“The Perfection of the Universe” Explanation

Why, on the sixth day, did God make scorpions and other nasty creatures that can kill us?

This question can be found in St. Thomas’ Summa (I q72 obj6):

Certain animals are poisonous, and injurious to man. But there ought to have been nothing injurious to man before man sinned. Therefore such animals ought not to have been made by God at all, since He is the Author of good; or at least not until man had sinned.

To defend the authority of Holy Scripture, St. Thomas does the wise thing and quotes St. Augustine:

In the words of Augustine: “If an unskilled person enters the workshop of an artificer, he sees in it many appliances of which he does not understand the use, and which, if he is a foolish fellow, he considers unnecessary. Moreover, should he carelessly fall into the fire, or wound himself with a sharp-edged tool, he is under the impression that many of the things there are hurtful; whereas the craftsman, knowing their use, laughs at his folly. And thus some people presume to find fault with many things in this world, through not seeing the reasons for their existence. For though not required for the furnishing of our house, these things are necessary for the perfection of the universe.” And, since man before he sinned would have used the things of this world conformably to the order designed, poisonous animals would not have injured him.

We could also say, I guess, that such creatures serve a necessary purpose in the food chain. An ecologist would probably offer evidence to support such a proposal. But the food-chain response would not satisfy the metaphysical and theological inquirer, who would respond to such an answer with: Well, then, why did He make the food chain work in such a way that it requires animals that can kill us?

So we must enter the realm of “the superior art of the divine craftsman” to explain some things. Why do some people die unjust and suffer eternal condemnation? Because for God to punish them contributes to the overall perfection of the universe.

A perfection that we cannot now understand.

Now, must a sober, inquiring, scientific mind dismiss such a response as facile and anti-intellectual?

Yes, if a better answer to the question at hand can be found. Why do people face the danger of death when they contract certain diseases? Because their deaths contribute to the perfection of the universe? No. They face the danger of death because particular germs and infections threaten their bodily systems. We serve the perfection of the universe by trying to figure out how to combat these germs and infections. Under such circumstances, we need anatomical and biological facts to serve the cause of effective medicine, not justifications for divine Providence.

But:

No, a reasonable person must have recourse to the mysterious-perfection-of-the-universe response, when the question truly does touch on the superior craftsmanship of the divine author of reality. If we do not have the humility to acknowledge that our minds cannot comprehend the absolute good–if we don’t accept the fact that God accomplishes good ends with events that seem terrible to us–then we risk the folly of the unskilled person who hurts himself and others with powerful tools that only the Master really knows how to use.

Thoughts?

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2 thoughts on ““The Perfection of the Universe” Explanation

  1. Scorpions at least do something so dramatic and consequential (to their victims) that there’s some “intellectual heft” to asking why God made them.But what about stink bugs? How they contribute to the perfection of the universe is truly a mystery.

  2. Father Mark,

    Maybe, a reasonable person might have better things to do with their time than trying to logically determine the “why” of painful events in this life, and/or in this world.

    The scorpion pictured, by the way, might be an example of how there is beauty even in the painful. One can’t help but be impressed with the single-purposed creature (keeping in mind the scorpion fable’s ending, “Because I am a scorpion.”

    In God we trust.

    LIH,

    joe

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