Friday, December 16, 2011

Aristotle, Creation, and Evolution

Even before the first great Greek philosophers, man wanted to know where he had come from. Generally, after a person asks what they are, introspectively, it is usually followed by the question of why they are, ontologically. Various cultures have believed in different divine theories of creation, some with gods who fell in love creating the world, some with gods who solely wished to create out of chaos, and some with gods who had been torn apart in order to become the earth and sky themselves.[1] But, it seems, in the mindsets of the majority, almost no creation theories have lasted besides those of Secular Evolution and Christian Creationism. Perhaps, further exploring Aristotle’s four causes may help clarify whether Secular Evolution or Christian Creationism is more plausible.
Seeing the need for an explanation, Aristotle developed an argument from four causes. Instead of solely diving into current philosophies and theologies, he was able to develop his own and discover for himself a rendering behind the world and everything in it. He saw the other people’s view of origins and built up his own understanding.
Aristotle knew that we could never say that we knew anything without it first having a cause. His causes may help us, as humans, realize our cause and reason for being. Aristotle reasoned that the first cause would be the material cause, what a thing is physically. This had been the main cause addressed by many Pre-Socratic philosophers who would have used different elements to describe this cause; the idea of what we now know as atoms was also studied. The second cause is the formal cause, the pattern used in creating the thing. The Pythagoreans before Aristotle would have looked for the pattern in geometry and mathematics. Not too many philosophers before Aristotle really thought about this cause besides assuming that the elements had acted upon themselves. The third cause is the efficient cause, the outside source creating the thing. The Greeks would have used their gods to answer the efficient cause; they were the beings in action forming everything. The fourth cause is the final cause, the reason why the thing was made in the first place. The Greeks would have also used their gods to explain this cause. They would say that everything is a form of providence put in motion by the gods with no other reason than to please them.[2]
To Aristotle, the views held by the thinkers before him would have been interesting and still worth pondering. But, in Metaphysics, he discusses his own theories for his four causes. Aristotle admits that one might suppose that the only cause really understood or accounted for is the material. He says this material is the rawness of a being or the basic physical materials out of which it is made. Still, the original meaning of the thing is held within the material. A chair would not be a chair if it did not have the basic concepts for a chair.
The Secular Evolutionist would study deeply the inner-workings of every physical thing. Science is the means in which they would plan to find their answers. Here, they would see that at the core there is cellular structure working together to form objects. An even closer look may reveal atoms, protons, and electrons. The material cause is just that, material. Everything has an almost completely understood physical element. Though, even the scientist may admit that not quite everything is yet explainable, such as DNA and cellular communication.
The Christian Creationist would agree. This may be surprising, but at the physical level both worldviews are able to see the same thing. Deuteronomy 6:3 and Mark 12:28-30 agree that a firm believer in God is to love Him with all of his heart, soul, and might. Veith bases an argument for even a scientific vocation from this passage saying that even those “minds [that] are gifted in the sciences” can be used to serve God. He goes on to state that “whatever our calling, God demands all that we can do and all that we can think.”[3] In this way, whatever the scientist may observe of the physical material may be true. The difference of the interpretation between the Secularist and Christian falls within the categories of the other causes.
To Aristotle the second, formal, cause would have been turning the raw material into what it was originally meant to be. Perhaps a more modern term for this category would be a search for the means or making of our existence. For instance, the material of a chair is wood but it would not be a chair until it had been formed into one. When discussing the making of the world, it seemed unclear as to how it had been formed in Aristotle’s view. Perhaps he deemed it too obvious in coinciding with his efficient and final causes.
The Evolutionist would cheer for Natural Selection as his way, truth, and life. This theory of survival of the fittest is how he would describe the formal cause. Perhaps he would say something such as “we have been built through the means of Natural Selection, one gene pool surviving to the next.” In fact, Richard Dawkins, in his atheistic children’s science book, addresses organisms in a unique way. He relates that every animal that a child sees is only a machine built to form and pass along various genes. He states that this is very magical in a way and that the next time that a child looks in the mirror he should see himself as one of these magical gene-producing machines too.[4]
C. S. Lewis described a fallacy as chronological snobbery,[5] which means that a belief has to be false because it is out of fashion or had originally been believed too long of a time ago. This chronological snobbery is wrong due to the fact that time should have no affect on immanent truths. Ignoring this snobbery, the Creationist may hold an idea closer to Aristotle’s. According to Genesis chapter one:
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.[6]
The actual means of the cosmos’ formation in the Christian context is answered through God’s word. “God said,” therefore it was. To the Greeks, this formation would be understood as through the logos which is usually translated as the Reason[7] or as the book of John states, “the word.” The word of God is the means and driving force behind creation along with the Trinity.
The direct concepts of the way that everything was made the pattern that was followed (and is probably still followed) are to be understood as too complex for a mere Christian man to comprehend. Unlike evolution, not all types of formation are empirical to a scientist. “God created” is possibly all that a Christian feels they need to know about the formal cause. As one of the main themes in the book of Job is that man is not great enough to understand the ways of the Lord.
Leading to the other two causes, Aristotle also understood that if material is all there is then there is nothing left to address the fact that material can be created and destroyed. There must be a cause behind this. “The underlying material itself does not make itself change.”[8] There is a need for some sort of driving force. This is the need for an efficient cause.
Aristotle’s efficient cause is a god known as the Unmoved Mover. This being seemed to feel like creating the cosmos. So, it did. Once everything was made, the Mover moved on. The world had no need to be watched or cared about, the god no longer needed to make sure it took care of or cared for the world. In fact, since the Mover was so perfect and powerful, he did not need to be mindful of the world at all and concerned himself with perfect thoughts about perfect things.[9]
The Secularist would say that Aristotle’s view (along with the Christian’s) is simply unbelievable. As a strong believer in science, he would point to the Big Bang as a possible efficient reason for the material, even though he may still admit that the truly original cause of everything remains unknown. Something happened, the cosmos was formed, atoms were made, and different elements had different reactions. As the Christian seemed to ignore the formal cause, the Evolutionist seems to ignore the efficient cause.
The Christian believes in the Triune God, God the Father, Jesus Christ the incarnate son, and the Holy Spirit, as three persons yet one God. This God is upheld as a tender of the garden of the world, unlike the Mover who has seemed to have forgotten about it. “God” created, “the spirit” hovered, and the “light” has become an analogy for the Son.
Now, to the fourth, the final cause, this is perhaps the most contemplated cause. This is the reason why we are here along with everything else. Aristotle would say that our goal is to achieve our “thinghood.” We have been made from material by the Mover, but we need to develop ourselves to be all that we can be. In his view, we are formed through learning how to live a truly virtuous life (simultaneously achieving happiness or eudaimonia). To gain virtue and disdain vice is seen as our true reason for living.
For the Secular Evolutionist, the goal for life is to survive and procreate. This is carnal at its base, going almost the opposite direction of Aristotle’s view. The Greek would fight for morals while the Evolutionist would argue for the beast. Nancy Pearcey states that Darwinism is universal acid as it is bound to destroy every other belief as only chance or byproducts of Natural Selection, including belief in Darwinism itself.[10] In other places, in fact, this is recorded as Darwin’s deepest fear.[11]
To some, the Evolutionist’s reason for life bears almost no meaning. If this is all that there is, this is still not that great. Even Aristotle’s view of the final cause lacks attraction. The Christian, on the other hand, sees the reason for our life as literally, please excuse the cliché, out of this world. Not only has God made the world “good,” the Christian believes that there is an even better afterlife.
The reason for this world is a not the goal as the Secularist would see it, but a means. In a way, Aristotle was onto something with his idea of “thinghood.” The Christian is called to serve fellow man here in the world through trials and successes, errors and triumphs. Man is shaped by the things he has gone through until he is ready for the next step towards heaven. To be “good” as God has claimed, perhaps Aristotle was right that man should try to be as virtuous as possible and achieve the perfect “thingness” that he was always meant to be. But, in a Christian understanding, there is no way for a person to conquer Original Sin. Jesus Christ, both God and man, was the only one with the ability to have a perfect life, so he lived the perfect life for us. He died for our sins and rose again. In a way, the Christians see all people who follow Jesus, the other Christian believers, as Jesus himself. Even though they know they cannot reach their final goal of perfection, they understand that through their God’s grace and mercy, they can still be understood as reaching it.
Also, unlike the Secularist, the Christian has a final cause. They believe that they are on Earth for a reason. Instead of being born from chaos, they are born from order. There is purpose in their life, if for no other reason than to proclaim the Gospel, to serve God, and to serve their neighbor.
In review, the material cause can be agreed upon by all three parties. The formal cause is the cause that Secular Evolution stresses the most and is the most focused upon, while Aristotle and Christianity view it as seemingly irrelevant. The efficient cause, though ignored by the Secular Evolutionist, is a key doctrine to the Christian Creationist and a deep part of Aristotle’s philosophy. The final cause to Aristotle and the Secular Evolutionist are almost polar opposites while the Christian adds even more options to the mix.
In the end, it seems the biggest difference between the Secularist and the other two is that he is distracted by observations and tries to understand the material and formal causes instead of the others. Aristotle seems to have a basic understanding of all causes but lacks development in many areas, especially in the areas making virtues relevant in the eyes of the Unmoved Mover. The Christian’s difference is faith. He holds faith in the efficient cause, God, to complete the other three. As Aristotle and the Evolutionist focus on their own ability to reason and rationalize, the Christian trusts God in the areas that are not understood and knows that he will see them through. Through this faith, God reveals his causes to us within His Word.

[1] Padraic Colum, Myths of the World (New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1959), p. 19.
[2] Forrest E. Baird, ed., Philosophic Classics, 6th ed. Vol. I of Ancient Philosophy (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson, 2011), 12-31, 347-348.
[3] Gene Edward Veith Jr., Loving God with All Your Mind (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2003), 150.
[4] Richard Dawkins, The Magic of Reality: How We Know What’s Really True (New York, NY: Free Press, 2011).
[5] C. S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy (Orlando, FL: C. S. Lewis PTE Limited, 1955).
[6] ESV
[7] This is stemming from the understanding of the Pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus.
[8] Baird, 349.
[9] Anthony Kenny, Ancient Philosophy Vol. I of A New History of Western Philosophy (New York, NY: Oxford University Press Inc, 2006), 297-302.
[10] Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2005), 155-157.
[11] Find source (probably something from Christian Mind)

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