Sunday, December 28, 2014

Garrigou-Lagrange on Evolution and Inequality in Creatures

This problem of the origin of multitude, discussed by Plato in the dialogue entitled Parmenides, reappears in modern evolution in the following form: How did the distinction of things, mineral, vegetative, animal, and human, arise from the primitive, homogeneous being? How did vegetative life, sensation, and intellection arise? The evolutionists try to conceal the difficulty by saying that the distinction of things appeared only slowly and progressively. But metaphysically speaking it makes little difference whether these distinctions appeared slowly or suddenly, whether they appeared only after a thousand years, or six days, or suddenly. This question of time, as also with regard to creation, is of minor consequence. The important question, abstracting from time, is how a multitude can originate from the primitive unity. This question is similar to that other important question asked in the next article: If God is infinitely good and the cause of all things, what is the cause of evil?

Reply. St. Thomas shows that this problem of the origin of the multitude of things is insoluble without the idea of free creation. His reply is that the distinction of things and multitude are from the intention of the first agent, who is God.

Proof from authority. "In the beginning God created heaven and earth. . . . And He divided the light from the darkness. . . . And God made a firmament, and divided the waters that were under the firmament, from those that were above the firmament." This is a popular expression of the truth, accommodated to the intelligence of the Israelites, who thought of the heavens as a solid firmament. But when it is revealed that the heavens (which you think of as a solid firmament) are created by God, it is not revealed that the heavens are a solid firmament, for in the revealed proposition the verb "is" refers to "created" (the heavens are created) and not to "solid." Hence it may be that some error is mingled in the subject of the proposition without making the proposition erroneous in its formal meaning, that is, with regard to the verb "is" and those things to which "is" refers. On other occasions it is more clearly stated that God created visible and invisible beings and that God "ordered all things in measure and number and weight."

In the body of the article St. Thomas presents and then refutes two theories: the ascending evolution of the materialists and the descending evolution of Avicenna.

The theory of the ancient materialists was that the distinction of things arises by chance according to the movement of matter. This opinion was held by Democritus and later by Epicurus. Modern materialists with their theory of evolution were unable to add anything to this ancient theory; they were unable to explain how the first nebulae, the incandescendent stars, the habitable earth could come from primitive homogeneous matter except by chance or by the activity of some unknown forces, and the appearance of vegetative, sensitive, and intellectual life remained for them an insoluble enigma. They would be forced to admit that more proceeds from less and that the perfect proceeds from the imperfect, and they find themselves at a loss how to explain the multitude and diversity of organisms except by chance. But to say that these things are by chance is no explanation, but rather an absence of explanation, for chance is a cause <per accidens> which presupposes a cause ordered <per se> to one effect, and if there is no cause <per se> there can be no cause <per accidens>. A man digging a grave could not accidentally find a treasure if he were not <per se> digging in the earth and if some one else had not buried the treasure.

St. Thomas points out that Anaxagoras approached a solution of this problem when he admitted an intelligent cause that orders the universe, but at the same time Anaxagoras thought that a distinction pre-existed in eternal matter, that is in the homeomeriae.

Reply. In his reply to the materialists St. Thomas presents two arguments which apply equally to the ascending evolutionism of modern materialists.

1. If there is any distinction from matter, this distinction should be referred to some higher cause. Why? Because matter is created by God, as we have said above, for matter is not a being in itself. Matter is moved and perfected and therefore it is moved and perfected by another; matter does not move or perfect itself, it does not confer on itself vegetative, sensitive, or intellectual life; it is not its own action or its own being. Matter is always in potency to other determinations and it is not related to being, the ultimate actuality of all things, as A is to a. This argument also applies to Plato's dualism.

2. Matter is because of the form, and the form is not because of the matter. But the distinction of things takes place through the specific forms. Therefore the distinction is not on account of matter but conversely matter is on account of the distinction of things. Matter is the principle of individuation and is ordered to the multitude of species.

This second argument applies also to evolutionism, for there can be no evolution with a tendency to something definite and congruous without some finality. Otherwise the direction of such a tendency would be without any reason, and no tendency would ever attain to the constitution of any of our organs, the heart, the head, the eye, etc. John of St. Thomas restates these two arguments against materialism as follows:

1. Act is simply prior to potency, and therefore matter, which is the potency to a higher act, is not uncreated, nor is it therefore the first cause for the distinction of things, for example, the distinctions of vegetative, sensitive, and intellectual life, which matter cannot produce because it is inferior to them. Matter is merely the real capacity for receiving a perfection.

2. Potency is referred to act and is because of act, or matter is because of the form and on account of the diverse forms, and therefore it is not the cause of the specific distinction of the forms. Matter is because of the distinction of these forms.

The first conclusion therefore is that the specific distinction of things cannot be explained by a material cause.

2. The second theory refuted by St. Thomas might be called descending evolutionism. It calls to mind Plotinus' emanatism. This second theory was advanced by Avicenna, who tried to explain the specific distinction of things by efficient causes. Avicenna declared that God in understanding Himself produced the first intelligence (Plotinus' <logos>, the second <<hypostasis>>); then, when the first intelligence understood itself, it produced the soul of the world (Plotinus' third <<hypostasis>>, the god of the Stoics).

Modern pantheists, who support a descending evolution rather than an ascending evolution, try to explain the distinction of things in almost the same way. Spinoza tried to derive two infinite attributes from the divine substance: cogitation and infinite extension, besides the finite modes of cogitation and extension. But because he rejected free creation he was unable to derive the finite modes from an infinite substance, and therefore he simply stated without proof that these finite modes come into being successively from eternity in some necessary way.

In trying to explain the distinction of things Schelling began with the Absolute, but because he rejected the revealed truth of free creation he spoke of a fall of the Absolute by which the Absolute became the world in some kind of descent. Hegel, who supported an ascending evolution, ridiculed Schelling's dream of the fall of the Absolute, but Hegel's position is no less ridiculous, for according to Hegel God is becoming in the world but He does not yet exist and will never properly be, as Renan said.

Reply. To this second theory of the emanatists, St. Thomas replied that creation belongs to God alone and the total being of anything cannot be produced except by creation from nothing, and creation is not emanation, for in creation God is the sole efficient and final cause, but in no sense the material cause. Hence God does not become the world nor is the world made from God. Avicenna's second <hypostasis>, therefore, if it is created, cannot create a third, and the third cannot create something inferior to itself.

Furthermore, St. Thomas replies, according to Avicenna the totality and distinction of things would not derive from the intention of the first agent but from a concourse of many active causes. This concourse of causes, however, must come about by chance if it does not come from the intention of the first cause. But chance, since it is a cause <per accidens>, presupposes a cause ordered <per se> to its effect and therefore it cannot be the first cause of the specific distinction of things. Manifestly the distinction between vegetative, sensitive, and intellectual life in the world does not come from chance. In other words, there would be no finality in the world, and natural agents would tend to something determined and fitting without any reason, the order in things would be derived from an absence of order, more would come from the less, and the more perfect would come from the imperfect. Nor can it be said that the distinction in things comes from the form of secondary causes, for these forms do not exist of themselves and they themselves are distinct from one another and thus their own distinction must be explained.

Nor can it be said that the cause of the distinction in things is God inasmuch as He operates by a necessity of His nature. This argument was answered in the reply to the first difficulty and was refuted above: "It is of the nature of a natural agent that it produces one effect, because a nature (determined to one thing) operates in one and the same way unless it is impeded (for example, the vital principle in a plant operates in the same way in the same circumstances). This is because a natural agent acts according to its specific being, and as long as it is such a being it acts only in this one way. Since the divine being is infinite. . ., it cannot be that it acts by a necessity of nature unless it were to cause something infinite in being, which is impossible. The divine being, therefore, does not act by a necessity of nature, but the effects determined by its infinite perfection proceed according to the determination of its will and intellect."

The second conclusion, therefore, is that the distinction of things does not come from God as acting by a necessity of nature.

Until this point St. Thomas has not considered the opinion that the distinction of things comes from God as operating by a necessity of wisdom, an opinion espoused by the absolute optimism of Plato and by Leibnitz in modern times. Here is an attempt to explain the distinction of things, which is assumed to be necessary, by a final cause. In this instance the necessity of the distinction of things is not metaphysical or physical but moral. St. Thomas says: "Plato supposed that it was due to the goodness of God as understood and loved by God Himself that He should produce the most perfect of worlds. This could, of course, be true if we consider only those things that are and not those things that could be. This universe is the best of those that are, and the fact that it is the best is due to the goodness of God. But the goodness of God is not obligated to this universe in such a way that God could not make a better or worse universe." "Whenever the end is proportionate to the things that are made on account of that end, the wisdom of the maker is limited to some determined order. But the divine goodness is an end disproportionately exceeding created things. Therefore the divine wisdom is not determined to some order of things."

The third conclusion, therefore, is that the distinction of things does not come from God operating by a necessity of wisdom.

By eliminating the material cause, natural efficient causes, and the final cause that implies the necessity of the production of things, we come to the positive conclusion: the distinction of things arises from the free intention of God the Creator.

The proof may be somewhat easier if we join this last section of the article with the reply to the first difficulty, in which the divine liberty is affirmed.

A free agent can produce distinct effects according to whatever distinct forms he understands. But God, as a free agent, wished to manifest His goodness through diverse creatures. Therefore the distinction of things is explained by the intention of God the free Creator. and this distinction can have no other cause.

Explanation of the major. An agent that acts by its nature acts by the form by which it is, and this form is only one for each agent. Therefore such an agent acts only in one way. A free agent, however, acts according to a form received in the intellect.

Explanation of the minor. God is a voluntary and free agent. It does not conflict with God's unity and simplicity that He understands many things, for the multitude of things understood by God do not effect a real distinction in Him. Since God can understand many things, He can also make many things.

God, however, wished freely to manifest His goodness by diverse creatures. Why? St. Thomas explains in the last section: "Because by one creature the divine goodness cannot be adequately represented, God made many different things so that whatever is lacking in one to represent the divine goodness will be supplied by another."

The validity of this solution. This solution is of faith. From the philosophical viewpoint it is necessary, for the ascending evolution of the materialists and even of Hegel is repugnant both to the principle of causality (more cannot be produced by the less) and to the principle of finality (every agent acts according to the end to which it is ordered) and, moreover, ascending evolution does not explain the distinction of things. Similarly, descending evolution fails to explain the distinction of things for, if God operates by a necessity of nature, He will necessarily produce only one effect.

Similarly the absolute optimism of Plato and Leibnitz does not take into account the disproportion between any created universe and the divine goodness, which is to be manifested. We must, therefore, have recourse to the liberty of God the Creator, or we must, with Parmenides, deny all multitude and all distinction in things. In the end the solution is that the most eminent unity of God virtually contains the infinite multitude of possible things, from which God freely chose the things He wished to create.

The higher unity differs from the lower unity in the fact that it virtually contains the multitude; the higher the unity the richer its content, for, as Dionysius said, "those things that are divided in inferior beings are united in the higher beings." This is especially clear when we ascend from one order to another; the vital principle of the plant virtually contains all the acts of agents lower than itself. Similarly, the faculty of vision, which in itself is simple, extends itself to a spreading panorama; the central sense in the common sense unites the objects of the particular senses; the intellect knows the universal, which virtually contains the individual. Great musicians, like Mozart, hear the melody they are composing completely at one time and they often express the whole theme virtually in the prelude of the composition. Great philosophers reduce the whole of philosophy to a few sublime principles. When the saints arrive at the unitive way they unite in this unity various virtues. In a still higher plane, the unity and simplicity of God virtually contain the infinite multitude of possible beings, and from this multitude God chooses those that He wishes to create. By the divine liberty, then, we are able to solve the problem of how a multitude proceeds from the supreme and most simple principle. Plato and Aristotle were not able to offer a solution because they had not attained to the idea of free creation.

Second Article: Whether The Inequality Of Things Is From God

State of the question. Many men cannot understand how the inequality in things can come from God. The Manichaeans tried to explain this inequality by two, opposite principles, and Origen, trying to rectify their error, explained that in the beginning God created only intellectual beings and that all these beings were equal. Some of these sinned and as a punishment they were united to bodies. In modern times some thinkers have declared that that great inequality among animals, whereby the strong devour the weak, cannot come from God. They ask why there should be such a great inequality in the intellectual and moral aptitudes of men. This is the language of egalitarianism. As we shall see in the body of the article, it is a materialistic theory that does not take into account the subordination of the forms of agents and ends.

These unfortunate inequalities, says Schopenhauer, cannot come from a good and omnipotent God, and he concludes that God is not omnipotent and that the principle of all things is some kind of will that is always trying to persevere in being. This attempt is always associated with sorrow and is like an insatiable thirst. Therefore in his pessimism he concluded, that this desire for life must be eradicated so that we may come to that negative bliss which is the ending of all sorrow.

Schopenhauer's difficulties can be reduced to the difficulties proposed at the beginning of the present article: the best God should have made the best things, and therefore all equal, otherwise, according to the third objection, it would be an injustice for God to distribute His gifts unequally to creatures.

Reply. The reply is that the divine wisdom is the cause of the distinction of things for the sake of the perfection of the universe, and therefore the divine wisdom is also the cause of inequality.

1. Proof from authority. "Why doth one day excel another, and one light another, and one year another year, when all come of the Lord? By the knowledge of the Lord they were distinguished." In the canticle, "All ye works of the Lord, bless the Lord," we see the inequality of creatures, each of which in its own way praises the Lord. The description of the creation in the Book of Genesis shows the inequality of creatures, and the Fourth Council of the Lateran declared that "God at one time and in the beginning of time established both creatures, the spiritual and corporeal, and then the human creature, as it were a common being constituted by spirit and body."

2. Proof from reason: a) by the refutation of Origen's theory; b) positively.

a) In opposing the Manichaeans, Origen declared that God in the beginning had created spiritual beings, who were all equal. Those that sinned were bound to bodies, and the greater the sin the closer the union with matter. Some of these beings did not sin, and these now constitute the different grades of angels according to their different merits. In this way Origen combined the doctrine of original sin with the Platonic myths about the pre-existence of souls.

St. Thomas replies: "The totality of corporeal beings would then not be because of the communication of God's goodness to creatures but for the punishment of sin. But this is contrary to the words of Genesis, "And God saw all the things that He had made, and they were very good." St. Augustine exclaims: "What could be more stupid than to say that by this sun, as there is but one in the world, God was concerned not with the splendor of beauty or the welfare of corporeal things, but that this sun came to be because one soul sinned?"

What could be more stupid than to say that the stars are in the sky, that the pure air exists, that the rose, the lily, the dove, the lamb were made because someone sinned? St. Augustine is speaking formally when he says, "what could be more stupid," for it is stupidity, opposed to the wisdom which explains the beauty of even the sensible world as a manifestation of God's goodness, while this theory explains all this by sin, not by the highest cause but by something that is less than nothing. Schopenhauer's doctrine is even greater folly when he speaks of a fall of the Absolute or of God. He tries to explain the inequalities and sorrows of the world by a primitive, non-omnipotent, or rather impotent will. The first cause is subsisting being itself and therefore omnipotent, because operation follows being, and anything that is able to possess the nature of being is comprised in the object of divine power, which can effect anything that has no repugnance to being.

b) The positive proof is from the principle of finality, out of which is drawn the corollary of the principle of the subordination of ends, forms, and agents, against materialistic egalitarianism. Leibnitz adopted St. Thomas' argument but exaggerated it, as we shall see. St. Thomas' argument can be reduced to the following: The specific or formal distinction is more important than the material or numerical distinction, because matter is on account of the form and the individuals in any species of corruptible beings are for the conservation of the species. But the formal distinction always requires inequality, since the forms of things are subordinate like numbers, ascending from the elements to mixed beings, to plants, and to animals, and in each instance one species is found more perfect than the others, for example, the diamond or radium among minerals, the rose among the flowers, and man among the animals. Therefore the inequality of beings is required for the perfection of the universe so that in different ways the wisdom of God might make known His goodness.

The major is evident, since matter is because of the form, according to the principle of finality that the imperfect is on account of the perfect. In the same way the many individuals of the same species of corruptible being are for the conservation of the species. Excluding the subsisting spiritual soul, individuals are ordered to the preservation of the species. Thus individuals pass away but the species remains; it is negatively eternal in the sense that it prescinds from the here and now, and thus it is somehow above time, representing the divine idea, the idea of rose, of lily, of lion, etc. Therefore, St. Thomas says, the hen gathers the chicks under her wing and defends them against the hawk because the hen naturally loves the good of its species more than its own good.

The major therefore is certain, namely, the formal or specific distinction is more important than the material or numerical distinction; any material individual of this or that species is of minor importance. This, however, is not true of a person, because the soul of the person is subsisting and immortal and thus is of greater value than the species of lion or horse.

The minor. But the formal distinction requires the inequality or subordination of forms. This is affirmed with a serene mind and not lugubriously as was the case with Origen. On this point St. Thomas differs entirely from the pessimism of Schopenhauer. But it should be noted that the holy doctor is speaking here of the primary distinction and inequality existing prior to sin; he is not now speaking of how after original and actual sin this inequality is often increased and causes that miserable state of servitude in which so many men spent their entire lives before the spread of Christianity.

The primary inequality of things pertains to their natures independently of sin, for, as Aristotle says, "the species of things are subordinate like numbers." For numbers vary by the addition or subtraction of unity and the species of things differ by the addition or subtraction of a specific difference. For example, a substance is incorporeal or corporeal, and here there is inequality; similarly, the corporeal substance is living or inanimate; if living, it is sensitive or not; if sensitive, it is rational or not. Everywhere we find the inequality and subordination of forms as with numbers.

Hence St. Thomas says, "In each of these we find one species more perfect than the others," for example, man among the animals, and the animals that have both internal and external senses are superior to the animals that do not possess all the senses, as the oyster and the sponge, which appear to have only the sense of touch. So there is also a certain subordination among plants and flowers and among minerals; the diamond, or perhaps radium, seems to be the most precious of minerals.

These considerations are valid against materialism and mechanism, which take into consideration only quantity and not quality. If quality is something prior to quantity, the variation of heat from the tenth to the twentieth degree is perhaps greater than between the twentieth and thirtieth degrees. Materialism looks at everything as if it were in the same horizontal plane, as if, for instance, animals were machines and as if the human soul were not essentially superior to the soul of the brute. This is absolute egalitarianism, which reduces everything to the lowest plane.

Spiritualism, on the other hand, considers everything as in a vertical line, inasmuch as the species of things are subordinated in a hierarchy for the splendor of the universe, because those things that are united in God can be only divisively in creatures and because the formal distinction requires inequality. Many modern writers do not understand this subordination, confusing it with coordination, for example, when they compare the first cause and the second cause with two men rowing a boat.

The conclusion is confirmed by the solution of the objections.

Reply to first objection. The most perfect agent produces his perfect total effect, but he produces it with a subordination of parts, for example, with the subordination of organs and functions in the plant and animal organisms. The animal would be less perfect if all its parts were equal, if all, for instance, had the dignity or importance of the eye.

Thus the universe is more perfect with angels, men, animals, plants, minerals than if there were only angels and all the angels were equal. Here was Origen's error. According to St. Thomas the angels could not be equal, for in the angels there is a particular subordination of forms since the angels are pure subsisting forms. Since individuation takes place through matter, there can be only one individual in each angelic species. Michael is the only individual in his species. Hence among the angels we have a perfect hierarchy or subordination.

Reply to second objection. In the Blessed Trinity there is equality according to the processions <ad intra> by which the entire divine nature is communicated. The Word and the Holy Ghost are equal to the Father. On the other hand there must be inequality in the procession <ad extra> because the creature is an inadequate manifestation of the divine goodness and many subordinate creatures are required.

Reply to third objection. The primitive inequality is not unjust since it is because of the perfection of the universe. This Origen was not able to understand.

Thus some are born inclined to fortitude and must acquire meekness, others inclined to meekness must acquire fortitude. Each must ascend the mountain of perfection by traversing the various parts of the mountain. The justice of God is not commutative, regulating the changes among equals, but it is distributive according to the requirements of the common good. God is His own law. Cajetan remarks: "Therefore God is just in condescension in order to manifest His goodness."

Leibnitz exaggerated this doctrine of inequality when he denied matter in his monadology and reduced all substance to spiritual monads which are subordinated as are the angels in St. Thomas' doctrine. Leibnitz held that there could not be in the world two beings absolutely similar because God would have created these perfectly similar beings without reason, just as a man would have two perfectly similar copies of the same edition of Virgil in his library without reason.

Reply. Two perfectly similar individuals can exist, especially in succession, for the preservation of the species and they are distinguished from each other by matter marked by quantity, as in the case of two drops of water or two perfectly identical twins. We concede only that there cannot be two angels perfectly similar in species, and this would also be true of men if they were monads without matter.

St. Thomas does admit a certain individual inequality of souls in the same human species: the soul of Christ is higher even in the natural order than the soul of Judas, but this inequality is not unrelated to the body, although on the other hand a body is better disposed because of a higher individual soul, since causes are mutually causes to each other in different genera of causes.


Source: Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, The Trinity and God the Creator, EWTN,, ch. 21, articles 1–2.

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