CT 102: The Reason for Diversity in Things

This enables us to grasp the reason for diversity and distinction in things. Since the divine goodness could not be adequately represented by one creature alone, on account of the distance that separates each creature from God, it had to be represented by many creatures, so that what is lacking to one might be supplied by another. Even in syllogistic conclusions, when the conclusion is not sufficiently demonstrated by one means of proof, the means must be multiplied in order to make the conclusion clear, as happens in dialectic syllogisms. Of course, not even the entire universe of creatures perfectly represents the divine goodness by setting it forth adequately, but represents it only in the measure of perfection possible to creatures.

In the previous chapter, Thomas argues that the divine goodness is the ultimate end of all created things.  In this chapter he builds on this, showing that the divine goodness is the reason for the diversity of things: as the divine goodness is infinite, it takes a diversity of things to express it.  Thomas says,

Moreover, a perfection existing in a universal cause simply and in a unified manner, is found to be multiple and discrete in the effects of that cause. For a perfection has a nobler existence in a cause than in its effects. But the divine goodness is one, and is the simple principle and root of all the goodness found in creatures. Hence creatures must be assimilated to the divine goodness in the way that many and distinct objects are assimilated to what is one and simple. Therefore multiplicity and distinction occur in things not by chance or fortune but for an end, just as the production of things is not the result of chance or fortune, but is for an end. For existence, unity, and multiplicity in things all come from the same principle.

As we discussed previously, an effect cannot be greater (here, “nobler”) than its cause.  But some goodness in the cause (here, a “perfection”) must be expressed in the effect (a cause can only give what it has) and in fact can be expressed in its effects multiple ways.  Now, as the creator and ultimate end of all created things, God is both the efficient cause and the final cause of all things; and so all created things must reflect the perfection of God. 

The distinction among things is not caused by matter; for things were originally constituted in being by creation, which does not require any matter. Moreover, things which issue purely from the necessity of matter have the appearance of being fortuitous.

What a fascinating little paragraph.  An atheist would say that the diversity in things is precisely the result of material processes, culminating in biological evolution.  But Thomas rejects this.  The question is, is he rejecting evolution per se, or merely a purely materialistic account of it?  It’s certainly true that evolution has “the appearance of being fortuitous”.  In any event, there’s no real conflict between Creation and Evolution, any more than there is a conflict between statements, “Grass is green because God made it so” and “Grass is green because it contains chlorophyll.” 

Furthermore, multiplicity in things is not explained by the order obtaining among intermediate agents, as though from one, simple first being, there could proceed directly only one thing that would be far removed from the first being in simplicity, so that multitude could issue from it, and thus, as the distance from the first, simple being increased, the more numerous a multitude would be discerned. Some have suggested this explanation. But we have shown that there are many things that could not have come into being except by creation, which is exclusively the work of God, as has been proved. Hence we conclude that many things have been created directly by God Himself.

In other words, God needs no demi-urge, as many of the gnostics held.

I wonder what’s in the set of things that could not have come into being except by creation; and how that differs from what Thomas thought was in that set of things.

It is likewise evident that, according to the view under criticism, the multiplicity and distinction among things would be fortuitous, as not being intended by the first agent. Actually, however, the multiplicity and distinction existing among things were devised by the divine intellect and were carried out in the real order so that the divine goodness might be mirrored by created things in variety, and that different things might participate in the divine goodness in varying degree. Thus the very order existing among diverse things issues in a certain beauty, which should call to mind the divine wisdom.

There are two significant propositions here:

  • All things in creation participate in the divine goodness
  • They do so because they were created in their multiplicity for this purpose.

If we hold that dogs and cats evolved from some common (though very remote) ancestor, then, Thomas seems to say that dogs do not reflect the divine goodness particularly in their dogginess and that cats do not reflect the divine goodness particularly in their felinity, because those things were not created directly.  Personally, I’d think that the first bullet is true, but that the second is too limiting; things are more complicated than Thomas knew.

Has anyone attempted a synthesis of Thomism and evolution?

4 Responses to “CT 102: The Reason for Diversity in Things”

  1. Brandon says:

    You might be interested in this recent post by Edward Feser.

  2. Thanks, yes, I’ve seen it. I need to pick up a copy of his book.

  3. “Has anyone attempted a synthesis of Thomism and evolution?” Try _From Aristotle to Darwin and back again: A Journey in Final Causality, Species and Evolution” by Etienne Gilson. Looks like Ignatius Press has a recent reprint.