Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Thomas Aquinas Continued


In my last post I was talking about St. Thomas Aquinas and Catholic thinking related to him. Aquinas has had influence in many ways, but is ignored in others. I compared two specific areas: the treatment of Catholic women by the Church because of Thomas’ opinion of them, and the misuse of his name for worldviews other than his belief in direct supernatural Creationism. But I made my point about women in the last post and now I want to say something about Creationism.

In Summa Theologica, Part I, Question 91, Article 2, Thomas stated:
The first formation of the human body could not be by the instrumentality of any created power, but was immediately from God.
  The definition of “immediately” is here . It means instantly and directly. Thomas again talked about direct creation by God when he discussed the creation of woman from the rib of a man in the next Question, 92, Article 4 which can be seen here .

But, a 2009 Vatican-sponsored conference on evolution excluded Creationists and Intelligent Design advocates.  They said we weren't scientific enough, although they are the ones ignoring science as well as the words of Thomas Aquinas.  The science is revealing biological systems way too complex to be answered by chance genetic mutations even when natural selection is factored in.

The human condition is to have all kinds of ideas bombard us from inside our heads and out. Some of these take hold and we are convinced they are true. Sometimes the ideas are right and sometimes not. As our science research discovers more and more, we are overwhelmed with facts and opinions about them. As our communications improve, we discover new religions and cultures. How do we sort it all out? It takes time and effort and discernment.

Of course, people have argued about things for a long time and for philosophers, argument is a living. But all the worldviews can be hard to learn and follow, and facts can be lost or mangled in our minds after time. Concerning the relationships between philosophy, theology, Creationism, and Intelligent Design Theory (ID), a good series of posts in 2011 by Jay Richards of the Discovery Institute describes some of the problems. Even if you don’t agree with him, he is very good at explaining the situation. The fourth post has links to all previous so I will give that one link here. He of course emphasizes ID compared to Creationism, but much of the biology of Creationism is linked to this scientific theory.

The arguments in Aquinas’ day (13th century) didn’t concern materialistic evolution but whether man was made by angels, as St. Augustine had said, or according to Aristotle’s philosophy with which Aquinas was wrangling. The Greek elements of Fire and Air seemed a more noble make-up for man than Earth and Water, the ingredients of the “Slime” which was closer to the Biblical account of God’s action. Aquinas takes his stand with the answer (also Question 91):
On the contrary, It is written (Gen 2:7): God made man of the slime of the earth.
Some of the totality of Thomas Aquinas’ thought, and it is a lot, still resonates to this day. He had a lot of detractors in his lifetime, and we can wonder if Thomas sometimes got discouraged and felt he was wasting his time.  As a matter of fact, he had a mystical experience at the end of his life, put down the pen and never wrote again.  He said then, “All that I have written seems like straw to me.” (As quoted in The Thought of Thomas Aquinas (1993), by Brian Davies, p. 9). And yet before that he used his gifts at a time when many were probably confused by the different interpretations and theories floating around in that day. He probably helped many get back to the faith or remain more solidly in it.

I’ve lately been reading Paul’s letters in the Bible and in Timothy 2:23-25 NABRE he says:
Avoid foolish and ignorant debates, for you know that they breed quarrels. A slave of the Lord should not quarrel, but should be gentle with everyone, able to teach, tolerant, correcting opponents with kindness….

I wonder sometimes if it is worth arguing about materialistic evolution. Since science changes so much, how long will these details be relevant? But in this day when scientism (belief that science is everything) is taking over like wildfire, I think science is a good approach for conversation. It is in this way people can think about whether biological life and diversity is beyond what can possibly be formed from the other currently known forces of nature. Though biology is complex, it can be appreciated on a certain level by everyone. Like it does with so many things, the Internet grants access to biologic wonder. With video searches, people can view muscle molecules contracting, DNA being copied, and a multitude of other biological functions. Then they can ask the harder questions: could these have formed in even billions of years? Was that time enough to randomly build a house or even make a brick? Did a computer chip form out of the primordial soup? Why then does the concept of billions of years answer the question of how and why we are here?
 
Ironically because science changes so much is one reason individuals need a more solid foundation in their lives. The researcher gets old like everyone else. My suspicion is that the Theory of Evolution has led many scientists to the sad conclusion that they consist of only atoms. But their inner feelings of fear and love must be inescapable. The unchanging and absolutely necessary foundation, hard as it is to believe for the hard-driving atheistic evolutionist, is Jesus Christ.

The overriding priority of Catholics is to evangelize the Good News of the Gospels, and we must find a way to work together to carry out our commission. Sometimes I get very discouraged and heartsick about our problems in the Church, particularly the child abuse scandal. Yet I believe our new Pope is trying to reform the Church as others accomplished in previous dark times. His recent homily about hope was uplifting to me and I link to it here.  We know our Lord Jesus has conquered evil. Thomas Aquinas would have agreed:
Our help is in the name of the Lord, Maker of Heaven and Earth (Psalms 124:8 NIV).

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