100. Cosmology is the first part of Special Metaphysics (No. 4); it is the study of the visible world in connection with its highest causes. We mean by the world, or the universe, the total collection of all material objects knowable by mankind.
In studying the visible world, we are to consider: 1. Its origin. 2. Its purpose and its perfection. 3. The laws that govern it. 4. The constituent elements of matter. 5. The general properties of bodies.
101. The origin of the world is obviously one of the most important questions discussed in Philosophy. The ancients were divided among various opinions on the subject. 1. Plato maintained that the matter which composes the world was necessary, and therefore eternal, but that it was properly arranged by an intelligent Being, who is God. 2. Aristotle supposed that both the matter and the order of the universe were necessary and independent of any cause. 3. Pythagoras held the theory, revived in the Middle Ages by the eccentric Scotus Erigena, that the world has come forth from the Divine Substance by an outward emanation, an outpouring or outputting of the Divinity. 4. Another explanation, not unknown to the ancients, was scientifically developed in the seventeenth century by the Jewish philosopher Spinoza, who taught that there exists only one substance, necessary, self-existent and infinite, endowed with the two attributes of extension and thought. These attributes he supposed to be necessarily in constant action; the evolutions of its extension producing the various bodies of the world, and the different series of its thoughts being the minds of men; thus, the whole universe would be nothing but a succession of constantly varying phases assumed by the infinite substance. This system has been called an internal emanation of the Infinite Being; it is really Pantheism (pan Theos, everything God), for it makes all things mere modifications of the Divine nature.
102. Idealism is a modern system of Philosophy, taught chiefly by Fichte, which, instead of explaining the origin of the material universe, prefers to deny the existence of all bodies, and to maintain that there exists nothing but the Ego, whose ever-changing phantasms, like a sick man's dreams, are mistaken for objective realities. This vagary is refuted in Critical Logic, because it denies the reliability of sense-perceptions. The true doctrine, conformable alike to reason and to Revelation, is that "In the beginning God created heaven and earth " (Gen. i. 1).
103. Pantheism, if not expressly taught, is at least implied in the speculations of many modern infidels; the Agnostic school inculcates the same error in a milder form, teaching that, for all we know, the visible world may be the sum total of actual being, the existence of a God distinct from this world being classed among unknowables.
Thesis I. Pantheism and Agnosticism are systems destructive of all religion, of morality, and of human society.
Proof. If Pantheism or Agnosticism were true, each of us would be, or at least might be, for all we know, a part of the infinite substance; in fact, the worst men in the world would or might be self-existent, and therefore independent of a Maker and Supreme Master, a part of God, as Divine and necessary as God Himself. If so, no one could or should worship a Superior Being, hence no religion; no one need obey a higher law-giver that would bind his conscience, hence no morality; without morality no restraint on man's selfishness, a mere struggle of might, whence would soon result a state of mere barbarism, the destruction of society.
104. Thesis II. Neither the world nor the matter of which it is composed can possibly be self-existent.
Proof 1. A self-existent being is immutable; for, if it must necessarily exist, it must also necessarily be such as it is; else why is it such as it is? If it was necessarily a certain thing, no other being could make it anything else. In other words, whatever gives an object existence gives it a definite existence; for it could not give it an indefinite existence. Now, the world and the matter of which it consists are not immutable, but subject to constant changes, as is evident to our senses. Therefore they are not self-existent.
Proof 2. The world and all matter are finite, for all matter is divisible, and as such has quantity; but whatever has quantity cannot be infinite, as was proved in Ontology (No. 93). Therefore both matter and a world consisting of matter are finite. Now, a self-existent being cannot be finite, it cannot have limits, for those limits would be self-imposed, but no being can impose limits on its own nature: (a) Not freely, for a being must first exist in a definite nature before it can act freely. (b) Not necessarily, for this would mean that the perfections of that being exclude all further perfections; but no perfection can be exclusive of any further perfection, since all perfection is positive, and there can be no contradiction except between a negative and a positive. Hence a self-existent being has no limits; it is infinite, and therefore neither the world nor its matter is self-existent.
Proof 3. (A) The world is not self-existent, for whatever is such must have existed from eternity, without a beginning, since nothing can begin to exist without a cause (No. 87). But the world cannot have existed without a beginning (see Thesis IV., No. 109). (B) Matter is not self-existent.
Who would persuade himself that every particle of dust is a necessary being, having the reason of its existence in its own nature ? Every particle of matter bears, as it were, the trademark of a manufactured article. The proof may be thus proposed:
If the elements of matter were self-existent, they would constitute a finite or an infinite multitude, but they could do neither. We prove the major. (a) They would constitute a multitude, for any definite collection of units constitutes a multitude. Now, the elements of matter would be a collection of units, for each of them is a unit. (b) This multitude would be finite or infinite, for nothing can exist indefinitely; when, for instance, we speak of an indefinite quantity, we mean a quantity actually finite, but capable of further increase -- finite as far as it exists. Hence the elements would constitute a multitude, and that multitude would be finite or infinite.
We prove the minor: The elements of matter cannot constitute a finite nor an infinite multitude: 1. Not an infinite multitude, for no existing quantity can be infinite, as proved before (No. 93). 2. Nor can it be a finite multitude; for if a million particles, say of gold, existed necessarily, then it would be either by accident or for some sufficient reason that there should be just a million, and not one more or less; but it can be neither: (a) Not by accident, for accident means a result without a reason for it, and there is nothing without a reason for it, therefore the number of particles cannot be determined by accident. (b) Nor can there be a sufficient reason in the particles why they are just one million in number, since the fact that a million exist cannot be a reason why there could not be one more, for there is no more contradiction in a million and one than in a million particles.
105. Objections: 1. Matter is indestructible, therefore it is necessary. Answer. It is not indestructible by the power of God.
2. The substance of matter might be immutable, though its accidents are known to be changeable. Answer. (A) Not only its accidents, but its very substance is changeable, e.g., when a plant dies, when iron rusts, etc. (B) If matter being unchangeable, its accidents were changeable, they would have been changing from eternity, since necessary matter would have existed from eternity; and thus there would either (a) have been, by this time, an infinite quantity of changes; but an infinite series can never be gone through, and so the most recent change could never have been arrived at; (b) or if the number of changes were finite, then the matter must at first have been changeless; and if so, the first change could never have begun, for it was not necessary, and nothing begins by accident, i.e., without a cause, and thus matter motionless from eternity could never have begun to move.
3. Though the elements be singly unnecessary, the whole collection of them may be necessary. Answer. By no means; a collection of unnecessary things is not and cannot be an absolutely necessary collection, for a collection is nothing else than the sum total of the things collected.
4. The world is infinite, for it fills all space, and space is infinite. Answer. It does not fill all possible space. but only all actual or real space, and this is finite (No. 68).
106. Thesis III. Matter could not have originated but by creation.
Explanation. By creation we understand the making of a substance out of nothing. Now, we maintain that, though some species of matter may arise from other species of matter, e.g., water from the chemical combination of oxygen and hydrogen, still ultimately the first matter in existence must have been made out of nothing, i.e., by creation.
Proof. To be created is to be made out of nothing; but matter was made out of nothing; hence it was created. We prove the minor; 1. ' 'It was made,' i.e., it received its existence from another being, for there is nothing without a sufficient reason. This reason must be either in the being itself or in another being. Now, the sufficient reason of matter is not in matter itself else matter would be self-existent, and we have just proved that it is not so. Therefore the reason of its existence must be in another being, i.e., it is made. 2. ' 'Out of nothing,' for if it were made out of something pre-existing, that something would be mutable, else nothing new could have been made out of it; but what is mutable is not self-existent (No. 103); hence it, too, must have been made, either out of something else or out of nothing. If out of nothing, then our proposition is proved; if out of something else, the same difficulty will always return, until we arrive at some matter that was not made out of anything else. The only way to evade this argument is to suppose an infinite series of transformations that matter has undergone; but an infinite series could never have been passed through; besides, it would be infinite and still not infinite, but increasing; therefore there was, or is, a first matter made out of nothing.
107. Objections: 1. Scientists object that it is unscientific to trace natural effects to a supernatural cause. Answer. Scientists do say so, but the only scientific way is to trace effects to their true causes by whatever name you call these. Now, the only true, the only possible cause of matter is creation, as we have proved.
2. But creation is impossible, for out of nothing nothing can be made. Answer. It is true that nothingness cannot become a material out of which things are made. But that is not the meaning of creation; it means simply that God, by His Almighty will, without using any material, has made that to exist which would not exist, either in its present state, or in its elements, or in any way whatever, but for the mere fact that He wills it to exist.
3. But the cause must contain the effect, and God did not contain matter. Answer. God contained all perfection of matter without its imperfections -- i.e., He contains matter eminently. For instance, matter is something that can exercise certain powers. God can exercise all those powers -- i.e., He can produce all those effects; and thus there is nothing in matter that does not find its prototype in God. He also contains matter virtually -- i.e., He can produce it, for He is Almighty.
4. The very idea of matter contains extension, but there is no extension in God. Answer. It contains extension in the object of the idea, not in the subjective idea. As to the minor, extension is not formally in God, but eminently -- i.e., as far as it implies no imperfections.
108. A further question is often discussed with regard to the origin of the world, viz.: Is it certain that its creation could not absolutely have been from eternity, that the world must have had a beginning, that matter itself must have had a beginning? Though it would seem that the very essence of creation implies a transition from non-existence to existence, and therefore a beginning of the creature, still St. Thomas, and many of the most distinguished philosophers, say that a creation from eternity cannot be conclusively proved to be absurd, because it is not so: (a) On the part of the Creator, Who was from eternity Almighty. (b) Nor on the part of the creature, which was from eternity capable of being created. (c) Nor on account of the necessary subordination of creature to Creator, for that, too, would be secured. But though creation, as such, may perhaps be possible without a beginning, there is something special in the nature of the world which shows that it cannot have existed from eternity.
109. Thesis IV. The world cannot have existed from eternity.
Proof. The world contains a series of changes. If it had existed from eternity, there would have been an infinite series of changes before any particular change could,have taken place, e.g., before vegetation began; but an infinite series can never be passed, nor can anything infinite be further extended. Therefore the world cannot have existed from eternity.
110. Objections: 1. St. Thomas and many others admit the possibility of creation from eternity. Answer. St. Thomas admits that the proofs of this proposition are not absolutely conclusive; many other great minds think they are conclusive, and they are certainly very powerful, far more so than any objection brought against them. St. Thomas did not wish to rest our belief in creation on a mere reasoning about which logicians might quibble, because it rests on the firmer basis of Divine Revelation. (Summa, i. q. 46, art. ii.)
2. The world might have been changeless at first. Answer. A material creation absolutely at rest would be useless.
3. The creative act was from eternity, therefore its effect also. Answer. It was eternal subjectively, i.e., in God; not objectively, i.e., on the part of the creature.
4. When the cause exists the effect must exist. Answer. If the cause acts necessarily, yes; not if it acts freely and by one single act which extends from eternity to eternity (see Nos. 243, 244).
5. But God is a necessary cause. Answer. He is a necessary being, but a free cause.
6. The act of creation would have produced a change in God. Answer. Yes, if it were not subjectively etemal.
7. From not being a Creator He would have become a Creator. Answer. The change was extrinsic to Him and intrinsic to the world, leaving Him as He was.
8. God always does what is best, but to create from eternity is best. Answer. God can never do for a creature what is absolutely best, for He could always do better still; the finite cannot exhaust the infinite fund of power and goodness.
9. Motion cannot have had a beginning, for every motion must come from a preceding motion. Answer. Philosophers often call any act motion, and it is true that there must have been activity of some kind without a beginning. But the first activity is not in material things; it is in God, Who is all activity from eternity, not by a succession of acts, but He is one infinite act, or, as it is technically called, a pure act, actus purus.
111. As to the question how long the world has really existed, we are left in considerable darkness. The extrinsic argument of authority is that of the Mosaic Revelation. It gives the ages at which the patriarchs begot their oldest sons; whence we calculate that mankind did not exist or earth more than 6,000 years before the birth of Christ. But how long did the material universe exist before the creation of man? The inspired account of Moses, evidently not intended to teach us chronology, is capable of various interpretations, and has been, from remote periods of the Christian era, variously understood by the learned. Some suppose that an unknown period of time, which may have been of any length, elapsed before the first day began; and this appears to be the obvious meaning of the second verse of Genesis. Some interpret the six days as six periods of unknown duration. Others prefer to understand the Mosaic account in the most literal and most restricted sense; these must suppose that the Lord created the earth with many marks of old age upon it. This is indeed possible, but there is no proof of it.
It is the part of Philosophy to trace effects to appropriate causes, and therefore physical effects to physical causes, whenever it can do so without contradicting any certain teaching of Revelation. By a priori reasoning we cannot prove either the recent or the remote period of the creation. Reasoning a posteriori, Geology, though still most imperfect as a science, makes it appear probable that the earth had been in existence for a long period of time before the creation of man. [See both the theological and the scientific arguments treated with much learning and logical accuracy in Geology and Revelation, by Rev. Gerald Molloy (Part II.); also, Cardinal Mazzella's De Deo Creante (Disp. III., art. iv.) and Schanz's Christian Apology (vol. i. c. xv.) ]
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