Developments in contemporary science, especially evolutionary biology and cosmology, have been used to support a kind of “totalizing naturalism” according to which the universe and the processes within it need no explanation beyond the categories of the natural sciences themselves.
Whether one speaks of self-organizing principles in living things or of processes of emergence, the conclusion often reached is that nature is self-sufficient. A creator is irrelevant at best, so the argument goes. Theories in contemporary cosmology have been used both to affirm and to deny the existence of a creator. Both Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow’s The Grand Design (2010) and Lawrence Krauss’s A Universe from Nothing (2012) propose that contemporary cosmology allows us to account for the coming into existence of the universe “out of nothing” without any reference to divine agency.
On the other hand, scholars like William Lane Craig (watch him in debate with Christopher Hitchens here) and Robert Spitzer think that Big Bang cosmology does indeed affirm an absolute beginning to the universe and thus offers a scientific warrant for the existence of a creator.
Thomas Aquinas’s analysis of what it means to create, and of the relationship between creation and the natural sciences offers a way to avoid much of the confusion in current claims about a universe which has no need of a creator. In particular, Thomas helps us to distinguish between creation understood philosophically (in metaphysics), with no reference to a temporal beginning, and creation understood theologically, which does affirm such a beginning.
He would warn us, however, to avoid faulty arguments in cosmology which conclude that because there was a Big Bang there must be a creator. Thomas provides important insights for how one can affirm a robust notion of creation ex nihilo and the relative autonomy of natural processes such that, for example, one may embrace both the conclusions of evolutionary biology and the traditional understanding of God as the cause of all that is.
Dr William Carroll will deliver lecture on “Creation and Contemporary Science: The Legacy of Thomas Aquinas” at the Faraday Institute on 7 Feb