[article] No Cause, No Credo

Aristotelian Realist Philosophy of Nature as Preambula Fidei

Daniel C. Wagner
Professor and Chair of Philosophy
Aquinas College, Grand Rapids, MI
Editor, Reality

ABSTRACT: This study presents St. Thomas Aquinas’ groundbreaking treatment of the relation between God as Creator and nature through the Aristotelian model of natural causation and the distinction between essentia and esse contra occasionalist conceptions of creation. By clearly distinguishing primary (divine) and secondary (natural) orders of causation, the Angelic Doctor champions Divine omnipotence while preserving the causal integrity of nature at one and the same time. His position on the relation of divine and natural causation in nature is formulated, in part, as a response to the occasionalist doctrine, denying natural causation. While Thomas shows that denying natural causation would actually vitiate divine omnipotence, this study extends his argument showing Aristotelian causation (secondary cause) is a necessary condition—i.e., one of the preambula fidei—for the Christian belief that God is the all-powerful creator of the natural world. This presentation and extension of St. Thomas Aquinas’ critique of occasionalism is needed given a continuing trend among Anglo-American Analytic and Humean Christian philosophers to deny natural causation and hold that God is the only cause.

1. Introduction[1]

As Steve Baldner and William Carroll have pointed out in their Aquinas on Creation, Christian’s have sought from Antiquity to give a philosophical and theological account of the doctrine of creation, going beyond the hexaemeral formation account of Genesis.[2] Clear philosophical expressions of the doctrine of creation ex nihilo (Hippolytus of Rome, 170–235 A.D.) and conservation (St. Augustine, 354–430 A.D.) were needed to distinguish the Christian belief in God, the transcendent and omnipotent creator, from the beliefs of the pagans and philosophers, which often treated God as coeval with an eternal material universe and denied His constant providential action in nature as Creator.[3]

In the 13th Century, with the reception of the works of Aristotle in the Latin West that apparently demonstrated the eternality of the natural world, along with those of the Arabic commentators endorsing the view (especially Avicenna and Averroes), the need for clear philosophical expression of the doctrine of creation was once again pressing. As Baldner has shown, St. Albertus Magnus first clearly expressed creation as God’s act of giving existence to creatures without a prior material cause. Further, he showed that every creature, metaphysically speaking, is distinct from God as Simple as being a composition of factual but potential existence (quod est) and that by which it exists from God (quo est/esse).[4]

Excelling both his predecessors and great teacher Albert in the integration of faith and reason, St. Thomas Aquinas famously resolved the apparent contradiction between Aristotelian natural science and theology holding that the world is eternal and the Christian belief that God created the world with a beginning in time (ab initio temporis).[5] Thomas accomplished this task by recognizing that the key philosophical meaning of creatio ex nihilo does not reside in the claim that God created a first in time in the natural order, but rather it means the relation of the absolute dependence of creature on God as the immediate efficient cause of existence.[6] Fully retaining Aristotle’s conceptions of science, nature, and natural causation, then, Thomas showed that there is not a contradiction between the doctrine of creation ex nihilo and the philosophical assertion (most reasonable through natural reason alone) that the world is eternal. Indeed, Thomas himself attributed a doctrine of creation to Aristotle, in his commentaries on the Sentences and the Physics.[7] Moreover, while God could have chosen to create an eternal world, there is also not a contradiction in holding that, in fact, He created the world with a beginning in time.[8] In this manner, Thomas championed the integration of faith and reason in his treatment of creation, upholding the integrity of natural science (surpassing Albert)[9] and opening the way for rational belief (faith) in the traditional teaching of Christianity on creation.

Yet, St. Thomas’ distinctive contribution to the perennial philosophy of creation extends further. While St. Augustine and Albert clearly held both the doctrine of conservation and that creatures are endowed with their own causal efficacy, they did not fully express the compatibility of the two doctrines.[10] How is it that God’s creative act is to constantly cause created beings to be and that these beings are endowed with their own causal capacities? One of the most important ways in which Thomas innovatively perfected the philosophical expression of the Christian doctrine of creation was by drawing a distinction between the orders of primary (divine) and secondary (natural) causation, and showing that both orders are operative in natural agency. As this study will show, Thomas was able to uphold the distinction between primary and secondary cause by synthesizing the Aristotelian account of natural causation—i.e., hylomorphism and the four causes[11]—with the distinction between essence (essentia) and existence (esse).[12] As the unqualified cause of the existence of created beings at all times, God is also the primary cause of all forms of natural agency. At the same time, through the forms they possess and which God causes to be, natural/created beings are real agent, formal, material, and final causes in the natural order. In fact, then, without his Aristotelian natural philosophy and science, the Angelic Doctor could not have made this innovative development in the philosophy of creation. The key texts displaying the distinction between the orders of primary and secondary cause are Summa Contra Gentiles III, 65–70, and Summa Theologiae I, q. 105, a. 5. Aside from his desire to give a more refined account of God’s providential governance of creation, Thomas was motivated to this development by at least two erroneous accounts of creation: occasionalism and deism. The former position holds that God is the only cause, denying secondary/natural causes altogether, while the latter limits God’s creative act to the initial creation of the world in time.

The present study seeks to extend St. Thomas’ work on the philosophical expression of the doctrine of creation, focusing on his argument against the occasionalist denial of secondary or natural causation. Thomas’ critique, which is aimed at the approach of the medieval Islamic theologian, Al-Ghazali, shows that the denial of secondary cause actually vitiates divine omnipotence. This is a devastating critique, as one of Al-Ghazali’s primary motivations for positing occasionalism is to champion divine omnipotence. Presenting Thomas’ conception of the orders of primary and secondary causation, along with his critique of occasionalism, this study will extend the argument of the Angelic Doctor by showing an Aristotelian conception of natural causation and the order of secondary causes is a necessary condition—i.e., one of the preambula fidei—for the Christian belief that God is the all-powerful creator of the natural world. Without natural, secondary causes, it is not possible to intellectually assent to the first line of the creed: Credo in Deum Patrem omnipotentem, Creatorem caeli et terrae. Without secondary causes, the human intellect cannot form the judgement that created being exists separately from the Divine Being. Thus, the denial of secondary cause would logically entail a denial of the claim that God creates being separate from His own existence. Given a continuing and growing trend among Christian philosophers working outside the Aristotelian-Thomist and Catholic intellectual traditions to endorse and promote occasionalism,[13] there is now a pressing need to hear afresh St. Thomas’ position on the compatibility of natural and divine causation and the necessity of natural causation for the doctrine of omnipotence, and to see why occasionalism is incompatible with the Christian and Theistic doctrine of creation as it is expressed in the credo.

2. Occasionalism: The Need for an Aristotelian-Thomistic Response

The 11th Century Asharite theologian, Al-Ghazali (1058–1111), championed occasionalism and his view became predominant in the Islamic religious experience.[14] In the Modern period, occasionalism was proposed by the Cartesians, Louis de la Forge (1632–66), Géraud de Cordemoy (1614–83), Arnold Geulincx (1624–69), and most famously by Nicholas Malebranche (1683–1715).[15] In the American Reformed Protestant tradition, occasionalism was championed by New England theologian, Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758).[16] And, as Kathrin Rogers has pointed out in her article, “What’s Wrong with Occasionalism?,” occasionalism has its contemporary proponents, including Hugh J. McCann and Jonathan L. Kvanvig, Walter Schultz and Lisanne D’Andrea-Winslow, and the most influential Alvin Plantinga.[17]   In what immediately follows, let us treat of occasionalism in its medieval, modern, and contemporary forms, with the aim of meaningful discourse in the here and the now.

As noted above, the essence of occasionalism is the theological claim that God is the only cause and the claim extending into natural philosophy, consequently, that there are no natural causes, i.e., that created beings do not have causal powers. Not surprisingly, then, occasionalism’s theological claim is historically coupled with a philosophical critique and denial of natural causation. This, of course, is necessary as natural beings certainly seem to us to be causal agents with their own effects. Beginning with an a priori rejection of natural form as the explanative principle for the agency of natural beings,[18] occasionalists deny that we can know with any kind of necessity a temporally prior existent as the cause of a posterior existent. So, according to Al-Ghazali,[19] there is no necessary causal connection between a temporally prior existent or event in relation to a temporally posterior existent or event in nature.[20] Rather, analysis of change merely grants apprehension of the habituated coincidence—the side-by-sidedness—of two discrete events, or existents, not that the temporally prior is the agent cause responsible for the temporally posterior. Considering the relationship between fire and the combustion of the cotton,[21] or a father and mother and the coming-to-be of the son,[22] we do not know the antecedents per se as causes of the effect, but only as regularly placed, temporally prior, discrete atomic existents.[23] The regular temporal sequence of events is not a result of created subjects possessing their own causal powers. As Al-Ghazali says, it “…is due to the prior decree of God, who creates them side-by-side, not to its being necessary in itself, [and] incapable of separation.”[24]

In the post-nominalist, Cartesian school of thought to which Malebranche belonged, it had been taken for granted that there are no common natures or forms that are the source of the causal powers of natural beings on the traditional Aristotelian-Thomistic model. On that model, beginning with sense-perception, the human mind comes to possess universals, or what Aristotle referred to as second beings/substances signifying substantial form as the source of natural agency. If it is denied that the mind can come to possess such definitions of the forms of natural beings, then occasionalism seems a most reasonable position for the theist. In a reductively mechanistic material universe devoid of nature as form and end, the appeal to God as the only cause is most reasonable.[25] So Malebranche says, “there is only one true cause because there is only one true God; …the nature or power of each thing is nothing but the will of God; …all natural causes are not true causes but only occasional causes.”[26]

After the 18th Century, with the widespread acceptance of David Hume’s (1711–1776) rejection of necessary causal connections, it should not be surprising that Christians working in the in the Anglo-American Analytic tradition have embraced occasionalism. David Hume was not an occasionalist. Indeed, given his critique of religion, many have thought him to be an atheist. He was certainly not a friend of Christianity (and he was especially disparaging of Catholicism). However, like Ghazālī, he famously denied that we could know natural beings as proper causes of effects. In An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, he first reasons to this conclusion by reducing necessity to the unqualified, a priori necessity of mathematics and showing that observation of nature permits of no such necessity. This is because it is always logically possible for a posterior event (“effect”) not to be, i.e., it implies no contradiction.[27] Since we can conceive of the sun not rising tomorrow—i.e., this implies no contradiction and is logically possible—Hume holds that it is no sense necessary that the sun rise when it rises.[28] Hume, then, reduces our knowledge of cause and effect to a habit of the mind, as Ghazālī had done:[29]

…the knowledge of this relation [between cause and effect] is not, in any instance, attained by reasonings a priori; but arises entirely from experience, when we find, that any particular objects are constantly conjoined with each other.

 As with Al-Ghazālī, Hume finds our knowledge of nature to consist in the apprehension of atomistic events, merely side-by-side or customarily conjoined in temporal relation without real causal contiguity:[30]

In a word, then, every effect is a distinct event from its cause.  It could not, therefore, be discovered in the cause, and the first invention or conception of it, a priori, must be entirely arbitrary.

Hume further reasons that we cannot know causes in nature as we do not know the “secret structure of parts,”[31] by which a supposed agent might produce its effect. For example, we do not know the form by which bread results in nourishment.  Because of this fact, there is no “middle” term linking cause and effect in a syllogism—such that we could demonstrate some subject to be the cause of some effect.[32]

Recently, Christian philosophers of the analytic persuasion working in this Humean tradition, have adopted and defended occasionalism.   Beginning with Hume’s reductive approach to our experience of causation, Hugh J. McCann and Jonathan L. Kvanvig go further than Hume, not only denying that we can know what is temporally prior as the cause of what is posterior in nature, but also that ontologically what is prior cannot be the cause of what is posterior as God is the only cause.[33] They take this approach in order to reject deism and champion divine immanence and God’s intimate, personal, and providential relation to nature believing that, if creation is properly causal, then God cannot also act in and through it.

The influential Alvin Plantinga[34] has also defended occasionalism. Plantinga sides with Hume’s analysis of our experience of cause-effect relations in order to reject the claim that created beings have causal powers. Having given a cursory presentation of St. Thomas’ approach by appeal to primary and secondary cause—without presenting the Aristotelian model of natural causation and necessity that Thomas is presupposing—Plantinga then argues rhetorically that we should abandon natural causation and accept the occasionalist doctrine:[35]

Perhaps the main difficulty here, is that the very idea of creaturely causality is obscure. Of course we can use other terminology: we can speak of forces, or powers, or bringing it about that, or…But do we really understand any of these locutions when we are speaking of creatures? Is there a reasonably clear and coherent concept or idea associated with these terms? It pains me to agree with Hume, but is he not right here?

Most recently, taking inspiration from Plantinga, and finding roots in Reformed tradition theologian, Jonathan Edwards,[36] Walter Schultz and Lisanne D’Andrea-Winslow have defended a version of occasionalism they call “divine compositionalism.” Divine Compositionalism is Al-Ghazali’s occasionalism applied to contemporary physical theory (atomic and quantum). First, these contemporary occasionalists treat major physical forces of the universe as God’s “existence-conferring action”: “Forces are ways God confers existence. Energy is the measure of magnitude (in various forms) of God’s existence-conferring action.”[37] Second, and following Planck and a theory they call “wave function realism,” Schultz and D’Andrea-Winslow hold that the physical universe, at the micro and macro level, is a discrete series of definite existents that entirely cease to be with the collapse of the wave and are then reconstituted as existents with certain dispositions. When wave function collapses, then, God alone decides and causes a new subsequent existent with its disposition. God alone causes the physical system or the universe to exist and God alone is causally responsible for causing this new existent with this disposition rather than another after every wave function collapse. Essentially, this theory holds that the physical world is constantly “flashing” in and out of existence, and that God’s creative act just is the reconstitution of reality at every new discrete instant:[38]

Divine compositionalism takes collapses of wave function to be God’s conferring definite existence. It is that system’s existence then and there. Therefore, when viewed ultimately either as a dynamic distribution of mass/energy or as discrete regular collapses of wave functions, the physical world is God’s acting.

Denying that created beings have causal powers, these occasionalists then hold that the perceived regularity of the universe, which contemporary physics describes as processes determined by laws, is actually only a result of God acting on a condition with a regular result.[39] So, when a vase shatters after being struck, for example, it is not on account of the weak atomic bond of its atoms (a disposition), but rather it is on account of the fact that God has chosen to cause shattering as a consequence of such an event and disposition, of which He is also the only, direct, and immediate cause.[40]

Generally, what these thinkers show us is that theists who have accepted an atomistic and Humean event ontology or causal model in lieu of Aristotelian natural causation, will see occasionalism as the most reasonable approach to understanding God’s creative act. And yet, we must say that this position does not seem to comport well with basic human experience of the world, nor with the belief that God is the omnipotent creator of the world. It is hard to understand how it is that the key is not a cause of the opening of the lock, or that the form and the matter of the house joined by the carpenter do not cause it to be a house, or that the surplus of an electron in the outer valence of sodium (NA) and the need for an electron in the outer valence of chlorine (CL) do not causally result in the bonding of the elements in salt, or that  or that the union of sperm and ovum and syngammy do not result in the zygote in sexual reproduction. Further, if God does not create the antecedent beings in such events to be the causes of such consequents, but God alone causes these effects, what is it that God is creating? It seems difficult, if not impossible, to believe that God has created a key that is also not capable of opening a lock, concrete, wood, etc., along an architectural form and the carpenter that are not the cause of the house being, sodium and chlorine that do not causally tend toward being salt when in proximity on account of atomic structure, or sperm and ovum that do not causally result in the production of the zygote. If these beings are not created as causally ordered toward these ends as a result of what they are, what is it that God has created? Can I really believe that an all-powerful God creates a world where these beings only seem to be responsible for “effects,” which are really just cases of God’s agency? Again, what has God created? I don’t know in such a world. Moreover, if these really all just examples of God acting as creation, how is that God transcends creation? It would, on this occasionalist approach, that what we commonly think to be natural or created agency really just is God—God is creation and its mutable changes.  These questions point to the need for an alternative account, if one is to form the belief that God is the omnipotent and transcendent creator of the world. This account is readily available in the philosophy of nature and the natural theology of St. Thomas Aquinas.

3. Principles for a Natural Theology of Creation via Primary & Secondary Cause

The principles that St. Thomas employs in giving his account of creation are the Aristotelian principles and causes of nature and the Avicennian distinction between essence (essentia) and existence (esse). This section will proceed by giving an account of these principles, and then it will show how they are used by St. Thomas in his natural theology to give an account of the relation between God as Creator and the created, natural world.

3.1. Hylomorphism & Natural Causation

For the Aristotelian, using a proper empirical method beginning with sense-perceptive knowledge better-known to us,[41] because natural beings are capable of change, it is further necessary that every natural being be a hylomorphic complex of subject/matter and form.[42] Given the existence of natural beings as changeable or in motion, these principles are necessary by reductio ad impossibile: without a persisting subject, a formal disposition, and privation, change as it is manifest in sense experience, would be impossible. However, and because change is manifest in observation, it is necessary to posit these principles of nature. Further, natural beings—inorganic and organic—are distinct from other beings in the world (i.e., artifacts) as they possess an internal, per se  or essential principle of motion to the end-forms in which they regularly terminate.[43] In natural beings, matter is the principle of can-be-ness or potentiality (δύνᾰμις) while form is the principle making a thing to be what it is in a perfective, completed, and actual sense (ἐντελέχεια), this also being the essence (το τί ἦν εἶναι) the expression of which constitutes a definition (τί ἐστι).[44] It is necessary that all natural beings have a primary/ultimate material potentiality, not reducible to form/act, lest we would live in a static and unchanging Parmenidean universe (a manifest impossibility)—everything that existed would be perfect or complete, so that motion would not be.[45] Accordingly, proper explanation of natural beings, comes by the expression of per se/essential material and formal causes. In turn, natural beings are capable of distinct movements—they are agent causes—through their forms. For the Aristotelian, and contrary to Al-Ghazalian and Humean approaches, natural beings are agent causes simultaneously with their effects, through their distinctive forms or actual states.[46] The carpenter has the potential to build a house, e.g., on account of the formal disposition he has taken on (muscle memory for building acts, intellectual virtues pertaining to geometry, etc.). To use natural inorganic examples, though they are both made of carbon (matter), the diamond can be used in blades for the cutting action of concrete and other hard materials as a result of its formal atomic structure (continuous cubic bond), whereas the graphite cannot be used in such blades as its form (plane hexagonal layering) does not permit of such an action. Continuous cubic bond is the cause of locked-together unity resistant to division, whereas plane hexagonal layering, without inter-locking, permits of sliding on itself facilitating division. In embryonic ontogenesis, the layered division of cells into the ectoderm (outer layer), the mesoderm (middle layer), and the endoderm (inner layer) constitutes the genetic agent causes in the production of tissues (skin, nails, hair, brain, nervous tissue and cells, nose, sinuses, mouth, anus, tooth enamel), muscles, bones, heart tissue, lungs, reproductive organs, lymphatic tissue, and the lining of lungs, bladder, digestive tract, tongue, tonsils, and other organs.[47] To borrow an example from Aristotle, the marsh-dwelling bird is capable of moving through the swamp in the manner that it does because it possesses a form of long legs and clawed toes (as opposed to short and webbed).[48] Or, the pangolin (same family as the anteater) can have the effect of rolling down a slope to evade a predator on account of the fact that it can put its body in a roughly circular/spherical shape. Similarly, the human being is capable of the effect of walking through the bipedal form; of using refined tools like knives, writing and eating utensils, keyboards, of throwing baseballs, etc., on account of the form of fingers and opposable thumbs. Or, again in the case of the human being, the apprehension of being and universals (the form of the intellect) explains how human agents are capable of forming judgements and of syllogistically reasoning from premises to conclusions (theoretical and practical).[49]

Natural form not only provides intelligibility for natural agent causation, it also provides intelligibility for end-directed or teleological movements of nature. The motions of nature regularly terminate in complete formal states—they are not for the sake of that out of which the come to be, i.e., matter, but they are ordered toward completed formal states of existence as their proper end, goal, completion, or perfection. Nature is an order of itself with its own intrinsic causal integrity—it has purpose and a point. Moreover, the natural philosopher is capable of grasping demonstratively those causes that are necessary on the supposition that a given natural end is to be achieved in the manner it actually is achieved.[50] On the supposition that carbon is to cut steel, for example, it is necessary that it have the disposition of the cubic bond; for the marsh-dwelling bird to live and walk as it does in the swamp it must have its long legs and long-clawed toes; for the human to form judgements and reason, the formal power of the intellect in apprehension of being and the universal is necessary, and so on. And here we have our Aristotelian response to Hume’s critique of causation from logical possibility: as Aristotle taught in antiquity, the necessity of nature is not unqualified or mathematical, but it is qualified on the supposition or condition of the end.[51] The contingency of nature is real, as natural movements can be impeded. Yet, we are quite capable of identifying what causes are necessary in terms of material, form, and agent given that there is or is to be distinct end.

Analysis of the phenomena shows that the atomism and causal reductionism of Al-Ghazali and Hume need not be accepted. Human knowledge is capable of knowing agent and final causes by identification of the natural forms by which natural beings act and in which their movements terminate. While many sources of agency may well remain secret to us, the fact that we are able to disclose the formal sources of agency and end-directedness in many cases such as these makes it most reasonable to assume that nature possesses its own intrinsic causal power distinct from that of God.

3.2. Essence-Existence Composition, Contingency, and the Necessity of a Creator God

To this Aristotelian causal framework, Thomas adds the real distinction between essence and existence in all natural beings. In natural beings, it is impossible that essence and existence be one/identical, for then we would include existence (esse) in our definitions of them and they would consequently have to exist without qualification and be unchangeable (a manifest contradiction).[52] Thus, all natural beings are contingent, not only as hylomorphic, but especially as essence-existence composites.

As Aristotle had already shown, the fact that natural beings are contingent on prior natural causes for their coming to be in the way they come to be, and as there cannot be an infinite regress in the comings to be of natural beings, necessitates that there be a primary un-moved mover, lacking potentiality altogether, being separate from material nature as pure act, and providing the ultimate source and intelligibility for the existence of nature.[53] Famously, St. Thomas’ second way of demonstrating the fact[54] of God’s existence is a species of Aristotle’s un-moved mover argument, focusing specifically on agent cause and substantial change. Since all natural beings have prior agent causes of their existence, and there cannot be an infinite regress in explanation of natural agent causes, it is necessary that there be a primary agent cause of the existence of natural beings.[55] If this is denied, what is manifest from observation, namely, that contingent agent causes of existence exist, must be contradicted.

3.3. Orders of Primary & Secondary Cause

Having demonstrated the existence of God as the first agent of existence, St. Thomas established the distinction between two orders of causation: divine/primary and natural/secondary. At SCG III, c.65, treating the doctrine of conservation, then, St. Thomas appeals to the distinction between essence and existence, expressing that God is the primary cause of the existence of all created beings. Hylomorphic beings constitute a system of real secondary causes. However, since such beings are not sufficient for explaining their own existence or the existence of the whole of nature, God’s act as primary cause of the existence of the world must be supposed. As Thomas puts it: “…no body is the cause of the existence (esse) of another thing, to the extent that it exists (esse), but it is the cause of it [to the extent] that it is moved to exist (ad esse), which is the becoming of the thing.”[56] “And so,” says Thomas, “it is necessary that God Himself, who is His own existence (esse), be primarily and per se the cause of the existence (esse) of every [other] being.[57] In this manner, St. Thomas has worked from the principles of nature to the conclusion that complete explanation of the natural world requires an appeal to orders of natural and divine causation. Beings in the world are real causes in the natural order, and we can explain them in terms of material, formal, agent, and final cause. However, because the causation of created beings as matter-from and essence-existence composites is not sufficient to explain the existence of natural being, it is necessary to hold that God is the primary cause—i.e., the transcendent and omnipotent Creator—of the existence of the natural world. This is a novel and ingenious account of creation, upholding at one and the same time the belief in natural causes and the belief in God as omnipotent Creator.

4. St. Thomas’ Critique of Occasionalism from Divine Omnipotence[58]

Both in his Summa Contra Gentiles and in his Summa Theologiae, St. Thomas appeals to the distinction between primary and secondary causation in order to explain God’s providential action and conservation. Because God is the unqualified cause of the existence of creation, and no created being can confer existence without qualification, it is necessary that God is the cause of existence all at once and totally. God’s act of creation in causing existence, then, must mean that God initiated created beings’ existence and conserves them in their continued existence and operation (the rejection of deism):[59]

However, just as God not only gave existence to things when they first began to exist, causing existence in them, and conserving things in existence (in esse) …so also, not only when things are first produced did he give them operative powers, but He always causes these to be in things. 

Some theologians, Thomas notes, have taken this doctrine of conservation to entail occasionalism. At Summa Contra Gentiles III, c. 69, Thomas describes the occasionalist position by noting that, from the conclusion that God is omnipresent and immanent in all creation as the primary cause of existence, some have fallen into error by inferring that “…no creature has any act in the production of natural effects.”[60] He illustrates the position with Al-Ghazali’s example: “…so, for example, fire does not cause heat, but God causes heat present with the fire, and it is the same, they say, in all other cases of natural effects.”[61] In his Summa Theologiae I, q. 105, a. 5 Thomas again presents the occasionalists’ position,[62] noting that they held “no created power acts in anyway in things, but that God alone acts immediately in every [form of agency]; thus, for example, fire would not [have the act] to produce heat, but God in the fire, and similarly in all other such things.”[63] In both these texts, Thomas considers two primary occasionalist objections to secondary causation. The first is that natural secondary cause is superfluous if God causes natural effects. As creator, God causes natural effects and God’s primary causality does not admit of any insufficiency. Thus, there is no need for secondary causes. The second objection is that the same effect cannot proceed from both God and a natural cause. No effect proceeds as a whole from two distinct agent causes. If the natural effect is the result of God’s primary causality, then it cannot also be the result of a natural secondary cause. The occasionalist, then, understands the relation of primary to secondary cause in terms of an exclusive disjunction: either God is the cause of natural effects, or nature is; it cannot be both.

Thomas opens his critique of occasionalism by arguing that, if the pattern of cause and effect in nature is denied, a lack of power will be immediately implicated in the creator. An agent’s power is the source of it giving an effect a causative capability.[64] An effect with less causal capability is, therefore, indicative of a weaker cause. As Thomas says in SCG: “The perfection of the effect demonstrates the perfection of the cause, for more power [in the agent] leads to a more perfect effect.”[65] Occasionalism implicates a lack of power in the creator, then, because more power is required to create a world in which created things act according to their own causal powers than to simply create a world in which created things are directly caused by God alone.

God causes creatures to exist in such a way that they are the true causes of their own operations. Thomas does indeed hold that God is at work in every operation of nature,[66] but the causal autonomy of nature is not thereby reduced.[67] That there are real natural causes and effects does not indicate a reduction in God’s power. To create a world in which effects are produced by their own natural causes is to create a world richer in reality than a world in which effects are directly produced by God without natural causal powers. Thus, to hold the occasionalist view that God directly produces secondary effects by his primary causality to the exclusion of natural secondary causation violates the doctrine of divine omnipotence. As Thomas says in conclusion: “…to take away the perfection of creatures is to take away the perfection of divine power.”[68]

Thomas extends this critique of occasionalism from causation in general to a critique from purposive causation or the teleology of nature:[69]

Second, [occasionalism must be rejected] because the active powers that are discovered in things would be attributed to them to no purpose, if nothing was performed by them. Indeed, all created things would seem to be without purpose in this manner, if proper acts were removed [from them], since everything is on account of its proper act. For the imperfect is always on account of the perfect, as matter, thus, is on account of form, and also form, which is the primary act, is on account of its action, which is secondary act [De Anima, II.1]; and so also, agency is the end of the created thing.

In nature, we observe end-directed order.[70] Natural things appear to be composed of materials that are morphologically ordered making them be the things they are and to able to act in the way they regularly act. This apparent order would be pointless, if the natures of created things were not the actual sources of their operations. If God directly created the natures and functions as merely juxtaposed in appearance, as the occasionalists suppose, then the world as it is observed to exist is meaningless. It takes more power, however, to create a world in which the functions actually do arise from the formal natures of things than simply to create forms and functions as apparently causally related. But God is all-powerful, as we say in the Catholic credo. Thus, God creates natural beings as truly operating according to their formal natures and the appearance of the order of creation is not meaningless.

Part of the problem to which Thomas is alluding here is the failure to recognize the nature of the distinction between primary and secondary causality. Secondary cause is not a substitute for divine causality, for nothing can operate without God’s immanent primary causality. This is because, for all time, no created thing can be without God as its primary cause in the order of esse. So, the same effect is indeed properly attributed both to God’s primary cause and natural secondary cause. The attribution, however, is not made in the same mode or order of causality. It is not as if a natural effect is partly produced by God and partly by a natural cause. Rather, it is wholly produced by both, but in different orders. Explicitly invoking this causal analogy of orders in his critique of occasionalism in the Summa Theologiae, Thomas notes, then, “one action does not proceed from two agents in a single order, but, in fact, there is nothing preventing that one and the same action proceed from a primary and a secondary agent.”[71] Further elucidation is provided for this analogy of orders in Summa Contra Gentiles, where Thomas points out that the relation of primary and secondary cause to the natural effect is analogous to the relations between agent and instrumental causation.[72] Here, in c.70, answering as to “the manner in which the same effect is from God and a natural agent,”[73] Thomas explains the possibility of a single effect proceeding both from a higher-order (primary) agent/moving cause and a lower-order (secondary) instrumental cause.[74] In instrumental causation, e.g., when wood is chopped with an axe, the same effect is attributed to the instrument and to the principle agent making use of the instrument. It is not the case that the instrument and the principle cause are partial or co-causes in the sense that each contributes a separate element to the production of the effect. When an axe is used to split wood, the split-wood effect is produced by the axe, for no other instrument is used. It is also produced by the axe wielder, for the axe does not split wood except by the action of the one who wields it. Taken as a whole, the agency proceeds from both the order of the one wielding and the order of the instrument being wielded, simultaneously. In a similar way, the natural effect is produced by its natural cause in the order of secondary causes and God as creator is also responsible for the natural effect in the order of existence.[75] The natural cause produces its natural effect as a temporal process of becoming. God, however, produces the same effect, not as a temporal natural process or any sort of process. Rather, God produces the effect by being the immanent cause of existence in the whole system of temporal cause and effect relations. Appealing to the Aristotelian account of natural causation and the essence-existence distinction, Thomas explains this last point in precise detail in ST I, q. 105, a. 5, responsio.

Avoiding treating secondary causes as though they usurp Gods creative causal power, Thomas shows that God is the primary cause of all three forms of natural agency, i.e., final, agent, and formal causation.[76] First, Thomas points out that every operation, whether volitional or non-volitional, aims at some good, either real or apparent. It follows that every good, whether real or apparent, derives its good from the ultimate good at which it aims. The absolutely supreme good from which every directed natural process derives its goodness is God, the source and creator of all. Clearly, then, God is at work in every natural process as its ultimate end and final cause.[77] With respect to natural agent causes, Thomas notes that wherever there is a series of causal agents, as is apparently the case in nature, the posterior cause always operates in virtue of the prior cause. The ultimate causal agent prior to every natural cause and all secondary causal series is God, the source and ground of the being of all agency. It follows that God is at work in every natural operation as the source of agency.[78] Finally, with respect to formal causation, Thomas remarks that God’s primary causality is not limited to agency (efficient causation), but that God is also the creator and conserver of the forms of natural things by which they act in the way they apparently act.[79] Thomas can then conclude that “…God acts in every acting cause.”[80] Because it takes more power to create purposive natural beings that act through their own forms, rather than a world where these forms of causation are merely apparent, occasionalism’s denial of these forms of secondary causation violates divine omnipotence.

In reply to occasionalism, then, Thomas affirms that God’s primary causality is sufficient for the production of the natural effect and that an effect cannot be produced as a whole from two distinct causes. He argues, however, that it does not follow that the secondary cause is superfluous (ad 1)[81] nor that the same effect cannot result from both a primary and secondary cause, distinct in order/mode (ad 2).[82]  God’s omnipotence not only excludes the possibility that his agency is insufficient, but also excludes the possibility that he creates a world in which natural causal powers do not exist and only appear to exist. To deny real causal powers to natural things is to imply a lack of power in God.

Occasionalists consider causality in a single mode and, therefore, think that secondary cause can only exist as a substitute for the primary cause of the divine creator. Thus, they mistakenly think that they are compelled to admit secondary cause only at the expense of primary cause. Thomas shows us, however, that while natural cause is ordered to its specific natural effect, God’s primary causality is ordered to all causes and effects in the order of esse. To consider God’s direct creation as a substitute for secondary causes is to detract from the power of God and to violate his omnipotence. God is so powerful that he is able, not only to produce natural effects without their natural causes, but to produce them as naturally produced by their natural causes.

5. An Extension of Thomas’ Critiques of Occasionalism from Omnipotence

Thomas’ arguments against occasionalism from the reality of natural causation and the purposefulness of created being can be further developed to more thoroughly demonstrate the incompatibility of occasionalism with divine omnipotence. Here I will extend Thomas’ basic arguments in order to show the epistemological incompatibility of occasionalism with the doctrines of omnipotence and creation—our belief in “God the father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.”[83]

The occasionalist denial of necessary connection and natural secondary causes is not compatible with belief in the doctrines of omnipotence and creation. For the theist, God’s act of creation means that He causes the world and all that is in it to be from nothing. Theism identifies God as the creator through revelation and through the kind of Aristotelian philosophical reflection on nature outlined above. Both means of identifying God as the creator presuppose that the theist has empirical and epistemic access to natural forms of being. Of course, without a basic experience and knowledge of the world and the many forms of being that inhabit it, the revelation that God is the creator would be totally meaningless. Further, if the contingency of the natural world could not be apprehended through knowledge of the causal capacities of natural beings, neither could it be shown that the existence of such natural forms necessitates a purely actual cause, who is His own existence.

At a minimum, the judgment that a natural being exists requires that the being apprehended possess the formal power to make itself known in the way that it comes to be known. Natural form, then, is known through the apprehension of its effects. The osprey gliding toward the water surface of the lake, for example, affects my sense apparatus in such a manner that I know that it is in the way that it is. It is composed of materials capable of reflecting the light of the sun so that I see its color and shape: dark brown wings with whitish breast flecked symmetrically with a brown diamond-like pattern, and a head with white and a stripe of dark brown running from beak, through the eyes down the neck; pointed wings, and the talons and curved beak of predatory bird. By hollow bones and feathered wings it flies; by its own eyes capable of taking in the color the shape, it perceives the trout and is attracted to it, estimates its depth and, by its talons plunges to break surface tension and grasp the trout, living in fulfillment of the end of its material and formal existence. As it achieves its perfection, I am aware of how it is causally capable of such a task, while the duck that swims nearby, with its flat beak, webbed feet, broad wings, etc., is not.[84] This judgment of the osprey as cause, cutting air, water, and the flesh of fish, to obtain its nourishment (effect) is no fictitious contrivance of the imagination. I cannot negate it, divide it, or augment it via imagination. It is given by sense-perception, and I judge it by priorly formed conceptual universals or intentions that are in themselves un-intelligible except as meanings, significations, signs, and referrings to what exists in the world separately from my subjective awareness.[85] As far as my knowledge and experience are concerned, that the osprey is cannot be divorced from the fact that it is what it is—that it has the morphological and other characteristics that I observe it to have—and that it is capable of acting purposefully through its essence. The denial that natural beings produce their own proper effects would entail a denial that natural beings can present themselves as the kinds of things that they are in connection with their activities. If natural beings lack the causal capacity to present themselves, then it is also the case that there can be no experience or knowledge of their existence. The epistemological nature of the apprehension of natural beings presupposes the ontological reality that natural beings are causally productive. To deny the existence of natural causes, therefore, is to deny that there are hylomorphic beings that can be empirically and intellectually apprehended. In turn, this means that there could not be knowledge that things are, since there would be nothing knowable by causal presentation. But then the question becomes, if there are no natural beings capable of making themselves known to us as knowers, as the occasionalist must hold, what is it that God has created? The fundamental problem for the occasionalist is that any answer to this question that affirms God as the creator presupposes a realist conception of natural being—no matter how impoverished this conception may be. This is because even apprehending that something exists necessitates some real causal powers in the thing to make itself manifest. Apprehending that something exists necessitates that the thing apprehended possess the formal operative power to present itself as it is having the effect of coming to be known in my intellect.

Moreover, as I observe the osprey, I also reason that, as a hylomorphic being, contingent on prior natural causes for its existence, which are in turn contingent on prior natural causes for their existence, and as there cannot be an infinite regress in the explanation of such prior natural beings’ existence—lest the contradiction follow that this osprey here and now not be—it is necessary that there exist a radically transcendent Creator who has already revealed Himself to us as Existence itself (esse ipsum) without qualification, saying to Moses “I Am Existing,”[86] and that that this same God remains immediately causally responsible for the existence of the osprey and all other natural-bodily beings. I am aware all at once in this moment by such judgment and reasoning that a complete and adequate account of the natural phenomena requires St. Thomas Aquinas’ distinction between primary and secondary cause. I know the osprey as the natural agent of its action and I know God as the primary cause of its existence. To know God as the omnipotent creator, I must already know nature as having its own causal integrity and yet as being contingent. And, to maintain my judgment that God exists without qualification—that God transcends mutable nature—I must also avoid conflating God’s divine action with natural, motive agency for, if God was assumed to be natural motion then God too would require a prior cause of existence—a manifest contradiction.

Al-Ghazali’s own (along with the others’) description of the phenomena betrays the reality that the epistemic apprehension of existents presupposes some type of inherent secondary causal powers. While the occasionalist needs created existents to be causally inert, he cannot assent to there being created existents if they are totally causally inert. Prima facie, we might be able to say that God alone is the cause of the heat in the fire and we might be able to deny that the fire is the cause of the cotton burning. Yet, if we go on to attribute the other properties of fire—that it rises in tongues, has such and such coloration, gives off light, etc.—to God, there will be nothing left to call fire and nothing to indicate its existence to an observer. It is clear, then, that without appealing to some causal properties, fire cannot be known to exist as other from God. Kathrin Rogers nicely articulates this point, discussing the problems that occasionalism poses for the possible existence of any objects whatsoever:[87]

God could bring something into being ex nihilo, a warm rock let’s say, which did not exist a moment before. But…in order for this thing to truly be a rock it must exist with causal powers. God cannot make a rock which does not possess any rock-like causal properties, and so there is a sense in which He “needs” secondary causes if He wants to create a world of objects external to the perceiving mind—the logical sense in which God cannot make a rock which is simultaneously not a rock.

If it is impossible that created things lack causal powers even as mere appearances or existents, then it follows that the occasionalist claim that created things lack causal powers amounts to the claim that God did not create anything. Existence can only be predicated of those things that are perceived and epistemically apprehended as a result of their inherent causal powers. To the extent that occasionalism denies that there are real causal powers in creation, therefore, occasionalism is committed to a denial of created being and creator. Theists must reject occasionalism, thus, in order to give intellectual assent to the first line of our creed: Credo in Deum Patrem omnipotentem, Creatorem caeli et terrae.

In an attempt to escape this conclusion, the occasionalist may argue that objects of perception do not have an objective reality independent of the perceiver’s own mind. The claim would then be that God creates causally inert impressions in the mind of the agent. In such a case, the answer to the question “What does God create?” would be “a world of mental impressions.” Thus, creation by an omnipotent God can be maintained along with the denial of secondary cause.

Analysis of an occasionalist reduction to pure mental immanence of this sort, however, reveals that an appeal to secondary cause is still requisite. Indeed, secondary cause is necessary to account for both a subjective perceiver and for the existence and nature of the perceived, albeit immanent, object. Using an ἐποχή (epoche), I suspend judgement[88] as to whether all that is exists extra-mentally or merely immanently within my own mind. I nonetheless experience both myself and the objects of perception as possessing formal causal powers. My experience of myself as a subject shows that I must at least possess the causal capacity to perceive myself and the impressions that God causes in my world. The notion of a causally inert perceiver is a contradiction in terms. Further, to identify and predicate existence of the objects that I perceive presupposes that I at least have the causal capacity to perform these actions. In fact, I experience myself as exercising just this kind of perceptive and intellective power—very often. With respect to objects of experience, I find that it is necessary that such objects possess the causal capacity to present themselves to me as they are. At the epistemic level, even to say that some immanent impression exists, I must be able to appeal to the formal characteristics with which it presents itself to me as a perceiver. Even granting the possibility that the perceived osprey lacks an objective reality outside of my mind, I must appeal to its perceived matter, form, agency, and purposiveness to judge that the osprey exists as an object of perception. Moreover, appeal to such causation is that by which I am able to distinguish objects of perception from myself as a perceiving subject. They are also that by which I can distinguish one perception from another. I am able both to understand that I have a kind of independence from the objects that I perceive and that they have independence from one another. Both my experience of myself as conscious perceiver and my experience of perceived objects presuppose that I have epistemic access to causal powers in these ways. Relegating God’s creation to the immanent contents of the mind is not sufficient for denying secondary causation. Even assuming the possibility of pure mental immanence, it is still the case that theists must acknowledge secondary causes to attribute existence to created objects and the omnipotent act of creation to God. If created objects cannot present themselves to the senses through their own causal powers, then there will be nothing to say that God has created and it will be impossible to claim that God is a creator. Further, the occasionalist cannot claim that such formal powers of presentation just are God himself without violating the doctrines of divine immutability, transcendence, and other divine predicates.

Reducing reality to immanent mental states remains a problem for thinkers such as Al-Ghazali because it does not eliminate the need for secondary causes. Making such a move, therefore, still involves the occasionalist in the denial of creation and divine omnipotence. Moreover, a God who creates a world of external objects known by human perceivers is more powerful than a God who limits his creation to directly causing impressions in human minds.

This epistemological critique makes it clear that occasionalism is empirically and epistemologically false. Beyond the epistemological necessity of secondary cause for predicating existence of creation, it is also the case that God’s creation must have causal capacities in order that it might be distinguished from other forms of existence and from God himself.[89]  If occasionalists are correct in their claim that there are no secondary causes, then it should be impossible to distinguish one created being from another and created being in general from God. Humans are actually able, however, through observation and analysis to distinguish between different kinds of created or natural being and to distinguish creation from the absolutely necessary principle (God) that is the primary cause of its being. We do this primarily by appeal to the natural causal capacities of the beings to which we have empirical access.   

6. Conclusion

Contributing to the Augustinian tradition of giving a philosophical account of creation ex nihilo, St. Thomas Aquinas first clearly expressed the full compatibility of natural causation, divine omnipotence, and conservation by appeal to two distinct orders of causation: primary (divine) and secondary (natural). Both orders of causation are present in and necessary for explanation of natural agents and effects. Moreover, and while upholding divine immanence and providence, Thomas showed that the occasionalist doctrine denying secondary causes is actually incompatible with the doctrine of divine omnipotence, since the power of the cause is demonstrated through the power of the effect. In this paper, I have extended the Angelic Doctor’s critique of the occasionalist view, showing that occasionalism is epistemologically incompatible with the theistic belief that God is the omnipotent creator of heaven and earth. To be consistent, occasionalists must hold that perceivers and perceived objects are actually devoid of causal powers. However, this would make it impossible for one as a perceiver to judge that things exist in the world and, consequently, to judge that God created these things. Further, it would make it impossible for things in the world to manifest themselves to one as distinct from God (they would, simply, have to be God). Again, if this were the case, one would not be able to judge that God is the creator of such ‘things,’ distinct from them as their immutable, omnipotent, and transcendent cause. The account given here should provide a significant rebuttal and warning to contemporary theists who have been driven (apparently) into an occasionalist metaphysics through a Humean and reductionistic approach to natural philosophy. Upholding the distinction between God as primary cause in the order of existence (esse) and the fourfold account of natural, secondary causation, is necessary—as one of preambula fidei—for faith as rational assent to the first line of the Christian creed: Credo in Deum Patrem omnipotentem, Creatorem caeli et terrae.

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[1] The following study was first presented at the meeting of the Society for Thomistic Natural Philosophy in conjunction with the meeting of the American Catholic Philosophical Association, 23 November 2019. The paper was presented along with Michael Tkacz’s “Thomas Aquinas, Prime Matter, and the Cosmogonical Fallacy,” and Steven Baldner’s “Theistic Creation and Natural Philosophy.” I would like to thank Professor Tkacz for originally presenting and showing me the importance of St. Thomas Aquinas’ Aristotelian approach to nature and creation, for inspiring this study in his Medieval Philosophy class at Gonzaga in 2007, and for gifting to me Baldner and Carrolls’ Aquinas on Creation, the commentary and text of which continue to open my mind to the Angelic Doctor’s most brilliant treatment of creation. I would like to further thank Professor Baldner for his charitable comments and dialogue.

[2] See, Baldner and Carroll 1997: Aquinas on Creation, especially 1–12 of their Introduction.

[3] As Baldner and Carroll have shown, Hippolytus of Rome clearly expressed the Christian doctrine of creatio ex nihilo, at i.212–236ad: Refutatio omnium haeresium 10.32, and St. Augustine clearly expressed the doctrine of the divine conservation of the world as an immediate consequence of the doctrine of creation ex nihilo at i.401–15ad: De genesi ad litteram, 4.12.22.

[4] Baldner, 2011: “Creation, Time, and Causality:  Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas”. See also Baldner 2014: “Albertus Magnus on Creation: Why Philosophy is Inadequate”. Albert uses the Boethian distinction between quod est and quo est at his Summa theologiae II. Professor Tkacz has shown, in his “Albertus Magnus, Cosmogony, and the Error Platonis: Comments on Professor Baldner’s Account of Some Thirteenth-Century Developments in the Philosophy of Creation,” that Albert was able to offer new clarity on the doctrine of creation as a result of his correct understanding of Aristotelian form, and by identification of the “error Platonis.”

[5] Albert took the primary meaning of creation ex nihilo to be the negation of duration in time, which implies the temporal beginning of the world. He rejected the claim that creation could be known philosophically, leaving somewhat of a rift in the relation between faith and reason. For Albert, from the human perspective, creation is like a miracle knowable through faith and revelation alone. Albert held this position because, following Aristotle, he thought it true that material beings must have prior causes in time. Since creation means, precisely, that God created a first without a prior material cause in time, the doctrine cannot be known through philosophy, and, consequently, no philosophers have expressed it. St. Thomas departs from Albert on this point. See, Steve Baldner, “Creation, Time, and Causality,” 8–10. The key texts in Albert, as cited by Baldner, are i.1248–54: Summa theologiae, II, Tr. 1, Q. 3, M. 3, ad 5; c.1245: Sententiae, II, D. 1, A. 8, and i.1245–52: Physica, 8.1.13.

[6] See, Aquinas c.1252/56a: In libros Sententiarum, lib.2, d.1, q.1, a.2; in Aquinas on Creation, translated by Baldner and Carroll, 74–75.

[7] In c.1252/56a: In libros Sententiarum, lib.2, d.1, q.1, a.2, c., Thomas explains that the philosophers have demonstrated the doctrine of creation ex nihilo, where it is understood to mean (i) the causing of the existence of the created without prior material and (ii) the relation of dependence for existence that the creature has on God. On the other hand, Thomas notes that, taken in the sense (iii) that the creature has non-being prior to being in time—which is to say that creation has a first in time—it is clear that the doctrine is not demonstrable. Again, because natural, hylomorphic beings cannot be conceived without contradiction as not having prior natural/material causes of their being in time, it is impossible for us, through natural reason, to identify a first of nature/creation in time. For Baldner and Carrolls’ helpful discussion of the passages, see 1997: Aquinas on Creation, 41–44. Thomas further implies the doctrine for both Plato and Aristotle in 1272: Substantiis separatis, c.9, n.52.

[8] While God can create a natural being that is first in time, we could never know such a natural first qua beginning. This is to say, we could not know it as being a natural being without a prior natural cause in time. The reason for this is that such natural being will still present itself to us as materially potential, so that we will not be able to conceive of it in natural philosophy or science except as having a prior natural cause of its being. Thus, if we are to know that there is a first natural being created in time, it is necessary that God reveal such a fact to us, and we could not know it through natural reason. In this manner, the sound logic of Aristotle’s demonstration for the eternity of the world is preserved and the belief that there is a first created in time is also shown to be compatible with this logic.

[9] Albert held that a legitimate philosophical denial of the Christian doctrine of ceatio ex nihilo could be made by claiming that the doctrine is impossible, violating the principle of ex nihilo non nihil fit. As cited and treated by Baldner 2011: “Creation, Time, and Causality,” 9.  See also i.1245–52: Physica 8.1.13.

[10] Admittedly, this claim requires further research and evidence in the case of St. Albert. However, it seems to this author, especially given Professor Baldner’s research, that this compatibility really cannot be fully expressed without St. Thomas’ robust distinction between essentia and esse. That all creatures are a composition of qoud est et quo est does aid us in understanding God’s creative act as the cause of the existence of creatures. However, it does little by way of explaining how it is that creatures are causes in nature at the same time that God is the cause of creatures and their effects.

[11] Cf. Aquinas c.1252/56b: De principiis naturae and 1268–69: In libros Physicorum.

[12] The distinction was first systematically thematized by Avicenna i.1020/27: Metaphysics of the Healing, especially I.6–8. In Thomas, see especially c.1252/56c: De ente et essentia, caput 4.

[13] See immediately below, in Section II.

[14] As Ismail R. Al-Faruqi has pointed out, occasionalism remains an essential aspect of Islamic religious experience.  See Al-Faruqi 1973: “The Essence of Religious Experience in Islam”: 186–281.

[15] Whether Descartes himself was an occasionalist is a matter of some debate. For an excellent historical treatment of Louis de la Forge, Géraud de Cordemoy, and Arnold Geulincx, see Sukjae Lee 2008: “Occasionalism,” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, <https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2016/entries/occasionalism/>.

On Malebranche, see Malebranche 1674–75: Oeuvres complètes de Malebranche, II, 312, and The Search for Truth and Elucidations of the Search for Truth,448, as cited by Lee 2008: “Occasionalism.” In the la Forge tradition, which includes contemporary philosophers Walter Schultz and Lisanne D’Andrea-Winslow (to be treated below), occasionalism was limited to the material universe, supposedly allowing for free human agency.

[16] See, Edwards 1758: Original Sin, and footnote 36 below. For a helpful presentation of Edward’s view, see “Divine Compositionalism as Occasionalism,” 220–223.

[17] See Rogers, “What’s Wrong with Occasionalism?” 346–369; McCann and Kvanvig, “The Occasionalist Proselytizer: A Modified Catechism,”; Plantinga 2008: “What is Intervention’?” 380–381 and 392–393; Plantinga 2016: “Law, Cause, and Occasionalism”; and Schultz and D’Andrea-Winslow 2017: “Divine Compositionalism as Occasionalism”. The contents of the latter article are mirrored by the same authors’ “Divine Compositionalism: A Form of Occasionalism or a Preferable Alternative View of Divine Action?”. See also, Schultz, “Dispositions, Capacities, and Powers: A Christian Analysis”.

[18] Aristotle anticipated this Al-Ghazalian and Humean type approach, positing in c.353–47bc: Physics II.3 that agent causes are simultaneous with their effects, and making it clear that the source of power/potentiality in an agent for acting is the principle of form. On the latter point, see especially c.353–47bc: Physics II.7 on the convertibility of form, agent, and end.

[19] For a more detailed (and parallel) account of Al-Ghazali’s position, see chapter 2 of my M.A. Thesis 2010: A Thomistic Critique of Occasionalism From Natural Causality, Divine Omnipotence, And the Psychology of Human Agency, available in ProQuest.

[20] See Al-Ghazali c.1095: The Incoherence of the Philosophers II, d.17.1.

[21] c.1095: The Incoherence II, d.17.5 (167).

[22] c.1095: The Incoherence II, d.17.5 (167).

[23] c.1095: The Incoherence II, d.17.5 (167): “Observation, shows the occurrence [of burning] at [the time of the contact with the fire] but does not show the occurrence [of burning] by [the fire] and that there is no other cause for it.” Again, referring to the father’s relation to his son and all his capacities, Al-Ghazali says, “It is known that these [come to] exist with [the placing of the sperm], but no one says that they [come to] exist by it.” To put this in precise Aristotelian terms, and similar to Hume’s first critique at sec. 4 of An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Al-Ghazali is claiming that there is no middle term to connect cause and effect in the conclusion of a proper demonstration. Again, for Aristotle, in demonstrations regarding the agency of natural subjects, the form provides the middle term. For a more detailed argument along these lines, see chapter 2 of my dissertation 2018: φύσις καὶ τὸ ἀνθρώπινον ἀγαθόν: The Aristotelian Foundations of the Human Good, available in ProQuest.

[24] c.1095: The Incoherence II, d.17.1 (166). Contra the reading given here, Frank Griffel has argued that Al-Ghazali is not necessarily committed to the occasionalist doctrine—that “secondary causality is acceptable for Al-Ghazali as long as it doesn’t imply that this particular world is a necessary creation of God.” See, 2018: “The Seventeenth Discussion of the Incoherence of the Philosophers,” in Al-Ghazali’s Philosophical Theology. However, given his reductionistic atomism, and the Asharite denial of nature in the Aristotelian sense (c.353–47bc: Physics II.1–3), what Al-Ghazali might mean by “cause” is certainly not what is meant by the term αἰτία (aitia) in the Aristotelian-Thomistic tradition as what is responsible for the existence of a natural being in terms of matter, form, agent, and end. As is clear in Griffel’s account, ‘cause’ might mean for Al-Ghazali what it meant for Hume: a temporally prior existent that is habitually followed by another existent (called an “effect”). On this model, the human mind does not discover the nature and form by which what is temporally prior is responsible for what is temporally posterior, but it can only hope to describe repeated sequences as “laws.” As will become apparent in this study’s extension of St. Thomas’ critique of occasionalism, the belief in God as the omnipotent creator of the world requires that we know nature as causal in the Aristotelian sense. Thus, limiting one’s occasionalism to an epistemological claim, without making the ontological claim that nature does not exist as causal, will still place the theist in a position where he cannot coherently assent to the first line of the credo.

[25] For a recent account of medieval nominalism culminating in William of Ockham, along with an Aristotelian-Thomistic response, see the author’s 20202: “The Logical Terms of Sense Realism: A Thomistic-Aristotelian & Phenomenological Defense,”. With the denial of secondary being/substance (οὐσία), genus, species, and difference, as set down by Aristotle in Categories 5, human beings can no longer claim to know the essences and natures of particular beings (primary being/substance) in the world. Not knowing what an apparent natural agent is essentially/formally, human knowledge can no longer explain how the natural agent is the cause of its supposed effect. On this approach, then, it is fitting to simply deny that natural beings are causal agents all together and attribute natural events to the sole and direct creative agency of God.

[26] Following Lee 2008, see 1674–75: (OCM II, 312 / Search 448).

[27] Hume 1748: Enquiry, §2, 14: “What never was seen, or heard of, may yet be conceived; nor is anything beyond the power of thought, except what implies an absolute contradiction.”

[28] Hume 1748: Enquiry, §4, 24.

[29] Hume 1748: Enquiry, §4, 25.

[30] Hume 1748: Enquiry, §4, 27.

[31] Hume 1748: Enquiry, §7–13, 26. In §12, it becomes apparent that we could never know the natures, essences and powers of natural beings as Hume naively accepts a Cartesian impressions based theory of knowledge, in principle divorcing the mind from things known. For a recent response in the phenomenological and Thomistic traditions, see my 2021: “On the Foundational Compatibility of Phenomenology & Thomism”.

[32] Hume 1748: Enquiry, §4, 29–30. In Aristotle, the form of the agent would provide the middle term in a demonstration (categorical syllogism) showing a subject to be the cause of an effect. This topic will be treated in detail below.

[33] See again, “The Occasionalist Proselytizer: A Modified Catechism.” For an extended treatment of and Thomistic response to McCann and Kvanvig, see chapter six of my 2010: A Thomistic Critique of Occasionalism From Natural Causality, Divine Omnipotence, And the Psychology of Human Agency.

[34] See Plantinga 2008: “What is Intervention?” 380–81 and 392–93; and 2016: “Law, Cause, and Occasionalism”.

[35] Plantinga 2016: “Law, Cause, and Occasionalism,” 141. Really, Plantinga’s argument is merely rhetorical. It should be noted that Plantinga qualifies his occasionalism as a “weak” form, allowing for causation in human action with respect to “decisions, volitions, and undertakings.”

[36] Edwards 1758: Original Sin, 401: “The existences (so to speak) of an effect, or thing dependent, in different parts of space or duration, though ever so near one to another, don’t at all coexist one with the other; and therefore are as truly different effects, as if those parts of space and duration were ever so far asunder: and the prior existence can no more be the proper cause of the new existence, in the next moment, or next part of space, than if it had been in an age before, or at a thousand miles distance, without any existence to fill up the intermediate time or space. Therefore the existence of created substances, in each successive moment, must be the effect of the immediate agency, will, and power of God. If any shall say, this reasoning is not good, and shall insist upon it, that there is no need of any immediate divine power, to produce the present existence of created substances, but that their present existence is the effect or consequence of past existence, according to the nature of things; that the established course of nature is sufficient to continue existence, where existence is once given; I allow it: but then it should be remembered, what nature is, in created things: and what the established course of nature is; that, as has been observed already, it is nothing, separate from the agency of God; and that, as Dr. Taylor says, ‘God, the original of all being, is the ONLY cause of all natural effects.’ A father, according to the course of nature, begets a child; an oak, according to the course of nature, produces an acorn, or a bud; so according to the course of nature, the former existence of the trunk of the tree is followed by its new or present existence. In the one case, and the other, the new effect is consequent on the former, only by the established laws, and settled course of nature; which is allowed to be nothing but the continued immediate efficiency of God, according to a constitution that he has been pleased to establish.” Something of a Platonist, Edwards held that the divine ideas by which God creates are ontologically equal to the created things to which they correspond. In creation, there is no ontological value added to what is created beyond the divine idea, but only a ‘formal’ difference. Everything is ideas, and the divine Ideas are actually most real. See, c.1716: “The Mind,” in Scientific and Philosophical Writings, (WJE Online Vol. 6); cf., Wainwright “Jonathan Edwards”, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy <https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2016/entries/edwards/> ; and, finally, Schultz and D’Andrea-Winslow 2017: “Divine Compositionalism as Occasionalism,” 220–223. By asking what a formal difference when applied to the ‘idea’ that God has created is, this theory falls to incoherence. Schulz and D’Andrea-Winslow continually refer to the created idea as ‘actual,’ implying that the divine idea is potential. But then, what is ‘actual’ except to say a higher, more complete level of existence, which was potential? Certainly, in the Latin and Greek tradition going back to Aristotle ‘actuality’ means, precisely, the complete existence of what is intended (this is the meaning of ἐντελέχεια in Aristotle). It seems, then, that what God creates is both more in terms of existence and not more in terms of existence (P · ~P).

[37] Cf. Schultz and D’Andrea-Winslow 2017: “Divine Compositionalism as Occasionalism,” 224. One might wonder how God’s creative act is not conflated with mutable, material reality and, consequently, divine simplicity, immutability, and transcendence are not violated. It is difficult to see how this approach would not take the believer back to the worship of the golden calf.

[38] Schultz and D’Andrea-Winslow 2017: “Divine Compositionalism as Occasionalism,” 225.  See also 224–225: “A wave function collapse is the event of one of those possible configurations being realized or ‘localized’ at t. The system ceases to behave like a wave at that moment.” And “According to John Bell’s version of a Ghirardi-Rimini-Weber interpretation of quantum mechanics (GRWf), the wave function of a physical system—be it a single particle or a macro-scopic object—collapses (‘flashes’) spontaneously at a regular rate, 107 times per second.” Finally: “Accordingly, the existence and properties of every physical system (‘substance’) are a matter of its wave function Ψ spontaneously ‘collapsing.’ Mass and energy are properties of physical systems. Thus, at every moment when the universal wave collapses we have a distribution of mass/energy.”

[39] While these divine compositionalists believe that this is a novel addition to occasionalist theory, it is not. In fact, Al-Ghazali makes a similar claim in order to explain why it is that we should not be in constant fear that God will create the world pell-mell. Thus, he holds that I do not need to worry as to whether or not the book I left in my library at home may now in fact be a horse “that has defiled the library with its urine and dung,”since I can be assured that God will continue to create in my mind the knowledge that this in fact has not happened nor will it. See, c.1095: The Incoherence II, d17.15 (170).

[40] Cf. Schultz and D’Andrea-Winslow 2017: “Divine Compositionalism as Occasionalism,” 228–9: “We can perceive something’s existence, but we cannot perceive God’s conferring its existence. This is why we cannot perceive causation; we infer it. Physical causation, then, is God’s existence-conferring action (i.e., speaking, thinking, imagining, creating)—God’s REAL-izing a world state—in accordance with some commitment on His part to do so on a condition of His REAL-izing some previous world state—and all of this is according to the actual world, which is God’s plan.” And, on 229: “More specifically, causation is God’s compositionally conferring existence over a sequence of discrete frames for time according to his commitments. Causation, therefore, turns out not to be a fundamental feature of nature, that is, it is not (ontologically) primitive in a naturalistic sense. What seems to be a causal relation between events (or states of systems), therefore, just is God’s REAL-izing both events according to a commitment. Thus, an ‘occasional cause’ is a situation or event that satisfies a condition of one of God’s commitments to act on a condition. Such divine commitments link to situations, giving us causal relations and, when generalized, they give us laws of succession.”

[41] See Aristotle c.353–47bc:  Physics I.1, and St. Thomas’ commentary 1268–69 on the Physics along with his 1252/56b: De principiis naturae for accounts paralleling Aristotle. By ‘empirical’ I mean what Aristotle intended by the term ἐμπειρία—sense-perceptive experience constituting knowledge of fact. I do not mean ‘empirical’ in the sense of modern positivistic theories, which reduce what can be known to extended, measurable stuff that can be seen, touched, etc.

[42] See Aristotle c.353–47bc:  Physics I.5–7.

[43] c.353–47bc: Physics, II. 1.

[44] c.353–47bc: Physics, II. 1 and 3.

[45] Cf. c.353–47bc: Physics I.8–9. Other scholastics—e.g., Scotus and Suarez—did not come away with this interpretation, but posited matter as somehow in act.  Logically, this error would lead us to false conclusions, as will be seen, such as that nature is not contingent and, thus, that nature does not require a transcendent Creator.

[46] See c.353–47bc: Physics II.7, where Aristotle expressed the convertibility of form, agent, and end (he calls them one).

[47] Encyclopedia of Children’s Health: <http://www.healthofchildren.com/P/Prenatal-Development.html#ixzz4zdvfGogg>

[48] See Aristotle c.330bc: On Parts of Animals, I.1 (694b5–17).

[49] For Aristotle’s treatment of agent cause, see c.353–47bc: Physics, II.3. For an excellent account and defense of the Aristotelian conception of the coming-to-be of knowledge through the four causes in general, see Wallace 1995: The Modeling of Nature, 114–156.

[50] Cf. c.353–47bc: Physics II.1, 3, 8, and 9, and also c.330bc: On Parts of Animals I. Aristotle treats necessity on the hypothesis/supposition (ἐξ ὑποθέσεως) of the end at Physics II.9. For an excellent treatment of suppositional necessity and the insights of St. Albert and St. Thomas Aquinas on the subject, see Wallace 1980: “Albertus Magnus on Suppositional Necessity”.

[51] Hume was either unaware of Aristotle’s conception of natural necessity, or he simply ignored it in An Enquiry.

[52] Thomas is following Avicenna, Metaphysics of the Healing, I.8–9. See, De ente et essentia, capita 1–4 (especially 4).

[53] Cf. c.353–47bc: Physics VII & VIII.

[54] On Thomas’ approach to arguments for God’s existence as demonstrations quia, see his commentary on Aristotle’s Metaphysics (1270/71) lib.6, lec.1, n.1170. That St. Thomas understood the unmoved-mover argument as a quia demonstration is also explicitly clear at 1259/65: SCG lib.I, c.12, n.7.

[55] 1266–68: ST Ia, q.2, a.3; 1259/65: SCG lib.1, c.13. At SCG lib.3,c. 65, n.4, in treating conservation, Thomas gives another version of the second way, arguing for God as the first unqualified cause of existence of the species of things from the fact individual members of the species cannot be unqualified causes of the existence of others, as then they would have to be the cause of the species. In Aristotelian manner, he shows that a contradiction would follow if this position is not held—namely, that a natural cause, like a human, would have to be the cause of its own existence and that of the species, which is impossible.

[56] 1259/65: SCG,lib.3,c.65, n.5: “Nullum igitur corpus est causa esse alicuius rei inquantum est esse, sed est causa eius quod est moveri ad esse, quod est fieri rei.” The translation of St. Thomas are my own.

[57] 1259/65: SCG, lib.3,c.65, n.5: “Et sic oportet quod ipse Deus, qui est suum esse, sit primo et per se causa omnis esse.” On the identity of essence and existence in God, see also, ibid,lib.1, c.22.

[58] Significant portions of this article are taken chapter IV of my 2010: A Thomistic Critique of Occasionalism From Natural Causality, Divine Omnipotence, And the Psychology of Human Agency.

[59] 1259/65: SCG,lib.3,c.67, n.3: “Sicut autem Deus non solum dedit esse rebus cum primo esse incoeperunt, sed quandiu sunt, esse in eis causat, res in esse conservans, ut ostensum est; ita non solum cum primo res conditae sunt, eis virtutes operativas dedit, sed semper eas in rebus causat.”

[60] 1259/65: SCG,lib.3, c.69, n.1: “Ex hoc autem quidam occasionem errandi sumpserunt, putantes quod nulla creatura habet aliquam actionem in productione effectuum naturalium: ita scilicet quod ignis non calefacit, sed Deus causat calorem praesente igne; et similiter dicunt in omnibus aliis effectibus naturalibus.” — “From this [conclusion], however, there are some who have taken the occasion to error, positing that no creature has any act in the production of natural effects, so, for example, fire does not heat, but God causes heat present with the fire, and it is the same they say in all other cases of natural effects.”

[61] 1259/65: SCG, lib.3, c.69, n.1.

[62] St. Thomas is aware of this attack by way of the reports of Maimonides.

[63] 1266–68: ST Ia, q.105, a.5, c.: “Respondeo dicendum quod Deum operari in quolibet operante aliqui sic intellexerunt, quod nulla virtus creata aliquid operaretur in rebus, sed solus Deus immediate omnia operaretur; puta quod ignis non calefaceret, sed Deus in igne, et similiter de omnibus aliis.” — “I respond, it must be said that some have judged that God acts in anything acting in any manner such that no created power acts in anyway in things, but that God alone acts immediately in every [form of agency]; thus, for example, fire would not [have the act to] heat, but God in the fire, and similarly in all other such things.”

[64] 1266–68: ST Ia, q.105, a.5, c.: “Hoc autem est impossibile. Primo quidem, quia sic subtraheretur ordo causae et causati a rebus creatis. Quod pertinet ad impotentiam creantis, ex virtute enim agentis est, quod suo effectui det virtutem agendi.” — “This [i.e., occasionalism], however, is impossible. First, indeed, because it would eliminate the order of cause and what is caused [i.e., effect] from created things, and this immediately implies a lack of power (impotentiam) in the creator since it is from the power (virtute) of the agent that the agent gives the power of acting to its effect.”

[65] 1259/65: SCG lib.3, c.69, n.15: “Perfectio effectus demonstrat perfectionem causae: maior enim virtus perfectiorem effectum inducit.”

[66] 1259/65: SCG, lib.3, c.67.

[67] 1259/65: SCG, lib.3, c.69.

[68] 1259/65: SCG, lib.3, c.69, n.15: “Detrahere ergo perfectioni creaturarum est detrahere perfectioni divinae virtutis.”

[69] 1266–68: ST Ia, q.105, a.5, c: “Secundo, quia virtutes operativae quae in rebus inveniuntur, frustra essent rebus attributae, si per eas nihil operarentur. Quinimmo omnes res creatae viderentur quodammodo esse frustra, si propria operatione destituerentur, cum omnis res sit propter suam operationem. Semper enim imperfectum est propter perfectius, sicut igitur materia est propter formam, ita forma, quae est actus primus, est propter suam operationem, quae est actus secundus; et sic operatio est finis rei creatae.” 

[70] Cf. Aristotle, Physics, II.8.

[71] 1266–68: ST Ia, q.105, a.5, ad.2: “Ad secundum dicendum quod una actio non procedit a duobus agentibus unius ordinis, sed nihil prohibet quin una et eadem actio procedat a primo et secundo agente.”

[72] 1259/65: SCG, lib.3, c.70 n.5 and 7.

[73] “Quomodo idem effectus sit a Deo et a natura agente.”

[74] 1259/65: SCG, lib.3, c.70, n.5: “Haec autem difficultatem non afferunt si praemissa considerentur. In quolibet enim agente est duo considerare, scilicet rem ipsam quae agit, et virtutem qua agit: sicut ignis calefacit per calorem. Virtus autem inferioris agentis dependet a virtute superioris agentis, inquantum superius agens dat virtutem ipsam inferiori agenti per quam agit; vel conservat eam; aut etiam applicat eam ad agendum, sicut artifex applicat instrumentum ad proprium effectum; cui tamen non dat formam per quam agit instrumentum, nec conservat, sed dat ei solum motum. Oportet ergo quod actio inferioris agentis non solum sit ab eo per virtutem propriam, sed per virtutem omnium superiorum agentium: agit enim in virtute omnium. Et sicut agens infimum invenitur immediatum activum, ita virtus primi agentis invenitur immediata ad producendum effectum: nam virtus infimi agentis non habet quod producat hunc effectum ex se, sed ex virtute proximi superioris; et virtus illius hoc habet ex virtute superioris; et sic virtus supremi agentis invenitur ex se productiva effectus, quasi causa immediata; sicut patet in principiis demonstrationum, quorum primum est immediatum. Sicut igitur non est inconveniens quod una actio producatur ex aliquo agente et eius virtute, ita non est inconveniens quod producatur idem effectus ab inferiori agente et Deo: ab utroque immediate, licet alio et alio modo.” — “These [objections], however, do not pose a difficulty, if our prior principles are taken into consideration. For, in any [natural] agent whatsoever, two things are to be considered, namely the thing itself which acts, and the power (virtutem) by which it acts: as, for example, fire produces heat by heat. However, the power of a lower-order agent depends upon the power of the higher order agent, to the extent that the higher order agent gives the power itself to the lower-order agent by which it acts; or conserves it; or also applies it in acting, as the craftsman applies the instrument to its proper effect, though he, nevertheless, does not give the form [to the instrument] by which it acts, nor does he conserve it in being, but rather he gives to it motion alone. It is necessary, therefore, that the act of the lower-order agent not only be from it through its proper power, but also through the power of all higher-order agents, as it acts in accordance with [dependence] the power of all of them. And as the lowest-order agent is seen as immediately active, so also the power of the primary agent is seen as immediate for the production of the effect: for the power of the lower-order agent does not have that which it produces, namely, this effect, from itself, but from the power of the proximate higher-order [cause]; in turn, its power is possessed from the power of the higher-order [cause]; and so the power of the highest order agent is found from itself productive of the effect, as an immediate cause. This point is manifest [also] in the principles of demonstration, where those which are primary are immediate [as the cause of the conclusion]. Therefore, as it is not unfitting that one act be produced from some [natural] agent and its power, so also it is not unfitting that the same effect be produced from a lower-order agent and God: from both immediately, though each in a different mode.”

[75] 1259/65: SCG, lib.3, c.70, n.7: “Patet etiam quod non sic idem effectus causae naturali et divinae virtuti attribuitur quasi partim a Deo, et partim a naturali agente fiat, sed totus ab utroque secundum alium modum: sicut idem effectus totus attribuitur instrumento, et principali agenti etiam totus.” — “It is also clear that the same effect is not attributed to the natural cause and divine power as though it is partly produced by God and partly produced by the natural agent, but it is attributed wholly to both according to different modes, just as the same effect as a whole is attributed to the instrument and also to the principle agent as a whole.

[76] Matter is not the source of agency, but the subject which receives the effect of an action. 1266–68: ST Ia, q.105, a.5, c.: “Sic igitur intelligendum est Deum operari in rebus, quod tamen ipsae res propriam habeant operationem. Ad cuius evidentiam, considerandum est quod, cum sint causarum quatuor genera, materia quidem non est principium actionis, sed se habet ut subiectum recipiens actionis effectum. Finis vero et agens et forma se habent ut actionis principium, sed ordine quodam. Nam primo quidem, principium actionis est finis, qui movet agentem; secundo vero, agens; tertio autem, forma eius quod ab agente applicatur ad agendum (quamvis et ipsum agens per formam suam agat); ut patet in artificialibus. Artifex enim movetur ad agendum a fine, qui est ipsum operatum, puta arca vel lectus; et applicat ad actionem securim quae incidit per suum acumen. Sic igitur secundum haec tria Deus in quolibet operante operatur.” — “In this manner, thus, it must be understood that God acts in things, and that these things themselves, nevertheless, possess proper actions. In evidence of this, it must be considered that, while there are four kinds of causes, matter is not properly a principle of action, but itself considered as the subject receiving the effect of the action. End, agent, and form, however, are themselves properly considered as principles of action, though in a certain order. For first, indeed, the principle of action is the end, which moves the agent; but second, [there is] the agent; third, however, there is the form of that which is applied by the agent in acting (although the agent itself also acts through its own from); as is clear in the productions of artifice or craft. For the craftsman is moved to act by the end, which is itself what is being produced—think, for example, of the chest or the bed; and he applies the axe to the action which cuts by is sharpness. In this manner, therefore, according to theses three [forms of agency] God acts in every agent cause.”

[77] 1266–68: ST Ia, q.105, a.5, c: “Primo quidem, secundum rationem finis. Cum enim omnis operatio sit propter aliquod bonum verum vel apparens; nihil autem est vel apparet bonum, nisi secundum quod participat aliquam similitudinem summi boni, quod est Deus; sequitur quod ipse Deus sit cuiuslibet operationis causa ut finis.”— “First, indeed, according to the principle of end/finality. This is because every act is for the sake of some true or apparent good; nothing, however, is or appears to be the good, except to the extent that it participates in a certain likeness of the highest good, which is God; it follows that God Himself is the cause of every act whatsoever as the end or final cause.”

[78] 1266–68: ST Ia, q.105, a.5, c.: “Similiter etiam considerandum est quod, si sint multa agentia ordinata, semper secundum agens agit in virtute primi, nam primum agens movet secundum ad agendum. Et secundum hoc, omnia agunt in virtute ipsius Dei; et ita ipse est causa actionum omnium agentium.”— “Similarly, it must also be considered that, if there are multiple agents being ordered, the secondary agent always acts through the power of the primary, for the primary agent moves the secondary to act. According to this [fact], all things act through the power of God Himself; and, thus, He is the cause of the acts of every agent.”

[79] 1266–68: ST Ia, q.105, a.5, c.: “Tertio, considerandum est quod Deus movet non solum res ad operandum, quasi applicando formas et virtutes rerum ad operationem, sicut etiam artifex applicat securim ad scindendum, qui tamen interdum formam securi non tribuit; sed etiam dat formam creaturis agentibus, et eas tenet in esse.”— “Third, it must be considered that God moves not only things to action, as having applied the forms and powers of things in act, as so also the craftsman applies the axe to cutting, who nevertheless has not at sometimes given the from to the axe, but God also give form to created agents, and He preserves them in existence (in esse).”

[80] 1266–68: ST Ia, q.105, a.5, c.: “Sic igitur secundum haec tria Deus in quolibet operante operatur.”— “In this manner, therefore, according to these three [active natural lines of causation] God acts in every acting cause.”

[81] 1266–68: ST Ia, q.105, a.5, ad.1: “Ad primum ergo dicendum quod Deus sufficienter operatur in rebus ad modum primi agentis, nec propter hoc superfluit operatio secundorum agentium.”— “To the first objection, it must be said that God acts sufficiently in things according to [His] mode as primary agent, but the action of secondary agents is not superfluous on account of this fact.”

[82] 1266–68: ST Ia, q.105, a.5, ad.2: “Ad secundum dicendum quod una actio non procedit a duobus agentibus unius ordinis, sed nihil prohibet quin una et eadem actio procedat a primo et secundo agente.”— “To the second objection, it must be said that one action does not proceed from two agent causes in the same order, but nothing prevents that one and the same action proceed from a primary and a secondary agent.”

[83] In 2010: A Thomistic Critique of Occasionalism From Natural Causality, Divine Omnipotence, And the Psychology of Human Agency, I also show the inadequacy of occasionalism with respect to the theistic understanding of creation in terms of ontological participation.

[84] Those who doubt the causal power of God’s most wonderful creation would do well to spend less time engulfed in abstruse mathematical models aimed at describing imperceptible matter and more time living, acting in, and perfecting their own causal powers of sense-perception and intellect in contemplating the immediate phenomena of nature.

[85] By unintelligible, I mean that denying that such conceptions refer to what is real in the world entails a contradiction. 1266–68: ST Ia, q.85, a.2, s.c.: “Sed species sensibilis non est illud quod sentitur, sed magis id quo sensus sentit. Ergo, species intelligibilis non est quod intelligitur actu, sed id quo intelligit intellectus.”— “But the species of the perceived is not that which is perceived, but rather that by which the perceiver perceives. Therefore, the intelligible species is not actually what is known in an act of knowing, but it is that by which the intellect understands.” Again, see Husserl 1913: Ideas Pertaining to a Pure Phenomenology and to a Phenomenological Philosophy I, §43. Husserl likewise holds that “picture consciousness” or “sign consciousness,” which is the awareness of our conceptions our universals themselves, is not what it means to perceive a physical object, and to hold as much contradicts the very sense of perception. Cf. Wagner 2021: “On the Foundational Compatibility of Phenomenology & Thomism”.  Karol Wojtyła also expressed well how idealism or phenomenalism contradicts the very meaning of sense-perception as it is given in experience.  See the second part of my two-part study, 2021: “On Karol Wojtyła’s Aristotelian Method Aristotelian Induction (ἐπαγωγή) and Division (διαίρεσις)” and 2022: “On Karol Wojtyła’s Aristotelian Method: Induction and Reduction as Aristotelian Induction (ἐπαγωγή) and Division (διαίρεσις)”.

[86] See Exodus 3:14 (Septuaginta): “καὶ εἶπεν ὁ θεὸς πρὸς Μωυσῆν Ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ὤν·”— “And God said to Moses: I am Being.” Or, the Vulgate: Ego Sum Qui Sum

[87] Rogers 2001: “What’s Wrong with Occasionalism?” 361.

[88] The argument being offered here draws heavily on Edmund Husserl’s conception of the ἐποχή/epoche or the phenomenological-reduction. See Husserl 1907: The Idea of Phenomenology; and Husserl 1913: Ideas Pertaining to a Pure Phenomenology and a Phenomenological Philosophy I, §43. For an excellent exposition of Husserl’s phenomenological-reduction, see Sokolowski 2000: Introduction to Phenomenology.

[89] For the theist, it is essential that we have the capacity to distinguish God from his creation. Natural substance is mutable. Theism upholds that God is immutable. If some natural cause, like fire, were said to be God, then God would have to be a mutable cause. This is impossible.

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