8.1. The Infinite's causality
I said in Chapter 1 that in general we know least of all about the causality of a cause: how it does the job of making sense out of the effect. This is even more true in this case, since we can't observe the causer. Nonetheless, there are a few things we can say about the relation between the Infinite and the world He causes to exist as finite; and so let us try.
• DEFINITION: Creation is the name given to the causality of the Infinite.
Creation, then, is the way in which the Infinite makes sense out of finite existence as finite.
8.1.1. The Infinite as the only creator
Plato in the Timaeus has a "demiurge" (an "artisan") distinct from the god, who actually does the "dirty work" of making the material universe. Is this reasonable, given what we know about what the Infinite has to be like? Can He "delegate" the task of causing finite existence?
The answer is, when you think about it, obviously No. Why? Because we argued to the Infinite because we discovered that no finite existence can do the job of causing the finiteness of any other finite existence, or it could cause itself, in which case we'd have a finite existence which made sense by itself, and was not an effect, which is absurd. But if the Infinite were to "delegate" creation (the act of causing finite existence) to any other being, this being would have to be a finite existence, which we just saw is impossible. Therefore, the Infinite is the only Creator.
Note that, if God is in fact multiple persons, the act of creation might be attributable "more" to one of the persons than another. So, of what St. John calls the "Word," he says, "everything came into being through Him"; though note that he says "through Him."
8.1.2. The Infinite as Creator of everything
Since every being and every act of every being is a finite activity, and so a finite existence, it follows that the infinite is the cause of (the finiteness of) absolutely everything that happens in the world.
Be aware of this. It isn't that the Infinite causes the (complex) being (i.e. the body, the thing: you), and then the being goes ahead and acts "on its own." No finite being can perform any act at all unless the Infinite causes the act to be the finite act which it is. The reason is that this act (of talking, say) is not just an act of talking, it is also a finite act (because talking is not all there is to acting), and as a finite act it is the same as all other finite acts (it is activity-as-less-than-activity), and so you, as also a finite act, can't account for this effect about it.
8.1.3. The Infinite as not the only cause
But the fact that the Infinite is the cause of the finiteness of every finite act means only that the Infinite is the cause of this effect, which happens to be an effect that every act happens (also) to be. But there are all kinds of other ways in which that finite act can appear (by itself) to be a contradiction besides the mere fact that it is activity-as-less-than- activity.
And so any finite act will be an affected object which contains many different effects. But different effects have different causes; and so the Infinite is not the only cause of any concrete finite act; He only causes the finiteness of it: what that finite act has in common with any other finite act.
But, for instance, the fact that you are talking now when you were silent a moment ago is not the same effect as the fact that your act is finite; and so the cause of this effect is the choice you made to say the words that you are saying. Granted, that choice is also a finite act; but why it occurred then and not some other time is actually accounted for by the choice itself (since it's a self-determining act). So there are other (finite) causes in addition to the Infinite; and these are real causes, not "just pretend" causes. St. Thomas calls them "instrumental causes," but I think that the term is a bit unfortunate, as will become clearer from the discussions that follow.
8.2. The Infinite and finite causes
One might think that the finite causes aren't real because after all the Infinite causes the finite being as finite, and all it is is a finite act. So what's left to be caused? So it looks as if we should take Gottfried Leibniz's view that there's a kind of "preestablished harmony" among finite beings, and God causes them to exist "together" in such a way that when He causes your activity of talking (as a finite act), He simultaneously causes my act of hearing as a finite act just as if your act was what made me hear.
No, this misunderstands what it means to be the cause of finite existence. The Infinite causes the finite existence to exist as it actually exists. And in the case of its being an effect of some other finite being, then obviously, it is caused to exist as really dependent on that other finite being, because that is the way it actually exists. That is, when you talk and I hear you talking, then my act of hearing is caused to be the finite act of hearing you talking--or in other words, it is the finite act which would not be what it is unless you were actually talking. So there is a real dependence of it on your act of talking, which is an aspect of it as the finite act which it is; and since the Infinite causes it to be the finite act which it is, then He causes it to exist in this way: as really dependent on its finite cause.
8.2.1. The Infinite and free choices
This notion of the infinite as causing the finite act as finite and not being the only cause of anything allows us to settle a controversy which has been going on for centuries between those who want to "save" the Infinite's causality as opposed to those who want to "save" human freedom. The first group, in maintaining that the Infinite is the cause of everything (and therefore the Infinite has control of everything) tend to assert that the Infinite causes the free choice and controls it by causing the person freely to decide to do X. But, says the other side, this takes away the freedom of the choice, because the act then could not be anything other than X, and so to say that the Infinite causes it "freely" to be X is to play with words. The act is free only if there are real alternatives, and in fact there isn't one, because the act is caused to be that of doing X and nothing else. So these people say that the Infinite knows what you would do in various circumstances, and so the Infinite causes you to be in the circumstances in which He knows that you will really freely choose to do X. The first side counters with the fact that this saves the freedom of the choice, but implies that you make the choice yourself, and not under the causality of the Infinite, which is impossible.
The first part of the answer to this is that to cause does not mean to determine (that is, to make it impossible for the act to be anything other than it is). It means to make sense out of what otherwise is a contradiction. So when the Infinite causes (the finiteness) of a free choice, which is (freely) the choice to do X, this causality itself does not determine it. The act as free is self-determining (let us stipulate this; I am not going to try to prove it here). If the Infinite's causality determined it, then it would be free-and-not-free, which is a contradiction; and the Infinite removes contradictions from the finite act; He does not create them.
So the Infinite's causality results in the act's being the finite act which it is, which in this case is an act determined by itself. That is, the choice is faced with the alternatives of doing X or doing Y, and it itself determines that it's going to be the choice to do X rather than Y. (It can do this, because as a spiritual act, it contains itself within itself, and so in some sense "acts on" itself.) So the Infinite causes the act to be the act that freely chooses X over Y, which is the act which it is.
But how does this save the control over the act that the Infinite has? Simple. If the Infinite chooses not to cause the act, the act doesn't happen. Just as if I knock you out so that you are unconscious, you can't choose something I don't want you to choose, so the Infinite can "disable" any free choice He wants not to happen simply by not actively causing that act to exist. As to positive control, the Infinite can guarantee that you perform a given choice in a given situation by the fact that His eternal knowledge knows what you will (in fact) freely choose in a given situation, and so (as the "freedom savers" say) He causes the situation in which He causes the choice you freely make in that situation.
So the choice is free, and dependent for what it is upon the (finite) choice itself (or, if you will, upon the person choosing); and yet the act, while free, is still under the absolute control of the Infinite.
And it follows from this that nothing can happen in the universe that the Infinite "can't prevent" or that the Infinite doesn't actively cause.
This notion of the Infinite's causality and control which does not of itself determine what goes on in the finite universe allows us also to solve the problem of "predestination." Here, it is alleged, God has an "eternal plan" for the universe and every being and every act within it; and the universe unfolds exactly according to that plan. Therefore, those who go to hell were created, as it were, as "hell-bent," and if they go there freely, this going to hell and suffering was still predestined by God, and there's nothing they can do about it. It's going to happen no matter what.
This misunderstands several things. First of all, the "pre" of "predestination" is a misrepresentation of eternity. The Infinite's "plan" for the universe is, of course, identical with His eternal knowledge of the universe He eternally creates the universe to be what it actually is--but this "plan" in no sense predates the universe. The Infinite does not now know what is going to happen tomorrow; nor will he know it tomorrow, nor will He know it after tomorrow. All those are time-words. The Infinite does not "plan" something to happen before it happens or (since His "planning" it and His actually causing it are one and the same act, since He is simple) it would happen before it happens. Nor does He "plan" it at the time it happens, even though it happens at the time it happens; He causes it eternally, that is to say, timelessly.
Of course, he eternally causes to happen what happens next week, and that hasn't happened yet. So what? He eternally causes to happen what happened last week, and that doesn't exist any more. The time-tag on an event is simply a relation it has with other events, and is not something real in itself. So the fact that the future (which will exist) does not exist yet doesn't mean that it doesn't exist. Obviously, it is what it is--which means that (from our point of view) it will be what it will be; but from the point of view of its contemporaries, it is what it (now) is, and from the point of view of those who come later, it was what it was. But the event itself is no different from itself because it looks different from these different points of view. So the Infinite doesn't "pre-cause" the event "from way back when in eternity." He cause the event to exist as it exists, and that includes the time at which it exists. The time is a property of it, not a "something" it exists "in."
So you are eternally caused to be in hell if in fact you choose to damn yourself; but that doesn't mean that from the moment you were born, you were "predestined" for hell, because there is no "pre" or "destination" to the causality at all. You choose what you freely choose and it has the consequences you are responsible for. And these free choices are caused as the finite acts they are, including the consequences. So there's plenty you can do if you don't want to be in hell; avoid the choices that put you there; it is you, not the Infinite, who specify what those choices are, in spite of the Infinite's causality and control.
8.2.3. The "permissive will of God"
Of course, what follows from what I have said is that the finite universe and every aspect of it is just exactly as the Infinite wants it to be. Since He must actively cause it to be what it is, then obviously (given that his causal act is free), He must actively want it to be as He causes it to be, or He wouldn't cause it to be this way--in which case, it wouldn't happen.
That is, there is no meaning to the idea that a finite being can do something that the Infinite would "rather he not do" and merely "permits" him to do. If the Infinite didn't actively cooperate with the act, then it wouldn't happen.
Since we are active and in control over (the specification of) our acts, then we want to believe that there is some sense in which we can act without the Infinite's control, or even against the Infinite's control: that we can do something that He doesn't want us to do. But we can't. Even if we blaspheme against Him, he must actively cause that activity as the free choice to rebel against Him.
But notice, in this connection, that, though the act of rebellion is objectively an offense against the Infinite (since it is a--futile--attempt to get oneself at least in one act out of his absolute control, and so contradicts the real relation of absolute dependence we have on Him), the Infinite is not offended by the act of rebellion. Why? Because the Infinite cannot be affected in any way by anything any finite being does (or the cause would be dependent on its effect, which is absurd, as we saw).
So it doesn't make any difference to the Infinite what you do with your choices. Put it this way: He creates you free, which means that you can make yourself into whatever you would like--with this exception: if you knowingly choose to make yourself into a contradiction, you know you can't achieve your goal, and so what you're choosing is to frustrate yourself. Since this act of self-frustration is a possible act, then if you want to do it, the Infinite, Who causes you to be free, causes this act also as dependent on your stupid and self-defeating choice itself. Why not? If you know what you're doing and want to do it to yourself, why should He "want" you to choose to be something you don't want to be--given that He creates you to be whatever you want to be, insofar as that is in principle possible.
So, no, the Infinite does not "permit" the act of rebellion; He actively causes it as the finite act which it is, as dependent on your free choice and as self-frustrating; because that is what you want. There is no sense in which He would "rather" you didn't do this act.
8.2.4. The Infinite and sin
"But wait a minute, now!" you exclaim. "You can't be saying that the Infinite wants me to sin! There are all kinds of Scripture passages that directly contradict this." First of all, remember that we are doing philosophy here, not Scriptural exegesis. But secondly, what I have said is compatible with what is in Scripture, as it happens.
The idea is this: The Infinite creates me with certain limitations. Obviously, if I am finite, my existence has to be limited. But if I am free, then I can choose to be whatever I want to be. But the choice in itself is absolutely unrestricted; I could, if I wanted, choose to be the Infinite, though (as a finite being) it is obviously impossible for me to be the Infinite.
Hence, the Infinite's commands are actually nothing but warnings that I have certain limitations (for us humans, our genetic structure) that I can do nothing about, and which prevent me actually from being certain things. I cannot be super-human; and so I can't actually have human rights that other humans don't have. For instance, I can't be the only one who has a right to life; and if I kill someone, I am acting as if I were the only one who had a right to live. So these commandments are simply stating the human limitations I have, and informing me that if I try to go beyond these limits, I will necessarily fail, because what I want to be is an "inhuman human," and that is a contradiction in terms.
But since my choice is spiritual and continues to exist after death, this information is also a warning that if I make such a choice (which is self-frustrating, because it chooses to be something in principle impossible), then the choice carries over to eternity, and so I will eternally be striving after this goal, knowing that I never can have it--or I will be eternally frustrated. This is hell.
Now all of this, which looks like a set of rules put down by a God who wants me to do certain things and wants me not to do others, is perfectly compatible with the Infinite Who is not bothered in any way by my deliberate choice to do what is self-frustrating.
That is, He doesn't want me to make the choice if I don't want to make it; but He creates the choice as free; and so He wants me to make it if I want to make it. He tells me, in other words, "These are the choices that condemn you to eternal frustration; but if, knowing this, you want to make them anyway, and so want to be eternally frustrated, fine--I'll help. You are to be whatever you want to be."
So the Infinite actively causes the sinful choice as the finite act which it is. Of course, He doesn't cause the sin as such, since as such it is simply the pretense that things aren't what they really are, and he causes (finite) reality, not "pretending." If he caused the pretense, then it would exist and wouldn't be a pretense. The pretense is just the relation between what exists and this (impossible) goal that you would like to exist but know can't. Obviously a relation between something real and something merely imaginary is not something real, and so is not "caused" as such. The choice and the act of imagining are caused to be what they are; but the imaginary as "real" is not caused--because it isn't real.
So in one sense, you can say that the Infinite caused the sin(ful act) you committed; but that does not mean that the Infinite in any sense made you sin or "wanted" the sin itself.
"But God loves me!" you wail. "In spite of the sense of 'goodness' you have, doesn't the love God has for me imply that He couldn't allow me to suffer for no reason--or even send me to hell"? Unfortunately, the love God has for you doesn't mean that your life will be a bed of roses.
There is, of course, a sense of "love" that is the same as "affection," when we get that warm feeling being with someone we care about. Animals, especially dogs, "love" in this sense. (I will ignore the sense of "love" that means nothing but the sexual urge.) But "love" in this sense is only indulging in gratifying your own emotions, and sometimes this can even be done involving what is objectively damaging to the one you "love." I know a woman who once had a great affection for a diabetic, who constantly craved sweets, which "out of love" she would supply to him. It made her feel good; but it did him harm. So this is a perverse sense of "love," and obviously, since the Infinite can't be affected by anything finite, the Infinite has no affection.
But love is true love when a person deliberately acts for someone else's benefit rather than his own. So the criterion of whether an act is an act of love or not has nothing to do with feelings; it is who benefits from the act: if it is the self, it is an act of selfishness; if it is another, it is an act of love.
But since (a) the Infinite has absolutely nothing to gain from creating the world or causing any finite being to be what it is (and of course absolutely nothing to lose either), and (b) any existence, even the most lowly, is greater than non-existence, and so is in some sense a "benefit" for the creature, then it follows that the Infinite's act of causing any finite being is an act of absolute love.
But again, this love, while absolute, is quite compatible with causing a man to be born blind, deaf, crippled, and deformed, and in pain throughout his life. He might consider that he is better off dead, but that is according to his standards; objectively, his existence is greater than nothing at all, and so there has been a gain, not a loss, in the fact that he exists and is not nothing.
It's not very comforting, but the horrible life of this person is compatible with the absolute love of the Infinite for him. And again, this is not trumping up some weirdo meaning for "love" so that it will fit what we know of the Infinite; it is just that when you strip the term down to its essentials, you find that it applies to the Infinite's relation to the universe, no matter what state the universe is in.
8.3.1. Why the Infinite creates; His will for His world
But if what happens in the world makes absolutely no difference to the Infinite (and it can't make any difference, since then He would be affected by it), and if He didn't have to create a world (since if He had to, He'd be dependent on it), then why on earth did he bother to create in the first place--or rather, in the eternal place? What is His will for this world He creates?
To answer this, we must realize that the Infinite has and can have no purpose in our sense of the term for anything He does. For us, a purpose is a goal, a different condition that we are not now in but that we intend (by changing) later to be in. A purpose implies incompleteness in one who has it and has not yet achieved it. Even when you make something, your purpose is to be the one who produced this thing.
Still, this does not mean that the act of creating is irrational. While the Infinite gains nothing and loses nothing by the fact that His act actually results in finite beings (which he knows as resulting from His act, as we saw in discussing His consciousness), it is still the case that it is consistent with the Infinite Act that it result in finite beings. So there is no irrationality in creating (i.e. nothing contradictory about it), even though there is no particular reason why the Infinite should create (which in the last analysis would be a benefit to Him).
So the act of creating is neither irrational nor does it have a reason other than that it can be done. So, as I said, the answer to the question of why the Infinite creates the universe is and must be, Why not? That, in fact, is what you mean by an act of absolute love. It is a transrational act, not an irrational one, but not, strictly speaking, a rational one. The "motive," if you will, for creating is the Infinite's recognition that His act can result in finite beings, or is His own nature. But since this neither enhances nor diminishes Him, then the choice is absolutely free.
Now then, since His knowledge of what is going on in the world is also His act of causing those finite acts, it follows that the Infinite's will for what happens in the world is just exactly what happens in the world. It could not be otherwise. Absolutely nothing in the world can "thwart" his will, because even the free choices of creatures who rebel against him, as I said, are actively caused by the Infinite. He wills the creatures to be free and to do with themselves what they please (within the limits of non-contradiction); and so He causes them to do what they will to do, even when that is an act of rebellion against Himself--and is perfectly happy with it. They are doing just exactly what He wants, because what He wants is that they do what they want. What "stake" has He in what they do?
--As I said earlier, the God that emerges from this investigation is probably very different from the God you thought you believe in. If you say, "But I can't believe in a God like that!" then (a) if you believe in a different kind of God, then how do you escape believing in something positively self-contradictory in some way or other? and (b) you are not asked to believe in this God; you concluded to His existence; and if you claim that He doesn't exist, it is incumbent upon you to refute the argument, not just turn aside and say, "Well, I don't agree." You condemn yourself to irrationality if you do that.
SUMMARY OF CHAPTER 8
Creation is the name for the causality of the Infinite: the relation between Him and the finite beings He causes. The Infinite is the only creator, since if he "delegated" the act, it would have to be to a finite being, which would then be a finite existence that caused existence to be finite, which is impossible. And since everything but the Infinite is finite existence, then the Infinite is the cause of everything. But since He only causes the effect of the fact that the being in question is a finite existence, and there are other effects, the Infinite is not the only cause of anything.
The Infinite causes finite beings to exist as they actually exist; and so a finite being which exists as dependent on finite beings for various aspects of itself is caused to exist as dependent in this way. So finite causes are real causes. Free choices are determined by themselves, and so they are caused as self-determining. "To cause" means "to remove the contradiction in," and does not necessarily mean "to determine," so there is no contradiction here. The Infinite has control over free choices in the sense that He could withhold His causality over them (as finite acts) and then they couldn't happen; and He can manipulate the circumstances so that any free choice He wants will in fact freely be made by the creature. But the choice remains free, and the creature, not the Infinite, is responsible for it (because the creature specified which free act it was).
We are not predestined by the Infinite, because the Infinite's "plan" (which is identical with His causal act) does not happen before our choice (nor during nor after); nor are we predestined because the specification of the choice was due to us, not the Infinite. The Infinite, therefore, does not allow acts that he would "rather not" have happen; he actively causes every act that happens, and so it happens just exactly as He "wants" it to happen. Even rebellions and sins, as finite acts are actively caused by the Infinite, since they can't occur unless He does so. The Infinite commands us not to sin in the sense that He informs us that certain acts (the inhuman ones) are self-frustrating, and that our choices (and their frustrations) do not end with death. But since He can't be affected by anything we do, our sinning and taking the consequences of it does not bother Him in the least.
The Infinite loves the finite beings He creates in that He has nothing to gain (or lose) from their existing in the way they exist; and the fact that they exist is greater than nothing, and so is a benefit to the creature, not the Creator. This, however, is true no matter what condition they are in, so the Infinite's love is compatible with suffering and pain in the creatures He creates. Then why does He create? Because His existence is capable of causing finite beings, not because of any benefit He gets from creating. And His will for his creatures is just exactly what happens to them, since if it were different, then their existence would be different.
APPENDIX FOR THE CHRISTIAN[This whole issue is treated at considerable length in The Problem of Evil and the Kingdom.]
Just a brief word for the Christian, who is by now saying, "But then why did He become man and die for us, if His love is for practical purposes indifference?" And if He has revealed himself as benevolent and loving in more than this philosophical sense, how is this compatible with the Infinite?
[This subject is treated at length in The Problem of Evil and the Kingdom]
Let me sketch what I think in this way: Yes, YHWH, as causer, has a love closer to our meaning of "benevolence" than we can argue to from finite reality as an effect--but it is compatible with it. Since God is eternal, and since the universe as involving man was to be in man's control, the evolution of the universe before man was to be made dependent on the first man's choice as to what kind of (mammalian) body he would have and pass on to his descendants. He was given, in other words, limitations--which he refused to accept. His body, then, as a punishment for his rebellion, got "free" of total domination by his spirit, and eventually escaped it altogether, and instead of locking up his energy at the end of his development and living stably forever, he was to die. And all the world which was under his control also evolved with death and suffering as part of it. So yes, the dinosaurs were "punished" because of the sin of Adam.
But since human beings were not now masters over even their own (sensory) minds, then their whole personality was not wrapped up in any choice they made (as it is with angels and even Adam before the sin); and so it was possible for their minds to change without the necessity of completely destroying them--though they would have to reject the self they had thus created for themselves and become someone in part different. So a redemption from sin was possible.
In view of this YHWH freely chose to become man in Jesus and enter time, to give people a chance to restore the state Adam would have been in had he not rebelled: a state with no death, suffering, or evil, in which the lion would literally eat hay like the ox and the wolf would be a companion of the lamb, and so on. The whole (human-affected) universe would be transformed. The condition for this was that the Chosen People first, and everyone else afterwards, accept Jesus as their King and submit to His rule.
They refused, in the person of the leaders of the Chosen People and in Pontius Pilate, the representative of the whole Gentile world. The result of this second rebellion was that the redemption would not eradicate suffering and death from the world, but each person was to work out his redemption through uniting with Jesus (who is the human living with God's life), specifically with His crucifixion--and afterwards, share with Him his resurrection from the dead and His eternal life. But this punishment carried with it not only the fulfillment of all the moral goals of the people who had been redeemed from their sins, but also a sharing in the life of YHWH, which is, of course the Infinite Thought. That is, our minds, which are only in the abstract capable of thinking without limit (in that there is no prior limit to what we can think about), but in the concrete must limit our consciousness to some definite (i.e. finite) act, can be "expanded" by a miracle to realize (also) this infinite potential we have. And of course, he who thinks the Infinite Thought is "one and the same thing" as YHWH himself.
So the "punishment" for our dual rebellion, in the providence of God is that we not only fulfill our legitimate ambitions, but are actually divinized in the process; we retain our finite consciousness as one of the "duplications" of the Infinite Act that we are united with; and (by "adoption" instead of like Jesus by nature) we are "cells" in the body Who is the God-Man.
And, when the number of the chosen is complete, the restoration of the physical universe into a state of absolute equilibrium will occur; and we will live forever in the world as we have chosen to make it for our eternal selves.
At any rate, that is why I think there actually is suffering and death and disfigurement and destruction in the world, and yet there is a good God ("good" in our sense too) who creates it and manipulates it and watches over it. There is nothing to worry about; everything will be by your standards good; but because of human perversity, this good comes about only through the purging and purification of the evil in our perverse choices. God is both just and benevolent.
--Now all of this, of course, turns on whether it is a fact that Jesus claimed to be God Almighty, and did things that only God could do to back up the claim; and especially whether in fact he came back to life as he claimed he would. And looking at the evidence and seeing if it supports this is, as they say, "a whole 'nother story."
I will grant that, from a non-Christian point of view, it is foolishness. But I have one final remark: I personally see no other way to make actual sense out of the evil in the world except something like this "punishment" scenario. You can accept the evil and show that it is compatible with an Infinite; and you can show that the evil is "evil" only from the point of view of your standards, which are always to some extent arbitrary. But let's face it, they're not totally arbitrary; it may be that we can't absolutely say that people "ought not" to be born blind (since blind humans can exist); but it still doesn't really make sense for such people to have eyes that don't function. Nor does it make sense to say that we will ultimately fulfill our ambitions, and yet all the roadblocks we see in this life are constantly put in front of us.
In fact, I think that many people reject Christianity out of hand because it is "too good to be true." Since everything seems to fall into place to make the whole universe, including its evil, make sense, it looks too much like an ad hoc solution based on wishful thinking. But that, it seems to me, is a kind of "anti-wishful" thinking. The evidence seems to support the fantastic things claimed about Jesus; and if the truth about Jesus makes everything make sense, why should this be an argument against it?
But obviously a complete excursus on this would take volumes, and I think I should stop here.