In a recent essay, Science and Naive Anthropocentricism, I wrote:
Somewhere—I believe in The Perfectibility of Man, the philosopher, John Passmore, points out the real problem with belief in an all-powerful God: Such a God is consistent with any conceivable world. Only sloppy and ill-disciplined thinkers could seriously believe that the existence of a coherent, unified, and complete empirical reality argues against the existence of an all-powerful and all-knowing God.
The world is rich and complex, the entirety of Creation still more so. As part of my updated Thomism, I claim that the human mind is a set of relationships with all that lies around us and also inside our own bodies, which relationships form as we actively respond to all that stuff and those relationships. Also, over time, our understanding and recognition of what lies around us and inside us becomes more complete and more perfect. Our minds encapsulate some significant part of our environments whether we be nomads in the jungles of the Amazon basin or Jewish philosophers or atheistic physicists or Christian carpenters. And this is why the truth in Passmore’s claim is only part of the truth and only from one viewpoint. We inherit some prejudices in the form of instincts selected over the history of our species and we learn some truths of various levels of contingency as our communities and our individual selves develop in response to the world. Our natures as self-aware, featherless bipeds with some substantial reasoning abilities don’t give us any direct access to transcendental realms of truth; our natures give us only the chance to engage in struggles to attain some truths which can be found in Creation—just where the Creator put them so that we can engage in those struggles.
Yet, the belief survives that there is a body of absolute, transcendental truths which can be grasped directly by a human animal otherwise a creature born into nature. Passmore thinks to be able to reason from “absolutely powerful God” to the conclusion that “any world is possible.” And, yet, Jews believe God to be one Person and Christians believe the Almighty to be three Persons. These beliefs arose in history as the result of different understandings of events perceived (or not) as revelations, but the concrete facts of history—as is true of any fact—can’t nail down an abstract truth but they can point to such a truth. And such a truth about God’s personal nature arises not directly from raw facts but rather from long-term analyses and contemplations of those facts and from efforts to live accordingly. That we can see the history of the Israelis and/or the biography of Jesus of Nazareth as pointing to truths about Creation and Creator is no less plausible that the idea that we can see the expansion of the universe by way of other raw facts subjected to different sorts of analyses and contemplations and—yes—efforts to live accordingly. Can it be true that “any world is possible” to a Creator who is a specific Person or a particular Community of three specific Persons?
One understanding of a mortal animal developing as a person is: a creature willingly (at least in potential) and knowingly (also at least in potential) living a story in which he can develop as he responds to various sorts of challenges, moral challenges playing a particularly important role. If God is a Person (as Jews believe) or three Persons (as Christians believe), then our world is one sort of a world we would expect Him to create—a world of evolution which can produce moral species, including a moral species of higher potential for understanding, a world in which at least some members of such a species can develop into the state of `person’.
It isn’t legitimate for Jewish or Christian believers to engage much in theology which considers God as other than a Person or three Persons. Such ways of thought are a false form of openmindedness, equivalent to a claim that the Personal nature of God is a matter of chance—God is some kind of generic god-stuff and the personal stuff could have been different. Why would Jews or Christians wish to engage in theological thought in the way of pagans who think of the divine source of being as being that generic god-stuff? (This points to a need for Christian thinkers to develop proper ways to speak of the Nature and Persons of the Triune God—I have no proposals at hand but acknowledge the legitimacy, given this lack, of sometimes engaging in some sorts of theology as if God’s nature were generic god-stuff.) Why would philosophers who are the residents of what was once a Christian civilization not realize that many residents of the West would be bound to think of God as one Person or three Person(s) and would be bound to think of Creation as one which would reflect in some way the Personal (including moral) aspects of such a God? And those aspects, not being contingent, can’t be assumed away in any meaningful philosophical or theological discussion. A Creation which is one of evolution at some level and of development at all levels, especially that of individual creatures, seems quite plausible given a Personal Creator and not just one formed to characteristics randomly chosen.
Such a world points back, not by way of rigorous logic but by way of a narrative and moral reasoning, at a God who is Himself Personal in some fundamental and non-contingent way.
True to Thomistic principles, we start with the world and ascend to an understanding of God (see the Contra Summa Gentiles, sometimes called the little Summa) or start with God and descend to an understanding of Creation (see the Summa Theologiae, also known as the Summa Theologica or simply the Summa).