I am grateful to all the participants for their thoughtful comments on my book and to Hans Madueme for inviting me to participate in this symposium.
Response to Jennifer Frey
The Catholic University of America Press, 2012
I appreciate Jennifer Frey’s careful summary of the main themes of the book, especially her emphasis on the distinction between univocal and analogical causality. Her application of this distinction and Aristotle’s capacious understanding of causality to the philosophy of action is intriguing. I see univocal thinking as something of a plague in contemporary theology and was happy to find Aristotle’s ideas applied to another area of thought suffering from the same affliction.
Response to Jeff Koperski
Jeff Koperski says that three of Aristotle’s four causes (material, formal, and final) “are not causes at all” and that empirical science can do without them. I think it’s true that scientists don’t need to invoke Aristotle’s terminology, but they do seem to employ the ideas behind it (so biologists may not call it final causality but do speak of “goal-directed actions,” as Koperski himself points out). I show the consonance between certain concepts of contemporary science and those of Aristotle (for instance, indeterminism in quantum mechanics and primary matter in Aristotle—a connection that Werner Heisenberg noted (p. 97)).
I was intrigued by Koperski’s discussion of the laws of nature and look forward to reading his new book on the subject. He argues that Aristotle’s substantial form “has been replaced by the notion of laws of nature.” I would say rather that substantial forms ground the laws of nature. A substantial form makes a thing to be the kind of thing that it is and consequently to act in characteristic ways. So, dogs bark, ducks quack, and all material bodies manifest the four fundamental forces (weak nuclear, strong nuclear, gravitation, and electromagnetism) in virtue of their substantial forms.On this, see William Wallace, The Modeling of Nature: Philosophy of Science and Philosophy of Nature in Synthesis (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1996), 70-73, 100-106, 158-63. These characteristic actions may then be described by laws of nature (such as the law of gravity). The law itself, however, does not explain or cause the characteristic actions; it only describes them (pp. 255-56). Empirical science does not deal with substantial forms since it’s limited by its method to things that are measurable, and substantial form (the principle by which a thing is what it is) is not measurable. It is studied in the philosophy of nature.I was intrigued by Koperski’s discussion of the laws of nature and look forward to reading his new book on the subject. Contemporary science is leaning towards the philosophy of nature, however, in some of its discussions. For instance, the theory of emergence in physics, chemistry, and biology introduces topics such as “top-down causation” and “the causality of the whole”—topics that require some principle like substantial form to explain the ontology of the whole (pp. 56-63).
Koperski suggests that I (and other Thomists) have difficulty dealing with miracles such as the one where God “directly and immediately intervenes to make an axe head to float (2 Kings 6).” I make it clear that I have no trouble admitting the reality of miracles (p. 247-58). I do have trouble with some interpretations of them, however. I share William Alston’s concerns about the language of “intervention” if it envisions God “as ‘outside’ his creation, making quick forays or incursions from time to time.”William Alston, “Divine Action: Shadow or Substance,” in The God Who Acts: Philosophical and Theological Explorations, ed. Thomas F. Tracy (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1994), 45, as quoted in Unlocking Divine Action, p. 254. I am also wary of interpretations that view divine and creaturely action univocally—such as considering God to be “the same sort of cause as gravity” in the axe head miracle (as Koperski describes it). I argue that admitting God’s transcendent causality can “help us to understand why, in acting directly in the natural world, God does not become just another natural cause” (p. 252). We can certainly speak of God “as an agent,” but we must add that God’s agency is analogical, not univocal, with creaturely agency. Koperski argues: “If there were no descriptions that rightly apply to both human beings and God, then it is hard to make sense of having been created in God’s image.” I am not sure what he means by “rightly.” I think that terms and descriptions are rightly applied to God and humans only when they are predicated analogically, and that when we understand terms in that way we can know what it means to say that we are created in God’s image.
Response to Robert Larmer
I don’t know why Robert Larmer thinks that I am “apparently” insisting “that God never directly intervenes in nature” or that “his action in the natural world is always through the instrumentality of secondary causes” or that my tendency is “to conceptualize God as working exclusively through the instrumentality of secondary causes.”
Much of my book is devoted to considering how God acts through creatures (secondary causes). The passage that Larmer cites from page 210 is part of that discussion– that when God acts through creatures, God’s will is infallibly accomplished, but it is accomplished in a such a way that the effect isI disagree with those who see God as a univocal cause and consequently insist that God’s intervention constitutes a sort of “interference” with natural causes. necessary, contingent, free, or by chance, depending on the type of secondary causes through which God wills to act. I never say that God can act only through secondary causes. In fact, I say the opposite, as Larmer quotes me: “the notion of miracle suggests that God might act in the world not only in and through the causality of creatures . . . but also beyond their causality” (p. 230). I agree that an account of God’s action as primary and principal cause “must not be allowed to obscure” God’s miraculous action in the world.
Larmer attributes to me the argument that divine intervention would “turn God into a divine ‘lawbreaker'” (p. 210). But on that page, I am not giving my position but describing that of “interventionism” (as the heading and context make clear). I disagree with those who see God as a univocal cause and consequently insist that God’s intervention constitutes a sort of “interference” with natural causes. I agree with those who say that God “intervenes” in nature if they use the word to mean that God, as a transcendent cause, “acts miraculously beyond the normal patterns of nature” (p. 260).
I appreciate Larmer’s caution about assuming that science by itself is capable of explaining certain historical events such as the origin of life. I suppose (in view of the sad history of god-of-the-gaps theology) that I tend to err on the side of allowing that historical occurrences may eventually be explained scientifically rather than looking too quickly for a miraculous divine intervention.
Response to Philip Rolnick
Philip Rolnick provides a very fine summary of the basic arguments of my book.Rolnick gives a full review of my book in American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly 85, 2 (2015): 336-40. He grounds his discussion of divine action on “the great distinction” between God as Creator and “all else that is not God.” This distinction allows us to understand that God both transcends creation and is immanently present in it. It also allows us to see that our language about God must always be analogical. I enjoyed his baseball example and appreciated his description of prayer as “an alignment of human will with the divine will” that “does not change God,” but “changes the one who prays.”
Response to Steven Horst
Steven Horst notes that I have neglected the recent interpretation of scientific laws in terms of “causal powers.” He makes a good case that this interpretation might provide another way to “unlock” the discussion of divine action. Prompted by recent discoveries in science, my book advocates a retrieval of Aristotelian causation to provide an adequate framework for discussing divine action. Horst employs the thought of Isaac Newton to show that, while the laws of science provide a limited account of certain causal powers, they cannot rule out the influence of other causal factors, even those “that are outside of nature entirely.” He sees this as a “short way” for showing the compatibility of science and divine causation since it remains within the scope of efficient causality.
He offers the fascinating prospect of bringing these two “ways” together. In a recent book, Mariusz Tabaczek has shown that it is possible to bring the philosophy of “causal powers” together with Aristotle’s philosophy of form and matter (hylomorphism).Mariusz Tabaczek, Emergence: Towards A New Metaphysics and Philosophy of Science (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2019), especially pages 201-245. He plans a second book that will relate this study to the question of divine action. I believe that Horst and I also have common ground in seeing miracles not as “violations” of the laws of nature but as something “in addition to” (Horst) or “beyond” (Dodds) them.