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Cosmology and creation: from hawking to Aquinas in memory of Jozef Zycinski.

PETER ATKINS, a physical chemist at Oxford, has never been afraid of commenting on what he calls "the great questions of existence." In "Beginning," the first chapter of his new book, On Being (2011), he confronts what he calls the biggest question of all and notes that it is his "intention to show that everything, including Nothing, is within science's reach, and that science provides the prospect of understanding even the most stupendous of phenomena ... [that] there is hope for a scientific elucidation of creation from nothing." (1) What he has in mind is that somehow a kind of primal, absolute nothing (which he capitalizes as Nothing) unfolds into the polar opposites that comprise what we understand to be energy (positive and negative) and other fundamental features of the world. More than fifteen years earlier, in an essay titled "The Limitless Power of Science," Atkins observed that science must be able to account for the "emergence of everything from absolutely nothing. Not almost nothing, not a subatomic dust-like speck, but absolutely nothing. Nothing at all. Not even empty space." (2)

Atkins claims that the domain of scientific discourse is truly limitless; there is no corner of the universe, no dimension of reality, no feature of human existence, which is not properly the subject of the modern natural sciences. He frames his analysis of the triumph of science in terms of a contest between a religious, sentimental, poetic view of the world and a hard-headed, rational, empirical, scientific view of the world. He ridicules those contemporary scientists who regard both religion and science as legitimate but distinct domains of enquiry and argues that any attempt "to reconcile science and religion" ought to be rejected. Those who refuse to accept the reductionist view of science, according to which, at least in principle, all of reality can be exhaustively accounted for by the natural sciences, are "guided by muddle-headed sentiment and intellectually dishonest emotion." Neither philosophy nor poetry have much, if anything, to contribute to our understanding of the world or ourselves. But it is religion that is the special object of Atkins's ire:
  Theologians, incidentally, have contributed nothing [to the
  understanding of the Universe]. They have invented a world
  and language of their own, like some mathematicians, but
  unlike many mathematicians have sought to impose its
  percepts and precepts on this world. In so doing they have
  contaminated truth, and wasted the time of those who wish to
  understand this world. Scientists have had and are continuing
  to have to scrape away the detritus of religious obfuscation
  before they can begin their own elucidation.

  Scientists, with their implicit trust in reductionism, are privileged
  to be at the summit of knowledge, and to see further into the truth
  than any of their contemporaries. ... Scientists liberate truth from
  prejudice, and through their work lend wings to society's
  aspirations. While poetry titillates and theology obfuscates,
  science liberates. The grave responsibility of scientists is to use
  their voices to blow back the fog that shrouds the minds of those
  who have not yet seen. (3)

Although we may be less than thrilled by what Richard Dawkins calls "the chiseled beauty of Peter Atkins' prose," (4) we can recognize in Atkins some of the confusion about the traditional philosophical and theological conceptions of creation that inform so much of contemporary discussion concerning the implications of cosmology for an understanding of the ultimate origin of the universe. We can see such confusion in comments about CERN's Large Hadron Collider. Physicists have great hopes that this huge particle accelerator, built three hundred feet underground on the Swiss-French border, will provide new and fascinating insights into what the universe was like shortly after the Big Bang. Enthusiasm for what the information these experiments might provide led physicist Michio Kaku of City College of New York to remark: "This is a huge step toward unraveling Genesis Chapter 1, Verse 1--what happened in the beginning. This is a Genesis machine. It'll help to recreate the most glorious event in the history of the universe." (5) Or, as one author in Le Monde put it, it will permit us "d'eclaircir le mystere de la creation de l'Univers." (6) Almost a decade earlier, a science journalist for the New York Times predicted that high-speed particle accelerators would help scientists to work out "a mechanistic, gears-and-levers theory of the Genesis moment itself--the hows, if not the whys of creation ex nihilo." (7)

Developments in cosmology and particle physics have long encouraged flights of fancy about what the natural sciences can discover about the world. It seems easy to draw connections between claims in cosmology concerning the beginning of the universe and theological reflections about creation. Nevertheless, we ought to be alert to what it is that cosmology explains, or seeks to explain, and what creation means. What can cosmologists tell us about the "mystery of the creation of the universe"? An answer to this question requires us to be clear about the explanatory domains of the natural sciences, philosophy, and theology. As early as 1988, in the preface to Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time, Carl Sagan reached the conclusion that Hawking's cosmological model, which denied a beginning to the universe, "left nothing for a creator to do." (8) Theories concerning what happened "before the Big Bang" as well as those that speak of an endless series of big bangs are often attractive because they too deny a fundamental beginning to the universe and thus appear to make a Creator irrelevant.

Throughout his academic career, Archbishop Jozef Zycinski was always alert to distinguishing between developments in cosmology and the philosophical and theological implications frequently drawn from these developments. He commented often on the value of Stephen Hawking's work as a cosmologist as well as on claims that Hawking and others made about what cosmology can tell us about creation. (9) He was critical both of those who used the initial singularity discussed in traditional Big Bang cosmology as an argument for creation and of those who found recent notions such as Hawking's denial of the universe's having a beginning as evidence against creation. He was especially insightful in distinguishing between the "nothing" in the traditional doctrine of creation out of nothing and the "nothing" discussed in contemporary cosmology. (10) He would have found Atkins's analysis of the unfolding of Nothing absurd.

More in the Platonic than in the Aristotelian-Thomistic tradition, the main thrust of Zycinski's analysis certainly complements that of St. Thomas Aquinas. It may seem strange to invoke the name of Aquinas when discussing the implications of contemporary cosmology and to juxtapose his position with that of Stephen Hawking as the title of this article indicates. Despite dangers of falling into anachronistic commentary or of failing to recognize profound differences in the ways in which terms such as science, creation, and time have come to be used in the centuries that separate us from him, I want to argue that Aquinas continues to be relevant when we seek to examine the relationship between the natural sciences and creation. (11)

Stephen Hawking's Design and Creation

In The Grand Design, (12) published in September 2010, Hawking and his coauthor, Leonard Mlodinow, reinforce the earlier observation of Carl Sagan that in the new cosmology there is nothing left for a creator to do. Just as the universe has no edge, so there is no boundary, no beginning to time. Therefore to ask what happened before the beginning--or even at the beginning--would be meaningless.
  In the early universe--when the universe was small enough
  to be governed by both general relativity and quantum
  theory--there were effectively four dimensions of space
  and none of time. That means that when we speak of the
  "beginning" of the universe, we are skirting the subtle
  issue that as we look backward toward the very early
  universe, time as we know it does not exist! We must
  accept that our usual ideas of space and time do not
  apply to the very early universe. That is beyond our
  experience, but not beyond our imagination. (13)

Ultimately, they claim, "spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the Universe exists, why we exist. It is not necessary to invoke God ... to set the Universe going." (14)

Citing a version of contemporary string theory, known as "M-theory," they tell us that the "creation" of a great many universes out of nothing "does not require the intervention of some supernatural being or god." Rather, these multiple universes "arise naturally from physical law." (15) Fundamental questions about the nature of existence that have intrigued philosophers for millennia are, so they claim, now the province of science, and "philosophy is dead." (16) Theology, if mentioned at all, is simply dismissed as irrelevant. (17) The book has fewer than two hundred pages and uses suggestive titles such as "The Mystery of Being"; "What is Reality?" "Choosing Our Universe"; "The Apparent Miracle"; and culminating in "The Grand Design." The principal argument they offer is that once we recognize that our universe is but one of an almost infinite number of universes then we do not need a special explanation--a Grand Designer--for the very precise initial conditions that account for life and our existence. As they say, "Just as Darwin ... explained how the apparently miraculous design of living forms could appear without intervention by a supreme being, the multiverse concept can explain the fine-tuning of physical law without the need for a benevolent creator who made the universe for our benefit." (18) However, the Grand Designer rejected by Hawking is not the Creator, at least not the Creator that traditional philosophy and theology affirms.

But others, such as William Lane Craig, have embraced traditional Big Bang cosmology, which seems to affirm an absolute beginning to the universe, as providing scientific support for, if not actual confirmation of, the Genesis account of creation. The argument is that an initial "singularity," outside the categories of space and time, points to a supernatural cause of the beginning of the universe. (19) In a way, the debate is about whether or not cosmology discloses a beginning of the universe and thus whether cosmology rejects or embraces the idea of creation. Despite fundamental differences about what contemporary cosmology tells us, all these views tend to identify what it means for the universe to be created with its having a temporal beginning.

News of the experiments to be conducted at CERN and the publication of books such as that of Hawking and Mlodinow (and more recently those of Peter Atkins, Roger Penrose, (20) and Brian Greene (21)) provide renewed interest in questions concerning the relationship between physics and creation, but, unfortunately, much of the discussion contains old errors concerning what physics, philosophy, and theology tell us about the world and its origin. This is true even when more careful commentators remind us that the Large Hadron Collider can offer at best only insights about the very early history of the universe, shortly after the Big Bang.

One part of the confusion between creation and the natural sciences has its source in a broad commitment to a kind of "totalizing naturalism," which we have already seen in the analysis of Atkins. This is the view that the universe and the processes within it need no explanation beyond the categories of the natural sciences. The claim is that contemporary science is fully sufficient, at least in principle, to account for all that needs to be accounted for in the universe. Whether we speak of explanations of the Big Bang itself (such as quantum tunneling from nothing) or of some version of a multiverse hypothesis, or of self-organizing principles in biological change, the conclusion that seems inescapable to many is that there is no need to appeal to a creator, that is, to any cause that is outside the natural order. Here is how one cosmologist, Lee Smolin, has put it:
  We humans are the species that makes things. So when we
  find something that appears to be beautifully and intricately
  structured, our almost instinctive response is to ask, "Who
  made that?" The most important lesson to be learned if we
  are to prepare ourselves to approach the universe
  scientifically is that this is not the right question to ask. It is
  true that the universe is as beautiful as it is intrinsically
  structured. But it cannot have been made by anything that
  exists outside of it, for by definition the universe is all there
  is, and there can be nothing outside it. And, by definition,
  neither can there have been anything before the universe
  that caused it, for if anything existed it must have been
  part of the universe. So the first principle of cosmology
  must be "There is nothing outside the universe." ... The
  first principle means that we take the universe to be, by
  definition, a closed system. It means that the explanation
  for anything in the universe can involve only other things
  that also exist in the universe. (22)

Thus, whatever kind of "creation" science can disclose, or be used to deny, through particle accelerators or elaborate mathematical models, it would be a scientific account of origins employing, as Smolin would say, principles drawn from within the universe. But such a conception of "creation" is not what philosophers and theologians mean when they speak of creation. The distance between minute fractions of a second after the Big Bang and creation is, in a sense, infinite. We do not get closer to creation by getting closer to the Big Bang. Since, as we shall see, creation is not really an event at all, it is not within the explanatory domain of cosmology; it is a subject for metaphysics and theology. Similarly, the "nothing" in some cosmological models that speak of the Big Bang in terms of "quantum tunnelling from nothing," is not the nothing referred to in the traditional sense of creation out of nothing. As Zycinski recognized, the "nothing" in cosmological reflections may very well be nothing like our present universe, but it is not the absolute nothing central to what it means to create; it is only that about which the theories say nothing.

Creation and Science

Confusions concerning creation and cosmology, as I have suggested, run the gamut from denials of creation because the universe is conceived as having no beginning to explanations of a beginning in exclusively scientific terms that avoid any appeal to a Creator to opposing claims that the Big Bang itself offers a kind of scientific warrant for belief in God's creation of the universe. Contrary to all these claims, we need to recognize that creation is a metaphysical and theological affirmation that all that is, in whatever way or ways it is, depends upon God as cause. The natural sciences have as their subject the world of changing things: from subatomic particles to acorns to galaxies. Whenever there is a change there must be something that changes. Whether these changes are biological or cosmological, without beginning or end, or temporally finite, they remain processes. Creation, on the other hand, is the radical causing of the whole existence of whatever exists. Creation is not a change. To cause completely something to exist is not to produce a change in something, is not to work on or with some existing material. When God's creative act is said to be "out of nothing," what is meant is that God does not use anything in creating all that is: it does not mean that there is a change from "nothing" to "something." Cosmology and all the other natural sciences offer accounts of change; they do not address the metaphysical and theological questions of creation; they do not speak to why there is something rather than nothing. It is a mistake to use arguments in the natural sciences to deny creation. It is also a mistake to appeal to cosmology as a confirmation of creation. Reason (as well as faith) can lead to knowledge of the Creator, but the path is in metaphysics not in the natural sciences. Discussions of creation are different from arguments from order and design to a source of order and design. Similarly, discussions about the fine-tuning of the initial conditions of the universe do not directly concern the topic of creation; thus whether or not multiverse theories do away with the need to explain such fine-tuning (as for example, Hawking claims), they do not offer a commentary on creation. Creation, as we have seen, offers an explanation of why things exist at all.

To avoid further confusion, we need also to recognize different senses of how we use the term "to create." We often speak of human creations, especially with respect to the production of works of art, music, and literature. What it means for God to create is radically different from any kind of human making. When human beings make things they work with already existing material to produce something new. The human act of creating is not the complete cause of what is produced, but God's creative act is the complete cause of what is produced. This sense of being the complete cause is captured in the expression "out of nothing." To be such a complete cause of all that is requires an infinite power, and no creature, no human being, possesses such infinite power. God wills things to be and thus they are. To say that God is the complete cause of all that is does not negate the role of other causes that are part of the created natural order. Creatures, both animate and inanimate, are real causes of the wide array of changes that occur in the world, but God alone is the universal cause of being as such. God's causality is so different from the causality of creatures that there is no competition between the two--that is, we do not need to limit, as it were, God's causality to make room for the causality of creatures. God causes creatures to be causes.

Thomas Aquinas on Creation and Beginnings

Already in the thirteenth century the groundwork was set for the fundamental understanding of creation and its relationship to the natural sciences. Working within the context of Aristotelian science and aided by the insights of Muslim and Jewish thinkers as well as his Christian predecessors, Aquinas provided an analysis of creation and science that remains true. (23) As he wrote: "Over and above the mode of becoming by which something comes to be through change or motion, there must be a mode of becoming or origin of things without any mutation or motion, through the influx of being." (24) Aquinas drew heavily upon the analysis of Avicenna, who carefully distinguished between the ways in which metaphysicians and natural philosophers discuss agent (or efficient) cause. As Avicenna said, "The metaphysicians do not intend by the agent the principle of movement only, as do the natural philosophers, but also the principle of existence and that which bestows existence, such as the creator of the world." (25) Avicenna distinguished between two kinds of agent causes: an agent that acts through motion and a divine agent that is "a giver of being." (26) Such an agent needs only the power to create and nothing else. On the basis of the ontological distinction between essence and existence, Avicenna argued that all beings other than God (in whom this distinction disappears) require a cause in order to exist. (27) Since existence is not part of the essence of things, it needs to be explained by a cause extrinsic to the thing that exists; and, ultimately, there must be an Uncaused Cause. (28)

Although Aquinas differentiated his own position on essence and existence from that of Avicenna, (29) he, too, thought that the science of metaphysics is able to demonstrate that all things depend upon God as the cause of their existence. Here we see an important difference between the position of Aquinas and that of Zycinski. In discussing confusions about creation, beginnings, and senses of nothing, Zycinski observes: "There are no physical or philosophical means that would make it possible to prove that at this very moment our universe emerged from ontologically understood nothingness." (30) Perhaps "emerged" indicates that Zycinski is only referring to the absolute beginning of the universe. If so, Aquinas would agree, but if what is meant is that creation out of nothing cannot be demonstrated philosophically, he would disagree.

Creation is not essentially some distant event. Rather, it is the ongoing complete causing of the existence of all that is. At this very moment were God not causing all that is to exist, there would be nothing at all. Creation concerns first of all the origin of the universe, not its temporal beginning. Indeed, it is important to recognize this distinction between origin and beginning. The former affirms the complete, continuing dependence of all that is on God as cause. Whatever is created has its origin in God. But we ought not to think that to be created must mean that whatever is created has a temporal beginning. It may very well be that the universe had a temporal beginning, as the traditional interpretation of the opening of Genesis acknowledges, but there is no contradiction in the notion of an eternal, created universe: for were the universe to be without a beginning it still would have an origin, it still would be created. This was precisely the position of Aquinas, who accepted as a matter of faith that the universe had a temporal beginning but also defended the intelligibility of a universe, created and eternal. It is the failure to recognize that to be created does not necessarily entail a temporal beginning that causes considerable confusion in contemporary debates about the implications of cosmology for arguments about whether or not the universe is created.

Aquinas also thought that neither science nor philosophy could know whether the universe had a beginning. He did think that metaphysics could show us that the universe is created, (31) but he would have warned against those today who use Big Bang cosmology, for example, to conclude that the universe has a beginning and therefore must be created. He was always alert to reject the use of bad arguments in support of what is believed. The "singularity" in traditional Big Bang cosmology may represent the beginning of the universe we observe, but we cannot conclude that it is the absolute beginning, the kind of beginning that would indicate creation. As some contemporary cosmologists recognize, there could very well be something before the Big Bang. Indeed, Gabriele Veneziano, a theoretical physicist at CERN and one of the fathers of string theory in the late 1960s, observes that "the pre-bang universe has become the latest frontier of cosmology." (32)

When it came to how to read the opening of Genesis, Aquinas noted that what is essential is the "fact of creation," not the "manner or mode" of the formation of the world. (33) Questions concerning order, design, and chance in nature refer to the "manner or mode" of the formation of the world. Attempts in the natural sciences to explain these facets of nature do not challenge the "fact of creation." A world with a temporal beginning concerns the kind of world God has created. It may very well be easier to accept that a world which has an absolute temporal beginning is a created world, and such a world may be especially appropriate for understanding sacred history, important as it is for believers. But an eternal world, one with-out a beginning to time, would be no less a created world.


Cosmological theories are easily used, or rather misused, to support or to deny creation. Each time, however, as I have suggested, "to create" has been joined inextricably to temporal finitude such that to be created necessarily means to begin to be; thus, to deny a beginning is to deny creation. It was the genius of Aquinas to distinguish between creation understood philosophically, with no reference to temporality, and creation understood theologically, which included the recognition that the universe does have an absolute temporal beginning. (34)

There is a wider confusion at work here as well: the failure to distinguish between creation and change, and hence to recognize that the natural sciences, including cosmology, have nothing to tell us about the ultimate cause of existence of things. God's creative power is exercised throughout the entire course of cosmic history, in whatever ways that history has unfolded. No explanation of cosmological or biological change, no matter how radically random or contingent such an explanation claims to be, challenges the metaphysical account of creation, that is, of the dependence of the existence of all things upon God as cause. (35) When some thinkers deny creation on the basis of theories in the natural sciences or use cosmology to confirm creation or reject the conclusions of science in defense of creation, they misunderstand creation or the natural sciences, or both. The experiments that have begun at CERN may very well offer new and spectacular insights into the nature of the very early universe, but they will tell us nothing about the creation of the universe. Speculations that our universe is but one among a vast multiverse system may appeal to the imaginations of mathematical cosmologists like Stephen Hawking, but such speculations do not call into question the fact that whatever is, in whatever way or ways it is, is caused to be by God.


(1.) Peter Atkins, On Being (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 12.

(2.) Peter Atkins, "The Limitless Power of Science," in Nature's Imagination: The Frontiers of Scientific Vision, ed. John Cornwell and Freeman Dyson (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), 131.

(3.) Ibid., 121-22.

(4.) A comment found on the back cover of On Being.

(5.) See Alexander Higgins and Seth Borenstein, "Atom smasher will help reveal 'the beginning,'" Associated Press, March 30, 2010.

(6.) Pierre Le Hir, "Big Bang en Sous-sol," Le Monde, March 30, 2010.

(7.) John Glanz, "On the Verge of Re-Creating Creation," The New York Times, January 28, 2001.

(8.) Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time (New York: Bantam Books, 1988), x.

(9.) See in particular Jozef. Zycinski's essay: "Metaphysics and Epistemology in Stephen Hawking's Theory of the Creation of the Universe," Zygon 31:2 (1996), 269-84.

(10.) He notes that "the 'nothingness' in these [new cosmological] theories possesses rich mathematical structure. It can be described in the language of mathematics. Conse quently, its status seems similar to that of a philosophical logos, as understood in the Heraclitean or Neoplatonic tradition, rather than to that of nonbeing." Ibid., 273.

(11.) For more on this see my Creation and Science (London: CTS, 2011).

(12.) Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow, The Grand Design (New York: Bantam Books, 2010).

(13.) Ibid., 134.

(14.) Ibid., 180.

(15.) Ibid., 8-9.

(16.) Ibid., 5.

(17.) This was Hawking's answer to a query about theology in a television interview on The Larry King Show on CNN, September 10, 2010.

(18.) Hawking and Mlodinow, The Grand Design, 165. They continue elsewhere in the same work:
  Bodies such as stars and black holes cannot just appear out of
  nothing. But a whole universe can. Because gravity shapes space
  and time, it allows space-time to be locally stable but globally
  unstable. On the scale of the entire universe, the positive
  energy of matter can be balanced by the negative gravitational
  energy, and so there is no restriction in the creation of whole
  universes. Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe
  can and will create itself from nothing. (180)

And further,
  The ultimate theory must be consistent and must predict finite
  results for quantities that we can measure. We've seen that
  there must be a law such as gravity, and for a theory of gravity
  to predict finite quantities, the theory must have what is called
  supersymmetry between the forces of nature and the matter on which
  they act. M-theory is the most general supersymmetric theory of
  gravity. For these reasons M-theory is the only complete theory of
  the Universe. If it is finite--and this is yet to be proved--it
  will be a model of a Universe that creates itself. (180-81)

(19.) See William Lane Craig, The Kalam Cosmological Argument (New York: Barnes and Noble, 1979) and Robert J. Spitzer, New Proofs for the Existence of God: Contributions of Contemporary Physics and Philosophy (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2010).

(20.) Roger Penrose, Cycles of Time (New York: Knopf, 2011).

(21.) Brian Greene, The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos (New York: Knopf, 2011). Greene describes multiple models of different multiverse scenarios.

(22.) Lee Smolin, Three Roads to Quantum Gravity (NewYork: Basic Books, 2001), 17.

(23.) See my "Creation and Science in the Middle Ages," New Blackfriars 88 (November 2007), 678-89.

(24.) Thomas Aquinas, On Separated Substances, c. 9. Available online at

(25.) Avicenna, al-Shifa': al-Ilahiyyat, translated in Georges Anawati, La Metaphysique du Shifa' (Paris: J. Vrin, 1978), 4.1.

(26.) Avicenna argues in his Liber de philosophia prima that the world is an ensemble of possible beings, which of themselves have no existence, but do in fact exist. They exist only because they are the emanated effect of the efficient causality of one necessary being, which is perfect and lacks nothing. Possible beings in this emanated universe are arranged hierarchically, ordered in a causal chain under the one necessary being, first cause of all. From necessary being in its eternal productive act only one effect can come forth, the first immaterial being or intelligence. The rest of the chain of being continues with each intelligence eternally causing the being and nature of each succeeding intelligence, up to the tenth intelligence, the Giver-of-Forms, from which issues immediately the material universe, matter and form. For Avicenna, emanation proceeds through intermediaries.

(27.) Avicenna recognized the need to affirm both the contingency of the created order and, yet, a necessity in it so that there can be a science of things. As L. Goodman puts it, Avicenna
  fused the Aristotelian metaphysics of self-sufficiency with
  the monotheistic metaphysics of contingency. ... The key to
  [his] synthesis of contingency with the metaphysics of
  necessity lies in the single phrase: considered in itself.
  Considered in itself, each effect is radically contingent.
  It does not contain the conditions of its own existence: and
  considered in itself, it need not exist. ... But considered
  in relation to its causes, not as something that in the abstract
  might never have existed, but as something concretely given
  before us ... considered in relation to its causes, this object
  must exist in the very Aristotelian sense that it does exist,
  and must have the nature that it has in that its causes gave it
  that nature.

L. Goodman, Avicenna (London: Routledge, 1994). 63, 66-67.

(28.) Charles Kahn emphasizes the importance of Islamic philosophy, and especially Avicenna, in the development of a really new notion of radical contingency. Charles Kahn, "Why Existence Does Not Emerge as a Distinct Concept in Greek Philosophy," in Philosophies of Existence, Ancient and Medieval, ed. Parviz Morewedge (New York: Fordham University Press, 1982), 7-17, at 7-8:
  My general view of the historical development is that existence
  in the modern sense becomes a central concept in philosophy only
  in the period when Greek ontology is radically revised in light
  of the metaphysics of creation: that is to say, under the
  influence of biblical religion. As far as I can see, this
  development did not take place with Augustine or with the Greek
  Church Fathers, who remained under the sway of classical ontology.
  The new metaphysics seems to have taken place in Islamic
  philosophy, in the form of a radical distinction between
  necessary and contingent existence: between the existence of
  God, on the one hand, and that of the created world, on the
  other. The old Platonic contrast between Being and Becoming,
  between the eternal and the perishable (or, in Aristotelian
  terms, between the necessary and the contingent), now gets
  reformulated in such a way that for the contingent being of
  the created world (which was originally present only as a
  "possibility" in the divine mind) the property of "real existence"
  emerges as a new attribute or "accident," a kind of added benefit
  bestowed by God upon possible beings in the act of creation.
  What is new here is the notion of radical contingency, not simply
  the old Aristotelian idea that many things might be other than
  they in fact are--that many events might turn out otherwise--but
  that the whole world of nature might not have been created at
  all: that it might not have existed.

(29.) Aquinas develops the notion of radical dependency in such a way that creaturely existence is understood not as something that happens to essence (as it does for Avicenna) but as a fundamental relation to the Creator as origin. See, for example, David Burrell, "Aquinas and Islamic and Jewish Thinkers," in The Cambridge Companion to Aquinas, ed. Norman Kretzmann and Eleonore Stump (Cambridge University Press, 1993), 60-84, especially 69-70:
  In one fell swoop, Aquinas has succeeded in restoring the primacy
  Aristotle intended for individual existing things, by linking them
  directly to their creator and by granting Avicenna's "distinction"
  an unequivocal ontological status. Yet as should be clear, this is
  more than a development of Avicenna; it is a fresh start requiring
  a conception of existing that could no longer be confused with an
  accident, and which has the capacity to link each creature to the
  gratuitous activity of a free creator. Only in such a way can the
  radical newness of the created universe find coherent expression,
  for the existing "received from God" will be the source of all
  perfections and need not presume anything at all--be it matter
  or "possibles."

(30.) Jozef Zycinski, 271.

(31.) The argument involves a recognition that the difference between what things are (their essences) and that they are (their existence) must ultimately be resolved in a reality (God) in whom essence and existence are identical. Thus, what it means to be God is to be, and God is the uncaused cause of all beings. One need not accept the validity of Aquinas's claim to demonstrate that the universe is created in order to understand his distinction between creation and science and that "to create" is not to produce a change.

(32.) See Gabriele Veneziano's essay: "The Myth of the Beginning of Time," Scientific American, April 2004.

(33.) Aquinas, In II Sent., dist. 12, q. 1, a. 2. Available online at

(34.) See Steven E. Baldner and William E. Carroll, Aquinas on Creation (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1997).

(35.) See my essay, "At the Mercy of Chance? Evolution and the Catholic Tradition," Revue des Questions Scientifiques 177:2 (2006), 179-204.
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Author:Carroll, William E.
Publication:Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture
Date:Jan 1, 2012
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