Chapter Four: Rethinking Primary and Secondary Causality
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47 4 Rethinking Primary and Secondary Causality Without a doubt the notion of evolution has captured the imagination of intelligent people around the world in the years since the publication of The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin in 1859. Not only in the field of biology but in all the other natural and social sciences, even in the traditional humanities, the notion of ongoing change and historical development is now more or less taken for granted. There are, to be sure, many contemporary theologians who still strongly affirm the enduring validity of Thomistic metaphysics for contemporary cosmology, especially when it is freshly rethought along the lines of transcendental Thomism, such as that set forth by Karl Rahner in the mid-twentieth century. One of these theologians is Denis Edwards, well known in the area of religion and science , who has set forth in How God Acts a persuasive argument for God’s working in creation through secondary causes and thus not through direct intervention into the normal operation of the natural order.1 In the first part of this chapter, I will offer a summary and analysis of Edwards’s argument for a new trinitarian understanding of the God-world relationship that takes into account the contemporary notion of the universe as an evolutionary process. In particular, I will examine Edwards’s philosophical presuppositions in making his case and, above all, his reliance on both classical Thomism and the transcendental Thomism of Karl Rahner. Then in the second part of this chapter, I will once again set forth my revision of the process theology of Alfred North Whitehead as another possibility. So in the end, whether one likes Edwards’s approach to the God-world relationship or my own revision of Whitehead’s, one will have 1. Denis Edwards, How God Acts: Creation, Redemption, and Special Divine Action (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2010). 48  Part One: Philosophical Cosmology / Natural Theology picked up an evolutionary understanding of the God-world relationship with a special focus on the doctrine of the Trinity. Edwards on How God Acts In an introductory first chapter, Edwards reviews the dominant characteristics of the universe as revealed by natural science. He notes, for example, that the universe appears to have been in ongoing evolution from the big bang onward. Yet it is at the same time a unified totality or ontological whole in virtue of fixed “patterns of relationship” among components at different levels of existence and activity. Each such level has its own integrity even as it serves as a component in a still-higher level of existence and activity. Furthermore, the universe seems to exhibit a surprising movement toward ever-greater organization and complexity through a process of trial and error. What initially appears to be random eventually fits into a definite directionality for the cosmic process as a whole. Yet such a trial-and-error approach to reality has been quite costly in terms of pain and suffering for countless living creatures, with extinction of entire species as the price to be paid for the emergence of higher forms of life, such as our own human species.2 Then in chapter two, Edwards reviews what Jesus himself experienced in his relation to God as Father (Abba) and conveyed to his contemporaries as God’s purpose for them, namely, the establishment of the kingdom of God as a new creation, a new way of living in this world, and the promise of an even better life in the world to come. The various parables of Jesus about the kingdom of God, his healing ministry to those burdened by suffering and pain, his willingness to share food and drink with public sinners and other outcasts of Israelite society, and, finally, his decision to gather a chosen band of disciples and train them in this new way of life—all these features of Jesus’ public ministry make clear that Jesus had foremost in his mind the kingdom of God as a reality already present in this world and yet still in the process of development.3 Edwards then concludes: “The God who acts in creation, the God who acts in the history of Israel, has now acted in Christ to bring healing and hope to the world in a new creation. What has already begun in Christ will reach its promised fulfillment when all things will be transformed and made new.”4 Thus, God “lovingly waits upon creation” and “suffers with 2. Ibid., 1–14. 3. Ibid...


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Subject Headings

  • Causation.
  • Cosmology.
  • One (The One in philosophy).
  • Many (Philosophy).
  • Philosophical theology.
  • Providence and government of God.
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