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Resolving Aristotle's Antinomy of Creation
by Dr A.B. Kelly
I argue that Aristotle is correct in his apparently contradictory conclusions that God is necessary as the first mover to explain the existence of the world and that God is not able to be the cause of an entity that is significantly different from God.
The cosmic process exists to make possible the self-creation of a communal entity whose nature is not significantly different from God's nature, resolving Aristotle's contradiction. Humans are involved in this process, creating aspects of their own being and their cultures. This self-creative process can enable humans to become similar to God in knowledge, creativity and goodness.
In 'The Intelligent Design of the Cosmos' (2006) I argue that the Cosmos is an intelligent design, a freely operating process of material self-organisation and human self-creation. Homo sapiens became human by developing a mind and beginning to create their individual and communal moral and spiritual natures.
In 'Resolving the Goldilocks Enigma' (2007) I argue that the Life-friendliness of the Universe is neither a chance occurrence in a Multiverse nor the result of interventions by a 'hands-on' God. God is necessarily 'hands-off' the world, which is Humanity's 'do-it-yourself kit'.
In this paper I resolve Aristotle's antinomy of creation, propose an explanation of God's motive for creation, and provide the solution to the problem of evil.
In previous roles as a Criminal Investigator and as Police Prosecutor I found Criminals were seldom obliging enough to commit crimes in front of witnesses. I always had to construct a coherent case from the available evidence. When I turned to Philosophical Cosmology I discovered I was immersed in the evidence that supports this case.
The Process of Emergent Evolution
The Cosmos freely develops by the process of Emergent Evolution. This process operates to make possible the development of a life-form that can freely create a mind, which can enable that life-form to begin the free self-creation of a communal entity that is similar to God in knowledge, creativity and goodness.
There are four Emergent Stages to date: Matter, Life, Mind and the present Human Moral-cultural Stage. The Cosmic process involves the free self-organisation of the Emergent Stages of Matter and Life, followed by the free self-creation of the Human Mind and of the Human Moral-cultural Emergent Stage.
The Emergent Stages of Matter and Life develop from the Energy of the Big Bang and the Information provided by the Mathematical Constants that accompany the Big Bang. These Mathematical Constants 'constitute a recipe for a universe.' (Rees 2000, 4) They inform the laws of nature of the Emergent Stages of Matter and Life and of the natural Moral Law.
The first Emergent Stage, Matter, freely self-organises into Galaxies, Stars and Solar systems. At least one life-friendly planet, Earth, is eventually produced through this process. The development of a life-friendly planet provides the opportunity for information from the Mathematical Constants to inform some available appropriate matter, enabling Life to emerge. Life then freely evolves, new forms of life appearing in response to internal genetic processes and changing environments. Life forms tend to increase in complexity and animal life forms tend to increase in cephalisation.
From about One Million years ago a series of large-brained Hominid species evolve. As with all life-forms, Hominids have the instinctive knowledge that is necessary for any species to survive in its environment. Homo sapiens, the most recent Hominid species, evolve some 160,000 years ago. This species is initially bound to the same pattern of instinctive activity as other earlier Hominids.
Eventually some Homo sapiens initiate the process of Human self-creation, using their cognitive capacity to acquire and apply knowledge that goes beyond the basic level of knowledge provided by instinct. The Human mind develops in this self-creative process. This development differentiates Homo sapiens from every other Hominid species. The development of a mind justifies the term 'Human' being applied to Homo sapiens, but not to other Hominids. The first clear physical evidence of the development of the Human mind appears in the Upper Palaeolithic Revolution some 40,000 years ago.
The next Emergent Stage, the Human Moral-cultural Emergent Stage, begins some 3,000 years ago. Prior to this, human cultures had developed customs that seemed appropriate to their situation, but these were often less than moral. Eventually some humans began to realise that actions can have a moral dimension, in the Kantian sense of relating to a natural Moral Law. Bruno Snell charts the development of the idea of the moral in the Ancient Greek world. In Chapter 8 of The Discovery of the Mind he notes that 'goodness' in Homer's time relates to either utility or profit rather than to morality, while to possess virtue or to be good related to realising one's nature or one's wishes, without any regard to a moral dimension. (1982, 158-9)
The Human Moral-cultural Emergent Stage has much further to develop. Lawrence Kohlberg has shown that only a small minority of people are yet capable of making principled moral decisions. Most people still get their idea of morality from what is considered an acceptable practice in their culture. Some present cultures have very little morality, even accepting that it is legitimate to kill other people for their beliefs.
The Freedom of the Process of Emergent Evolution
The development of Matter after the Big Bang is a freely operating process involving material self-organisation. The Evolution of Life is also a freely operating process of self-organisation, as is the development of human cultures. Humans operate with complete freedom in relation to the Moral law, which can command but cannot compel. As Lawrence Kohlberg has shown, the Moral law is still perceived, understood or applied by individuals to a widely variable extent.
The laws of Physics are inherent in Matter and the laws of Life are inherent in the living, but the Moral law is not generally inherent in humans. However the Moral law appears to have the potential to become inherent in humans, as may be indicated by individual humans such as Moses, Socrates and Jesus.
The development of the Cosmos through the several Emergent Stages has the form of a process, a connected series of purposeful actions or changes over time. The Cosmic process, understood as the process of Emergent Evolution, can provide us with evidence relevant to the motive for creation.
The Motive for Creation
Consideration of the motive for creation begins with Aristotle. In his Christian Revelation and the Completion of the Aristotelian Revolution (1988) Patrick Madigan notes that the Greeks were able to reason up to a realm of true Being, or God, but they could not connect that realm with the world of appearances. (1988, 27) He then outlines the discussion of God's motive for creation from Aristotle to Aquinas and beyond. None of the explanations of God's motive outlined by Madigan prove to be satisfactory.
Aristotle began the discussion of motive by establishing two apparently contradictory conclusions. (1) God is necessary, as first mover, to explain the existence of the world, and (2) God is not able to cause an entity that is significantly different from God. As Madigan puts it: 'Aristotle establishes simultaneously two very strong points: first, that God must exist as a necessary first cause to explain the world, and secondly that God, if he exists, could not cause a world significantly distinct from himself. Both conclusions are demonstrated as necessarily true, and the one contradicts the other'. (1988, 16)
Aristotle's conclusion that God could not cause a world significantly different from God was contradicted by his empirical knowledge of the world. Aristotle ultimately concluded that God could only be engaged in contemplation directed back to God, the world not being worthy of God's concern. (1988, 3)
Subsequent discussion of God's motive for creation has sought to avoid Aristotle's antinomy, rather than to confront or resolve it. Plotinus, for example, argues that the world is 'produced necessarily but unconsciously as an automatic emanation from God's nature'. (Madigan 1988, 62) Madigan's own explanation of the existence of the world, its generation by an expansion of the circuit of divine self-love (1988, 118) is similar to Plotinus' device of an emanation of the world from God's goodness. Both these explanations would make God directly responsible for evil.
The Problem of Evil
Any satisfactory explanation of the world has to account for the existence of evil. Evil could no more derive from an expansion of God's self-love than it could derive from an emanation from God's nature. Whether a satisfactory accounting for evil could ever be given has been a matter of doubt. John Courtney Murray asks how the world can be a place of manifold evil and an arena of human misery if an all-mighty God exists. He maintains that the problem of evil utterly defeats philosophy. (1964, 104) I challenge this view. The potential for natural evil is an unavoidable consequence of the self-organising freedom of the processes of Emergent Evolution at the Emergent Stages of Matter and Life. Moral evil is an unavoidable consequence of the complete freedom of the Human Moral-cultural Emergent Stage of the process of Emergent Evolution. This freedom is essential to any genuinely free process involving both self-organisation and self-creation.
Getting Around Aristotle's Problem
The explanations of the production of the world surveyed by Madigan, and Madigan's own explanation, all seek to avoid the force of Aristotle's conclusion that God could only be the cause of an entity that is similar to God. They seek to provide some other way to connect God to the world, in order to avoid Aristotle's conclusion.
Aquinas arrives at a similar conclusion to Aristotle. Madigan summarises Aquinas' conclusion that God will, as far as able, create another 'God', the closest approximation to himself, as like produces like. Later Theologians proposed that the motive for God's creation had to be the production of a perfect creature, which they argued had been realised in the person of Jesus Christ, 'the creature that uniquely justifies the enterprise of creation'. (Madigan, 1988, 111) They sought to avoid the uncomfortable reality of man in general by focussing on Christ as the one person who justifies creation, reasoning that the world was created as the only way to produce Jesus.
While Jesus is probably an example of the perfect man, the argument that the purpose of creation was finally and fully accomplished nearly two thousand years ago would raise the question of man's present purpose in a still imperfect world. Commenting on this tactic Madigan recognises that Christ 'is the proleptic anticipation of the life-form that should eventually characterise the world as a whole.' (1988, 124, Note 6).
Madigan does not suggest how a transition to such a new life-form might occur, but a further development of the present Human Moral-cultural Emergent Stage could possibly provide such a transition. This would depend upon significant further self-development, in particular on moral development.
None of the arguments considered by Madigan confront Aristotle's conclusions that God is necessary as a first cause to explain the existence of the world, and that God could not cause a world which is significantly different from God. Aquinas' argument is more specific than Aristotle's, as he speaks of another 'god' both as created, and as being the closest possible approximation of the original. These descriptions appear at first sight to be self-contradictory. There can be no 'close approximation' between a creator God and a created entity. The difference between creator and created is perhaps the most significant difference which could exist between two entities.
However the extent of the difference between creator and created could depend on who does the creating. If Aquinas' 'other god' is self-created, in those aspects of its being that make it similar to God, it could well become the closest possible approximation to the original. There cannot be another self-existent being, but there could possibly be a communal entity that is self-created in those aspects of its being that make it similar to God. Understanding God's causal activity as restricted to direct creation has hindered us from recognising that God could initiate a process that could enable the self-creation of new aspects of the being of a created entity.
Aristotle's original position that God could not cause a world which was significantly different from God is worth further consideration. Our adoption of the Hebrew concept of mankind as a special creation 'in the image of God' may have contributed to our failure to resolve the Aristotelian antinomy. Mankind is only a special creation to the extent that he is self-created in those aspects of his being that in any way make him similar to God.
Aristotle's Unstated Assumption
The contradiction between Aristotle's conclusions that God is necessary as a first cause to explain the existence of the world and that God cannot cause a world that is significantly different from God, is more apparent than real. The contradiction rests upon the unstated assumption that the world is a finished product rather than a stage in a continuing process.
We are in a much better position than Aristotle to appreciate the extent of the changes in the cosmos since the Big Bang, the changes in life since it first evolved and the changes in Homo sapiens since the species first evolved. It is now commonplace to understand the world as evolving or in process.
The old idea of a completed world was reinforced by the Biblical idea of a completed creation. Clifford notes the effect Mesopotamian myths had upon biblical cosmogonies. He provides an example of the belief in Mesopotamia that everything was fixed permanently on the day of creation. (1988, 151-2) That assumption is untenable in the light of what is now known of the development of the cosmos since the Big Bang.
Accepting Aristotle's Conclusions
I accept Aristotle's conclusions that God is the necessary first cause and that God could not cause an entity that is significantly different from God. It is also clear that God can not create another self-existent entity. God can only create creatures. So what course could God adopt to resolve this apparent problem?
God could initiate the freely operating cosmic process of Emergent Evolution. Once big-brained animal species appear within the evolutionary process, the possibility is open to members of those species to begin a process of self-creation, utilising their cognitive capacity to generate a mind that can operate beyond the limitations of instinct. Homo sapiens appear to be the only species to successfully begin this process, despite an earlier species, Homo neanderthalis, having a larger brain.
It appears that the purpose of the present Cosmic process is to enable the self-creation of a communal entity that is not significantly different from God. When the Cosmic process is understood in this way the contradiction between Aristotle's conclusions disappears. If the purpose of the process is eventually achieved God, by creating a freely operating Cosmos, will become the ultimate cause of another entity that is similar to God.
The process of human self-creation began with the self-creation of the human mind. This was followed by the development of human cultures, as evidenced by the Upper Palaeolithic Revolution. The Human Moral-cultural Stage began about 3,000 years ago. Within the Jewish culture there had been a critical focus on the imperative of moral action for up to a millennium before Jesus.
Critical thinking appears to be a pre-requisite of moral thought. Within the Greek culture the capacity to reason critically appeared with the Pre-Socratics. Bruno Snell notes in The Discovery of Mind: 'the rise of critical thinking among the Greeks was nothing less than a revolution. They did not, by means of mental equipment already at their disposal, merely map out new subjects for discussion, such as the sciences and philosophy. They discovered the human mind.' (1982, v) In this passage Snell is not addressing the self-creation of the human mind, as I have done, but the initial recognition by a group of humans that they had developed a mind which they could apply to matters that were beyond the prevailing pre-critical paradigm.
The Jewish and Greek cultures were subsequently linked as a result of Alexander's efforts to take Greek culture to the rest of the world. (Weigall, 1933, Chapter 8) Socrates is a product of the Greek cultural process of human self-creation. Jesus is a product of both the Jewish and Hellenistic processes of human self-creation.
Both Jesus and Socrates were results of concentrated processes of individual and cultural self-creation within the processes of Human Moral-cultural self-creation. They both indicate the probable goal of the present Moral-cultural Emergent Stage, the emergence of humans in whom the Moral law is inherent.
In Jesus' case the Jewish emphasis on acting morally, which had been maintained for up to one millennium prior to his birth, enabled him to develop as a proleptic example of the next Emergent Stage. His selection of disciples may have been based on his recognition of others as similar products of the Jewish Moral-cultural process. The Moral law appeared to be inherent in Jesus' nature, rather than merely being perceived to some limited extent, as occurs with most humans. Whether this Jewish Moral-cultural process could continue to produce such people was not tested. The Romans sacked Jerusalem soon after Jesus' death, destroyed the Jewish culture and dispersed the Jews among other cultures.
Apart from his inherently moral nature Jesus was a person of his own time and place. He could only understand himself within the categories of the understanding that were available in his time. Being learned in the Jewish Scriptures he considered himself, and was considered by others, to be the Messiah. He discovered otherwise, hence the anguished 'Why have you abandoned me?'
Homo sapiens have already developed themselves from being animals in a habitat to becoming persons in a community, through the process of Human Moral-cultural self-creation. This occurred without their having any understanding of the overall process in which they are engaged.
Humans can now consciously engage in making themselves and their cultures similar to God in knowledge, creativity and goodness. The example of both Socrates and Jesus would suggest that goodness is the most important aspect of this development.
The cosmic process exists to make possible the production of a communal entity that is not significantly different from God, resolving Aristotle's antinomy. Humans are involved in a process of self-creation that could result in their becoming similar to God in knowledge, creativity and goodness.
To make this process of self-creation possible God initiates the 'Big Bang', providing the Time, the Energy and the Mathematical Constants that begin the process of Emergent Evolution. This process ensures the development of life-forms with the cognitive capacity to develop a mind and to begin to make themselves similar to God. The rest was, and still is, up to us.
Clifford R.J. (1988) 'Creation in the Hebrew Bible' Physics, Philosophy and Theology Vatican, Vatican Observatory
Kelly A. (2006) 'The Intelligent Design of the Cosmos' PHILICA.COM Article Number 50
Kelly A. (2007) 'Resolving the Goldilocks Enigma An Evidence Based Approach' PHILICA.COM Article Number 87
Madigan Patrick (1988) Christian Revelation and the Completion of the Aristotelian Revolution, Lanham U.P. America
Murray J.C. (1964) The Problem of God New Haven Yale University Press
Rees Martin (2000) Just Six Numbers, London, Phoenix
Snell Bruno (1982) The Discovery of Mind Dover Publications, New York.
Weigall A. (1933) Alexander the Great London, Thornton Butterworth
© Anthony Kelly 2007