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Chapter Seven | Creature and Creator

Il n'y a de creation que dans l'imprévisible devenant nécessité.

—Pierre Boulez, Revue Musicale, 1952.

I said at the end of the last lecture that the approach to theism which I propose to develop takes its basis in the sheer givenness of the extra-mental beings which we perceive through our senses. I now add the assurance that I do not intend to fall into the fallacy of arguing that, as a matter of pure grammar, givenness implies a giver. It may be useful to begin by comparing the line which I am following with that worked out by Austin Farrer in his great work Finite and Infinite. Like myself, he argues that if only we perceive finite beings correctly we shall perceive them as created and sustained by infinite and transcendent being; and his argument, which is extremely systematic and complex, is intended to help us so to perceive them. Farrer does not attempt, as scholastics such as Garrigou-Lagrange do,1 to argue from the existence of finite being to the existence of infinite being syllogistically, using the principle of contradiction, but to help us to see God-and-the-creature-in-the-cosmological-relationship; we shall either grasp God in his creatures or we shall not grasp him at all. Farrer divides his arguments into two types: usiological arguments, based on finite beings as such, and anthropological arguments, based on the particular kind of finite beings that we ourselves are, namely human beings, men.2 However, the function of his anthropological arguments is not ultimately to call our attention to characteristics which are possessed by men alone among finite beings, but, by putting before us the type of finite beings with which we are most familiar (namely ourselves), to call our attention to a universal character of finite beings as such; otherwise he would seem to be suggesting, as I fear some existentialists do, that, while human beings need God as their creator, the existence of non-human beings needs no particular explanation. The long and extremely elaborate central section of his book is devoted to establishing the substantiality of the human self as basic to his argument, but this emphasis upon the self has a quite different function from that which it has in the systems of the transcendental Thomists. For Farrer the self is simply the object of knowledge with which we are best acquainted;3 for the transcendental Thomists it is the subject whose yearning to overpass the horizon of finite being witnesses to its concern with the infinite. Mr H. P. Owen's position is much the same as Farrer's. ‘Our knowledge of God’, he writes, ‘is direct in so far as it is non-discursive, but indirect in so far as it is mediated.… Its apprehension is always given in and with the Godhead's created signs; and among these signs [the mind's] own nature and operations are the most significant.’4 But ultimately the self is in the same boat as everything else:

It must be remembered that to say that apart from God the world is finally unintelligible is to say that everything is finally so. An ultimate query is placed against every fact, and every explanation of every fact. It is easy to lapse into thinking that because the cosmological question is a metaphysical one—because it comes after finite explanations have been given—it refers either to the world ‘as a whole’ or to the ‘beginning of the world’. But it refers to everything at every moment. In itself everything at every moment is enigmatic.5

Thus for Owen neither the world as a whole nor the human self has any special ontological status as an index of the divine existence. The self is simply the finite being with which we are most immediately acquainted:

The unitary and unifying self is not merely a postulate of reason; it is a reality of which each person is conscious. Certainly he is not conscious of it as an entity which is separable from its acts, and which can be known apart from them. Rather he is conscious of it as something which underlies, pervades, and unifies its acts. He is conscious of himself, not as a pure ego without empirical content, but as an ego qualified by this or that activity of thinking, willing, or feeling.… Similarly we are aware of ourselves as both the subjects and the objects of causal activity.6

Now I do not wish in any way to quarrel with the stress which, for their own purposes, both Farrer and Owen place upon the human self as the datum for theistic argumentation. Furthermore, I agree with Owen that theistic argumentation is not ‘rational demonstration’, in the sense which he gives to that term, the very strict sense in which it covers ontological and syllogistic arguments. He certainly does not intend to suggest that belief in God is not to the fullest degree rational. Furthermore, I agree with him that God is known primarily by intuition or ‘contuition’, that, in the words already quoted, ‘our knowledge of God is direct in so far as it is non-discursive, but indirect in so far as it is mediated.… Its apprehension is always given in and with the Godhead's created signs.’ I am, however, not so sure that ‘among the signs [the mind's] own nature and operations are the most significant’, though I admit that, starting from them, Owen builds up an extremely impressive argument. Just because I hold (as Owen does too) that God is the ground of existence of every finite being I prefer to start from beings that we know more objectively and at the same time less intimately than we know ourselves, beings of which the radically un-self-sufficient character can be directly apprehended in its true metaphysical status and is in no danger of confusion with those psychological states of insecurity and anxiety to which existentialists attribute direct ontological status but which psychologists interpret as manifesting a morbid rather than an authentic reaction to our cosmic environment. My starting-point will therefore be taken in any one of the extra-mental beings which we perceive through the mediation of our senses as a real thing, an in-se.

Now there are, I claim, two basic characteristics of such a being of which I can take note when I perceive it, though my awareness of them may be initially implicit. The first is its reality, the second its contingency. By its reality I mean its character as having concrete existence. Whatever causal relations it may have to other beings, it is not just a state of my mind or a figment of my imagination, nor is it an appearance or aspect of the absolute. It is something in itself, a being, an ens, an in-se. It confronts me, as the chestnut-tree confronted Antoine Roquentin in Sartre's novel La Nausée, in all its obstinate indifference to me and my desires, in its ontological self-centredness, its densité, as some of the French writers would say. Although in my perception of it, I can get it into my own mind and, as the scholastics say, can become it (not entitatively but intentionally), it has nevertheless a hard core of impenetrability and resistance; it exists. And this existence with which it confronts me is not just a bare, passive ‘thereness’, the ‘existence’ which in the symbolism of Principia Mathematica is denoted by an inverted capital letter E; it is energy, activity, the fundamental activity without which no other activity is possible. And, however much I can ‘become it’ in knowing it, its basic individuality resists me because it is itself and not I. I cannot absorb its entitative being into myself.

But, real as it is, it is also contingent. It is unnecessary; there is in its own nature neither reason nor cause why it should exist at all. Neither logic nor metaphysics would have been violated if it had not existed; it might not and need not have been. At this point a caution is needed to exclude possible verbal confusion. I am not here giving to the word ‘contingent’ the meaning which, as we have previously seen,7 some writers have given it, as indicating simply that a being has not always existed or will not always exist; nor am I using the word ‘necessary’ to denote simply that a being has always existed and will always exist. In the sense in which I am using the words, ‘contingent’ might be rendered by ‘non-self-existent’ or ‘non-self-explanatory’, and ‘necessary’ by ‘self-existent’ or ‘self-explanatory’. If it be objected that I am now confusing metaphysical existence with logical explanation, I shall reply that, when we are concerned not just with the properties or the behaviour of anything but with its existence, logic and metaphysics are inseparably connected. If we say that there is no logical necessity that a being should exist, we imply that, if it does exist, it must either be the ground of its own existence or have the ground of its existence in something else. And, in spite of the very telling criticisms which some writers such as Dr Kenny have levelled at St Thomas's formulation of the first three of his Five Ways, it seems to me that the Angelic Doctor quite validly makes this essential point.

Whether we should describe the passage from the recognition of contingent being to the affirmation of necessary being as an ‘argument’ seems to depend both on the precise sense which we give to the word ‘argument’ and on the circumstances of the particular case.8 It is certainly possible for the mind to grasp both the contingency of the material object of perception and the necessity of its ground in one mental act, a contuition of God-and-the-world-in-the-cosmological-relation. On the other hand, it may well be that before this act takes place some kind of interior or exterior dialogue is needed; however, the purpose of this dialogue is to enable the mind to grasp what the contingency of contingent being really is rather than to conduct it through a formal argument from contingent being to necessary being. We can, of course, formalise the process in a conditional syllogism in the modus ponendo ponens, as follows:

(Major premiss) If there is contingent being, there is necessary being;

(Minor premiss) But there is contingent being;

(Conclusion) Therefore there is necessary being;

but this is really misleading. For it is only through perceiving contingent being that we can be brought to affirm the major premiss; and the minor premiss having thus been given, the conclusion is given too.9 Everything thus depends on our capacity to apprehend the objects of our perception as they really are, in their radical contingency. This is something which appears to be extremely difficult for many modern people to do, as compared with people of previous ages, but, as I have argued elsewhere,10 this would seem to be due far more to the atrophy of a normal human faculty than to the emancipation of the human mind from the shackles of superstition and confusion. Of such a highly revered modern philosopher as Wittgenstein it is recorded that, in a paper on ethics, ‘he said that he sometimes had a certain experience which could best be described by saying that “when I have it I wonder at the existence of the world. And I am then inclined to use such phrases as ‘How extraordinary that anything should exist’ or ‘How extraordinary that the world should exist.’”’11 In his early work the Tractatus Logico-philosophicus, he wrote ‘Not how the world is, is the mystical, but that it is’, though he added: ‘For an answer which cannot be expressed the question too cannot be expressed.’12 My own comment on this would be that, since the question can be expressed, the answer must be expressible too. Mr H. P. Owen well remarks that, although ‘no Christian can accept Wittgenstein's previous statement that “God does not reveal himself in the world”… the fact remains that he feels obliged to raise the cosmological question as one to which he is driven after his analysis of scientific language is complete.’13

At this point it may be useful to make a few remarks about Dr Milton K. Munitz's very original work The Mystery of Existence, in which he argues that ‘Why is there a world?’ or ‘Why does the world exist?’ is a perfectly proper question, but is an inherently unanswerable one. His basic assertion is that, owing to the all-inclusive character of the world, to exist is its fundamental activity.

The term used to describe [the world's] mode of ‘activity’ should be irreducible to any other; it should not be replaceable by some other term.… The mode of functioning that is appropriate to the world is—to exist. Instead of saying ‘The world worlds’ or ‘The world carries on as a world’, we say ‘The world exists’. To exist is all that the world can do; this is what it is ‘fit’ to do; or—to use traditional terminology—the essence of the world is its existence.14

For Munitz, therefore, the world has very much the character that traditional theism ascribes to God. I cannot here give a full discussion of his argument, but it is noteworthy that for him the starting-point of the argument is the world as a whole and not simply any constituent of it. The reason which he gives for this is that if we simply ask ‘Why does anything exist?’ the various entities which ‘anything’ would cover are of vastly different types and so, presumably, is their ‘existence’: ‘Would the term “anything”, for example, include the number “three”, or the possibility that my chair might collapse in the next five minutes, or the smile of the Cheshire cat?’15 He does not consider the possibility of starting, as I have done, with the existence of extra-mental material beings, and it is not easy to see what would be his conclusion if he did. It is part of his argument that the world is the totality of finite being, and that what is true of it will therefore not be necessarily true of its parts. And the reason why he holds that the question ‘Why does the world exist?’ is unanswerable is that there is simply nothing else in terms of which the question could be answered. Clearly this objection will not hold against the question ‘Why does this or that extra-mental material being exist?’ Thus, his discussion, though it is extremely able and interesting, does not bear directly on the line which I have been following.16

Another American writer, Dr Wallace I. Matson, gives a widely ranging discussion of the various traditional arguments for the existence of God; he concludes that they are all unconvincing and that this is just as well, since, in his view, ‘the essential and proper function of God in the higher religions is that of the ideal, something to be aspired to’.17 However, he pays no attention to the form of cosmological argument which I have been developing, which asserts the possibility of a contuition of God with and in our apprehension of extra-mental material being. I certainly do not want to claim from such writers a support which they would not be willing to give, but, in view of the widespread assumption that ultimate questions about the universe and its constituents are invalid and are indeed only pseudo-questions, such works as these are not without significance. Indeed, the very fact on the strength of which positivists dismiss the ultimate questions as meaningless—namely that they do not admit of an answer in the framework of scientific explanations—is precisely the fact on the strength of which a theist will assert that they need an answer in non-scientific and metaphysical terms. It is at least striking that the theist is attacked not for being unable to answer certain ultimate questions, but for presuming to answer them when the positivist has refused to allow them even to be raised. One is tempted to enquire which of the two is refusing to face the facts.

I have been taken to task by Dr Munitz for saying that what is primarily needed for a philosophical approach to theism is that we should grasp finite beings as they really are, in their contingency and dependence. Why, he asks in effect, should I suppose that my grasp of them is more accurate than that of the atheist or of the positivist, who can see nothing in them other than themselves? This is the type of complaint that invites a tu quoque. Why should the atheist or the positivist suppose that his grasp of them is more accurate than mine? On which of us does the onus probandi lie? Academic mud-slinging, however, gets one nowhere; and I will only repeat that the theist, in developing the cosmological approach, does at least claim to give an answer to an intelligible and urgent question. In the last resort, and prescinding from the possibility of direct divine intervention, it seems to me that the primary need is the cultivation of the attitude of wonder. To quote what I have written elsewhere:

In order to penetrate the phenomenal skin of the perceptual world in order to grasp either physical objects or human persons or the God who is the creator and sustainer of both, we must learn to contemplate them with humility and wonder and not merely to record their sensible qualities and analyse their relationships. The element of wonder is of the highest importance here, and we must note that the wonder which is associated with contemplation does not consist of wondering what the answer to certain questions may be—for example, wondering how many electrons there are in the outer ring of the dysprosium atom—but simply of wondering at finite beings themselves.18

And my contention is that, if we do wonder at the things which we perceive, we are able to recognise both their own contingency and also the presence of necessary being as the only intelligible ground of their existence as concrete and contingent realities.

It is, of course, well known that many modern philosophers hold that the terms ‘necessary’ and ‘contingent’ (i.e. non-necessary) can be rightly predicated only of propositions and never of things, and they will add that the only necessary propositions are those that express logical tautologies. This objection seems to me to be purely irrelevant. The necessity which I am denying to the objects of my experience is not the logical necessity that belongs to a tautological proposition, and I do not think that anyone (except perhaps some supporters of the ontological argument) ever supposed that it was. The contingency of the objects of our experience has nothing whatever to do with the question whether the predicate of a proposition is logically contained in the subject. This is why I hold, with Fr Norris Clarke, that theistic argumentation rests not simply on the principle of contradiction (a logical principle) but on the principle of sufficient reason (a metaphysical one). When I ask why any particular being exists I am not led to do so because I cannot derive the existence of the object from its definition; I should never expect to do that in any case. I wonder why it exists, because my immediate apprehension of it is of something which need not be there; and this ‘need not’ is a metaphysical, not a logical, ‘need not’. That there are certain analogies between logical and metaphysical entities is not surprising, for we can hardly suppose that a world might be metaphysically existent and logically incoherent, but this provides no ground for denying the metaphysical relevance of the notions of contingency and necessity.

It will not do to dismiss this approach, as I have heard it dismissed by a very well-known philosopher who should have known better, by saying that, if you explain the world by saying that God made it, you are then left with the question ‘Who made God?’ For the theistic argument, whether it is good or bad, is simply that the only way to explain the existence of being that is not self-existent is to postulate the existence of being that is self-existent; and it is clearly ridiculous to ask for an explanation of the existence of that which is self-existent. The concept of self-existent being may indeed be a puzzling one. We may find it difficult or impossible to think what it is like, but the argument does not require us to do this. We may indeed find it strange that there should be such a thing as self-existent being, though if our capacity for wonder is functioning properly we shall see that what is really strange is that there should be anything else. This is perhaps the truth behind the assertion of Hartshorne and Findlay that the existence of God is either necessary or impossible.19 The ontological argument cannot decide between these alternatives; it takes the concrete existence of contingent being to do that.

In claiming that we can apprehend the existence of necessary being in our wondering apprehension of contingent being we may appear to have reached a very minimal conclusion. It is, however, backed up by St Thomas's assertion that we do not know what God is, but only what he is not and how his creatures are related to him.20 Might not some other approach have paid higher dividends? That may well be so, and I would repeat once more that, in adopting one particular approach, I have not either explicitly or implicitly ruled out others. I have, however, had one special reason for following this line of argument. Modern philosophers of the dominant school of linguistic empiricism have maintained that it is impossible for us to know anything other than the finite world and its constituents, and indeed that the very notion of a transcendent realm is incoherent or meaningless. From the opposite angle a very influential school of theologians have asserted that reason and our other natural powers cannot give us any genuine knowledge of God and that we can know him, if at all, only by his intervention ad hoc and ad hominem in revelatory acts which are entirely uncoordinated with any of our natural powers; man has no point of contact, no Anknüpsfungspunkt, with the divine. It has therefore seemed worth while to enquire whether there is any feature of the world which provides such a point of contact. That its size is minimal—and does not Euclid tell us that a point has position but not magnitude?—will not matter; this can be dealt with later. The question is whether it exists at all. And I have argued that such a point of contact is in fact to be found in the sheer element of contingency in all the beings which our senses disclose to us. It is indeed minimal, but it is also universal. It locates the finite world and all its constituents on a foundation of self-existent being on which they are themselves totally dependent. What this relation between the world and its transcendent ground implies for either or for both we must go on to enquire.

When, in the Summa Theologiae, St Thomas has, as he claims, demonstrated the existence of a being which, in his own words, ‘everyone understands to be God’21—when, that is, he has argued that the world of our experience has a transcendent self-existent ground—he goes on to argue, in the next nine questions, that this self-existent being is simple, perfect, good, infinite, immutable, eternal and one. This may at first sight be surprising in an author who, as we have seen, also tells us that we do not know what God is, but only that he is and how he is related to his creatures. The answer must be, that, in St Thomas's view, the attributes just listed, impressive and august as they are, do not in fact state ‘what God is’ but only ‘how he is related to his creatures’. This assertion will be less puzzling if we recall that critics have often complained that the God of the philosophers, and especially the God of the Thomist philosophers, is a very austere and frigid deity when compared with the God and Father of Jesus Christ. And indeed the passages in which the Angelic Doctor argues that God is simple, perfect, good and all the rest do not, by the very place which they hold in his treatise, profess to do more than provide a certain explicitation or ‘unpacking’—a very partial unpacking at that—of what is involved in the affirmation of the existence of a transcendent self-existent ground of contingent being. That this is very limited and tenuous will not worry St Thomas, for whom revelation gives us a knowledge, and indeed a self-communication, of God that reason and our other natural powers cannot achieve. I shall not follow through St Thomas's discussion in detail, but shall merely put the question whether there is anything that we can say about the transcendent self-existent ground of contingent being beyond the bare fact that it is contingent being's transcendent self-existent ground? I suggest that we can say this at least, that it must possess the attributes of thought, will and power, and that it must possess these in a supereminent degree. For to maintain contingent being in existence involves a decision that there shall be contingent being and what kind of contingent being there shall be; and this implies what, however analogically, we can validly describe as an activity of thinking and willing. And the bringing of this decision into effect implies the exercise of what, however analogically, we can validly describe as an exercise of supreme power. Taken together, these attributes of thought, will and power justify us in describing the transcendent self-existent being as personal and in applying to it the personal pronoun ‘he’. We would certainly seem to be justified in describing him as omnipotent, if we remember that the basic meaning of ‘omnipotent’ is ‘powerful over everything in a supreme degree’, for we could hardly conceive a higher degree of power than is exemplified in giving to contingent beings not merely this, that or the other quality but their very existence. (St Thomas himself tells us that God cannot do what is self-contradictory or inconsistent with his own nature, though he neatly adds that ‘it is better to say that such things cannot be done than that God cannot do them’22.) Whether we can convincingly go on, as St Thomas does, to argue that this personal God is good and that he is, not only numerically but also constitutionally, one I shall not consider here, nor is it very important in the last resort to anyone who believes that our rational enquiry about God is supplemented or accompanied by God's movement towards us in revelation. What I have been concerned to do is to find the chink in the armour of naturalistic atheism through which the spear of theism can find entry. That the chink is tiny does not matter; it can be enlarged later on. To vary the metaphor, it is the first step that counts. My contention is that the sheer contingency of the objects of our experience demands explanation in terms of transcendent self-existent being, and I am fortified in this conviction by the fact that the opponents of theism do not offer an alternative answer but contrive excuses for evading the question. It may, however, be useful to pay attention at this point to one commonly urged objection, for in answering it we shall further clarify the theistic position. This is the objection that, by the theist's own admission, God and his creatures are altogether different from each other and that it would seem to follow from this that no term which can be applied to creatures can, even in a supreme degree, be intelligibly applied to God. If, for example, we take account of God's transcendence by saying not merely that he is good but that he is infinitely or self-existently good, does not the qualifying adverb ‘infinitely’ or ‘self-existently’ demolish any intelligibility that was previously possessed by the epithet ‘good’? To answer this it is necessary not merely to affirm that God and his creatures are altogether different from each other but to consider what that difference is. And when we do consider this we shall see that, so far from isolating God and his creatures from each other, their difference paradoxically places them in the most intimate relation.

For, when we say that the fundamental difference between God and creatures is that God is self-existent while creatures are non-self-existent, we are not merely making a logical or semantic comparison between the two concepts of self-existence and non-self-existence. We are implying that, because the creatures in spite of their non-self-existence do in fact exist, they are the objects of the incessant creative activity of the self-existent God. This creative relationship is, of course, entirely asymmetrical; they depend on him, and not he on them. Some of the implications of this fact and some of the problems that it raises are discussed at length in my book Existence and Analogy and I have summarised the more recent treatments of the doctrine of analogy in the introductory essay to the revised edition of my earlier work He Who Is. For our present purpose I will merely quote the following passage:

It is vital to the whole position which I have been maintaining to insist that in natural theology we are not merely instituting comparisons between two orders of concepts but considering created and uncreated being as the former actually exists in dependence on the latter. That is to say, we are not merely concerned with the question ‘How can an infinite, necessary and immutable Being be described in terms that are derived from the finite, contingent and mutable world?’ but with a question that is anterior to this and without which this cannot be properly discussed at all, namely ‘How is the possibility of our applying to the infinite Being terms that are derived from the finite order conditioned by the fact that the finite order is dependent for its very existence on the fiat of the infinite and self-existent Being?’23

These words were written in 1949 and I would wish to modify them in only one detail, in accordance with a point which I have made earlier in these lectures when discussing the question of Theology and Language.24 I there asserted that one is already loading the question if one puts it in the form ‘How can terms which in their normal and natural application refer to finite beings refer analogically to God?’ and I suggested that the primary datum is that the terms apply both to finite beings and to God and that the relevant question is how this dual application is to be explained. Furthermore, I anticipated the argument of the present chapter by saying that the explanation is that God and finite beings are in a definite causal relation. ‘Only the notion of a God who is related to the world—and who is related to it in a very particular way—can make the fact of this dual applicability of terms intelligible.’ The justification of this assertion will, I trust, now be clear. God is supreme thought, will and power; and it is because he establishes his creatures in existence by exercising his will and power in accordance with his thought that they embody, in their infinitely lower mode of dependent being, the perfections which in him are self-existent and unlimited. God is therefore really manifested in his creatures, limited, obscure and mysterious as that manifestation is. It is this ontological relation between God and his creatures that makes it possible for both to be spoken of in the same language. In Farrer's phrase, we know God-and-the-creatures-in-the-cosmological-relation; and it is because of this that we can speak of them in the same breath.

Thus, to summarise the discussion of the present lecture, I will reaffirm that there are solid rational grounds, based on our perception of extra-mental material beings, for holding that they owe their existence to the incessant creative activity of transcendent self-existent being, in which thought, will and power are combined to a supereminent degree and which therefore is properly to be described as personal and, without distorting the traditional use of the term, as God. I have stressed in addition that many theists would say that the very limited information about God which is acquired in this way is supplemented by revelation, that is to say by a deliberate self-communication by God to men. Such a self-communication may indeed be expected on the part of a personal God, though just because he is personal its occasions and its modes cannot be predicted; it will be given ‘at sundry times and in divers manners’. Furthermore, it may well be doubted whether such self-revealing activity will be altogether absent from any occasion in which a man contemplates God's creatures in such a way as to discern his presence in them as their creator; it is difficult to suppose that a personal God will restrain himself as a purely passive and quasi-inanimate object for human inspection. If on certain occasions he appears so to restrain himself, this will be due to his own deliberate choice. There are such occasions in the lives of most believers, and experts in the spiritual life assure us that it is good for us that this is so. Dr John Macquarrie has even suggested that something like this dark night of the soul may be a phenomenon in the lives of human societies and cultures no less than in those of individual believers.25 If this is true, it merely serves to emphasise that a personal God will make himself known to men as and when he sees fit. He will be as active in concealing himself as in openly manifesting himself. It will thus follow that the purely natural knowledge of God as the transcendent ground of finite beings, which has been the subject of this lecture, is only one element in the experience in which we apprehend God through his creatures. This is indeed what I suggested at the beginning of the first of these lectures,26 when I quoted Dom John Chapman's assertion of the inevitably abstract character of natural theology. Nevertheless, a great deal is to be learnt by considering this particular element by itself; in particular such consideration can help to assure us that religious experience is not a purely psychological phenomenon having no object outside the mind of the experient, but is a genuine knowledge of a real and transcendent divine being. Provided that we remember that abstractions are abstractions, they can be of the greatest use in aiding our thinking about concrete reality. And when all is said and done concreteness is itself an abstraction; only the concrete is concrete.

  • 1.

    Dieu, son Existence et sa Nature (1914).

  • 2.

    Cf. my discussion of Farrer in Existence and Analogy, ch. vii.

  • 3.

    In the preface to the second edition of Finite and Infinite, published in 1959, sixteen years after the first edition, Farrer offered the following reflections on his approach:

    I told myself that I had to reconstruct the doctrine of substance; by which I meant, that I could not be content to derive the structure of being from the grammar of description; I must unearth it where it could be genuinely apprehended. And where was that? Initially, anyhow, in myself, self-disclosed as the subject of my acts.
    My starting-point was correct, and my procedure materially sound; but my methodology was ill-considered. I talked of a genuine apprehension, where the structure of one's own existence was concerned.… What was I doing, in fact, but finding a certain abstract, artificial and diagrammatic account of my active being applicable or luminous?… The fatal gap between language and reality yawns again.…
    Never mind, for the gap can be closed, and at the place where I proposed to close it. For language is otherwise related to our acts, than it is to anything else. Speech is the very form of our linguistic activity, and linguistic activity is but a specialised type of intentional action in general; which, as it were, attains to explicitness in the spoken mode.… Every grammar is a grammar of speech, but speech is human being, and uniquely revelatory of the rest of it. And as I trust I was able to show in this book, we both do and must think of the being of all things through an extension of our self-understanding.
    The paragraph I have just written would require a treatise to expound [pp. ixf].
    Farrer suggests reference to his Gifford Lectures, Freedom of the Will, especially chapters vii, ix and x. His later work Faith and Speculation (1967), although described (p. v) as purging out the old Aristotelian leaven from the voluntarist metaphysics of Finite and Infinite, does not give explicit attention to the point made above.

  • 4.

    The Christian Knowledge of God, p. 143.

  • 5.

    ibid., p. 87f.

  • 6.

    ibid., p. 129.

  • 7.

    Cf. p. 51 supra.

  • 8.

    Professor Peter Geach, in a very original and forthright essay on ‘Causality and Creation’ in his volume God and the Soul (1969), takes a somewhat different view from mine. He writes:

    Some people have argued that we cannot demonstrate God's existence in the sense of proving it from premises, but only in the sense of pointing out, to a metaphysical eye mat has somehow been got open, the dependence of finite being on the Infinite or of contingent being upon the Necessary Being. I cannot make any sense of this metaphysical vision; neither, I suspect could Aquinas—I find no mention of it in his works.… Certainly this understanding of ‘necessary’ and ‘contingent’ is quite alien to his thought; for him contingent beings are beings liable to corrupt, break up, or the like, and necessary beings are beings with no such inner seeds of their own destruction; souls and angels belong to the latter class, and so, he thought, do the heavenly bodies.…
    My own view is that at least the first three of the five ‘ways’ both were intended to be logically conclusive and may possibly, on suitable restatement, in fact be so. The general arguments against using deduction can, I think, be quite easily refuted; whether the first three ‘ways’ are valid can be determined only by considering them, not by including them in some blanket condemnation. But I am afraid logic is not yet in a position to pronounce decisively on their validity, because the formal logic of causal propositions, which was studied a little in the Middle Ages, has made no progress to speak of since then [p. 77].
Geach was writing before the publication of Dr Kenny's book The Five Ways, in which the desired detailed examination of St Thomas's ‘ways’ is made; as far as I know the intriguing reference to the formal logic of causal propositions has not been followed up, though Geach briefly touches on the matter in a review of Kenny's book (Philosophical Quarterly, XX (1970), pp. 311f). In his own book Geach writes: ‘I shall say something by way of preliminary to a formal logic of causal propositions; may others push the work on’ (p. 78). He denies that the objections to the idea of proving God's existence by deductive methods are valid, and writes as follows:
Whatever Kant and some neo-scholastics have thought, syllogistic is only a small fragment of logic; and objections that rule out a syllogistic proof of God's existence do not necessarily rule out deductive proofs.
It is in fact very easy to show that a valid deductive causal proof of God's existence could not possibly be purely syllogistic. We might suspect this, for such a proof could hardly avoid making essential use of e.g. the fact that some causal relation is transitive and aliorelative, and thus over-stepping the bounds of syllogistic. However, the matter admits of formal proof… If… the universe of discourse involved in the premisses is the familiar universe of mutable things, no syllogistic manipulations can bring out a conclusion asserting the existence of something not belonging to that universe—an immutable God. You cannot possibly defend both the exclusively syllogistic character of logic and the deductive nature of natural theology; and the sooner this is realised the better [pp. 79ff].
Geach then emphasises the qualitative difference made by the introduction of relative terms, such as ‘cause of’, into our reasoning and outlines the logical form of a deductive argument for theism. ‘The idea that creation involves insuperable logical difficulties, as compared with ordinary making,’ he writes, ‘thus turns out to be unfounded’ [pp. 84f]. He sums up as follows:
There is a lot more hard logical work to be done in these areas: but I hope I have said enough to show how empty the claim is that we know enough about the logic of causal propositions to see that there can be no causal deductive proof of God's existence. It may even be rational, as I am inclined to think it is, to accept some such proof as valid before a satisfactory logical analysis has been worked out: mathematical proofs were valid and rationally acceptable long before logicians could give a rigorous account of them. But especially in the face of scepticism, a highly rigorous analysis of the proofs is an urgent task; and after all some accepted ways of mathematicians have turned out not to be logically acceptable. And a necessary preliminary to such analysis is a fully developed logic of causal propositions, which we need anyhow to deal with many non-theological reasonings [p. 85].

  • 9.

    Cf. my He Who Is, pp. 72ff.

  • 10.

    e.g. The Christian Universe, ch. iii.

  • 11.

    N. Malcolm, Ludwig Wittgenstein: A Memoir, p. 70.

  • 12.

    op. cit., secc. 6.44, 6.5.

  • 13.

    The Christian Knowledge of God, p. 88.

  • 14.

    op. cit., p. 94.

  • 15.

    ibid., p. 45.

  • 16.

    Professor Peter Geach (Three Philosophers (1961), p. 111) interprets Aquinas as implicitly defining God as the Maker of the world. ‘This notion,’ he writes, ‘as we shall see, raises problems; some theologians would wish to avoid them by proving God's existence from the existence of some casually chosen thing, not from the existence of the world.… I think they are wrong as to the feasibility of such a proof, and it is fairly easy to show that Aquinas would not have agreed with them.’ Thus on the nature of the basic question of theism Geach (who clearly considers himself in agreement with Aquinas on this point) lines up with Munitz and not with me, though, unlike Munitz, he holds that the question can be answered and can indeed be answered affirmatively. It is, he holds, by treating the world as ‘a great big object’ that Aquinas locates God not as the first cause in a sequence of intra-mundane causes but as transcendent to the whole finite order. He writes:

  • What would have appeared to Aquinas not worth discussion at all is the idea that, though we can speak without contradiction of the world as a whole, we cannot raise concerning it the sort of causal questions that we can raise concerning its parts. Why should we not raise them? It would be childish to say the world is too big for such questions to be reasonable; and to say the world is all-inclusive would be to beg the question—God would not be included in the world [p. 113].
    Aquinas's approach, as Geach understands it, is clearly different from mine, but his discussion, which makes use not only of scholastic but also of modern logic, deserves more attention than it has received. He writes:
    Natural theology can show us some of the main attributes of God, and expose some of the grosser errors about him. But serious study of natural theology requires a rigorous philosophical training, for which few have leisure, talents, or inclination. Moreover, the divergent views of great philosophers who have pursued this study show that there is still risk of grave error [p. 125].

  • 17.

    The Existence of God, p. 248.

  • 18.

    Words and Images, p. 80. Dr H. D. Lewis has written as follows about this element of ‘wonder’:

  • The wonder which is basic to religion, and in which it begins, comes with the realisation, usually sharp and disrupting, that all existence as we know it stands in a relation of dependence to some absolute or unconditioned being of which we can know nothing directly beyond this intuition of its unconditioned nature as the source of all other reality.…
    I believe that, in fact, it lies in the background of most of our thinking, although more dimly in lives that have a secure routine of pleasing preoccupation with features of present existence, as happens often in civilised communities.… But however hard to disentangle from the folds of the anthropomorphic garb in which it appears, it is only with some dawning in the minds of men of this realisation of all existence being rooted in unconditioned being and a sense, humbling and elated at the same time and in many ways akin to aesthetic joy, of the complete but unexpected appropriateness by which the world comes, with a peculiar inevitability of its own, to have a sustaining wholeness, that religion proper begins—this is the wonder that gives it birth, having as its core some awareness of the beyondness we name the transcendent [Our Experience of God, pp. 107f].

  • 19.

    Cf. p. 53 supra.

  • 20.

    S.c.G., I, xxx; cf. S.Th., I, xii, 12.

  • 21.

    S.Th., I, ii, 3. In a recent article on ‘Immanent Transcendence’ (Religions Studies, VI (1970), pp. 89ff) Dr Leslie Stevenson has argued that cosmological arguments for theism as usually stated involve a logical fallacy, in that they pass illicitly from the assertion that every finite being has a transcendent ground to the assertion that all finite beings have the same transcendent ground (I am stating his objection in my words, not in his). I think that this objection, taken simply in itself and without reference to any further considerations, is valid. It might, however, be replied (1) that the supposition that there are two or more self-existent beings each of which is the transcendent cause of a different set of finite beings (or perhaps different sets of which are the transcendent causes of different sets of finite beings) leaves their own co-existence unexplained, (2) that the contuition of finite beings with their transcendent cause manifests the latter as being absolutely ultimate and not as one who shares his ultimacy with others. Such replies as these receive welcome support from considerations of the nature of morality (Cf. H. P. Owen's impressive work The Moral Argument for Christian Theism) and from revelation.

  • 22.

    S.Th., I, xxv, 3c.

  • 23.

    Existence and Analogy, p. 116.

  • 24.

    Cf. p. 33 supra.

  • 25.

    Principles of Christian Theology, p. 148.

  • 26.

    p. 1 supra.