RE: [asa] Meyer on C-SPAN2

From: Ted Davis <>
Date: Thu Sep 10 2009 - 16:05:07 EDT

>>> "Ryan Rasmussen, P.E." <> 9/10/2009 2:25 PM >>> asks,

Who are we to say that energy or matter are not eternal - that God 'made' them?

Ted comments:
Ryan, this would at least be the traditional view of the Jewish and Christian doctrines of creation. It is also my own view. For a contrasting view, we might consider Plato's creation story, "Timaeus," the one dialogue of his that was available in the Latin West prior to the High Middle Ages -- and, the work that probably had more influence on early modern science and on Christian theology than any other work from the ancient world.

In Timaeus, the god -- called "Demiurogos," the same word used for the divine craftsman in the book of Hebrews -- makes the world out of the following things:

chaotic (unformed) matter, which is pre-existent
forms, esp the form of the good and the ideas of living creatures, which are pre-existent
"the nurse of becoming," not matter and not quite space either (Plato denied the reality of empty space), more like a principle of possible existence

The god makes the whole shebbang out of this stuff, and his decision to do so is not exactly as decision: it's required by the fact that the god is good, and a good god does not deny existence to things that could exist.
(Those familiar with Max Tegmark's ideas on the multiverse may think they have seen this before.) Once the god gets down to work, however, matter proves recalcitrant to the imposition of form; some things end up with "irrational" aspects, such as the triangles from which the god makes the atoms of the types of matter -- they contain sides that cannot be expressed as the quotients of whole numbers. Because form cannot be perfectly imposed on matter -- i.e., the god lacks omnipotence -- and b/c the only genuine knowledge (for Plato) is knowledge of pure form, there is no genuine "science" (i.e., knowledge) of nature.

Later, the Christian neo-Platonists of the Renaissance, who believed in an omnipotent God who could impose form perfectly on matter, created a genuine science of physical nature. We could think God's thoughts after him (to paraphrase Kepler, one of those neo-Platonists) and, to that extent, we can have a science of nature.

However, b/c the Christian God is also free -- note this crucial rejection of Plato's assumption of necessity (above), the creation is a free expression, not a necessarily existing thing whose nature is partly determined by pre-existing materials. This God is free to act in ways that are not rationally necessary. Thus the creation has elements of contingency: its very existence, and its precise nature, are both products of the divine will, which is not wholly subject to reason. Thus, the only kind of "science" that we can have, is a science of rational empiricism applied to a contingent order. In other words, the very possibility of modern science as we know it is implicit within a classical Christian conception of God, humanity, and nature. Not so for Plato, and not so for other conceptions in which God does not create ex nihilo.


To unsubscribe, send a message to with
"unsubscribe asa" (no quotes) as the body of the message.
Received on Thu Sep 10 16:06:15 2009

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Thu Sep 10 2009 - 16:06:16 EDT