philosophy science theology

distinguished Cause

Words are only so good.  What words do we use to distinguish the kind of cause God must be from the kind of causes we see in nature and cosmology, etc.?

As long as we have the ability, resources, time, interest and basic assumptions about nature, we will always be able to look ‘further out’ and ‘deeper into’ our universe.  We can always find more layers and deeper levels of (physical) causal activity.  But God is not ‘just another physical cause’, which begs the question of what caused that cause.  [insert turtle standing on turtle metaphor here]  God is a wholly different kind of Cause.

God is imagined to be the ultimate cause in relation to our world.  ‘Ultimate’ can be conceived different ways, two of which come to mind – temporal or structural (both are metaphors, of course):

  • In terms of temporal language, ‘first cause’ would distinguish God from all merely subsequent causes in terms of the causal past, and ‘final cause’ would distinguish God from all merely transient causes of both the past and the future.
  • In terms of structural langauge, ‘bottom cause’ or ‘ground of all causes’ would distinguish God from all causes ‘resting upon’ this cause.

The distinctions between primary & secondary, or necessary & contingent, however, can transcend the metaphors of time & architecture – and therefore are appropriate for less overtly metaphorical ways of discussing the distinction.

Most if not all (my money is on the latter) languages have terms for distinguishing ‘this’ (sameness, sharedness) from ‘that’ (otherness, separation) or ‘a’ (the indefinite article) from ‘the’ (the definite article).  In this sense, distinguishing God from the world is perfectly easy with simple langauge.  God is not ‘this’ kind of a cause, but ‘that’ kind of a Cause.  God is not just ‘a’ cause among various others, but ‘the’ Cause like no other.

Of course a short hand way to distinguish God from any other cause is to simply capitalise the ‘c’ – God is the first, final, bottom, primary and necessary Cause.