Creazione divina e creatività della natura. Dio e l'evoluzione del cosmocreazione-divina-e-creativita

Creazione divina e creatività della natura. God and the evolution of the cosmo

Author: MarianoArtigas1
Lecture given at: Symposium Dio e la natura held at the Pontificia Università della Santa Croce (Rome), March 2001 and published in Dio e la natura, a cura di R. Martínez e J. J. Sanguineti, Armando, Roma 2002, pp. 73-84.
Date: March 2001 


  1. A new worldview

  2. Natural creativity and divine action 

  3. Evolution and self-organisation 

  4. Argomenti teleologici 

  5. The contingency of the natural order 

  6. Contingency and divine plan 

  7. Nature and human beings 

A new worldview

For the first time in history we have a complete and rigorous scientific worldview. In saying that it is complete I do not mean to claim that we know everything about nature, on the contrary, the more science progresses, the more we discover the vastness of what remains to be known. I would like to say that current science provides us with in-depth knowledge on all levels of nature, from the microphysical level of sub-atomic particles, where we have to deal with sizes of the order of 10-15 cm, to the macrophysical one of the stars and the galaxies, with extensions of the order of 1027, passing through the medium-sized beings of the mesocosm, where there are the living and the human being. We also know many important relationships between the different levels of reality.

In this image of nature, the concepts of dynamism, modelling and information occupy an important position. Today we know that there is no such thing as a purely passive and inert subject . The subject is endowed with its own dynamism at all levels, and what manifests itself as inert subject is the result of dynamic balances. Moreover, the unfolding of natural dynamism is carried out according to certain models. The natural dynamism is immagined in spatial structures and it is released according to some schemes or models. The concept of modelling is decisive in this context. In nature there are not only models (patterns), but everything is articulated around models. Science seeks and acquires an ever more detailed knowledge of these models, or rather spatial and temporal structures that are reproduced.

If we move from the synchronous study of nature, as it is at present, to the diachronic study of its evolution, we are imbued not only with existing models, but also with the progressive formation of new models. This is the phenomenon of patterning. Different dynamisms can coincide to give rise to a new subject of structuring and dynamism, previously non-existent. Dynamisms, such as spatial and temporal models, can be integrated reciprocally to give rise to new entities, properties and processes. The concept of information is useful to explain modelling.

A typical example of information is the genetic information contained in DNA. It is a macromolecule whose spatial structure contains, encoded, the information necessary for the formationand functioning of an organism. Living organisms begin their existence as a single cell in which all this genetic information is contained, from which, through successive replications and differentiations, the various types of cells that make up the multicellular organism are formed. The formation of these differentiated cells, as well as their distribution in the different parts of the organism that develops by hand, is regulated by genetic information.

Natural creativity and divine action

A nature in which new models are formed is a creative nature, because it produces types of beings that did not exist before. This natural creativity is not opposed to divine action, as if nature and God were in concorrenza. It is rather a matter of complementary actions. Natural creativity is seen as the result of the unfolding and interplay of the various dynamics present in nature, in other words, it is the unfolding of the information contained in natural structures. Science offers ever deeper explanations of this creativity, but the fact that the conditions that make it possible exist is due to the action of a transcendent cause, which gives existence to everything that exists in nature. In addition, the nature in the midst of which we live shows an extraordinarily specific character: its dynamism makes possible the existence of entities and enormously sophisticated processes, which allow the appearance of a rational being such as the human being. Natural information is materialised reasoning, insofar as it guides the production of many results that are rational, because they impose means for achieving ends and in highly sophisticated ways. Molecular biology provides many examples, which are continuously increasing with the progress of science. Moreover, human reasoning has a natural basis, and in this sense it can also be said that nature is rational.

Only God can be the absolute source of being and action. Natural dynamism and its results are limited and do not have in themselves the absolute explanation or reason for their existence and their way of being. Nature returns to its ultimate foundation, which is the free divine action. Only Being per se can give adequate reason for limited and contingent being. There is no opposition, but complementarity, between natural activity and divine action. Many misunderstandings and confusion derive from the failure to recognise this complementarity. Perhaps natural action and divine activity are opposed to each other, as if they were realities that exclude each other, without realising that nature cannot exist without divine action, and that God makes possible the existence and manifestation of the marvellous powers that He Himself has placed in nature. The complementarity is expressed in a suitable way with the classical concepts of First Cause and Secondary Causes. Only occasionally canthe FirstCause replace the second causes, and in this case there is a miracle, but this does not happen on its own, because God Himself has given the second causes the capacity to act, and He wishes to respect it.

The miracle is obviously something supernatural, even if one tends to think that, if there were no miracles, nature would follow its course independently of divine action. Ma non è così. There is no natural course of events independent of divine action. All natural processes, in each of their stages and aspects, are the result of a founding divine action placed in another order, different from the order of secondary natural causes: the order of the founding divine action, which gives being and makes possible the action of all that exists in nature. Thus natural creativity is integrated with divinecreativity.

Evolution and self-organisation

Nothing should lead us to consider evolution as something opposed to divine action. On the contrary, evolution can be considered as the way in which God has chosen to give existence to all that exists in the world, using natural channels, the potentiality of which depends on divine wisdom and the underlying divine action. In this context, a definition of nature, proposed by St. Thomas in an almost incidental way in the commentary on a text by Aristotle, acquires particular relevance. Thomas Aquinas observes that "nature is nothing other than the piano of an Artist, and of adivine Artist, , written within the things, thanks to which they move towards a determined end, as ifthe builder of a ship could give the wooden parts the ability to move by themselves to produce the shape of the ship".2. In the 13th century this way of expressing oneself was only metaphorical, whereas today we know that the metaphor refers to a real process.

In fact, the most appropriate metaphor to designate the current scientific worldview is self-organisation; it is the idea of St. Thomas taken to the letter. The subatomic particles have a dynamism that allows them to unite, forming first nuclei of atoms, then complete atoms. The laws governing this morphogenesis are specific. One, very simple but of great importance, is the principle of exclusion, formulated by the physicist Wolfgang Pauli in the 1920s, whereby two elements belonging to the same system cannot meet in the same quantum state. The electrons are fermions (particles following the Fermi-Dirac statistics). The application of this principle leads to the distribution of peripheral electrons in different strati and at well-defined levels: from the hydrogen atom, which has only one electron around the nucleus, to the uranium atom, which has 92, there are all 92 types of atoms present in nature. The principle of exclusion can be considered as a diauto-organisation principle, because it indicates how the peripheral elements of the atoms are organised according to their own dynamism. The principle, therefore, reveals the fundamental properties of the various types of atoms and many characteristics of the atom compositions (molecules, macromolecules, etc.), which depend on the properties of the peripheral electron elements of the atoms.

A nature capable of self-organising in the way we know it has a specific dynamism at the physical-chemical level, in Degree to form the basis of the structure and functionality of life. At the biological level, this dynamism is endowed with a surprising organisational complexity. Everything works, in the end (to simplify a little), on the basis of a few elements that combine in very functional ways: three subatomic particles (proton, neutron, electron) form the basis of the ordinary subject ; 92 atoms are the basic elements of nature; 20 amino acids are the components of proteins; 4 nucleotides are the basic building blocks of DNA. In all these cases, the structure and interactions of these components produce a wonderful variety of results, until they reach the human organism.

Argomenti teleologici

In the light of the current scientific worldview, the basis of the teleological arguments in support of the passage from nature to a personal God who created it and maintains it in its being and in its activity, has been expanded and strengthened. Without doubt, every teleological argument implies a philosophical reflection. The passage from nature to God is not automatic. From ancient times to the present day this argument has been particularly simple and effective for the human spirit and it has been repeatedly argued that scientific progress has invalidated it. Queste mie riflessioni dimostrano però che non è così. In modern times, teleology has been subjected to numerous and harsh criticisms, which must be taken into consideration in order to properly evaluate the arguments. The current science, however, gives a new support to the empirical foundation of the teleological reasoning.

An important role, and a novelty in modern thinking, has been played by the verified progress in biology. For a long time, the development of modern empirical science and of relative epistemology has been tied to physics. At the time of the birth and initial development of modern science, in the 17th and 18th century, mechanicism seemed to exclude any reference to natural purpose. The evolutionary theories of the eighteenth century seemed to exclude the finality of the last remaining possibility, i.e. from the realm of the living. The further development of physics and chemistry have, instead, made possible a great progress of biology which, as in ancient times but now with a rigorous scientific foundation, returns to be at the centre of natural sciences and, therefore, of the philosophical reflection on nature. The world of the living is full ofteleological or finalist dimensions. Perhaps, in order to avoid the theological implications of teleology, we talk about teleonomy or we deny the relevance of finality, but the finalistic concepts emerge more strongly with the progress of biology. When scientists reveal the results of their research, they often have to resort to concepts that are not only finalistic, but also anthropomorphic.

The contingency of the natural order

Si potrebbe obiettare che nel mettere insieme, come sto facendo, la cosmovisione scientifica con l'azione divina si corre il rischio di un concordismo destinato ad essere superato dall'ulterioriore progresso scientifico. History would confer such an obligation. Even the image of the world developed by classical physics was put in relation to the divine action, but was then overcome by the development of science.

Obviously, no scientific image of the world can be placed in direct relationship with divine action, as if it were the only possible expression or consequence. Divine action is free and is not limited by anything outside of God. It seems an echo of the argument that Urban VIII wanted to be accepted and accepted by Galileo to save the transcendence and the omnipotence of God. In this approach, as in Bellarmine's strumentalism, we see a position consistent with the modern philosophy of science, which insists on the subordination of theories to empirical data: no set of empirical data implies the acceptance of a theory or proof that is true in a complete and definitive way.

We do not know with certainty whether Galileo thought of providing decisive evidence in favour of eliocentrism. What we do know, however, is that his search for truth and valid demonstrations was fundamentally correct. This research has made and continues to make possible the progress of science. Without a doubt, we must renounce the rationalism that seeks or pretends to have achieved an absolutely complete knowledge, which is beyond our possibilities. Our knowledge is always partial and limited. We can, however, reach true and certain knowledge, whether it is purely partial, approximate and in Degree to be perfected.

This is true in science. Perhaps in twenty or forty years the subatomic particles will be known in a different way from today, but, even in this case, the new theories will not have to forget what has already been confirmed. Something similar also happens outside empirical science. Even though we are aware that the current worldview is partial and perfect, we know that the fundamental aspects of which we have spoken really exist in reality. I am not promoting a new concordism suited to our circumstances. Mi limito a segnalare alcune conoscenze scientifiche ben fondate, per riflettere sul subject di relazione che hanno con l'azione divina. I have no difficulty in admitting that what science today affirms is not an absolute truth, because it reveals a concrete situation of the natural order that is always contingent. We can attain certain knowledge and authentic proofs to the extent that the natural order has some elements of necessity. The success of empirical science shows that they are not enough, but it is only a physical necessity, or rather a non-absolute stability of the organisation of nature.

Forse viviamo in un angolo dell'universo particolarmente organizzato e in un'epoca privilegiata. It is possible. But the natural order that surrounds us and of which we are a part provides us with a very appropriate foundation for theological thinking. The physical disorder and the natural limitations inherent in an evolutionary worldview are not an obstacle; they are understandable if we admit that God respects natural activity and relies on it to realise the creative plan.

We should not represent the effects of divine action in too "tranquil" a way. Respect for natural activity implies that natural causes ordinarily dispense their energies without avoiding collateral effects, which could be contrary to the tendencies of other beings. Catastrophes, large and small, are natural components of this plan. The diversity of the elements means that, often, the different tendencies cannot be reconciled. These aspects could help us to better understand the function that physical evil can have in God's planets. In fact, disorder can play a very important role in the full development of nature, so that God can allow different types of disorder just to stimulate further development.

The current worldview underlines the importance of contingency, because every result is seen as the outcome of many coincidences. Novelty and diversity are not an exception, but rather the rule. Unpredictability is now part of the most classic scientific themes. Certainly, when we speak of unpredictability we are not referring to God, whose knowledge is beyond the categories of space and time, and whose omnipotence contains all reality, as a prime cause.

Mi sembra interessante mettere in risalto l'enfasi di Thomas Torrance sul concetto di "ordine contingente", come una delle idee cristiane più stimolanti per lo sviluppo della scienza sperimentale3. I also remember Wolfhart Pannenberg's emphasis on the role of contingency as bridge between nature and divine action in history. Pannenberg rightly points out that the so-called "laws of nature" do not reflect the rules of nature, because natural events are not always repeated.4.Perciò, writes Ted Peters in the introduction to a collection of Pannenberg's writings: "The continuity of this creation can be characterised as the continuity of a history of God who commits himself to his creation. This historical continuity is united with the continuity expressed in the rules of natural processes: while the description of these rules, in the form of "natural laws", disregards the contingent conditions of their realisation, the historical continuity instead includes the contingency of events and the emergence of rules. In this way, the category of the history willprovide a more complete description of the continuous processes of nature".5.

The natural order is contingent because it is the result of unique circumstances. Nature, however, has a lot of organisation, directionality, synergy (cooperativity) and complex activity. This is consistent with the "continuous" activity of divine wisdom.

The discussion on contingency leads us to ask ourselves: how can we harmonise the existence of a divine plan with evolution, which implies not a small number of cases?

Contingency and divine plan

The problem alone is presented in a more direct way: is there a direction in evolution? If the answer is negative, the next question is: how can we combine the lack of directionality in evolution with the existence of a divine plan that governs the natural world?

It should not be a problem to associate evolution with the existence of a divine plan, because God transcends our categories and is not limited to acting in a particular way. Difficulties often arise from the mistaken idea of thinking that a divine plan must produce a chain of events, which leads to recognising the existence of a necessary relationship between them, as if the existence of a divineplan must imply a deterministic explanation of nature which, obviously, contradicts contingency.

The existence of a form of natural contingency compatible with the divine plan is not a novelty in theology. In his commentary on Aristotle's Metaphysics, Thomas Aquinas responds to those who maintain that in nature everything comes about by necessity. Egli ammise l'esistenza del caso nella natura, pur pur affermando la sua compatibilità con l'esistenza di una provvidenza divina che governa tutto il mondo naturale. Dio è la causa prima da cui tutto tutto dipende nel suo essere, ma Egli non imposa lo stesso subject di necessità su tutti gli effetti creati: Dio fa sì che alcuni effetti avvengano in modo necessario, altri in un modo contingente6.

Obviously, Thomas Aquinas does not refer to evolution, but his idea is important. In fact, the action of God is the action of the Prima Causa which extends its influence, as the foundation of the very essence, over all creatures and over every aspect of them; therefore, the contingency of particular facts does not contrast with the action of God. Rather, it is He who makes possible the production of contingent facts. We tend to conceive of God's plans and activity according to our own actions, but this analogy has its limits. Everything depends on God's activity, but that does not mean that everything has the same subject of necessity.

That God rules the world does not mean that nature behaves in a completely orderly way, according to our criteria. Therefore, the assertion that contingent evolutionary facts and the opportunistic nature of evolutionary adaptations would be incompatible with a divine plan is not valid. On the contrary, the existence of many contingent facts is very well suited to the action of a God who respects the way of being and operating of His creatures, because He Himself has devised and willed it.

For the rest, the case contained in the evolution operates within a set of conditions that impose a certain directionality. Christian de Duve has stated that "the case did not operate in the void. Agì in un universo governato da leggi precise e costituito da una subject dotata di proprietà specifiche. Queste leggi e queste proprietà pongono un limite allaroulette evolutiva e limitano i numeri che possonouscire".7.

Stephen Jay Gould clearly underlines how the evolutionary path that has led to the existence of human beings includes many accidental events.8. This, however, is not incompatible with the existence of a divine plan. Alcuni commenti del award Nobel Christian de Duve sono interessanti: egli propone come una via media media media tra altri due premi Nobel: il determinista Albert Einstein e il casualista Jacques Monod. De Duve, taking up the neo-Darwinian explanation of evolution, which he accepts, adds that the case operates within a complex of limiting conditions and that "faced with the enormous number of fortunate parties behind the success of the evolutionary process, it would be legitimate to ask how far this success is written in the fabric of the universe. To Einstein, who on a certain occasion stated that "God doesn't play the game", one could reply: "Yes, he plays, because God is sure to bind". In other words, it could be a piano. And that began with the big bang. The same point of view is shared by some, but not others. The French scientist Jacques Monod, one of the founders of molecular biology and author of The Case and Necessity, published in 1970, expressed the opposite opinion: "our number", he wrote, "has been taken to the Monte Carlo casino". And he added:"the universe was not impregnated with life, nor did the biosphere carry man within it". His final conclusion challenged the stoically (and romantically) dispersive esistenzialism that conquered the French intellectuals of his generation: "man now knows that he is alone in the indifferent immensity of the universe, from which he has emerged as it were". This is undoubtedly true. The human being has nothing to do with this theory. What he knows - or at least, he should know - is that, with the time and the amount of subject available, not even something that resembles the most elementary cell, not to mention the human being, could have originated from a case where the universe had not already brought it into its interior".9. De Duve concludes, as a scientist close to the philosopher, that evolutionary thinking is compatible with the existence of a divine plan and suggests indications that lead us to admit the existence of a similar plan.

The current worldview offers a new understanding of life following evolution, adding to the classical conception that of self-organisation. This new prospect is still in its infancy, but it has already opened up new horizons, which will probably expand thanks to further scientific progress. The combination of case and necessity, of variation and selection, together with the potential ofself-organisation, can easily be seen as the path followed by God to cause the process of evolution. Truncated gods, a universe impregnated with life and human beings, specific potentials, are concepts and metaphors that show that it is possible to combine the divine action architected by God with the action of natural causes. Carsten Bresch carries another paragon. Heimagines a pilot who with his plane is on North Pole and decides the rotation at random, using a roulette: any direction he follows, one day or the next he will arrive at the South Pole (on condition that he does not turn around).10. This paragon shows that limiting conditions can make the directionality of the evolution understandable.

We can conclude that evolution can be associated with the divine plan, even if the evolutionary process includes progress and errors, because there is no reason to characterise the divine plan as necessarily monolinear, but always progressive and advantageous for all creatures from any point of view. On the other hand, as we have seen, the existence of chance events in the evolutionary chain is compatible with the existence of a directionality in evolution.

Nature and human beings

Scientific progress provides important insights into our own nature, insofar as it reveals the capabilities of the subject that builds science.

Nature does not speak. We construct very sophisticated languages to ask nature questions and to interpret the answers given by our mute interlocutor. This shows that, although we are part of nature, at the same time we transcend it.

There are no automatic ways to acquire new scientific knowledge. We must use our capacity for creativity and interpretation, we must formulate new hypotheses, plan experiments to put them to the test, interpret the results, evaluate the hypotheses.

Scientific creativity is proof of our uniqueness. It shows that we have dimensions that transcend the natural realm and can be defined as spiritual. The existence and progress of natural science are among the best arguments for demonstrating the spiritual dimensions of the human being. At the same time, creativity shows that these dimensions are part, together with the material ones, of a single being that is both material and spiritual at the same time.

The evolutionary worldview is not opposed to human spirituality. The agnostic Karl Popper sees the descriptive and argumentative functions of language, which are necessary for the existence and progress of experimental science, as a result of evolution, but considers this result to be enormously mysterious and adds that evolution cannot be an ultimate explanation: "Ora voglio mettere in rilievo quanto poco significhi dire che la mente è un prodotto emergente dal cervello. This has practically no explanatory value and is tantamount to anything more than putting a question mark on a certain stage of human evolution. Tuttavia ritengo che ciò sia tutto quello che possiamo dire a questo proposito da un punto di vista darwiniano (...) L'evoluzione non può certo essere assunta in nessun senso come una spiegazione final. We must find an agreement with the fact that we live in a world in which almost everything that is very important remains essentially unexplained".11.

In fact, if we think of evolution as an ultimate revelation, everything remains without revelation. I am not trying to deny the importance of the evolutionary perspective. Evolution does not fullyanswer the problems concerning the uniqueness of human beings. These problems become even more acute, because evolution implies a still mysterious development of the capacity for knowledge and its biological basis.

In fact, experimental science acquires its full meaning when it is considered in its most fundamental aspect, as a human activity aimed at acquiring a knowledge of nature that can be used for a controlled domain. The search for truth and the service to humanity are the two great values, concomitant, of any scientific activity.

The search for truth is a fundamental human value. Giovanni Paolo II, with a few words of philosophical content, has written: "Si può definire, dunque, l'uomo come colui che cerca la verità".12. In this sense, scientific progress gives important indications about the human capacity to search for truth and, therefore, about human nature itself.

In another passage of the encyclical Fides et Ratio that could go unheeded, even if it is at the beginning, it reads analogously: "in both East and West, it is possible to retrace a path which, over the centuries, has led humanity to progressively encounter and confront the truth. It is a path that has developed - it could not have been otherwise - within the horizon of personal self-awareness: the more man knows reality and the world and the more he knows himself in his uniqueness, while becomes ever more impelled by the demand for knowledge about the meaning of things and his own existence".13.

To be able to search for truth, to transform this search into an essential value of its existence, and to judge which Degree of truth has been achieved in each concrete case, is to be placed on a higher level than the rest of nature, just by playing a part. In this way, scientific progress and the corresponding creativity provide one of the best arguments to validate the cognitive capacity of human beings and their own nature. It makes no sense to try to demonstrate with scientific arguments that human being is nothing more than a natural being among many others. The existence and progress of experimental science presuppose, as a necessary condition, that there is a subject capable of elaborating it, a being endowed with a unique capacity for creativity and interpretation. Human creativity is like a bridge between natural creativity and divine creativity: thanks to participation in divine creativity, the human person can know natural creativity and, at the same time, can recognise himself and direct his knowledge towards the knowledge and love to which he is destined in God's design.


(1) School Ecclesiastical Philosophy. University of Navarra (Spain).

(2) Tommaso d'Aquino, In octo libros Physicorum Aristotelis Expositio, Marietti Torino-Roma 1965, II, c. 8, l. 14, 268: "Unde patet quod natura nihil est aliud quam ratio cuiusdam artis, scilicet divinae, indita rebus, qua ipsae res moventur a finem determinatum: sicut si artifex factor navis posset lignis tribuere, quod ex se ipsis moverentur ad navis formam inducendam" (Ndc: la traduzione italiana è nostra).

(3) Cf. Thomas F. Torrance, Divine and Contingent Order, Oxford University Press, Oxford 1981.

(4) Si veda Wolfhart Pannenberg, Towards a Theology of nature. Essays on Science and Faith, Westminster-John Knox Press, Louisville (Ky) 1993; in particolare "Contingency and Natural Law", pp. 72-122.

(5) Ted Peters, "publisher's Introduction: Pannenberg on Theology and Natural Science", in Wolfhart Pannenberg, Towards a Theology of Nature, cit. p. 22.

(6) Cf. Thomas Aquinas, In duodecim libros Metaphysicorum Aristotelis Expositio, Marietti, Torino-Roma 1964, VI, c. 3, l. 3, 1191-1222.

(7) C. de Duve, La célula viva, Labor, Barcelona 1988, 356-357.

(8) Stephen Jay Gould, 'L'evoluzione della vita sulla terra', Le Scienze, 316 (December 1994), pp. 65-72.

(9) C. de Duve, The Living Cell, cit.

(10) Cf. Rainer Isak, Evolution ohne Ziel? Ein interdisziplinären Forschungsbeitrag, Herder, Freiburg im B. 1992, p. 380.

(11) Karl R. Popper - John C. Eccles, L'io e il suo cervello, Armando, Roma 1981, p. 669.

(12) Giovanni Paolo II, Lettera enciclica Fides et ratio (14 settembre 1998), n. 28.

(13) Ibidem, n. 1. The Spanish translation is clearly different from the original text. In this translation, in fact, an important sfumatura is lost, present instead in the Polish, Latin, Italian, English, French, Tedesco and Portuguese texts. Su questo punto si veda Miroslaw Karol, "Fides et ratio n. 1: what is the correct text?", yearbook Filosófico 32 (1999) 689-696.