|William of Conches manuscript, recently sold at Christie's|
In the Middle Ages, of course, the sufferer would not take chances, and would visit both. But men like William of Conches wanted to bring these two sides intellectually into agreement. He recognized that God was the ultimate cause: His omnipotence made him the primary cause that underlies everything in the universe. As a natural philosopher, however, William drew a distinction between this aspect of God and His methods for achieving His aims. There are actions, he said, that are secondary causes.
For instance, if I put a kettle with water on the stove to make tea and turn on the flame, my actions will cause the water to boil. A natural philosopher can examine the boiling water, measure its temperature, gauge the length of time it takes to boil and how active the boiling is, and find uses for boiling water. Those are all secondary causes and effects, however; the primary cause is my desire to make tea and my application of heat. The natural philosopher can learn about heat and water without knowing about my desire for tea. If he observes the water heating several times, he will learn to predict the outcome through his understanding of natural law.
|God shapes the world and its laws|
Given that miracles are possible, however, does this invalidate our observations of natural law and are reliance on our predictive ability regarding them? For his part, William was very clear: he believed that God was loving and consistent, rather than capricious. The natural laws that God established would remain natural laws forever. The few times we observe something different are either a miracle—an anomaly that we do not have to understand, or merely more information that will enhance our understanding of natural law.