Thursday, November 20, 2008

Augustine Beats Einstein to Relativity?

Does St. Augustine anticipate Einstein's notion of the relative nature of space-time?

From City of God, XI.5-6:

Chapter 5.— That We Ought Not to Seek to Comprehend the Infinite Ages of Time Before the World, Nor the Infinite Realms of Space.

Next, we must see what reply can be made to those who agree that God is the Creator of the world, but have difficulties about the time of its creation, and what reply, also, they can make to difficulties we might raise about the place of its creation.

For, as they demand why the world was created then and no sooner, we may ask why it was created just here where it is, and not elsewhere.

For if they imagine infinite spaces of time before the world, during which God could not have been idle, in like manner they may conceive outside the world infinite realms of space, in which, if any one says that the Omnipotent cannot hold His hand from working, will it not follow that they must adopt Epicurus' dream of innumerable worlds?

With this difference only, that he asserts that they are formed and destroyed by the fortuitous movements of atoms, while they will hold that they are made by God's hand, if they maintain that, throughout the boundless immensity of space, stretching interminably in every direction round the world, God cannot rest, and that the worlds which they suppose Him to make cannot be destroyed.

For here the question is with those who, with ourselves, believe that God is spiritual, and the Creator of all existences but Himself. As for others, it is a condescension to dispute with them on a religious question, for they have acquired a reputation only among men who pay divine honors to a number of gods, and have become conspicuous among the other philosophers for no other reason than that, though they are still far from the truth, they are near it in comparison with the rest.

While these, then, neither confine in any place, nor limit, nor distribute the divine substance, but, as is worthy of God, own it to be wholly though spiritually present everywhere, will they perchance say that this substance is absent from such immense spaces outside the world, and is occupied in one only, (and that a very little one compared with the infinity beyond), the one, namely, in which is the world?

I think they will not proceed to this absurdity. Since they maintain that there is but one world, of vast material bulk, indeed, yet finite, and in its own determinate position, and that this was made by the working of God, let them give the same account of God's resting in the infinite times before the world as they give of His resting in the infinite spaces outside of it.

And as it does not follow that God set the world in the very spot it occupies and no other by accident rather than by divine reason, although no human reason can comprehend why it was so set, and though there was no merit in the spot chosen to give it the precedence of infinite others, so neither does it follow that we should suppose that God was guided by chance when He created the world in that and no earlier time, although previous times had been running by during an infinite past, and though there was no difference by which one time could be chosen in preference to another.

But if they say that the thoughts of men are idle when they conceive infinite places, since there is no place beside the world, we reply that, by the same showing, it is vain to conceive of the past times of God's rest, since there is no time before the world.

Chapter 6.— That the World and Time Had Both One Beginning, and the One Did Not Anticipate the Other.

For if eternity and time are rightly distinguished by this, that time does not exist without some movement and transition, while in eternity there is no change, who does not see that there could have been no time had not some creature been made, which by some motion could give birth to change—the various parts of which motion and change, as they cannot be simultaneous, succeed one another—and thus, in these shorter or longer intervals of duration, time would begin?

Since then, God, in whose eternity is no change at all, is the Creator and Ordainer of time, I do not see how He can be said to have created the world after spaces of time had elapsed, unless it be said that prior to the world there was some creature by whose movement time could pass.

And if the sacred and infallible Scriptures say that in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, in order that it may be understood that He had made nothing previously—for if He had made anything before the rest, this thing would rather be said to have been made in the beginning,— then assuredly the world was made, not in time, but simultaneously with time. For that which is made in time is made both after and before some time,— after that which is past, before that which is future.

But none could then be past, for there was no creature by whose movements its duration could be measured. But simultaneously with time the world was made, if in the world's creation change and motion were created , as seems evident from the order of the first six or seven days.

For in these days the morning and evening are counted, until, on the sixth day, all things which God then made were finished, and on the seventh the rest of God was mysteriously and sublimely signalized. What kind of days these were it is extremely difficult, or perhaps impossible for us to conceive, and how much more to say!

On-going act of divine creation

The act of [God’s] creation is a continuing process. We reject the deistic idea that God simply lit the fuse to set off the Big Bang and then left the world to its own devices. Such an idea attributes too great a degree of autonomy to the world and the laws that govern its process. The Christian understanding is that the cosmos is not self-sustaining but is kept in being by a continuous act of will by its Creator. Too great a concentration of on the first two chapters of Genesis, or on an inadequate interpretation of them, has sometimes misled Christians into placing undue emphasis on a doctrine of creation conceived of as a doctrine of temporal origin. Hence the erroneous thought that Big-Bang cosmology, with its dateable point of departure for the universe as we know it, has a superior value for theology over the steady-state theory, which essentially supposed the universe to have been everlasting [. . .] Yet theology could have live with either physical theory, for the assertion that God is creator is not a statement that at a particular time He did something, but rather that, at all times, He keeps the world in being. The doctrine of creation is a doctrine of ontological origin. (John Polkinghorne, Science and Creation, 66-67).

Polkinghorne writes here: "The Christian understanding is that the cosmos is not self-sustaining but is kept in being by a continuous act of will by its Creator." From the Catholic perspective, holding that the most fundamental will (i.e. "first commandment") is the will to love, and that Deus caritias est, then it follows that this "continuous act of will by the Creator" is Love Himself willing/loving His creation into continuous being and goodness.

Since Being, Goodness, Truth, Beauty are all convertible transcendentals, then it follows that whatever is true about beings (whether articulated by science, theology, or philosophy) is true as a matter of having been willed by God Himself. Truth is truth. So, there can be no fundamental conflict between science and faith.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Physics & Faith


Dr. Stephen Barr, professor of physics at the University of Delaware, delivers the 2008 St. Albert’s Day Lecture at the Church of St. Vincent Ferrer, New York City. His talk is entitled “Modern Physics and Ancient Faith.” (delivered November 13)

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Aquinas on philosophy & theology

St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles, II.4:

That the Philosopher and the Theologian view Creatures from Different Standpoints

Human philosophy considers creatures as they are in themselves: hence we find different divisions of philosophy according to the different classes of things. But Christian faith considers them, not in themselves, but inasmuch as they represent the majesty of God, and in one way or another are directed to God, as it is said: Of the glory of the Lord his work is full: hath not the Lord made his saints to tell of his wonders? (Ecclus xlii, 16, 17.)

Therefore the philosopher and the faithful Christian (fidelis) consider different points about creatures: the philosopher considers what attaches to them in their proper nature: the faithful Christian considers about creatures only what attaches to them in their relation to God, as that they are created by God, subject to God, and the like. Hence it is not to be put down as an imperfection in the doctrine of faith, if it passes unnoticed many properties of things, as the configuration of the heavens, or the laws of motion.

And again such points as are considered by philosopher and faithful Christian alike, are treated on different principles: for the philosopher takes his stand on the proper and immediate causes of things; but the faithful Christian argues from the First Cause, showing that so the matter is divinely revealed, or that this makes for the glory of God, or that God's power is infinite. Hence this speculation of the faithful Christian ought to be called the highest wisdom, as always regarding the highest cause, according to the text: This is your wisdom and understanding before the nations (Deut. iv, 6). And therefore human philosophy is subordinate to this higher wisdom; and in sign of this subordination divine wisdom sometimes draws conslusions from premises of human philosophy.

Further, the two systems do not observe the same order of procedure. In the system of philosophy, which considers creatures in themselves and from them leads on to the knowledge of God, the first study is of creatures and the last of God; but in the system of faith, which studies creatures only in their relation to God, the study is first of God and afterwards of creatures; and this is a more perfect view, and more like to the knowledge of God, who, knowing Himself, thence discerns other beings. Following this latter order, after what has been said in the first book about God in Himself, it remains for us to treat of the beings that come from God.