CT 100: Finality of God’s Creative Activity

A couple of weeks ago, we were looking into God’s creation of things ex nihilo, from nothing. In chapter 100, Thomas discusses the purpose of God’s creation.

We showed above that God has brought things into existence, not through any necessity of His nature, but by His intellect and Will. Any agent that works in this way, acts for an end: the end is a principle for the operative intellect. Accordingly everything that is made by God necessarily exists for an end.

An entity that acts of necessity has no choice, and acts to no purpose of its own. If I throw a rock, and it hits a window, the window breaks; but the rock had no intention of breaking the window, or even of flying through the air. It’s a rock; it has no choice. But if I choose to pick up a rock, and throw it so that it breaks a window, then I must have some end in view. Perhaps I want to break the window, so as to break into the house. Perhaps I’m simply killing time, and broke the window accidentally. Either way, I threw the rock for a reason. And so, also, with God. Every act of creation is an act of God’s will, and there is a reason for it.

Moreover, things were produced by God in a supremely excellent way; for the most perfect Being does everything in the most perfect way. But it is better for a thing to be made for an end than to be made without the intention of achieving an end; for the goodness that is in things which are made comes from their end. Hence things were made by God for an end.

It is better to have a purpose than to be purpose-less; and since God always acts in the most perfect way, all He creates will have a purpose.

It seems to me, though, that there’s no particular reason why we should know what that purpose is. What’s the purpose of banana slugs? Though, of course, it’s fun to speculate.

An indication of this is seen in effects produced by nature. None of them is in vain, all are for an end. But it is absurd to say that things produced by nature are in better order than is the very constituting of nature by the first Agent, since the entire order of nature is derived from the latter. Clearly, therefore, things produced by God exist for an end.

This is an interesting assertion, given that many people these days would assert, equally confidently, that nothing in nature acts for an end. That’s clearly wrong, in my view; some things in nature clearly act for an end. Eyes are pretty clearly for seeing, for example. But is it so obvious that everything in nature acts for an end? I dunno.

2 Responses to “CT 100: Finality of God’s Creative Activity”

  1. Brandon says:

    For the medieval scholastics acting for a purpose is only one way (the most obvious and familiar way) to act for an end. They called the end or final cause the ’cause of causes’ because it’s what makes efficient causes, what we normally think of as causes, causes this kind of effect rather than that kind of effect. So on their view whenever you have a cause that has an effect ‘always or for the most part’ that means there is a final cause or end: something is disposes the cause to have that effect rather than some other.

  2. Everything acts for an end? That surprised me, too. But Ed Feser explains it well “The basic idea is that if A regularly brings about B – rather than C, or D, or no effect at all – that can only be because there is something in the nature of A by virtue of which it is “directed at” or “points” to the generation of B specifically. This is an entirely general point about causation; it has nothing necessarily to do with human beings at all.” and in his book _the last superstition_. Recommended.