Wednesday, April 14, 2010

God and Causes

God delights to work through secondary causes

Putting God in the gaps unexplained by science has always been a mistake, because science eventually fills those gaps with material explanations. An enlightened Catholic view of science must be anchored in the proposition that God delights to work through secondary causes. God concedes an enormous degree of causality to his creation, and we ought to be in awe as science explains more and more of it. At the same time, we ought to remind those who will listen to us that the universe will never finally explain itself.

and the importance of those secondary causes

Paradoxically, by not being present at all (in nature), God becomes present all the way through, the way Shakespeare is present in his plays. But the entrance of God into the mutable and changeable world is always revelation. It is a peeling back of the very “narrative” of nature.
In that light, is using God to fill the gaps (in the natural sciences) a mistake in the way it's a mistake to use historical knowledge of the author to "explain" (usually fancifully) parts of the author's work? I always thought it seemed to underestimate God -- as if He wasn't capable of "writing" the book of Nature seamlessly (my main problem with Intelligent Design as it's often taught, at least).

To use God as a filler for present lack of natural knowledge is an error of method, in that sense, and it also gets things exactly backwards by subordinating the higher sciences to the lower ones. As CS Lewis said, "he's not a TAME lion." He can do things the way He wants, he's not bound by nature, and He certainly doesn't have to bear the burden for our intellectual limitations, like Atlas carrying the sky.

At the same time, to think that a book can be thought of as not only internally consistent, but somehow the sum total of everything, seems unnecessarily naive, as if we could take Hamlet and use it to disprove the necessity for the existence of Shakespeare, or say that somehow Shakespeare is completely comprehended within the pages of Hamlet. In that case, it's trying to get the lower sciences to comprehend the higher ones, which also gets things exactly backwards.

My husband is a computer game designer. When he makes a game he does his best to make it seamless, with nothing of him peering through. When the programmer peers through, it is usually through a flaw in the game play or in the technology.

Yet, a perfect game will be infused with the mind of its maker. You can tell something about the author of the game just by the game itself -- its elegance, its power, its effectivity. The stamp is very personal... but NOT because of gaps. People reading the source code of a perfect game designer might well have gaps in their understanding, but that only indirectly reveals the presence of a master craftsman. The master craftsman, I would think, would not leave gaps, holes in the workings of the thing which can't be explained by the thing itself. Those types of holes are called imperfections, faults.

One more quote, from the article I linked to earlier called In the Beginning.
Although Thomas (Aquinas) believed the universe had a temporal beginning, he advised against using scientific arguments to prove such a beginning. He always warned against using bad arguments in defence of beliefs.
A quote from Augustine:

"It not infrequently happens that something about the earth, about the sky, about other elements of this world, about the motion and rotation or even the magnitude and distances of the stars, about definite eclipses of the sun and moon, about the passage of years and seasons, about the nature of animals, of fruits, of stones, and of other such things, may be known with the greatest certainty by reasoning or by experience, even by one who is not a Christian.

It is too disgraceful and ruinous, though, and greatly to be avoided, that he [the non-Christian] should hear a Christian speaking so idiotically on these matters, and as if in accord with Christian writings, that he might say that he could scarcely keep from laughing when he saw how totally in error they are. In view of this and in keeping it in mind constantly while dealing with the book of Genesis, I have, insofar as I was able, explained in detail and set forth for consideration the meanings of obscure passages, taking care not to affirm rashly some one meaning to the prejudice of another and perhaps better explanation."
It goes two ways, though -- if believers shouldn't make laughable points in connection with science, neither should non-believers do it. When non-believers use natural science to disprove the existence God they show an almost shocking metaphysical naivety, almost what you would call parochialism.

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