’re made of, part of the process of making us?

It struck me that if God started the process that way, why wouldn’t he finish it that way? I think he would have used one continuous process, rather than starting with one process and finishing with another. I definitely think he could create us with one continuous process using natural means. Why not? Would it be too hard for him to figure out how to set up the universe, to fine-tune it, so to speak, in just such a way that you and I would eventually result? Too hard for an omnipotent God of infinite intelligence, who constantly holds every atom in existence simultaneously?

William Lane Craig (The Great) argues for the fine-tuning of the universe as evidence for God’s existence:

“For example, a change in the strength of the atomic weak force by only one part in 10^100 would have prevented a life-permitting universe. The cosmological constant which drives the inflation of the universe and is responsible for the recently discovered acceleration of the universe’s expansion is inexplicably fine-tuned to around one part in 10^120. Roger Penrose of Oxford University has calculated that the odds of the Big Bang’s low entropy condition existing by chance are on the order of one out of 10^10(123). Penrose comments, ‘I cannot even recall seeing anything else in physics whose accuracy is known to approach, even remotely, a figure like one part in 10^10(123).’ And it’s not just each constant or quantity that must be exquisitely finely-tuned; their ratios to one another must be also finely-tuned. So improbability is multiplied by improbability by improbability until our minds are reeling in incomprehensible numbers.”

So the universe is fine-tuned for life. Again ID proponents don’t deny this. In fact, they love it since it points to a Designer. So … why not take the fine-tuning argument to its logical conclusion? Could not the cosmos be so fine-tuned that, not only is life possible, but that it positively must have arisen? And in the forms God intended?

Again, why not?

Christians against Intelligent Design

I was an Intelligent Design enthusiast at one time, but my ardor was cooled a bit when I learned that some Catholic, Thomistic philosophers whom I respect, namely Edward Feser and Francis Beckwith, hold no truck with it. This surprised me when I first heard it, and I couldn’t imagine what the problem might be.

Feser has written numerous blog posts on the topic, and Beckwith a couple of articles as well. Even after reading these articles, I can’t say I fully grasp the problem they have with ID. But I thought I would make an effort to express it in my own words, in the hope that it will help me to get my head around it. And maybe some reader will be kind enough to correct me where I’m wrong and fill in any blanks that I leave.

The issue seems to revolve around the difference between a substance and an artifact in Aristotelian/Thomistic (A-T) philosphy. A substance is something that occurs in nature, whereas an artifact is something that is made by man (or another intelligent creature, although we don’t know of any others). The illustration that Feser uses is the liana vines which Tarzan uses to swing from tree to tree; and a hammock which Tarzan makes out of those vines. The former is a substance, the latter is an artifact.

An artifact has its form imposed on it from outside, whereas a substance possesses its form intrinsically.

Another way of looking at it, is to consider the four causes of an object: Material, efficient, formal and final. In the case of an artifact, the efficient, formal and final causes are imposed by the artisan. He decides what form the artifact will take (formal cause) and what its purpose is (final cause), and of course, shapes, forms or assembles the artifact (efficient cause). The material cause is the natural substance of which it is made, which in the case of Tarzan’s hammock is the liana vine.

Whereas in the case of a natural substance, the formal and final causes are intrinsic to itself. They are “built-in” to the thing as part of its nature, and not imposed by an external artisan.

The question arises, aren’t the formal and final causes of a natural substance imposed on the substance by God, and therefore “from without”?

This is one place where I’m not sure what Feser’s argument would be. But I’ll take a stab at it.

It’s true that God is the ultimate source of a substance’s formal and final causes. But he gives a thing its formal and final causes by creating its nature in the first place.

So, what’s the problem (the ID proponent asks)? Creating natures is what we’re talking about. ID doesn’t deny that the eye, for example, is a part of an animal’s nature. All it argues is that the eye could not have arrived at its present form through purely natural causes.

Ah, but see there: “It could not have arrived at its form through natural causes.” This implies that something besides nature is responsible for its form. But the AT guy just said that its form is intrinsic to its nature. Its form is intrinsic to its nature (AT), yet nature could not be responsible for its form (ID). I suspect, though I’m having trouble expressing it, that herein lies the conflict. Or at least one point of conflict.

Another way to express the conflict (I’m hoping these will all meet up eventually) is that ID treats natural substances as though they were artifacts, and God as an artificer rather than a creator. This is because ID purports to be a testable scientific hypothesis, accepting and working within the ground rules of science.

The ground rules of science (as far as I understand them) call for people to look for nothing but natural, by which is meant material and efficient, causes. Formal and final causes are ruled out.

ID accepts this and therefore treats a substance as though it only has material and efficient causes. It then treats God as though he is the efficient cause of the substance’s form. What this implies (I think) is that God is treated as a tinkerer, someone who takes material causes, or in other words matter, and forms or assembles it — from outside — into complicated machines which are then capable of living.

But here again is where I start to feel lost. I don’t think ID theorists are arguing that God assembles each and every substance “by hand”. I think they’re only saying that he designs them, and once designed he incorporates their design into their nature, such that they can reproduce and pass it on to their offspring. This design-cum-nature then becomes their formal cause, does it not?

Clearly I’m missing something, though not for lack of trying.

Let me be clear that I’m not arguing against or in favor of either side, but just trying to understand the A-T arguments against ID. If anyone can clarify any of this for me, it would be much appreciated!

What is usury?

I was wondering about this recently, and read a couple of blog posts (this is one but I can’t remember the other) which gave me a basic idea of what usury is and is not. I thought I would regurgitate what I learned in my own words.

The Church’s condemnation of usury meant the charging of interest on the loan of something where, in lending it, you were neither risking nor losing anything by letting someone else have the use of it.

Money during the Middle Ages and earlier was considered “fruitless”, meaning that, unlike a cow for example, or land, it didn’t produce anything. Unlike in today’s modern capitalistic societies, there were very few opportunities for investing money to earn more money. All you could do with money was either spend it or hoard it.

If you had more money than you needed in order to live, then your excess money would just sit somewhere and be unproductive. Therefore, if you loaned it to someone, as long as you were paid back, you weren’t losing anything, beause the money would have just sat there gathering dust anyway. And if you took security on the loan — say, holding onto someone’s goat until he paid you back — then you weren’t risking anything either. You had nothing to lose.

Charging interest in that scenario was considered usury.

It would be different if the thing you were lending were something productive, for example a cow. If you loaned someone a cow for a year, you would be losing out on the milk that it produced during that time.
So it would be fair to be compensated for the lost milk that the borrower would be gaining, and you would be losing. Plus, you would be risking something (assuming he didn’t give you anything of equal value as security), because he might mistreat or neglect the cow, causing it to get sick or die. In that case, charging money for the loan of the cow would not be usury.

In modern capitalistic countries, money is not fruitless as it used to be. This is because there are abundant opportunities for investment, where your money can make more money for you in various ways, even by simply being parked, for example, in a certificate of deposit or a mutual fund. So, if you lend your money to someone and he simply pays you back the same amount, you have lost whatever money you could have earned by investing it in some way.

In other words, the definition of usury has not changed. What has changed is that money has gone from being fruitless, i.e. having no potential to earn additional money, to being fruitful in that there are any number of ways in which your money can earn you more money over the course of time, without any work on your part. Money used to be like a piece of gold that you could hide under your mattress, which, no longer how long you left it there, would remain the same size and weight of gold and would buy more or less the same amount of goods. Whereas now it’s more like a cow used to be, in that it can “bear fruit”, or in other words multiply itself, just by being put in the right place.

Deliver me by Thy most sacred Body


O Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of the living God: Who by the will of the Father, with the co-operation of the Holy Ghost, hast by Thy death given life to the world, deliver me by this Thy most sacred Body and Blood from all my sins and from every evil. Make me always cling to Thy commands, and never permit me to be separated from Thee. Who with the same God the Father and the Holy Ghost livest and reignest, God, world without end. Amen.

Prayer for Fidelity, The New Roman Missal (Fr. Lasance), 1956.

Brilliant new blog

If any of my followers or readers are interested in linguistics, you might want to check out “The Classical Technopunk“, in which is offered brilliant and insightful (and no doubt, correct) criticism and analysis on linguistic issues. Which, by the way, is written by my son, who is a college freshman.

He intends to write on other topics as well. Linguistics is one of his main academic interests — though it’s not even his major — but he is also well versed in mathematics, music theory and computer science, as well as philosophy and theology.