By coincidence, I came across a couple passages in the Summa which seem relevant to this topic, though not directly addressing it:
“For we must take into consideration the difference between a particular agent, that presupposes something and produces something else, and the universal agent, who produces the whole. The particular agent produces the form, and presupposes the matter; and hence it is necessary that it introduce the form in due proportion into a suitable matter. And so it is reasonable to say that it introduces the form into such matter, and not into another, on account of the different kinds of matter. But it does not seem reasonable to say so of God Who produces form and matter together, whereas it is considered reasonable to say of Him that He produces matter fitting to the form and to the end.”
He talks about a particular agent and the universal agent. As I understand it, the universal agent is God, who creates everything: He creates the whole context in which everything happens. The particular agent (a watchmaker?) makes something by thinking of a form, and then looking around for suitable preexisting matter into which to introduce the form.
He says that God is not like this. Rather, God produces both form and matter, and makes the matter “fitting to the form and to the end” – i.e., he creates matter which is suitable to the formal and final causes that he has in mind.
This points up the manner in which God is not like a watchmaker, who thinks up a complex mechanism and makes it out of preexisting stuff, but makes the stuff to suit the thing he has thought up. Thus, God thought us up and then set about creating a universe in which we might come into existence.
But does the ID theorist necessarily disagree with this? Would he not agree that God created the natural processes through which matter evolved, specifically because he wanted exactly that type of matter into which to introduce the forms that he had in mind?
In which case, the process would go like this: God creates the singularity which exploded at the Big Bang, and fine-tunes it such that the matter we’re made of evolves just the way he wants it. But once that process is finished, once he has the matter in hand, he then takes the preexisting matter and forms it into the organisms we see around us, including ourselves (since it is believed that this cannot happen via “natural processes”). So God is both the watchmaker and the creator of the matter of which the watch is made.
The problem, it seems to me, is this idea of breaking up God’s creative process into two separate processes, one of which works through natural causes, and the other of which does not. For me it just seems far more intuitively correct, that God would create us through one continuous process.
“Article 8. Whether creation is mingled with works of nature and art?
“It would seem that creation is mingled in works of nature and art.
* * *
“Objection 3. [I]n nature like begets like. But some things are found generated in nature by a thing unlike to them; as is evident in animals generated through putrefaction. Therefore the form of these is not from nature, but by creation; and the same reason applies to other things.
“Reply to Objection 3. For the generation of imperfect animals, a universal agent suffices, and this is to be found in the celestial power to which they are assimilated, not in species, but according to a kind of analogy. Nor is it necessary to say that their forms are created by a separate agent. However, for the generation of perfect animals the universal agent does not suffice, but a proper agent is required, in the shape of a univocal generator.”
The hypothetical objector argues that some things are generated in nature “by a thing unlike to them” through “putrefaction”. This is not what modern evolutionists claim is happening. Nevertheless, St. Thomas doesn’t object in principle to the notion of things being generated by things “unlike to them”. And when this does happen, the “universal agent”, i.e. God, suffices to account for them, on account of his having created the entire universe in which they arose, as he says in the Reply to Objection 4: “The operation of nature takes place only on the presupposition of created principles; and thus the products of nature are called creatures.”
“To clarify this we may consider that every action involves something of both agent and recipient. The agent is both prior to and more important than the action. So what belongs to the maker naturally precedes what belongs to the thing made. Obviously in the work of nature, the making of a perfect animal depends upon the formative power present in the seed, yet sometimes because of an indisposed matter receiving it, a perfect animal is not made. Thus occurs the birth of monsters. There we state that a perfect animal is made through nature’s primary intention, but an imperfect animal occurs through the secondary intention of nature, which determines what the matter can receive, since by reason of matter’s indisposition, nature cannot give to it the form of the perfect animal.
“There are similar factors involved in God’s work with creatures. Although he needs no matter in his operation so that with no preexisting matter did he create things, yet he now operates in these originally created things, directing them according to their nature previously given. And although he could withdraw from his creatures every impediment making them incapable of perfection, yet through his wisdom he disposes of things according to their state, giving to each one according to its own capacity.
“Whatever God himself has ordained for the creature is said to be willed by him with a primary intention or antecedent will. But when the creature by its own failing is restrained from this end, nevertheless God fulfills within it whatever goodness it has capacity for, and this is done according to his secondary intention, being called his consequent will.
“God is therefore said to will the salvation of all by his antecedent will because he created all men for happiness. But inasmuch as some men act contrary to their own salvation, the order of his wisdom denies their salvation by reason of their failing so that their damnation through justice is the fulfillment in them in another way of the requirements of his goodness. Therefore, they are found within the secondary order of his will, having fallen from the first, so that his will is still fulfilled in them, although they do not do God’s will.”
Truth, Q. 23, A. 2 (excerpted from Mary T. Clark, An Aquinas Reader, Fordham Univ. Press, 2000, pp. 147- 148).
God is committed to letting things act in accord with their created natures. This is illustrated by the fact that God will even let people forfeit their salvation, despite the fact that he “created all men for happiness”. His intention in creating man and the universe is to provide a means for man to attain to eternal happiness. But the means for man to attain to happiness involves man making choices that lead to happiness. These choices in turn imply the possibility of choosing otherwise.
Thus, it’s his will that man be saved, but it’s also his will that he be saved by making choices, and that man have choices to make. The former St. Thomas calls God’s antecedent will, and the latter his consequent will.
But the point here is that he creates the system, and then lets things operate within the system, even if this sometimes results in the generation of “monsters”.