Aquinas, Evolution, Providence, & Chance

Thomistic Bent

In Thomas Aquinas’ work titled On Truth (De Veritate), Thomas deals with whether or not the world is ruled by God’s providence, or whether all natural things happen randomly. Thomas even precedes his comments by positing a potential objector who says that if God were providentially moving all nature, we ought to be able to observe nature and determine God’s purposes, but we cannot do such a thing. Thomas gives us a most interesting comment in his response:

Whatever does not have a determinate cause happens by accident. Consequently, if the position mentioned above were true, all the harmony and usefulness found in things would be the result of chance. This was actually what Empedocles held. He asserted that it was by accident that the parts of animals came together in this way through friendship—and this was his explanation of an animal and of a frequent occurrence! This explanation, of course, is absurd, for those things that happen by chance, happen only rarely; we know from experience, however, that harmony and usefulness are found in nature either at all times or at least for the most part. This cannot be the result of mere chance; it must be because an end is intended. What lacks intellect or knowledge, however, cannot tend directly toward an end. It can do this only if someone else’s knowledge has established an end for it, and directs it to that end. Consequently, since natural things have no knowledge, there must be some previously existing intelligence directing them to an end, like an archer who gives a definite motion to an arrow so that it will wing its way to a determined end. Now, the hit made by the arrow is said to be the work not of the arrow alone but also of the person who shot it. Similarly, philosophers call every work of nature the work of intelligence. (DV, Q5, A2)

So Thomas considers the idea that the effects of the natural world happen by accident…


Aquinas, Evolution, Providence, & Chance | Thomistic Bent

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