Thursday, April 16, 2015

Creation without Causality

Fr. Robert Barron may have given his most cogent and sustained presentation of what serious theists mean by God in a recent lecture at the University of St. Thomas. The discussion is essentially Thomistic, and addresses the serious matters of the metaphysical problem, the search for God on the horizon of being, and 'creative causality.' His foil for the lecture is the thesis of the 'new atheists,' that God is a delusion without evidence on the plane of reality. His point of departure is that the new atheists are 'right' in their assertion that God is not some hyper-being among other beings. He then launches into the body of Thomas's metaphysics.

Barron points out that God is not simply the first cause of things that exist on the plane of Being, instead locating God as the condition and ground of being itself and as such within a concept of special 'creative causality.' This approach is provocative because, as we all know, causes are physical; and for God to be a cause in a chain of causality within the horizon of Being, God would have to be physical and therefore an entity within the created order---something he clearly is not. So, Barron Thomistically locates God outside the created order as the 'creative causality.' The maneuver, deft as it is, defies the conceptual space of Thomas's metaphysics, and so we make sense of this localization as nonlocality---within the trope of quantum mechanics where causality is problematic.

Neither Barron nor, of course, Aquinas, is able to articulate the impossible construct here, namely that 'creative causality' is tantamount to creation without causality. The metaphysical claims for God play elegantly in this scenario: actus purus, the inseparability of God's will from his knowledge and love, etc. The notion of nonlocality in the quantum trope provides the conceptual space for such metaphysical categories to play out within the relation between God and creation. Nonlocality allows for both the instantaneous, simultaneous thought of God and the  appearance of creation, thereby dispensing with causality, for cause and effect as we understand these terms dissolve within the simultaneity of the events of thought and creation (if 2 events occur simultaneously there can be no physical cause and effect between the 2 events).

Barron spends some time on creation as a relation in which something new appears. The relation can be thought of in terms of synchronicity, as non-causal coincidences nonetheless involved in the will, in this case, the will of God. Such a concept does not advance the idea of an ex nihilo creation, if by nihilo we mean the absence of properties. I am admittedly so outside the pale of the Tradition and transgressing the border into heterodoxy here, I might as well continue with my idea of reshith as pertaining to nihilo.

Reshith is the ante-tehomic (but still female) locale of Thomas's creation, the relationality that brings about the new. Thomas does not have the language to describe a relation without a cause, so he must make a distinction between creative and physical causality. Reshith is outside the creature of timespace, yet a 'place' for the relation between God and the 'nothing' to bring forth creation. "B'reshith God created the heavens and the earth." The language here can only be analogical, and so reshith is where God stands when he creates.

This synthesis will not please many: Barron, I presume will reject it out of hand as it dispenses with causality; the quantum physicists (even though they would concede I am using quantum theory as a trope) , I presume will reject it out of hand because reshith smacks too much of the 'quantum vacuum,' which (I can already hear them saying) is far from 'nothing.' I respond to them both: a trope is a trope, and it lets ideas play out in a safe space. In this case, quantum mechanics has allowed relationality to appear without causality, causality to be uncoupled from creation, and implicitly allow God's will, thought, love to appear in relation to the other---the other for whom God's own good is willed.

Have at it.


  1. Please find a remarkable essay on how what we call "creation" is essentially "created" by our self-referring point-of-view perspective:
    Absolute Rain
    Space-Time IS Love-Bliss + multiple references on the paradoxical nature of Reality
    Jesus & Quantum Reality + myth-busting essays

  2. I enjoy your post. Causality has been problematic since Hume (and before him the the theist Malembranche) questioned whether or not a cause could just be a series of conjunctions.

  3. Karl:

    That is the incisive remark this blog seeks to give voice to; have you given some time to other dispositions?