Creation, Holy Scripture, Philosophy of Nature, Theology, Traditionalism, Wolfgang Smith

Wolfgang Smith & The Pitfall of Astrophysical Cosmology

Wolfgang Smith on the Big Bang vs. Christian Faith“We propose now to look at the big bang scenario from a theological perspective. Leaving aside the question as to whether this cosmology is factually correct, we shall treat it as a kind of myth or icon, a symbol to be read. What, then, does the big bang signify? What above all strikes one is the idea of a temporal origin: the notion that the universe ‘did not always exist.’ This is not to say that ‘long ago’ the world did not exist, for time as we know it refers to cosmic events and cannot therefore antedate the universe itself: ‘Beyond all doubt,’ says St. Augustine, ‘the world was not made in time, but with time.’ What big bang theory affirms, rather, is that the universe has a finite age; the question, now, is whether this implies an act of creation ex nihilo. I would argue that, from a strictly logical point of view, it does not. But this is actually beside the point: we are now ‘reading the icon,’ a task which is not simply a matter of logical analysis. In its iconic import, I say, the big bang picture does overwhelmingly suggest what Christianity has always taught: namely, that the universe was brought into being some finite time ago through a creative act. As Pope Pius XII declared in 1951, in an address to the Pontifical Academy of Science:

‘In fact, it seems that present-day science, with one sweeping step back across millions of centuries, has succeeded in bearing witness to that primordial Fiat lux uttered at the moment when, along with matter, there burst forth from nothing a sea of light and radiation…Hence, creation took place in time; therefore, there exists a creator, therefore, God exists!’

It would seem from this animated papal expression of assent that the impact of big bang cosmology upon Christianity is bound to be salutary; but such proves not to be the case. I contend that the new cosmology has in fact exerted a baneful influence upon Christian thought, and has contributed significantly to the deviations and vagaries afflicting contemporary theology; how can this be? The answer is simple: icons can be dangerous, lethal actually, due to the fact that the icon itself can be mistaken for the truth, ‘the finger for the moon’ as the Chinese say. And this is what has actually happened in the case of the big bang: we are dealing, after all, with a scientific paradigm declared by the leading authorities to be factually true. Now, the problem is that in its factual as distinguished from its symbolic significance, the big bang scenario is flatly opposed to the traditional Christian cosmogony based upon Genesis. Take for instance the biblical fact that the Earth and its flora were created before the Sun, Moon and stars: surely this rules out all contemporary theories of stellar evolution, even as it rules out all contemporary theories of stellar evolution, even as it rules out all Darwinist claims. Theologians, as we know, have for the most part responded to this challenge by ‘demythologizing’ the first three chapters of Genesis; but in so doing, I contend once again, they have taken a wrong turn. Placing their trust in a man-made theory, which moreover stands demonstrably on shaky ground, they have contradicted the inspired teaching of the Fathers and the Church. Let it be said once again that the first three chapters of Genesis, taken in their literal historical sense, cannot be denied without grave injury to the Christian faith. The point has already been made implicitly in the preceding chapter: in bringing to light the content of biblical cosmogony, we have at the same time demonstrated its central importance to Christian doctrine. Whatever contemporary theologians may say in their pursuit of ‘scientific correctness,’ the fact remains that the teachings of Christianity presupposes the biblical cosmogony, even as the Redemption presupposes the Fall. It is utterly chimerical, thus, to imagine the doctrine of Christ actually makes sense in a big bang universe; and one might add that the biblical cosmogony has in fact been mandated by the Pontifical Biblical Commission in 1909. In a definitive response to eight questions relating to ‘The Historical Character of the Earlier Chapters of Genesis’ the Commission explicitly denies the validity of ‘exegetical systems’ which exclude the literal historical sense of the first three chapters.

Getting back to big bang cosmology, I would like to point out that this doctrine is evidently all the more compelling to a Christian public on account of its obvious symbolic signification: what could be more wonderful, after all, than a scientific cosmology bearing witness to the primordial Fiat lux! In conjunction with certain other scientific developments, the new cosmology has thus fostered a major movement of reconciliation between the scientific and the religious communities. Book titles such as ‘God and the New Physics’ (by physicist Paul Davies) or ‘God and the Astronomers’ (by the astronomer Robert Jastrow) have come to abound, and it is hardly possible, these days, to keep up with the profusion of seminars and symposia on ‘science and religion’ being held all over the world. And everywhere one encounters the same message of ‘peace and harmony’ from both of the former contestants. There is however a price to be paid on the part of religion: wherever a conflict does arise – as between Genesis and the big bang – it is always Christianity which is obliged, by the presiding experts, to conform its teaching to the latest scientific theory. It appears that a certain fusion of science and religion is now in progress on a world-wide scale, which threatens to transform Christianity into some kind of ‘theistic evolutionism’ more or less akin to the quasi-theology of Teilhard de Chardin.

In a word, the new cosmology is not quite as innocuous as one might think. So far from being compatible with the truth of Christianity, it proves to be one of the most seductive and potentially lethal doctrines ever to threaten the integrity of the Christian faith: a dogma amply capable, it seems, of ‘deceiving even the elect.’ The devil, they say, gives us nine truths, only to catch us in the end with a lie: could big bang cosmology be a case in point? Could this be the underlying reason why an atheistic science has now promulgated – to everyone’s amazement! – a doctrine which, on the face of it, glorifies God as the creator of the universe? It has at times been suggested that there is indeed a connection between a scientific enterprise and the demonic realm; this has been seriously affirmed, for example, by the late Orthodox Hieromonk Seraphim Rose, and again by the Catholic historian Solange Hertz. It is not easy, of course, to document such a connection; but the surmise of demonic influence is neither irrational nor indeed improbable. When it comes to a major onslaught against the Catholic faith, it behooves us to recall the sobering admonition of St. Paul, which may well bear also upon the point here at issue: ‘Put on the armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. We wrestle not against the flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of the world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.’ The demonic connection then, of which we speak, may prove in the end to be more than a pious fantasy.”

– Wolfgang Smith, Ancient Wisdom and Modern Misconceptions – 


 

– Lucas G. Westman

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Creation, Saint Thomas Aquinas, Theology

Saint Thomas Aquinas on Creation

Saint Thomas Aquinas on Heretical Ideas About Creation

The Connection Between the Following Considerations and the Preceding Ones

“I meditated upon all Thy works: I mediated upon the works of Thy hands” (Ps. 142.5).

[1] Of no thing whatever can a perfect knowledge be obtained unless its operation is known, because the measure and quality of a thing’s power is judged from the manner and type of its operation, and its power, in turn, manifests its nature; for a thing’s natural aptitude for operation follows upon its actual possession of a certain kind of nature.

[2] There are, however, two sorts of operation, as Aristotle teaches in Metaphysics IX: one that remains in the agent and is a perfection of it, as the act of sensing, understanding, and willing; another that passes over into an external thing, and is a perfection of the thing made as a result of that operation, the acts of heating, cutting and building, for example.

[3] Now, both kinds of operation belong to God: the former, in that He understands, wills, rejoices, and loves; the latter, in that He brings things into being, preserves them, and governs them. But, since the former operation is a perfection of the operator, the latter a perfection of the thing made, and since the agent is naturally prior to the thing made and is the cause of it, it follows that the first of these types of operation is the ground of the second, and naturally precedes it, as a cause precedes its effect. Clear evidence of this fact, indeed, is found in human affairs; for in the thought and will of the craftsman lie the principle and plan of the work of building.

[4] Therefore, as a simple perfection of the operator, the first type of operation claims for itself the name of operation, or, again, of action; the second, as being a perfection of the thing made, is called making so that the things which a craftsman produces by action of this kind are said to be his handiwork.

[5] Of the first type of operation in God we have already spoken in the preceding Book of this work, where we treated of the divine knowledge and will. Hence, for a complete study of the divine truth, the second operation, whereby things are made and governed by God, remains to be dealt with.

[6] In fact, this order we can gather from the words quoted above. For the Psalmist first speaks of meditation upon the first type of operation, when he says: ‘I have meditated on all Thy operation’; thus, operation is here referred to the divine act of understanding and will. Then he refers to mediation on God’s work” ‘and I meditated on the works of Thy hands’; so that by ‘the works of Thy hands’ we understand heaven and earth, and all that is brought into being by God, as the handiwork produced by a craftsman.

That the Consideration of Creatures is Useful For Instruction of Faith

[1] This sort of meditation on the divine works is indeed necessary for instruction of faith in God.

[2] First, because meditation on His works enables us in some measure to admire and reflect upon His wisdom. For things made by art are representative of the art itself, being made in likeness to the art. Now, God brought things into being by His wisdom; wherefore the Psalm (103:24) declares: ‘Thou hast made all things in wisdom.’ Hence, from reflection upon God’s works we are able to infer His wisdom, since, by a certain communication of His likeness, it is spread abroad in the things He has made. For it is written: ‘He poured her out,’ namely, wisdom, ‘upon all His works’ (Eccli. 1:10). Therefore, the Psalmist, after saying: ‘Thy knowledge is become wonderful to me: it is high, and I cannot reach it,’ and after referring to the aid of the divine illumination, when he says: ‘Night shall be my light,’ etc., confesses that he was aided in knowing the divine wisdom by reflection upon God’s works, saying: ‘Wonderful are Thy works, and my soul knoweth right well’ (Ps. 138:6, 11, 14).

[3] Secondly, this consideration [of God’s works] leads to admiration of God’s sublime power, and consequently inspires in men’s hearts reverence for God. For the power of the worker is necessarily understood to transcend the things made. And so it is said: ‘If they,’ namely, the philosophers, ‘admired their power and effects,’ namely of the heavens, stars, and elements of the world, ‘let them understand that He that made them is mightier than they’ (Wisd. 13:4). Also it is written: ‘The invisible things of God are made: His eternal power also and divinity’ (Rom. 1:20). Now, the fear and reverence of God result from this admiration. Hence, it is said: ‘Great is Thy name in might. Who shall not fear Thee, O King of Nations?’ (Jer. 10:6-7).

[4] Thirdly, this consideration incites the souls of men to the love of God’s goodness. For whatever goodness and perfection is distributed to the various creatures, in partial or particular measure, is united together in Him universally, as in the source of all goodness, as we proved in Book I. If, therefore, the goodness, beauty, and delightfulness of creatures are so alluring to the minds of men, the fountainhead of God’s own goodness, compared with the rivulets of goodness found in creatures, will draw the enkindled minds of men wholly to Itself. Hence it is said in the Psalm (91:5): ‘Thou has given me, O Lord, a delight in Thy doings, and in the works of Thy hands I shall rejoice.’ And elsewhere it is written concerning the children of men: ‘They shall be inebriated with the plenty of Thy house,’ that is, of all creatures, ‘and Thou shalt make them drink of the torrent of Thy pleasure: for with Thee is the fountain of life’ (Ps. 35:9-10). And, certain men, it is said: ‘By these good things that are seen, ‘ namely, creatures, which are good by a kind of participation, ‘they could not understand Him that is’ (Wis. 13:1), namely, truly good; indeed, is goodness itself, as was shown in Book I.

[5] Fourthly, this consideration endows men with a certain likeness to God’s perfection. For it was shown in Book I that, by knowing Himself, God beholds all other things in Himself. Since, then, the Christian faith teaches man principally about God, and makes him know creatures by the light of divine revelation, there arises in man a certain kind of likeness of God’s wisdom. So it is said: ‘But we all beholding the glory of the Lord with open face, are transformed into the same image’ (II Cor. 3:18).

[6] It is therefore evident that the consideration of creatures has its part to play in building the Christian faith. And for this reason it is said: ‘I will remember the works of the Lord, and I will declare the things I have seen: by the words of the Lord are His works’ (Ecclus. 42:15).

That Knowledge of the Nature of Creatures Serves to Destroy Errors Concerning God

[1] The consideration of creatures is further necessary, not only for the building up of truth, but also for the destruction of errors. For errors about creatures sometimes lead one astray from the truth of faith, so far as the errors are inconsistent with true knowledge of God. Now, this happens in many ways.

[2] First, because through ignorance of the nature of creatures men are sometimes so far perverted as to set up as the first cause and as God that which can only receive its being from something else; for they think that nothing exists beyond the realm of visible creatures. Such were those who identified God with this, that, and the other kind of body; and of these it was said: ‘Who have imagined either the fire, or the wind, or the swift air, or the circle of the stars, or the great water, or the sun and moon to be the gods’ (Wis. 13:2).

[3] Secondly, because they attribute to certain creatures that which belongs only to God. This also results from error concerning creatures. For what is incompatible with a thing’s nature is not ascribed to it except through ignorance of its nature – as if man were said to have three feet. Now, what belongs solely to God is incompatible with the nature of a created thing, just as that which is exclusively man’s is incompatible with another thing’s nature. Thus, it is from ignorance of the creature’s nature that the aforesaid error arises. And against this error it is said: ‘They gave the incommunicable name to stones and wood’ (Wis. 14:21). Into this error fell those who attribute the creation of things, or knowledge of the future, or the working of the miracles to causes other than God.

[4] Thirdly, because through ignorance of the creature’s nature something is subtracted from God’s power in its working upon creatures. This is evidenced in the case of those who set up two principles of reality; in those who assert that things proceed from God, not by the divine will, but by natural necessity; and again, in those who withdraw either all or some things from the divine providence, or who deny that it can work outside the ordinary course of things. For all these notions are derogatory to God’s power. Against such persons it is said: ‘Who looked upon the Almighty as if He could do nothing’ (Job 22:17), and: ‘Thou showest Thy power, when men will not believe Thee to be absolute in power’ (Wis. 12:17).

[5] Fourthly, through ignorance of the nature of things, and, consequently, of his own place in the order of the universe, this rational creature, man, who by faith is led to God as his last end, believes that he is subject to other creatures to which he is in fact superior. Such is evidently the case with those who subject human wills to the stars, and against these it is said: ‘Be not afraid of the sings of heaven, which the heathens fear’ (Jer. 10:2); and this is likewise true of those who think that angels are the creators of souls, that human souls are mortal, and, generally, of persons who hold any similar views derogatory to the dignity of man.

[6] It is, therefore, evident that the opinion is false of those who asserted that it made no difference to the truth of the faith what anyone holds about creatures, so long as one thinks rightly about God, as Augustine tells us in his book On the Origin of the Soul. For error concerning creatures, by subjecting them to causes other than God, spills over into false opinion about God, and takes men’s minds away from Him, to whom faith seeks to lead them.

[7] For this reason Scripture threatens punishment to those who err about creatures, as to unbelievers, in the words of the Psalm (27:5): ‘Because they have not understood the works of the Lord and the operations of His hands, Thou shalt destroy them, and shalt not build them up’; and: ‘These things they thought and were deceived,’ and further on: ‘They esteemed not the honor of holy souls’ (Wis. 2:21-22).

– Saint Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles – 


 

– Lucas G. Westman

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