Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Monistic and Creational World Views

Lesson 10 - two more left before the last paper and the test.

How does Thomist thought complete the foundations of natural science according to Aristotle and his metaphysics by establishing God as Creator of the universe out of nothing?

Aristotle established in his natural science that the material universe and the immaterial both exist, but that all change in the material universe had to have an immaterial First Cause. He also established that the human soul goes beyond experience of the material to discover truth and so must be, itself, immaterial. However, he could not go beyond his pagan acceptance of an eternal material universe to see the First Cause as a Creator of that material universe, to see that material was created by God ex nihilo (from nothing), nor did he go beyond the existence of the immaterial human soul to suggest immortality of the soul.

Why is process philosophy an inadequate instrument of a Christian theology?

Process philosophy reduces God to merely the highest order of being, one which exemplifies the supreme concept of creativity. God's "antecedent nature" consists of a number of eternal objects, which in themselves have no order. God provides the ordering, creative principal that puts these eternal objects into the material form of the universe and sets in motion the events of history. God is the only person in this scenario, and humans are only "streams of consciousness," a sort of accident of historical events. This point alone is problematic because it eliminates any matter of choice or Divine Plan in the Incarnation, meaning Jesus is not really a person but a stream of consciousness. Hence, no Trinity, no need for a Christ, and no Christianity. No theology either, in that there is no one to really know God. There are only material accidents (pun somewhat intended) that are more or less conscious of creation and of God.

Why is the evolutionism of Teilhard de Chardin also an inadequate instrument of a Christian theology?

De Chardin tries to bring evolution into theology, but he does so using a flawed concept of evolution as a set of laws. Laws would make such operations ordered toward an end. However, evolution has no such laws, operates by chance, and aims at no particular end or goal. Like Whitehead, de Chardin tries to suggest differing levels of consciousness in all material existence (from atoms, to plants, animals, and so on) to suggest the rise of spiritual existence apart from God's direct creative action. Both process philosophy and evoltionism propose a watchmaker God who sets the material world in motion and allows it to wind down without intervention. Evolutionism, too, leaves us with a world in which the Incarnation has no place and violates the order of spiritual evolution.

Interestingly enough, in my early agnostic days, I began to conceive of consciousness in panpsychic terms. I don't recall if I read it somewhere first or if it just came to me. It was about the time I was delving into Heidegger, existentialism, theatre of the absurd, and surreal continental literature. The Ionesco play Rhinoceros seemed to me to exemplify a backward trend in modern society toward a less-than-human consciousness. I referred to it in one paper as "pachydermatitis." I still like that line.

How can the philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas, who knew nothing of the modern scientific theories of biological or cosmological evolution, be shown not to contradict them but to enable theologians to make use of them?

St. Thomas demonstrated that the natural science points to an initial cause, just as all effects point to some initiating cause. In the material world, a material cause can have material effects, but all material causes have at some point another cause behind them. So at some point there must have been a first cause that was not material. On this much, Aquinas and Aristotle agreed. St. Thomas identified the First Cause, the immaterial cause of the material universe, as God.

Being apart from the material world, natural sciences can tell us nothing more of God except His existence. From there, metaphysics allows us to posit other qualities that God, to be God, would have to posses. Here the theologian can find a wealth of support.

Because natural science (which includes the study of both biological and evolutionary evolutionary processes) points to a First Cause that is outside of its own system of reference (the material universe), it cannot contradict its existence. It can only claim agnosticism with any intellectual integrity.

What is "panpsychism" and what are the objections to it?

Panpsychism is the hypothesis than consciousness is present in all material in varying degrees. Aquinas' objections to this concept have to do with the evidence of it in inorganic material. We can equate panpsychism to hylozoism, which is the belief that all material is alive (and, as such, has consciousness). Living things have certain characteristics: they change under their own power (grow), they move spontaneously (even if imperceptibly), and at some point, they cease growing or moving and degenerate. Inorganic matter cannot do the first two, and if they do the latter, they do so only under external impetus (physical forces acting upon them in an unusual way). Living things can also heal. Inorganic things cannot. At very least, then, inorganic things are different than living things. The assumption, then, is that consciousness is one of those ways in which the organic differ from the inorganic.

I see a few problems with this idea, outside of what has been covered in the lesson. If consciousness is merely something that matter has in varying degrees, the only thing giving us a unique identity that can be the "image of God" is our physical body, which we share with the Incarnation of Christ. This, then, reduces Christ to another historical accident. Otherwise, what makes us to be "in the image of God" would have to be shared by other material beings and results in paganism.
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