THE PHILOSOPHY OF NATURE
A brief introduction to cosmology
Adapted from various sources and edited
by Jonathan Dolhenty, Ph.D.
Part Three: The Origin and Development of the Bodily World
FIRST BEGINNING OF BODIES
That bodies come from other bodies by a process of substantial change called generation is a matter of common knowledge and common experience. That the egg comes from the hen, the fruit from the tree, and that, subsequently, a hen comes from an egg, and a tree from the seed of its fruit, are matters that need no proof beyond the mere mention of the known fact. Nor do we need to prove that coal has a vegetal origin, or that water can become hydrogen and oxygen. Our present concern is not, therefore, the origin of bodies by substantial generation, whether this be vital or non-vital. Nor are we concerned with the interesting game of guessing which came first, the hen or the egg. We are interested solely in the fact that there necessarily was a first coming of bodies, and we seek to know by what means this first coming was effected.
Before we take up the question directly, we must reply to the mistaken persons who deny our assertion that a first coming of bodies is a necessity. These people say that bodily substance is eternal, that it had no beginning, that it always was and always will be. Some of the defenders of the eternity of matter declare that matter is self-existent and self-sufficient; that it needs no power other than itself to account for its present multiplicity and diversity, or for its marvelous arrangement in various individual bodies, notably in living bodies. This is the doctrine of atheistic materialism.
Other defenders of the eternity of matter acknowledge some existing power outside of matter, some God in fact, who arranges and manages the material world, and gets it on in a seemly sort of development. This is the doctrine of theistic materialism.
There is yet another type of materialism in connection with the existence and development of matter (for the term materialism is very wide in scope and very vague in its general meaning). This is agnostic materialism which artfully dodges the issue of God’s existence, neither affirming nor denying it. Agnostic materialism simply regards matter (that is, bodily substance) as eternal, and suggests that it exists by chance, or by some unknown law of its being, or by the operation of an infinite series of causes which make it evolve in a certain way, — an infinite series of chicken-and-egg activity, so to speak, in which neither the chicken nor the egg came first.
Now, the point to dwell upon is this: all types of materialism of this cosmological sort stress the assertion that matter is unproduced. There are philosophers who contend that matter has been created from eternity, but these are not the materialists of whom we are now speaking. The materialists do not admit that matter was ever created, even from eternity; they claim that matter is unproduced, not created at all, not caused; it’s just here.
Yet it is an accepted truth that anything which exists must have an explanation of its existence. If the explanation is in the existing thing itself, then that thing must be so perfect that it requires existence; existence is of its essence; it is necessary being, and, by that fact, it is infinite being, changeless being, simple or uncomposed being. If the explanation of an existing thing is not to be found in itself, it must necessarily be found in its causes. Now, the materialists who affirm the eternity of matter deny that it has any causes. Therefore, they hold that matter is in itself necessary, infinite, changeless, uncomposed. But we have seen that matter is precisely the opposite of all this. We have seen that bodies are not necessary but contingent, not infinite but finite or limited, not changeless but changeable and indeed constantly changing, not simple but composed or compounded.
Thus we reject the materialistic theory of the eternity of matter because it is in conflict with plain facts. Further, it contradicts itself; for to speak of unproduced matter is simply to speak of an unproduced production.
Another preliminary problem must be disposed of here. It is raised by the materialistic pantheists who identify God and the bodily universe. Like the materialist defenders of the eternity of matter, these pantheists propound a flatly self-contradictory doctrine. For to conceive of God is inevitably to conceive of the Necessary Being, and, by that token, of the Being that is Infinite, Changeless, Simple. But, as we have repeatedly seen, the world is contingent, finite, changeable, and composed. We need not labor the point further; pantheism falls with the materialistic theory of the eternity of unproduced matter.
There is only one other conceivable explanation of the world. It is the explanation which acknowledges the world as caused, as produced, and this means that it had an absolute and a First Cause, a First Producer, who brought it into being without using any materials at all, who in fact created it. This theory is called creationism (not to be confused with theological or religious Creationism), and it is the true explanation of the first origin of the world.
This fact is already proved by exclusion. For if three possibilities can be considered, and two of them are found to be illusory and no possibilities at all, the third must stand. And stand it does, not only because all other explanations fail, but because it actually meets the facts in the case and actually explains them to the satisfaction of both reason and experience.
We assert then that the first origin of bodies is found in the act of creation by which God or Uncaused Cause or First Cause produced them out of nothing. Creation is defined as the producing of a thing in its entirety out of nothing. Such a producing is an act of infinite power, and is proper to God alone, and indeed so proper to God that no creature could serve him, even as an instrumental cause, in the activity of creating. The boundless power of God which can call up being and set it in existence can also endow bodily being with the tendency and power to develop, to reproduce, to carry on substantial change. We are, as we have said, familiar with this productive process; our only problem was the finding of the first origin of the world. This first origin is creation.
THE AGE OF THE WORLD
We have noticed that there are philosophers who think that the world was created from eternity. These persons hold rightly that matter was produced. But they assert that God, who exists eternally and certainly can act eternally (and, indeed, does act eternally) has created from eternity, so that the world, while produced, had no beginning in time, but only a beginning in its nature.
Now, it is true that God acts from eternity, or act eternally. With God, the Infinite Being, “to will is to accomplish,” and no delay (as we should phrase it) in the creatural effect can have any influence upon the eternal decree which destined the effect or set it in being. But it must be remembered, too, that creation does involve the creature as well as the creator. The question is not, “Can God create from eternity?” for he is unlimited in power. The question is, “Can a creature receive eternal existence, in the sense of beginningless creation?”
There is no question of limitation in God; there is great question of capacity in the creature. To say that you cannot take the Atlantic ocean into a teacup is not to say anything about the limits of the ocean; it is to state the limitations of the teacup. Similarly, to state that creation from eternity is impossible is not to limit the limitless God, or say that here is a thing he cannot do. It is merely to say that a creature, — and, in our case, a bodily creature, — has not the capacity for receiving eternal or beginningless creation.
We may not declare that creation (in effect) from eternity is absolutely impossible. But it surely looks impossible. God’s decree to create is as eternal as God; but it seems that this decree, as regards bodies at least, is an eternal decree to create in time. And the reasons that make the creation of the world from eternity look impossible are briefly these:
- Bodies are changeable and indeed they are undergoing constant accidental change, and they also undergo substantial change. They experience a series of changes, movements, events. But such a series is actually the essential basis of time. Such a series is necessarily a series with a beginning as an event or first time-element. It cannot be an infinite series, since an infinite series of finite things is impossible.
- The existence and the record or history of bodies is a matter measurable by a series of instants or moments, and these are normally the marks of time. Tracing back the record by moments, we are compelled to find a first moment, that is a first point of time.
It appears then that bodies were created in time and not from eternity.
As to the actual age of the world in terms of years since the creation, we can only guess. Empirical scientists seem to prefer guessing in millions and billions of years. Mark Twain said a sagacious thing, and not merely flip thing, when he declared that some scientists delight in furnishing us “with a spoonful of fact and a carload of conjecture.” The actual age of the universe may never be finally determined, but if it is it has no bearing on the philosophical issues involved with creation. We will merely accept what science has learned provided, of course, the evidence is clear and forthcoming.
DEVELOPMENT OF THE WORLD
It is known that his earth of ours, which is a very small part of what is called the cosmos or the world, was not always as it is now. It has gone through a series of changes; it has undergone a development. Time was when the earth could not support life; later, plant life appeared, later still came animal life. It is likely that our solar system, and the countless other solar systems of the cosmos or universe of bodies, have also developed and undergone notable changes since the day of the first creation.
The part of cosmology which studies world-development is called cosmogony. Our special sciences of geology, zoology, botany, biology, and others, investigate the development of the earth and of living things on the earth. These special sciences, of course, are not philosophy, nor has philosophy any direct concern with their findings. Indirectly, however, the findings must fall under the light of philosophical truths.
The theory that the world was slowly developed out of a mass of primordial matter created for the purpose of such development, and guided and supported in the development by God, seems very likely true. We may call the development of the world a process of inorganic evolution, that is, a development of lifeless bodies by graded stages. As to the development of life on earth by a process of organic evolution, there is as yet no certainty and perhaps certainty in the matter is unattainable. Philosophy has no quarrel with the evolutionary hypothesis in general.
But it needs to be remembered: any process of world-development, or of earth-development, or of the development of plant-life and animal-life, absolutely requires a first Creator or First Cause who endowed matter with the fitness for development, and with powers for development, and who supports the developing creatures in existence and concurs with their developing activity.
The late Dr. Jonathan Dolhenty was the Founder and President of The Center for Applied Philosophy and the Radical Academy, and is Honorary Philosophy Editor at The Moral Liberal. The Moral Liberal has adopted these projects beginning with a republishing and preserving of all of Dr. Dolhenty’s work.
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