Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Final Causes in Theism

Jon Garvey today advocates Broadening the vision of theistic evolution:
So I suggest that not only the human race, but science itself, would be better served by taking final causation into account. 
This is almost what I am suggesting in theistic science here. We have to work out more clearly, however, what exactly we mean by final causes. Jon reminds us of the classical view that comes from Aristotle via Aquinas:
Final cause has, for the Thomistically-challenged, to do with God’s purpose for each of his creatures, and in classical theology this extended to the simplest of inanimate things. God made water to wet things, the sun to light the earth and so on, as well as imposing the form of, say, a fish, on matter in order to help populate the sea.
The problem is that this view of final causation and God's purpose can just as easily be part of deism as well as theism. Remember that in deism, God created the world for it to run by itself. God may sustain the world's existence as a whole, but is not involved in the details. In theism, by contrast, God not only creates the world, but sustains it in existence by even now enlivening each individual thing in the world (inanimate, animate, and/or human). Deism is 'hands off' or 'remote hands', whereas theism has God providing (directly or via others) the very life and loves of every creature, all the time.

In theism, final causes are not so much the plans that God may have originally had for the use of object and creatures, but are the present consequences of the loves and enlivening powers and dispositions that sustain those beings. Past and future things cannot be causes, even final causes:
  1. Past ideas cannot be themselves causes. 
  2. Only powers that are present can be causes.
  3. Future events can never be causes.
That is, only if God is presently enlivening and causing water to wet things, can 'wetting things' be the final cause of water. Only if the sun is now being sustained by God's love to produce light, can we say that 'producing light' is the final causes of the sun. Only if fish are even now being actively sustained from the love of God, can we take the final causes of fish to be that of populating the ocean.  

God may have done things in the past that contribute to God's plan for water, the sun, or fish. But, in theism at least, those cannot be the final causes of present fish unless that plan is informing the present love that generates and sustains the fish.

What is past is now dead. Its only function is to constrain the next stages of the development of the world.  What is future does not yet exist.  Future events in a plan, even in God's plan, can never themselves be present causes: only the love (or some disposition) that has that plan in mind.

Then, we can agree with Jon Garvey, when he continues:
Who is going to do that if not theistic scientists, and theistic scientists who actually believe in final causation and let it influence their approach to their work? And what groups today are committed to such an approach? I fear it is not the likes of BioLogos, by reason of their naturalistic approach to both science and theology, nor ID or YEC folk, because of their specific sociological agendas.
But somewhere, there may exist successors to the nineteenth century characters I named in my essay – who would no doubt appear to most people, by their philosophical and theological approach, to be throwbacks to the mediaeval age. They’d be more concerned to understand nature in its relationship to God’s will than to manipulate it to our own. They’d even follow the “unscientific” quest to determine some of that will in individual cases. But by that token, they might even be of more long-term practical use to the world than science has actually been thus far.
Let's do it.

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