The First Love

July 29, 2008 at 8:29 am | Posted in Theology | 10 Comments

Something that my amazing wife directed me to really struck me as I read it.  It comes from a post written by Fr. Stephen Freeman, whom I will admit not reading that often because his thoughts are so much loftier than my own.  Anyway, here is the quote:

I oftentimes suspect that the language of causation, rooted as it is in physics and the like, is probably a misleading term when applied to a universe whose true existence is rooted in Personhood. In such a universe, love is a far more important category than causation, if causation has any place at all.

Whoa.

If you’ve ever sat through a Philosophy class, you must have heard about the “First Cause” argument for the existence of God, especially if you went to Catholic school.  In a nutshell, the idea is that for any event, there must be a corresponding event that caused it to happen.  Nathan falls on the floor because David knocked him over.  David knocked Nathan over because John tripped David.  Any parent with more than one child has experience with unravelling these causal chains.  I guess parents of a only child must have trouble doing philosophy….

Anyway, to follow the line of Aristotle’s thinking on the subject, having an infinitely long causal chain is just silly.  After all, somebody has to sit on the Naughty Step.  And, if you extend the whole chain all the way back through history trying to find a cause for the universe, you arrive at The First Cause — The Unmoved Mover.  Theologians of a scholastic bent quickly picked up on Aristotle’s definition of The First Cause as being God Himself, and this identification has been a key foundation of many systematic theologies, including that of Thomas Aquinas, the father of modern theology and thus the grandfather of modern philosophy.

So with all that in mind, please reread the Good Father’s quote above.

Can you feel the tremors in the foundation?

Now, I am sure that neither I nor Fr. Stephen are the first ever to point this problem out.  In fact, Matthew Gallatin has a highly regarded series of podcasts on a very similar subject which explains the subject much better than I ever could.  I guess I was just struck with the implications of his statement that the underpinnings of just about, well, everything that I had studied in school were founded on a mistaken premise.

But, I can easily trade that for a universe founded not on First Cause but on First Love.

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  1. And I thought I was The First Love! Guess I take a back seat to God, huh? At any rate, I like this explanation much better too!!

  2. Nemo I don’t understand what you are getting at. It appears you are saying science is built on a faulty premise. I don’t think Fr Freeman is saying that at all.

  3. Ultimately, science IS built upon a faulty premise, if one uses the First Cause as the foundational premise. What I think Fr. Freeman et al are doing is inviting us to press beyond the First Cause to the First Love — perhaps the cause of the Cause? I don’t know — I haven’t gotten there yet.

    However, to use the fixed laws and methods of science as the primary lens to view Creation is faulty, because it doesn’t see the reality of it, just an approximation. As an analogy, one cannot rely strictly on Newtonian mechanics for an accurate view of the cosmos — it doesn’t work on that scale. One needs to adopt an Einsteinian view. But, on the scale of a pool table, Newton reigns supreme.

    The same is true for science in general. It is fine to apply in certain frames of reference, as long as one is well aware of what the constraints are. But to apply science, philosophy, logic, or whatever to the understanding of the grander view of God in His energies will fail due to the shortcomings of the foundational premises. Such is our experience anyway — that’s why we are Orthodox.

  4. Yes of course, science seeing as it is based on human observation, has severe limitations. But we all live in this pool table, and the laws of cause and effect reign supreme here. Let me know when you reach speed of light.

    I fail to see what you are saying, sorry.

  5. The discrepancy I am struggling with here is what you are proposing (if I understand you correctly) namely the God of Relationship (no cause and effect) with the God of the ordered, stable and constant (cause and effect) physical universe. This makes it especially troublesome if we are committed to the one storey universe.

  6. The God of Love IS also stable, constant, orderly. The point is that those aren’t the ultimate way of describing God (or His creation); instead, love is. Ultimately, that’s what everything is all about.

  7. Anastasia that is helpful. Where I am failing to make sense of it all is when Fr Freeman asserts:
    “In such a universe, love is a far more important category than causation, if causation has any place at all.”

    I can agree to love being more important, no problem there. But no causation at all?? This flies against our daily experience in which we find ourselves in an ordered universe bound by physical laws. And who created these laws? Is it not the God of Love? Yes, so He is Love and created a physical ordered universe.

    “If causation has any place at all”

    This will need to be explained further if it is to make any sense at all.

  8. I will be the first one to admit that I have not thought this through entirely — my post was more of a reaction to Fr. Stephen’s statement than a elaboration on it.

    I guess that what I am trying to get at is that the use of Rationalism to understand God’s Creation is ultimately doomed to failure. Certainly, it works for parts of Creation. We use rationalistic thought to understand the principles of chemistry. But does it cover how water can turn into wine?

    A Christian rationalism would declare that God made Creation in a fixed order and set it in motion. Then, from time to time, God intervenes in His Creation to move it in a new direction. However, usually those who espouse this view are somehow constrained to have God limited by the same rules that govern Creation. For example, RC Sproul makes this mistake all the time in declaring what God can and cannot do by reason of logic.

    I think a more Orthodox answer, as I understand it, is that God is actively participating with His divine will in the operation of Creation at every moment. Usually this participation takes the form or comprehensible physical laws and principles, since our God is a God of order. But these laws have no power unto themselves — they merely describe as aspect of God, Who is free to contravene them at any time.

    No, the overarching principle for God is Love. That is His only constraint, because that is Who He is. If God doesn’t love, then God is not God. Causation is only operative as long as it serves God’s imperative of love. If it doesn’t, then … it’s a miracle!

  9. Although I’m just a puny brain in the text of this discussion, I thought I’d throw in my 2 cents worth and change the subject a bit. What struck me about this blog post and the use of causal arguments had everything to do with prayer. I pray hard enough, I say the right words, I kneel long enough…and I can cause God to heal my friend, reconcile a relationship, whatever. The whole idea that what I do causes God to move in the way I want Him to is refuted by Fr. Freeman’s blog post.

    And, for what it’s worth, the idea that God somehow scientifically and systematically orders the universe above His Love kinda leaves out the non-scientific minded among us as having a lesser relationship with God because we can’t “get” it. Sorry, I don’t buy that.

  10. Mary Joy,

    I don’t think anyone here advocated the idea that God has ordered the universe above His love. However, there is no denying the awesome order and systemic constancy we encounter in the universe. What didn’t sit right we me is the original statement by Fr. Freeman “if causation has any place at all”. That in my mind is taking it one step too far. Fr. Freeman subsequently responded to me to clarifiy his position. Here is his response in its entirety:

    “Robert, I’m by no means denying the regularity in nature, etc. I have suggested, in line with Scripture, that the language we use to describe what is happening “natural law,” “laws of nature,” causation, etc., may be useful but not sufficient to describe the fullness of how things actually are.

    Owen Barfield, one of the Inklings and friend of C.S.Lewis, referred to the kind of knowledge we have in science as “dashboard knowledge.” We know a car based on how it responds to what we do on the dashboard (the average driver) but we have only a vague notion about what’s under the hood.

    Scripture tells us that “in Him we live and move and have our being,” and that “all things hold together in Him.” I’m just suggesting that this is not merely second storey language, but a mysterious part of the world that we do not see nor can we well describe.

    But God has not made the world capricious or disorderly. Interestingly though, the Fathers would have looked to the fact that everything was created through the Logos, rather than seeking secularized language to describe the world.”

    As I indicated to him earlier, I have not found this discussion very helpful, as it raises more questions then it answers.


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