June 19, 2010

Chance and Fate

Augustine at the beggining of book V of the City of God develops a distinction, upon which he suggests rests the truth of his entire theology. The distinction is threefold. On the one hand you have chance, on the other fate and between the two you have providence. Augustine establishes what he means through simple definitions: 'things happen by chance when they have no cause or no cause arising from a rational order, and by 'fate' when they come about not by the will of God or men, but as a result of neccessary sequence'. (V I) Augustine does not take much time to refute the idea that things might happen by chance, instead he moves swiftly into rejecting the argument that the world is moved by fate. Fate in this context he describes as 'the force exerted by the position of the stars when anyone is born or conceived' (V I). Augustine's argument thus turns quickly to an assault on astrology as an enemy of theology. Augustine's book therefore turns speedily into a study of causation.

What we have seen so far in the City of God is history as a weapon, used in righteous anger, by the Christian against the pagans. Augustine now though moves back to considering history as a mechanism for justifying faith. God is God because he operates in time through providence. By subjecting astrology to remorseless attacks. He subjects, for instance, the idea that twins are similar because of their stars to the counter argument that they are similar because of environment (V 2) and that there are many twins (Jacob and Esau) who are dissimilar (V 4). Augustine's anger is motivated by the thought that a position on time which involves fate rules out the Christian vision of time as one in which God's providence plays itself out. This centering of providence in Augustine's vision of the divine government of the world is the means with which he is able to make sense of God's supremacy. An act of fate or a belief in astrology is an act of treason to God.

Why is this important? It is important for two reasons: firstly because providence was central to Augustine's Christianity, without believing that God controlled time and human developments in time he argued that you would be an atheist. Secondly it is important because for Augustine the major threat from materialism was not whatever we deem to be modern science, but was astrology- this reminds us or reminded me of the ways in which astrology has developed separately to science but started from the same areas.


James Higham said...

Augustine's argument thus turns quickly to an assault on astrology as an enemy of theology. Augustine's book therefore turns speedily into a study of causation.

It's a pity really because there are fewer barriers between the ancient mysteries and arts and that of a deity than are made out.

The problem with gnosis, for example, is not that there was not truth in it - there was but that the truth was twisted. Similarly, G-d is a name for a force or power which much of science knows exists and also acknowledges that there might be other dimensions and things like anti-matter and a metaphysical element to the universe.

Science was highly politicized from the 18th Century and meant to serve the denial of the metaphysical element which there are countless examples of - even Tesla's rhythms are closer to the truth.

Rather than set up a false construct which ignores physical laws and evolution on the part of the Church or denies any explanations which don't accord with physical models which fail to account for all phenomena, it would be wiser to construct a model which allows of all these known elements.